“It appears, Socrates, that you are the sort of friend to help me if I am in any way qualified to make friends: but if not, you won’t make up a story to help me.”“How do you think I shall help you best, Critobulus, by false praise, or by urging you to try to be a good man?  If you don’t yet see clearly, take the following cases as illustrations. Suppose that I wanted to get a shipmaster to make you his friend, and as a recommendation told him that you are a good skipper, which is untrue; and suppose that he believed me and put you in charge of his ship in spite of your not knowing how to steer it: have you any reason to hope that you would not lose the ship and your life as well? Or suppose that I falsely represented to the Assembly that you are a born general, jurist and statesman in one, and so persuaded the state to commit her fortunes to you, what do you suppose would happen to the state and to yourself under your guidance? Or again, suppose that I falsely described you to certain citizens in private as a thrifty, careful person, and persuaded them to place their affairs in your hands, wouldn’t you do them harm and look ridiculous when you came to the test?  Nay, Critobulus, if you want to be thought good at anything, you must try to be so; that is the quickest, the surest, the best way. You will find on reflection that every kind of virtue named among men is increased by study and practice. Such is the view I take of our duty, Critobulus. If you have anything to say against it, tell me.”“Why, Socrates,” said Critobulus, “I should be ashamed to contradict you, for I should be saying what is neither honourable nor true.”Xenophon’s Memorabilia 2.6.37-39 trans. by E.C. Marchant
Archives for November 2018
The relational presupposition of Christian spiritual leadership, according to Ignatius of Loyola is this:
In order that both he who is giving the Spiritual Exercises, and he who is receiving them, may more help and benefit themselves, let it be presupposed that every good Christian is to be more ready to save his neighbor’s proposition than to condemn it. If he cannot save it, let him inquire how he means it; and if he means it badly, let him correct him with charity. If that is not enough, let him seek all the suitable means to bring him to mean it well, and save himself.Ignatius of Loyola, The Spiritual Exercises
It’s a good rule for when you and another Christian are trying to improve each other. I’ve recently discovered that it’s a bad rule to apply to public intellectuals. The key, of course, is to recognize that for Ignatius, neighbor could only have meant another likeminded individual.
Simon-Baron Cohen has done some good work at teasing out the specific differences between male and female cognition. His research
The autistic personality is an extreme variant of male intelligence. Even within the normal variation, we find typical sex differences in intelligence…In the autistic individual, the male pattern is exaggerated to the extreme.The Essential Difference, 233-234
Jordanetics by Vox Day
Vox is a guy who probably needs no introduction. If there is some kind of controversy involving the internet and its intersection with political ideology, Vox has something to say about it. His main writing efforts have been aimed at fiction, but he also writes political philosophy, general philosophy, and economics books. His writing is prolific, to say the least, and he’s fairly bright. When I discovered he wanted to take on Jordan Peterson, I figured it would be a fun read. Regarding Peterson, I started out a big fan because he talked about the value of free-speech, tried to speak about the mythopoetic value of the Biblical stories (which is valuable for Christians and non-Christians alike), used observations from evolutionary psychology, and tried to help young people obtain some degree of future orientation (though there has been a study of the future authoring program showing smaller or no effect size).
Vox cites a great deal of Peterson’s own material to make his case that Peterson is insane, narcissistic, and ignorant. The most damning citations were from Maps of Meaning, the Peterson book I read some of first (but started in interesting sounding chapters). What I hadn’t done was read it entirely. You can find a PDF of it here. I recommend you open the pdf and search for this phrase, “compacted into something resembling a large artist’s paint-brush”. That this paragraph, recounting one of Peterson’s disturbing dreams, made it into the book past editing is crazy. That Peterson had this dream is even crazier. And that he put it into the book on purpose is just damned weird. That Vox took the time to read the whole thing is nuts. I’ve read lots of big books, but after I read 12 Rules for Life and listened to Peterson’s Bible lectures, and his podcasts with Rogan and a few others, I realized that there was more to Peterson than I had initially thought, and not in a good way. Vox provides more than enough evidence to indicate that Peterson often speaks on topics he has not sufficiently studied (the prime example is when Vox pointed out that Peterson was wrong about Jewish IQ and representation in American media and politics, even Jewish folks on Twitter said that such representation was the result of more than IQ), is mentally ill by his own admission, and tends to universalize even highly eccentric personal experiences to provide advice to the masses.
