The Dichotomy of Being, The Singular and the Universal - Ch. 10 "The Evolution of Deductive Theory" by Gasset

Ch. 10 - Truth and Logicality 

This short chapter in Gasset's work on the history of deductive theory hits on THE fundamental dichotomy that makes up the philosophical search. This dichotomy is that sensible reality, the things we see, hear, taste, touch, etc, are individual and made up of parts. Yet, at the same time, our mind only knows what things are, their identity, by unifying those parts into a coherent whole in its spontaneous generation of a "concept." A concept, though, is something which is stripped of its individual physicality in order to universalize it. It is only in universalizing things into concepts that we begin to operate logically. And the more and more we strip individuality from our knowledge of the identity of things, the more we continue in the search for the ultimate stratum or source of being itself. Yet, Gasset warns to be careful in this pursuit of logicality, as we can be led astray and end up separated from being, not united to it. Our concepts are often incomplete, and we must make a return to the mysterious experience of being from whence we took the concept to begin with. 

The Inverse Paradox of Being

Gasset begins chapter ten as a continuation of chapter nine's discussion of the nature of the "concept." Here he begins by talking about the two faces (one pointing outward, one inward) of the concept. The face outward pointing toward reality is the truth claim of the concept. It claims to hold within itself a defined chunk of the mystery of being, though the mystery of reality always exceeds the concept. The inward face is the concept as a logical entity. The mind has created a core of defined characteristics that now function as the identity of that thing within the logical or mental sphere. 

"With one face the concept pretends to tell us the truth about a thing; this is the face which looks upon reality, hence outside of itself, outside of thought; this is the face ad extra. With the other, the concept is limited to its own mental content, this is its face ad intra of thought. With the former the concept is not sufficiently true, not a matter of knowledge. [In other words, it is incomplete] With the latter the concept is more or less logos, more or less logical or fit so that the logical operations may function with precision. The result is that the logicality of a concept is a different thing from its veracity." 1

Again, an important distinction here is the difference between a concept as a logically defined idea, versus as the identity of an actually existing thing. Yet, these two aspects of the concept are paradoxical of one another. For a concept to have its extrinsic truth value, i.e. it corresponds to reality as true, it must more closely resemble the individuality of the sensible world, where a thing's being is diffused through its many characteristics. Yet, for a concept to function logically, it must seek to strip all individuality from the object and abstract it from the sensible as far as possible. 

Gasset says that it was from this friction that birthed philosophy. Man lives and wanders as though he is lost in reality. Yet, once he realizes that the concept exists, that he can know the identity of things with precision as this type of thing, he desires it. Yet, the paradox returns because the sensible world around him is individual, not conceptual. So what does man do? He begins to search for a reality beyond the changing sensible which matches the conceptual identity that he knows, which was the cause of the concept in his mind! 

"So much so that it led to this tremendous event: knowledge was born - and hence philosophy and the sciences - when for the first time there was discovered a kind of thinking which could be characterized as exact. This discovery arose out of a desire to know certainly and precisely what the things around us are, things among which man moves as one lost. But the result was, ipso facto, that exact thinking, precisely because it was exact, was not valid for the things surrounding man. And then that monstrously paradoxical thing happens by which the effort to know turns itself inside out, and instead of looking for concepts which might stand for things, exhausts itself looking for thing which might stand for exact concepts. These things which meet the measure of concepts were called Being by Parmenides, Ideas by Plato, Forms by Aristotle. Almost the whole history of ancient and medieval philosophy is the history of certain concepts about things which go in search of the things conceived through their agency." 2

Gasset concludes by making the point that this continual paradox between the individual/sensible and the conceptual/abstract continues to this very day, as the empirical sciences seek that which is singular, while traditional philosophy seeks that which is most abstracted from the sensible. He closes with a point which is relevant to the study of metaphysics, namely that if that which seeks reality most abstracted from matter failed, it was because it began with incomplete concepts to begin with. "Presumably, it is the modern conviction, which is this respect comes down to our own day, that if exact traditional thinking was not valid for things, it was not because it moved away from things as it became exact, but, on the contrary, because it was not sufficiently exact, not logical enough." 3


1 - Ortega y Gasset, Jose. The Idea of Principle in Leibnitz and the Evolution of Deductive Theory. (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1971). 62

2 - 63

3 - 64