Copyright©2007,2010 By Larry Gowdy
An expanded version of this article can be viewed with art at Logics - Firsts.
Nodin : Since I was a child, I have been curious of something that you, William, might be able to help me understand.
William : I will help in any way that I can Nodin. What is it that you have been curious about?
Nodin : It appears to me to be a very simple matter, but it also appears to be a very complex matter to other people, which in turn confuses me as to how a simple thing like words can become so difficult.
William : Ah, true, it is often a human nature to twist a simple thing into a complicated eddy of misconceptions. Was it not Socrates that said: “The fact is that in our ordinary way of speaking we allow ourselves to be driven into highly ridiculous and wonderful contradictions, as Protagoras and all who take his line of argument would remark.”
Nodin : And such a thing appears to me to have occurred, and my soul has labored under my not knowing why the simple has become complex. Now, let me ask you a question, so that we might discover if we can together agree on the simplicity of a perception, and know whether we stand together in agreement or apart in disagreement. Tell me William, in your opinion, which existed first; man, or man-made language?
William : Well of course man existed first. How can such a question have any other answer?
Nodin : To you and I, we see the obvious, that the thing that creates must first exist before it can create another thing, but to many other people, they do not always recognize this simple logic.
William : Oh Nodin, I do not know how it might be possible for any healthy person to not be able to reason such a simple deduction. Please tell me, by what evidence have you found that suggests someone might not deduce a similar conclusion as you and I?
Nodin : Forgive me for not answering your question at the moment William, for I feel there is value in my continuing to ask you questions before I explain the reasoning behind my thoughts.
William : I accept your decision Nodin, but I will remain in suspense while I wonder who might possibly disagree with our deduction of which existed first, man or man-made language.
Nodin : Ah, but my other questions are of no greater difficulty. Consider this question; which existed first, man’s thoughts or man’s languages?
William : Again Nodin, you and I both know the answer. Man’s thoughts had to exist prior to man inventing any language, for without thoughts there would be no thinking capacity to create a language. Your questions seem too simple to me, for surely there can never be an indecision of which exists first, thoughts or languages.
Nodin : So then you agree, William, that it is a simple act of deduction to determine what must exist before another thing can exist?
William : I believe that in most instances, if not all, surely it must be obvious what the order of sequencing will be. A created thing cannot be created without there first existing the thing that created it.
Nodin : Very well stated William. I will then ask only two more questions before I explain what has confused me all my life.
William : Please do, for now I have grown very curious of what your own curiosity might be.
Nodin : Which existed first, ethics or the word “ethics”? I am not asking you for a definition of what ethics might be, but rather I am only asking you which would occur first, the thing itself or the word-symbol of the thing?
William : Thank you for not asking for a definition of ethics, for it is well known and an established fact in philosophy and all learned circles that there cannot be a clear and singular definition of ethics. But to answer your question, the thing called ethics surely must have existed before the word was invented, or else why would the word have been invented? We do not invent words that refer to nothing, so therefore the word must have referred to something.
Nodin : Thank you William, your answer is enlightening and it describes to me much more than I asked for, and I do thank you for the additional information. Now, quickly, my last question before I explain my reasoning and curiosity; which existed first, logic, or the philosophies and academic classes that speak of logic?
William : Well, of course logic existed first. The philosophies themselves could not have come into existence without logic being present, and logic had to have existed before academic classes were invented to speak of logic.
Nodin : Your deductions again mirror mine, William. I do not understand how any different deductions might be possible.
William : So please tell me now. I have answered your questions to the best reasoning that I am able, and I wish to learn what your curiosity might possibly be that required my answering such simple questions.
Nodin : I will tell you now, William, that my curiosity is perplexing, it gnaws at my heart and stomach, and it will not relieve itself of the discomfort. Since birth I have searched for an explanation of the seeming madness of those individuals who disagree with your deductions and mine, but I have not yet well understood why the individuals do not recognize what appears so simplistic to the rest of us.
William : So please do tell me what the madness might be and why it perplexes you. Perhaps I might be of assistance in alleviating your gnawing of curiosity.
Nodin : You see, William, there are many people, who for thousands of years have debated the very questions as you so easily answered, and where there existed latitude for the individuals to chose an opposite opinion as yours, the people almost always chose the opposite opinion.
William : I trust that you will explain to me who those individuals may have been? I cannot perceive how it might be possible for anyone to conclude different opinions as you and I.
Nodin : The individuals that my thoughts are pointing towards, are the individuals who tell me that they are members of a society of thinkers, lovers of wisdom, a society where the men call themselves philosophers. The individuals enjoy debating over the nature of words, such as logic and ethics, and yet the individuals choose to only debate. The individuals attempt to define words through the use of even more words, and yet as you and I both know and agree, the origin of all words existed in man and his logic long before any language was invented. Is this behavior of the individuals not absurd?
William : Forgive me Nodin, but I do not understand what you are implying. How else might it be possible to discover and define a word if we are not allowed to use other words in the discussion about words? I sense that you are pointing to something that I may not be familiar with.
