An alternative to yes/no

Truth in the broad philosophical sense is redundant. If not because of postmodern relativism, then because of Rorty-derived pragmatism. It has Platonic and theological overtones which we can only interpret as the worst cognitive cacophony. True and false have a place in predicative logic, in the same way that 1 and 0 are the bedrock of information technologies. Leave them there.

Consider an alternative, three-fold approach, which allows for consideration of the world, the human, and the possible. Accordingly, things can be discussed in the following terms:

The World

The Human

The Possible







The World covers those matters of fact that are verifiable, or falsifiable (depending on your epistemological model). The Human and the Possible are those about which we traditionally have had debates, and which we will continue to discuss. As such, we can see that you can describe something as being correct, strictly speaking, but not right. This is how Slavoj Žižek has his continuous refrain thatOne is tempted to add that they are right, but for the wrong reasons. I would reformulate this to say that X might be correct, but wrong.

Furthermore, by including the notion of the Possible (I take this from Ricoeur) we can also discern the direction of our discussions. Under this rubric, I would suggest ‘interesting’ as a synonym for ‘future’, and ‘dull’ as a synonym for ‘past’. Is what is being said new, or interesting, and oriented towards the future? Or is it saying what we have heard before? Does it in fact need to be said? It it a genuine alternative?

There are countless alternatives to binary logic, and this is just my own version. It is how I already tend to interact with discussions and questions. Jain logic has some of the most interesting ways of formulating problems that doesn’t give in to simple yes/no. Syādvāda, and the seven-fold predication is an example of this:

  • 1.Syād-asti — “in some ways it is”
  • 2.Syād-nāsti — “in some ways it is not”
  • 3.Syād-asti-nāsti — “in some ways it is and it is not”
  • 4.Syād-asti-avaktavyaḥ — “in some ways it is and it is indescribable”
  • 5.Syād-nāsti-avaktavyaḥ — “in some ways it is not and it is indescribable”
  • 6.Syād-asti-nāsti-avaktavyaḥ — “in some ways it is, it is not and it is indescribable”
  • 7.Syād-avaktavyaḥ — “in some ways it is indescribable”

Another example comes from Zhou Youguang, quoted in Peter Watson’s Ideas [p.228 or pp.410-411 depending on the edition]: 

The experience of Chinese is, in some circumstances, quitedifferent from other languages, often reflecting the Confucian idea of antonyms, ying/yang. To giveanother example, ‘Mountain big’ is a complete sentence in Chinese. It is not necessary to use the verb ‘to be’. ‘Without the subject-predicate pattern of sentence structure,’ says Zhou Youguang, ‘the Chinese didnot develop the idea of the law of identity in logic or the concept of substance in philosophy. And withoutthese concepts, there could be no idea of causality or science. Instead, the Chinese develop[ed]correlational logic, analogical thought, and relational thinking, which, though inappropriate to science, arehighly useful in socio-political theory. That is why the bulk of Chinese philosophy is philosophy of life.’

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4 thoughts on “An alternative to yes/no

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