Monday, November 8, 2010

Everything Turns on the End or Goals

Point 3:

Practical truth is different from theoretical truth. A rule of conduct is practically true on two conditions: one is that it works, the other is that its working leads you to the right end, an end you rightly desire. ...  In judging a practical book, everything turns on the ends or goals. 

Adler defines "rules" in his chapter on How to Read a Practical Book.   Rules can be expressed as imperatives or as declaratives.

For example:
  • Carpe Diem (Seize the Day) is an imperative
  • Nothing ventured, nothing gained is a declarative (the course of action is implied, not commanded).

He says that either type can be rephrased as a recommendation of a particular course of action.

It is better to venture in order to gain.  

You could put it another way and say that Practical Books are hypothetical or conditional in their style:

IF you do this, THEN that will follow (and you do want that).

So when reading a Practical Book you want to pay attention to WHAT is recommended, WHAT is said to be the result, and then consult within yourself to decide WHETHER the recommended measures are workable and WHETHER you agree with the goal.

With a lot of the books I am reading right now, the goal is rather uncontroversial in one sense.   If I'm reading a book about parenting, of course it's because I want to be a better parent and the book intends to tell me how to achieve this.  If I'm reading a book about strength training it's obviously because I have at least some reason to think that strength training is a good idea. 

But that by itself is probably not enough to decide if the book's goals are the same as yours.  To do this, it's probably important to find the book's thesis statement, which is considerably more specific than the general goal.   Sometimes the thesis isn't explicitly stated in so many words, but often the introduction gives you a general idea.   And the reasoning used in the book gives you clues to where the author is "coming from" and why he thinks these particular methods will reach this particular goal.


It's funny, because left to myself I would tend to look at the rules, the "method",  more than the goal in evaluating a practical book.   Let me use Adler's book as an example. His thesis might be expressed this way:

If you want to read a book intelligently, then follow these rules.
If you follow these rules, then you will get more out of a difficult book.
 To me it seems like everyone would want to read a book better rather than worse.   What would be in question would be whether his strategies would actually be the most effective towards reading a book better.   To find that out, I would want to try to figure out what his means-->end strategy is.  

Or I might take a somewhat simpler road and simply try some of his strategies to see if they had the effect he said they would.  

Adler uses the example of Marx's Communist Manifesto.   If you subscribed to Burke's idea of the status quo you would be unlikely to be in sympathy with Marx's recommendation of the subversion of the present order.

He says:
"We have no practical interest in even the soundest means to reach ends we disapprove of or do not care about."
So maybe I tend to think of "ends" or "goals" too broadly, because I would have said both have the goal of a better polis and Marx has means I disagree with, that don't follow the principles of human dignity and would not lead to human happiness. 

Either way, I suppose it's important to think:

  1. What is this author's goal?
  2. How does he propose it be reached?   What is his solution to the problem stated?
  3. Does this reveal anything about his presuppositions?

Adler has rules for Inspectional Reading (pdf) that might help with this.   Maureen has some notes on inspectional reading, too.

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