Re: Distinctions - the shadow side LO1203

Jim Michmerhuizen (
Sat, 13 May 1995 21:19:03 +0059 (EDT)

Replying to LO1083 --

On Sat, 6 May 1995, John R. Snyder wrote:

> In my view, the Western educated classes (and certainly I include myself
> here) tend to greatly overvalue the ability to make distinctions. While
> making a few strategic distinctions can create new possibilities for
> understanding and action, the multiplying of distinctions obscures the
> direction of thought and, somewhat paradoxically, creates imprecision in
> action. It is the great error of the Sophists and the Philosophers (in
> our time, especially the dominant British/American/Australian school of
> "analytic philosophy," and, ironically, their worst enemies the
> "deconstructionists.") Uncritical adulation of elegant distinction-making
> falsely absolves us of the responsibility to test our distinctions in
> action and to discard those that do not contribute to our survival and the
> enrichment of our lives.

Yeah, there's a really very convoluted sort of dialectic going on there.
As I see it, most of the distinctions one finds in academic-fancy writing
styles (including philosophy) are probably really there. The defect
inherent in uncritical adulation is not subjectivism (i.e. making or
finding distinctions that "aren't there") but anarchy (i.e. making or
finding a long series of distinctions unrelated to each other and of no
decisive importance to any human.

In the back of my mind are a couple of old Aquinian premises,
paraphrasable as: we are in the world to learn it. We "fit" into it; our
mental capacities are what they are so that we can find and make the
right distinctions. But this is for the sake of learning what in the
world around us is important; it is not a virtue in its own right.

> Occam's Razor, forged sharp enough to cut through that overgrown jungle of
> distinctions known as Scholasticism, is still sharp. Developing the skill
> and resolve to wield it is, IMHO, a necessary spiritual discipline for
> anyone who wants to change organizations.
One of the sigs I use on my email is a direct consequence of applying the
razor: see below.

Jim Michmerhuizen
- - - - There are far *fewer* things in heaven and earth, Horatio, - - - -
- - - - - than are dreamt of in your philosophy... - - - - -