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Thinking in Opposites
An investigation of the nature of man
as revealed by the nature of thinking

by Paul Roubiczek


This investigation is primarily a study of thinking, and this implies important limitations. Thought is neither the only nor the most important of those activities and powers which determine our lives; actions frequently spring from deeper layers of our existence than that of consciousness; feeling can influence us directly; and the most important of our decisions may surprise us because we are not aware of those urges and forces within us to which they give expression. Moreover, whatever the source of our actions, they are usually more significant that what we think. The concentration of this book on thinking, therefore, should not be mistaken for the claim that thinking is important beyond its own sphere or can achieve results beyond its own scope. It often proves powerless when confronted with these deeper layers of our personality, and the most correct thinking may avail us little. The positive achievements which we are going to describe can be brought about in a different way, or we ay fail to reach them although we clearly know of them. There are other forces at work, determining us both from without and within, besides our conscious endeavours.

But when all is said that can be said against the relevance of thinking—and much of it has great weight—the real significance of an investigation of it probably emerges even more clearly.

Man's independence of thinking is never as complete as it may seem at first sight. Our existence is closely interconnected with language; human qualities do not grow in isolation, but depend for their development on relationships with other persons. All this forces man to become articulate—that is, to think. The development of personality, even in the simplest of men, involves the gradual raising of inner processes into the sphere of consciousness and their translation into thought. There is no stage in the history of man without some kind of wisdom. Feeling, too, has to be translated into thought to become a reliable guide for action. If, therefore, we cannot avoid thinking, it is obviously most important that we should think correctly. Though many achievements are more or less independent of thinking, wrong thinking can do the utmost harm. We need only look at the impasse which we have reached to see that the one-sided development of thinking during the last few centuries—the concentration on science and the neglect of man's emotional and spiritual nature—has had a profound, and profoundly disturbing, influence.

It remains true—to emphasize this once more—that thinking represents only part of our personality and that such important decisions and achievements as moral deeds or deeds of love can be reached at any intellectual level; thinking can even prove an obstacle. Nor is true wisdom necessarily connected with intellectual refinement; a peasant may—or may not—be wiser than a scholar. But so long as our right decisions are not conscious decisions, we are always in danger of succumbing to the wrong kind of argument. In any man, whether simple or sophisticated, instincts and desires employ very cunning arguments to lure him away from the path of virtue, and this danger has been immensely increased in our age, in which the wrong kind of rationalism seems to command the highest esteem. The only way of ensuring the right decisions is to make them conscious and to support them by thinking.

The irrational forces in man must needs be extremely attractive in an age in which such a one-sided rationalism seems to offer the only alternative. But ther is no healthy development of man without the controlling power of thought, and this, in its turn, makes it once more imperative to develop the right kind of thinking which can offer an alternative even to those who are aware that there is is much in the nature of man which escapes abstract statements. We may approve of the high development of consciousness in modern times, or we may fear that it cuts us off form the roots of our being; but the fact that it has been developed must be taken into account. It can hardly be doubted that the irrational are actions against it are at least as dangerous as exaggerated rationalism; the consequences of extreme Existentialism and Logical Positivism, of the deification of mere existence or of merely logical thought—to mention only philosophical examples—are equally fatal. The way out is to develop consciousness in the right direction and to counterbalance its one-sidedness.

Thinking in Opposites, the title of this book, will be explained at the end of the first chapter. (Chapter 1, Section 3, paragraph 2) It is identical neither with any of the acknowledged meanings of dialectics nor with any kind of dualism. On the contrary, by disclosing the opposites at work within our thinking, we hope to be able to deal with some of those destructive external oppositions which threaten to split up that inner unity which is essential to our existence as persons.

Nor should the title suggest that this book is only concerned with the theory of knowledge. The study of thinking will serve as the basis of an investigation of the nature of man, thus taking up an implication of the nature of our thinking to which little attention seems to have been paid. If it is true—as I hope this attempt will prove—that the nature of thinking (that is, the working of our minds as described by the theory of knowledge and not its psychological interpretation) can be more reliably stated that many other characteristics of man, should it not also be possible to derive from it a reliable knowledge of some aspects of our nature? The investigation, by including those effects of feeling which are relevant to thinking, shows that there is a direct relationship between the laws of thinking and ethics, and I hope to show that this approach to philosophy, which excludes metaphysics, can contribute essentially to our knowledge of man.

As a lifetime of reading has gone into the making of this book, it is impossible to refer to all the works which may have exercised some influence. It also seems that no useful purpose would be served by this, for, so far as I can see, no similar attempt has yet been undertaken. The references, therefore, have been chosen mainly from two points of view. On the one hand, I have tried to establish the relationship of this investigation with a few classical authors, particularly with Kant's teaching upon which this study partially rests; on the other hand, I have tried to show how this book can be related to some contemporary English philosophical and theological writings which point in a similar direction.

I have much pleasure in acknowledging my very great indebtedness to Professor H. H. Farmer, who never lost patience in reading and re-reading the different versions of my manuscript and discussing them with me in great detail, and to Professor C. E. Raven, whose constant help and encouragement enabled me to write this book.

Finally, I am more grateful than I can say to my friend Douglas Hewitt for the time and care he devoted to helping me find the right expression for my thoughts, and to Mr. K. G. Knight, who assisted him in this thankless task.

Paul Roubiczek