Nodin : Did you not agree that man existed before man-made languages were invented? And did you not agree that logic existed before philosophies were invented to discuss logic? And did you not also agree that ethics existed prior to the word “ethics”? Why then do you still question the obvious? That is my curiosity, of why people want to find definitions of a first word hidden within a second word, and yet it is discovered that the second word’s own definition must then be hidden in yet a third word, and so on and so on, and never can any one word be defined if all words are unknown and all words must rely on other unknown words to define the first unknown word. That is what perplexes me, that contemporary man’s search for the understanding of words has almost entirely remained limited to only the use of words, which to me is not seen to be a rational method of investigating an unknown. How can man use an unknown to discover the mysteries of another unknown?
William : Yes it is a perplexing problem Nodin, the very problem that philosophy has struggled with for almost three-thousand years. Apparently the solution cannot be found, for surely philosophy would have unraveled the mystery before now.
Nodin : But William, you solved the mystery when you answered my questions! Have you already forgotten your own deductions and how they were performed through logic?
William : I beg to state that I did not knowingly solve a mystery, Nodin, for if I had, would I have not known so? What possibly could be the mystery that I solved, and without my knowing it? I do remember my deductions, but I do not understand how they now relate to the solving of a mystery.
Nodin : You correctly deduced that man and his logics, as well as his ethics, had to exist before languages and philosophy, did you not?
William : Yes Nodin, you are correct, those were my deductions as I remember giving them.
Nodin : So then, to examine the definition and meaning of any word, is it not necessary to investigate the thing being symbolized, and not the symbol? As you do know and are so eloquently capable of explaining, a symbol is not the thing being symbolized. The thing must exist before the symbol can symbolize the thing, and logics and ethics had to exist before the word-symbols were invented. Therefore, to unravel the mystery behind the meanings of logics and ethics, we do not seek answers in the symbols, but rather we turn our attention to the original source, which in this case is man himself.
William : I see what you are saying Nodin, that the study of a word must begin at its origin, which in the puzzles before us today must begin in man himself. But I ask you Nodin, is that not what philosophy does? Does philosophy not search within man, through use of man’s intelligence and logic, to discover the meanings of words?
Nodin : Thank you William for having so clearly stated the difficulty within the mystery, that man searches within his imagination for things that exist separate of the imagination. Is it not an irrational act, to attempt to know a thing through imagination only?
William : But Nodin, what other possible method could there be? The most brilliant of men have been philosophers, men who are far wiser than I, and it does appear to me that if they were unable to solve the definitions of words, then surely I do not have the wisdom to do better.
Nodin : Ah, my good friend William, you have short-changed yourself, for I believe it is within you right now to discover what the philosophers could not. Tell me quickly, is honesty an ethic?
William : I am unsure Nodin, for I do not know what an ethic is. As I professed earlier, I have no knowledge of ethics, or even if it possible to know what an ethic is.
Nodin : Such self-doubt William! So now I ask, would you desire to know if truth is an ethic or not?
William : Yes of course I do desire to know, I very much want to know the answer so that I might be able to quench my own fire of curiosity about ethics. If such an answer exists, then do please tell so that I will understand.
Nodin : Within your words, you asked for more words, and yet had we not already settled the question of words? Words cannot be understood through the use of more words, can they?
William : True, we did determine that so. But if you cannot use words to tell me the answer about truth and ethics, then how can I receive the information?
Nodin : Be truthful, and observe yourself, observe the act.
William : Thank you for the words Nodin, but I still do not know the answer. I beg of you to please tell me more so that I might learn.
Nodin : Learning is an act, an action, learning is not a thing to be purchased or possessed, it is rather a process that occurs when a person is observing. The acts of honesty, logic, and ethics existed before man invented words and ideologies about the words, and to understand what the words mean, all that is required is to act-out the honesty, logic, and ethics while observing one’s own acts.
William : Ah, Nodin, your words ring familiar to me, of religions and eastern philosophies. Forgive my intrusion, but have you discovered a faith in a religion or eastern philosophy? Has such an influence been the source of your questions?
Nodin : Please William, let me ask you a question, one not unlike the first questions: which came first, honesty and ethics, or religions and philosophies?
William : Oh, Nodin, I believe I may be beginning to understand. Correct me if I am in error, but it appears that you are telling me that all of our philosophies and ideologies have used preexisting actions, and the ideologies placed words upon the actions while the ideologies then claimed the actions were the creations of the ideologies themselves. Am I drawing near a correct interpretation?
Nodin : Yes William, you are very close.
William : So then, for me to discover the definition of honesty, then all I need do is to be honest, and then observe myself being honest. Is this correct?
Nodin : Yes, very correct. See, William? You had the answer within yourself all along.
William : But Nodin, now I am as confused as you. Why have philosophies squandered thousands of years debating this very topic, and yet without philosophy arriving at a definition? How is it possible for so many generations of philosophers to have not recognized the obvious?
Nodin : That, my dear William, still remains the curiosity I have held since birth.