An important element of the book is Milo’s foreword which exposes a major lie of Peterson’s. It’s that kind of lie (two of them really) that makes me much more suspicious than I was. That and the Joe Rogan podcast where Peterson claimed to have been 25 days with no, literally, NO sleep, made me think that he plays fast and loose with the truth more frequently than I’m comfortable with. And I’m from south Texas. I understand tall tales, where accuracy is sacrificed to make a story faster, bigger, or more exciting. But people don’t double down and insist on the truth of their exaggerations. Peterson, when I heard him on Rogan, claimed he couldn’t debate Sam Harris (a jobber of an intellectual) effectively because of his 25-day bout of sleep deprivation. As an aside, chapter 17 has some partly positive, partly critical comments on the carnivore diet:
The good news is that Mikhaela not only survives her long battle with mental and physical illness, she goes on to marry, have a child, and even to launch a career as a dietary con woman overselling the merits of an Atkins-style meat-only diet to cure a long litany of mental and physical ills, including, but not limited to: inflammation, gum disease, rheumatoid arthritis, autoimmune disease, excess weight, brain fog, anxiety, diabetes, ankylosing spondylitis, other types of arthritis, high blood pressure, depression and fatigue.
Considering what the young woman has been through, even a hardened skeptic like myself cannot find the necessary wherewithal to criticize or condemn her. And given the current percentage of the American and Canadian publics that are dangerously obese, it can be convincingly argued that whatever the shortcomings of the Mikhaela Diet might be, the benefits it has to offer a dangerously overweight society stuffing itself on far too many carbohydrates and sugars significantly outweigh them.
There is some evidence in favor of the carnivorous diet. I have a post I’ll eventually finish attempting to answer this question, “Can a human survive and thrive on a carnivorous diet?” But in the meantime, Meat Heals, Just Meat, and /R/ZeroCarb have some good resources on the diet. It’s not for everybody, but the health benefits are real.
While I’m not entirely persuaded by Vox’s final chapter claiming that Peterson’s teaching is all tares and no wheat, I am persuaded that there are better avenues for helping young men grow up without asking them to forsake all group-identity (which is insane). For instance, one could read Proverbs, Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, and many other great books for men.
The book has a lot of grammar errors. But Castalia crowd-sourcing to edit ebooks before hard-copies are released. It’s annoying, but not damning. On a rhetorical end, Vox probably spends too much time connecting Peterson’s ideas to Gnosticism and the occult (not that the connections aren’t real) for the book to connect. Vox also, rightly, argues against Neo-Babelism (or globalist hegemony), but those concerns, I suspect, will seem esoteric to a larger potential audience who needs to know that Peterson isn’t as useful a resource as supposed.
His audience is so big, I suspect because he’s actually as much a media creation as Sam Harris is. Regarding Harris:
When Sam Harris first began to promote his first book (before anyone knew he would become popular) a writer for The Simpsons introduced Harris to a contributing editor at Harper’s Magazine and a longtime contributor to The Atlantic and The New Yorker. They became friends.
