Last night, when I arrived home from work, my two daughters were working on Math, the one a high school senior helping the other a freshman. They were doing algebra, which is completely logical. But they were using human language to talk about it. Let’s come back to language in a moment.
Now, I’ve helped all three of my kids with their Math. And in high school, I helped my Algebra II class with their Math. Yes, I was an A student doing that. (The backstory is, however, that I had made a D-, a near failing grade, the year before. I was in an international secondary school in Indonesia, a school in which the language of instruction was primarily international English. The year before, my Algebra II teacher was an American, like me; but I was completely disrespectful, was one of those rebellious Missionary Kids who hadn’t chosen his parents or their religion. Mrs. Brewster applied her logic, and I couldn’t keep up, just didn’t, even though I’d come into her class having made an A in Algebra I. The next year, after I’d earned my D- in Algebra II, my school’s administrators agreed to let me have a second go at the class, to take it again, and to take whichever grade was highest. They also insisted that I take the class from another teacher, from Ibu Liem. The trouble for most of Ibu Liem’s students was the fact that she didn’t speak English well even though her math and logic were more perfect; and most of Ibu Liem’s students couldn’t speak either Indonesian or Mandarin. What ended up happening is I became Ibu Liem’s translator. She’d teach in logic and in Indonesian; I’d interpret that into international English. This is how I made my A in Algebra II).
As an undergrad student, my first semester, in the USA, at the university my parents earned degrees from, I took Calculus. I did fine; I’d learned to use logic. So for my philosophy elective, I took logic. Happened to take logic from the same professor my Dad had had when he was an undergraduate student. I say he was the same professor, but let me assure you he was surely different by the time I was in his class. This, to me, explains the fact that he gave my Dad a slightly better grade than he did me. The plus and the minus were big things for me, having nothing to do with my GPA and everything to do with my pride. There’s a certain logic I’m getting to. This was before I started taking Japanese or Greek.
As a graduate student, in a seminar with Kenneth Lee Pike, I remember him saying “Person above logic.” He’d also tell us this story of when he was a student and when one of his teachers would say, “What we need is for language to have one meaning for each word.” Pike would then remember how he, as a student, finally came out with his reply; it was this: “But sir. How then would we learn languages?” By the time he was speaking with us in English, Professor Pike himself had learned a few languages. He’d learned of a few more. Some, he said, didn’t have words for numbers, at least not for many numbers. No math for the speakers of those languages. No real logic. And yet, he exclaimed, their language, those languages of those people, was rich. Their language was a rich as rocket scientists’ language. Their language above logic, their personal ways of speaking, was as multidimensional as Albert Einstein’s German, as radically relative. Pike called it N-Dimensional. It was an algebra he invented in which N = infinity. Now, to be clear, Pike wasn’t just talking about language or a particular language as a thing in itself. Rather, he was talking about talked-about language. And we people were doing the talking.
As a PhD student, I could tell you more stories. But I started blogging when I was a Ph.D. researcher, reading more logic than ever. And the blogging’s going to stop in a few days. So now I just want to share with you what I read this weekend. It’s something Martin Buber wrote, something translated from German into English. Buber was partially translating from Aristotle’s Greek. Aristotle invented logic, or at least he claims he did, and invented the name for it, “logic.” “Logos” was too much like “dissoi logoi” for Aristotle; it was too rhetorical, and “Rhetoric is the anti-strophos of dialectic.” In the hierarchy of means of knowing, of doing science, logic is above everything. Logic is even what many translators today, in the West, will use to translate one language into another. Aristotle may have liked it that many of us tend to use logic today, at the expense of language, and above persons. But he would probably, logically, insist that we Barbarians learn and only use elite and educated and logical Greek. He didn’t even like the Greek of his teachers Plato and Socrates very much; theirs was too dialogical, he explained. And he would probably, logically, say that Mona Baker’s and Gabriela Saldanha’s Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation Studies, Second Edition is in the same family with the sophists’ Δισσοι Λόγοι (or “Dissoi Logoi“) and that this is NOT logic, not either one of these books. Of course, we’d all be speaking Greek, his Greek, and even if we were being logical somehow, he’d comment on our accents, and on our stuttering. Why was Martin Buber interested in logic?
Well, here’s something Martin Buber wrote in German on logic. We get it in English (in Asher D. Biemann’s The Martin Buber Reader: Essential Writings, page 100):
…It is only when reality is turned into logic and A and non-A dare no longer dwell together that we get determinism and indeterminism, a doctrine of predestination and a doctrine of freedom, each excluding the other. According to the logical conception of truth, only one of two contraries can be true, but in the reality of life as one lives it they are inseparable. The person who makes a decision knows that his deciding is no self-delusion; the person who has acted knows that he was and is in the hand of God. The unity of the contraries is the mystery at the innermost core of the dialogue.
So, listening in here to Buber write to somebody, we hear that there’s a “dialogue.” This is not “logic.” There’s the talked-about reality of life, and there’s the talked-about reality of logic. There is talk, language above logic. It’s mysterious, sort of. Martin Buber can say something (something that Hans Küng can quote, something further that Edward Quinn can translate into English from German): “God [is] the most loaded of all human words.” Buber can say this, talking and writing in German, because German is loaded. English is too. These things, as mysteries, can be troubling. Logic, however, is neither troublesome nor loaded. It is above person. We humans are troublesome and loaded, perhaps the way our word “God” is.
Last night, as my daughters were learning Math, were using logic, they were talking. Logic wasn’t enough for logic. Human language was. And these two very beautiful persons are above logic. My one daughter in the Math class told me this morning as I drove her to school, “Dad, I’m making all As, except in Math. But I’ve got a good tutor [her sister] for Math, and I’ll make an A in it too.”