Friday, 11 November 2011

In defense of the dialectic method in IQ/Science discourse in Nunavut

I recently bought a book called, Plato: the last days of Socrates - a collection of Plato's works that cover Socrates' life from the accusations against him of heresy and corruption of young minds to his trial and to his death.

In the introduction by Harold Tarrant, the scholar and translator wrote:

"[Plato's] works have the qualities which allow them to be interpreted, and reasonably interpreted, in many ways and from many points of view. This has much to do with the fact that they take the form of dialogues, rather than treatises addressed to the reader. We are not directly asked to believe anything; we are not required to take anything on trust. We are asked to be spectators at an occasion, whether historical or fictitious, when life-like characters talked on real issues, issues which are sometimes remote from us but which we can feel were pressing ones for them. We are asked to react to human experience and human ideas, for which we, as human beings, have some understanding. We are asked to listen to the arguments critically; we are also asked to respond to the personalities of those participating. We may be encouraged to learn certain lessons and to form certain conclusions as a result; but many of the problems superficially seem left unresolved, and we are not bullied into taking the author's line. Consequently, Plato's dialogues have continued to have appeal over the ages, and have survived numerous changes of intellectual and religious fashion, for somebody has always found something of value within them."

The dialectic method itself (if there is such a thing) changes from one "intellectual and religious fashion" to another but, since it forms the basis of "classical education" (and I don't mean just in the Western sense for IQ pedagogy, I think, appeals likewise), it remains the basis of teaching critical thinking skills and how to be human in the best of times and in the dark hours of tribulation when the moral high road seems such a costly virtue to pursue.

The best of classical literature (which here I also include Inuit legends and myths) has in it heroes and villians that are complex, and messy, and whose acts blur the lines of virtue and vice much like real human beings; these characters suffer the consequences of their mistakes as much as they celebrate the best of the human spirit even if they don't get the girl in the end. In a word: they are nothing like the one-dimensional ideals that double-bind religious and ideological fundamentalists of our times.

St. Exupery's Little Prince, for example, is not only an innocent but a learning character who is able to gauge and revise his judgements and praises on the human condition as he becomes aware that things are not always what they seem: he is open to even the most banal and outrageous characters he meets along the way, and forms opinions about them through experience rather than prejudice and idealized notions of what the real should be.

The great Galileo used the dialectic method to present his ideas in Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, and Two New Sciences. I personally think that we should use this form to introduce not only science but philosophy, politics and notions of "civic duty" to an Inuit audience, to not only educate them but allow them to form their own thoughts and ideas about such things. Not only that, we should create the discourse concerning and integration of IQ and Western Science in such form. This form has in it opportunities to not only introduce but also define new concepts even as it clarifies thoughts and ideas of importance in ways that are lost to the more modern forms of the Treatise method.

Giambattista Vico is also a humanist thinker that I admire much. For some reason I think of him as a contemporary of Galileo, but Vico came quite a bit after him. To quote a Wikipedia entry, Vico, the great humanist also relied upon the dialectic method:

"As Royal Professor of Latin Eloquence, it was Vico’s task to prepare students for higher studies in law and jurisprudence. His lessons thus dealt with the formal aspects of the rhetorical canon, including arrangement and delivery. [...], Vico chose to emphasize the Aristotelian connection of rhetoric with dialectic or logic, thereby reconnecting rhetoric to ends (or topics) as their center. Vico's objection to modern rhetoric is that it cuts itself off from common sense (sensus communis), as the sense common to all men. In his lectures and throughout the body of his work, Vico's rhetoric begins from a central argument or "middle term" (medius terminus) which it then sets out of clarify by following the order of things as they arise in our experience. Probability and circumstance retain their proportionate importance, and discovery – reliant upon topics or loci – supersedes axioms derived through reflective abstraction. In the tradition of classical Roman rhetoric, Vico sets out to educate the orator as the deliverer of the "oratio", a speech having "ratio" or reason/order at its heart. What is essential to the oratory art (as the Greek rhetorike) is the orderly link between common sense and an end commensurate to it—an end that is not imposed upon the imagination from above (in the manner of the moderns and a certain dogmatic form of Christianity), but that is drawn out of common sense itself. In the tradition of Socrates and Cicero, Vico's real orator or rhetorician will serve as midwife in the birth of "the true" (as a form or idea) out of "the certain" (as the confusion or ignorance of the student's particularized mind).

Vico's rediscovery of "the most ancient wisdom" of the senses (a wisdom that is "human foolishness" or humana stultitia), his emphasis on the importance of civic life, and his professional obligations remind us of the humanist tradition."

My point in all this quoting is that I think the marriage and reconnection between Indigenous Knowledges and Western Science should start out by the use of this tried and proven method. There is, I think, much that can and should be done in the advancement of IQ and Western Science discourse. The nay-sayers and poo-pooers should be silenced with reason and well-constructed, mature arguments rather than be allowed to determine what happens and, thereby, rob us of riches that the two forms of knowledge have to offer for the simple want of awareness of other possibilities.


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