Regarding Peterson (from the forward to 12 Rules for Life:
The first time I met Jordan Peterson was on September 12, 2004, at the home of two mutual friends, TV producer Wodek Szemberg and medical internist Estera Bekier. It was Wodek’s birthday party. Wodek and Estera are Polish émigrés who grew up within the Soviet empire, where it was understood that many topics were off limits, and that casually questioning certain social arrangements and philosophical ideas (not to mention the regime itself) could mean big trouble…
Wodek is a silver-haired, lion-maned hunter, always on the lookout for potential public intellectuals, who knows how to spot people who can really talk in front of a TV camera and who look authentic because they are (the camera picks up on that). He often invites such people to these salons. That day Wodek brought a psychology professor, from my own University of Toronto, who fit the bill: intellect and emotion in tandem. Wodek was the first to put Jordan Peterson in front of a camera, and thought of him as a teacher in search of students—because he was always ready to explain. And it helped that he liked the camera and that the camera liked him back.
In other words, while Peterson needs to be intellectually humbled, it’s important to recognize that his audience is disproportionately large due to media efforts in his favor (this is kind of paradoxical because Peterson receives huge quantities of unfair press, especially for a guy who is basically liberal). Because of this, certain elements of his audience who needed an alternate point of view with a proposal for alternate voices won’t find it in the Vox book. On the other hand, just like pastors might benefit from reading the Peterson book, they might also benefit from reading Vox’s book to help them steer their charges in a more positive direction.
Overall, it was a good read. Vox is a nationalist, which is a reasonable political position, but it is much vilified. That comes up in the book, it may make it unpalatable for you, but sometimes medicine taste bad.
Appendix: Vox’s Translation of the 12 Rules
- Stand up straight with your shoulders back.
The First Principle of Jordanetics: Be mediocre.
- Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping. (Why won’t you just take your damn pills?)
The Second Principle of Jordanetics: God is the balance between Good and Evil.
- Make friends with people who want the best for you.
The Third Principle of Jordanetics: Leave the wounded behind to die.
- Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today.
The Fourth Principle of Jordanetics: Your head is the only truly safe space.
- Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them
The Fifth Principle of Jordanetics: Do not excel, because excellence endangers the balance.
- Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world.
The Sixth Principle of Jordanetics: Inaction is always preferable to action.
- Pursue what is meaningful (Not what is expedient)
The Seventh Principle of Jordanetics: To reach Heaven above, you must descend into Hell below.
- Tell the truth–or, at least, don’t lie.
The Eighth Principle of Jordanetics: You can speak a new world into existence through your lies.
- Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t.
The Ninth Principle of Jordanetics: Dominate the conversation and control the narrative by keeping your mouth shut.
- Be precise in your speech.
The Tenth Principle of Jordanetics: Transcend the material world and very carefully choose the words that will alter this reality.
- Do not bother children when they are skateboarding.
The Eleventh Principle of Jordanetics: Heal the world by assimilating its evil.
- Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street.
The Twelfth Principle of Jordanetics: To lift the world out of Hell, you must be willing to accept its pain and suffering into yourself.
I’m not certain all of these are adequate translations of Peterson’s ideas. Principle 10 is accurate if you take Peterson’s definitions of truth elsewhere stated into account. That’s fairly damning. I think that principle 2 is more rescuable than Vox tries to claim, even if Peterson bungles the delivery. The Bible frequently uses the metaphor of “watching over” which is a leadership term, to speak of overseeing/watching over your own life, soul, heart, and so-on. And Vox is right about rule 3. Peterson gives no helpful advice about how to distinguish between genuine friends in a hard spot and people who just destroy you by increments. Vox supplies no solution to this, but he never claimed to. I think that the Bible, with some help from Aristotle and Aurelius end up showing us how to navigate such perilous waters. For instance, Aristotle speaks of “perfect friendship” which is friendship for the sake of growing in virtue. The Bible speaks of the kingdom of God in these terms (of Israel in the OT and the church in the NT). Jesus also says that it is appropriate to criticize others after you criticize yourself (Matthew 7:1-5), and that rebuke and potential excommunication are necessary components of church-life (Matthew 18). Paul says that corrupting influences aren’t worth the risk to your own character (1 Corinthians 15:33). Psalm 1 reminds us that it’s better to be influenced by the law than by sinners, scoffers, and such. The book of Proverbs tells us over and over that men with bad tempers make bad friends. And Marcus Aurelius reminds himself that “people are your proper occupation.” All of this is to say, one can think of Christian ways to love somebody (in the sense of wishing them well and doing them some good) without letting them influence you, waste your time, or ruin your family.
