Thursday, July 28, 2005


One way to deal with circles is to try to make them into spirals. When it seems that an argument begs the question, or presupposes what it is out to prove, one may respond that the conclusion makes explicit what was implicit in premises accepted on independent grounds. So, although the conclusion restates information that was implicit in the premises, it does so on a higher, that is, more explicit, level. Another sort of circle is found when A requires B, but B also, with any number of intermediaries, requires A. To keep the circle from getting vicious, one can respond that the instance of A that requires B is at a more advanced level than the A that B requires. Consider the hermeneutic circle: to understand the parts, one must understand the whole; but to understand the whole, one must understand the parts. Here one allows that it is some primitive understanding of the parts, incomplete and defective, that allows a flawed understanding of the whole, which, in turn, makes possible a better understanding of the parts, and so on. This came to mind as I was reading Francisco J. Gonzalez's masterful Dialectic and Dialogue: Plato's Practice of Philosophical Inquiry (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1998). According to Plato, dialectic can only be successful when guided by a knowledge of the good, but knowledge of the good can only be achieved through dialectic. Furthermore, the knowledge gained through dialectic is not a one shot deal. It has to be repeated. The repeated circle suggests a spiral.

Peace is to be won through understanding, but understanding cannot be attained without peace. In the heat of war, there is no time or patience for understanding. However, as portrayed by Tolstoy, and in the film, Prisoner of the Mountain, even in war there are acts of compassion, glimmers of understanding that could sprout into something more, which, in turn, could lead to a greater understanding. Just as violence often spins out of control, peace and understanding could also form an ascending spiral.


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