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Strategic appropriateness: Integrating opposition

Global Strategies Project

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1. Oppositional logic

The philosopher Stephane Lupasco has explored the nature of antagonistic dualities (1973). He shows that knowing is intimately associated with such duality and takes place by actualizing one of the terms of the duality and virtualizing the contradictory one. In this way only a monism is knowable, especially in science, even though it is the dualism which is the "motor" for this process. That by which we know illuminates a contradictory order whose contradictory nature is not apparent. In this way the proper object of scientific knowledge can only be extension - affirmation, permanence, conservation, and identity. The knowledge is brought about by the negation of intensity - which is forced out of the cognitive domain (p.16). Furthermore: "Devant un champ conscientiel et cognitif de plus en plus riche d'identités exteriorisées, tout ce qui relève de la négation sera rapporté au sujet connaissant, lequel se connait de moins en moins au fur et à mesure qu'il connait davantage, puisque précisement il n'apercoit plus que ce sur quoi il opère, que ce qu'il refoule, nie" (p.15).

For Lupasco all human cognitive and practical efforts oscillate between extension and intensity: "De par leur contradiction dynamique constitutive, il y aura toujours conflit et tentative... de suppression de ce conflit, et, donc, choix de l'un au detriment de l'autre, alternativement" (1973, p.17, emphasis added). For the human being, extension is that which one knows more than one feels, whereas intensity is that which one feels more than one knows (1973, p.22). The characteristics of each (p.30) recall recent work on right and left hemispheres of the brain.

For Lupasco any emergent third perspective can itself be resolved into mutually contradictory terms involving an oscillation between identity and non-identity. This "prison" is the essence of our knowledge (1973, p.61) although: "L'esprit humain fuit ce qui lui est révèle le plus infailliblement, l'opposition pure, l'oscillation continuelle des contraires" (p.60). Although his exploration is very valuable in understanding how such energy is engendered by such dualities, it is less useful in understanding how such energy to be contained in support of human and social development.

2. Polarity

Another philosopher, Archie Bahm (1977), has studied the many characteristics of polarity as a basis for ordering contrasting theories. For him, polarity involves at least three general categories which he discusses in detail. These are: oppositeness; complementarity (involving subcategories of supplementarity, interdependence, dimension and reciprocity); and tension (involving subcategories of tendency, extra-tension, duo-tension, dimensional tension, inter-level tension, polari-tension, rever-tension, rhythmi-tension, and organi-tension).

He starts by distinguishing four emphases with which general types of theory (or "answers") may be associated:

  • "One-pole-ism", indicating emphasis upon the priority of one of the poles
  • "Other-pole-ism", indicating emphasis upon the priority of the other pole in constituting the polarity
  • "Dualism", indicating preference for the independence of the two poles
  • "Aspectism", indicating the priority of the (shared) dimension relative to the poles.

For each of these Bahm then identifies more specific types for which he gives examples from philosophy. In each case he distinguishes between "extreme", "modified" and "middle" emphases. Combined these constitute a set of 12 categories which provide him with the framework for his own "answer", organicism, in the form of "a theory" about the nature of polarity but also about theories of polarity." (1977, p. 47).

Organicism is the theory that polarity consists in something "which is not wholly describable" but such that there is in it some basis for the positive claims made by each of the 12 preceding theories. Unfortunately, this creates the impression it is somehow an appropriate compromise between the 12 at some "dead centre". In fact Bahm specifically warns against this interpretation: "One needs an oscilloscope to depict the dynamic movements of the ways in which things, and the polar categories of things, exist; to stop at the centre is to destroy movement, and thus, existing and existence." (1977, p.277). He does not explore this movement.

Nevertheless, just as Lupasco stresses the dynamics between categories, Bahm seems to stress the static structural and non-contradictory relations between categories. In effect the two studies represent complementary approaches. Additional elements, interrelating such approaches, are required for an ordered response to the dramatic nature of the conflict between answer domains.

3. Paradoxes and antinomies

Another approach to the logical discontinuity between answer domains is through the study of paradoxes. For Solomon Marcus: "Paradoxes occur when two different levels of knowledge, of language, of communication, of reality, of human behaviour, etc. are seen as one level, are mixed, are superposed, are combined, or are confused." (1982). He gives 18 pairs of levels which demonstrate a variety of paradoxes, many known to specialists. To clarify the semiotic difficulties involved, Marcus groups them:

  • Semiparadox: A against B, but not necessarily B against A (e.g. "Mary gave birth to a child and got married")
  • Paradox: A against B, and B against A. If "against" is a logical negation, for example, this results in a logical paradox (e.g. when something is simultaneously good and bad)
  • Semiantinomy: A against B, and A for B, where "for" is a binary relation which is inverse with respect to the relation "against" (e.g. the well-known claim of Epimenides the Cretan that "All Cretans are always liars")
  • Antinomy: where (A,B) are both semiantinomies, such that the first term of a dichotomy both opposes and needs the second term, with the terms attracting and rejecting each other

Marcus and Tataram have applied these distinctions in the analysis of 60 interacting global trends noted by the Goals, Processes and Indicators of Development Project (1982). They argue:

"When dealing with the contemporary world, a basic step is to learn how to progress from a descriptive to an evaluative analysis, from what is directly perceived to what is scientifically understood, although such an understanding may sometimes surprise the intuitive perception.... Many such trends are organized in opposite pairs, but their contradictory nature is much more richer and perfidious than what these binary oppositions reflect."

Of special interest with respect to the subsequent notes is the manner in which they show that antinomic relations emerge when semiparadoxical and paradoxical pairs of trends are associated as cyclic sequences of trends. Although they do not explore this feature explicitly in their analysis of an influence-trends matrix, it highlights an essential feature of the dynamic associated with paradox. Given the implications for comprehension, they have usefully related this cyclic process to development trends.

The difficulty with any such approach is that the very logic of the method employed disguises the full force of the paradox and of the hiatus it engenders in any univocal communication. It effectively prevents the insertion of the engendering elements into the same framework, unless they are denatured and converted into symbolic entities, as in the case of the Marcus initiative.


From Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential


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