This is a great song.
Summary: Rhetoric is the art of persuasion, dialectic of verbal reasoning. Knowing the difference between the two will make you a better reader, listener, thinker, writer, and speaker.
Sometimes a tool becomes so important to us, it’s impossible to imagine not having it. I tend to think of shoes, my pocket knife, and my car that way. For others, it might be their phone or laptop. But all of us know of a tool that becomes quintessential to who we are because of how it increases our capacity to be human. I’ve taught research, writing, and public speaking for 10 years now, and the distinction between rhetoric and dialectic has become such a tool for me.
Rhetoric and dialectic are distinct forms and even methods of communication, and as such should be distinguished. Here is a summary definition of each:
- Dialectic is the art of utilizing logic and facts properly for the discovery, explanation, and demonstration of truth and probabilities. This is a dialogical (conversational) or
monologicalskill. It essentially a question and answer process. (Aristotle Rhetoric 1.1.1-14) You should note that I am collapsing Aristotle’s concept of analytics into dialectic here (analytics deals with the form of argument and the various demonstrations that can be made once facts are discovered).
- Rhetoric is the art of discovering what is persuasive, why it is persuasive, and for what it is persuading. It is also the use of persuasion. It deals with demonstration and probabilities, especially when persuading others to act. (Rhetoric 1.2.1)
For a further discussion of rhetoric and dialectic, see Aristotle’s Rhetoric at Stanford
Clearly, the two are related. For instance, logic, which is part of
Further, in dealing with certain persons, even if we possessed the most accurate scientific knowledge, we should not find it easy to persuade them by the employment of such knowledge. For scientific discourse is concerned with instruction, but in the case of such persons instruction is impossible; our proofs and arguments must rest on generally accepted principles, as we said in the Topics, when speaking of converse with the multitude.(Rhetoric 1.1.12)
In other words, s
In practice, the more vaguely positive something sounds, the more persuasive it can be to large crowds because people will fill such terms in with their own meanings. Rhetorical principles or premises typically just have to be emotionally engaging, easily memorized, and easily convertible with reference to their meanings. In American political rhetoric, some of the commonly used and emotionally engaging principles are things like:
- Terrorists are scary.
- Misogyny is bad.
- The wrong side of history is bad.
- Practice [A] is not who we are.
- The constitution is good.
On the other hand, the most persuasive argument about mathematics to a room of mathematicians would be an argument of pure logic, clearly defined principles, and detailed enumeration of the steps utilized to discover a conclusion.
A man skilled in rhetoric would know the difference between an audience of bored college students and a room of mathematical experts.
Dialectic and Rhetoric in Speech and Writing
Using dialectic is for doing research and constructing an argument based on the best evidence available. A sign you are reading dialectic might be an outline of the argument in the text so that people can follow the syllogisms carefully. Of course, a rhetorician knows how to use a syllogism is a way that seems like dialectic but is really just persuasion.
But, if a paper were to be presented to an audience that wasn’t a peer-review board, then one would determine which of types of evidence are likely to be the most convincing to that audience and present accordingly. Typically articles sent for peer-review are meant to advance knowledge and while they can use engaging language, typically should show evidence, state assumptions, explain biases, report counter-examples, show a careful argument outline, and provide clearly stated conclusions. Of course, results in the world of peer-review will vary. But nevertheless, the peer-review system provides the illusion of the genre of dialectic.
On the rhetorical level, if you wished to present your scientific findings about exercise to athletes, you wouldn’t necessarily present the evidence that made the conclusion seem most probable. Instead you would explain the results and give specific examples which would make the information seem the most useful for achieving results.
Questions to ask when writing a paper or speech:
- Are my premises true?
- Did I cite compelling evidence?
- Is my argument valid?
- Is the argument to complicated to briefly explain to a group?
- Am a stating the argument in a way that will be compelling to my audience?
- If I am leaving anything unstated or overstating a case for rhetorical verve, am I capable of qualifying and defending the truth in a more fact oriented context?
Dialectic and Rhetoric in Listening and Reading
When reading and listening, the distinction is still important. For instance, you’ll want to know what the author is trying to convince to do, believe, or support. Once you know that you can more easily discover which facts might be intentionally left out and whether or not those facts contradict the key points of the speech or paper and determine if the call to action is related to the facts presented.
Knowing whether somebody is using rhetoric to win a crowd or to create distance between the speaker and somebody else is also important. It can keep us from vilifying somebody who is simply “playing the game.” It can also help us to recognize when something is simply stated for rhetorical flourish rather than meant to be accepted as a fact.
In political rhetoric, the blur between persuasion and fact is taken advantage of, often to the detriment of voters.
Questions to ask when listening or reading:
- What is the author trying to say?
- What is the author/speaker trying to get me to do (buy something, do something, believe something, examine the claims and logic, etc)?
- Is the author likely to be accurate?
- Are the arguments valid?
- Are the facts true?
- Are the premises left out of the argument actually true?
The Distinction From Aristotle Himself
In the Philosopher’s own words:
Now, as it is the function of Dialectic as a whole, or of one of its parts, to consider every kind of syllogism in a similar manner, it is clear that he who is most capable of examining the matter and forms of a syllogism will be in the highest degree a master of rhetorical argument, if to this he adds a knowledge of the subjects with which enthymemes deal and the differences between them and logical syllogisms. For, in fact, the true and that which resembles it come under the purview of the same faculty, and at the same time men have a sufficient natural capacity for the truth and indeed in most cases attain to it; wherefore one who divines well in regard to the truth will also be able to divine well in regard to probabilities.
Nevertheless, Rhetoric is useful, because the true and the just are naturally superior to their opposites, so that, if decisions are improperly made, they must owe their defeat to their own advocates; which is reprehensible. Further, in dealing with certain persons, even if we possessed the most accurate scientific knowledge, we should not find it easy to persuade them by the employment of such knowledge. For scientific discourse is concerned with instruction, but in the case of such persons instruction is impossible; our proofs and arguments must rest on generally accepted principles, as we said in the Topics, when speaking of converse with the multitude. Further, the orator should be able to prove opposites, as in logical arguments; not that we should do both (for one ought not to persuade people to do what is wrong), but that the real state of the case may not escape us, and that we ourselves may be able to counteract false arguments, if another makes an unfair use of them. Rhetoric and Dialectic alone of all the arts prove opposites; for both are equally concerned with them. However, it is not the same with the subject matter, but, generally speaking, that which is true and better is naturally always easier to prove and more likely to persuade. Besides, it would be absurd if it were considered disgraceful not to be able to defend oneself with the help of the body, but not disgraceful as far as speech is concerned, whose use is more characteristic of man than that of the body. If it is argued that one who makes an unfair use of such faculty of speech may do a great deal of harm, this objection applies equally to all good things except virtue, and above all to those things which are most useful, such as strength, health, wealth, generalship; for as these, rightly used, may be of the greatest benefit, so, wrongly used, they may do an equal amount of harm .
 Aristotle, Aristotle in 23 Volumes, Translated by J. H. Freese., ed. J. H. Freese, vol. 22 (Medford, MA: Harvard University Press; William Heinemann Ltd., 1926), 1355a.
 Aristotle, Aristotle in 23 Volumes, Translated by J. H. Freese., ed. J. H. Freese, vol. 22 (Medford, MA: Harvard University Press; William Heinemann Ltd., 1926), 1355a–1355b.