Dualism & the Philosophy of Logic

Dualism is one of the four major problems for the philosophy of logic, the other three being abstraction, incommensurability and the problem of boundaries. Dualism is a way that we create divisions (dichotomy) in the world. However, dualism is not really a division at all, but a relationship in which the terms are bound together and the distinction between the two is dependent upon the relationship. In a dualism, terms are defined by what they are not (e.g., male is defined as not-female and female as not-male). The philosopher Val Plumwood has the following to say about dualism: "[it] can be seen as an alienated form of differentiation, in which power construes and constructs difference in terms of an inferior and alien realm."

Examples of dualisms include: male/female, white/non-white (race), reason/nature, culture/nature, master/slave, rationality/animality, reason/emotion, production/reproduction, self/other, subject/object, public/private and civilized/primitive.

Dualism lies at the heart of a number of social problems, most notably racism and sexism. However, it is not the act of negative definitions that causes these problems, according to Plumwood, but rather the way that negation is treated that leads to these problems.

Val Plumwood illustrates this potential for domination by describing five features of dualism: backgrounding, radical exclusion, relational definition, instrumentalism, and homogenization.

Backgrounding is the process of making one side of the dualism inessential background for the other. This can be seen in the male/female dualism in which women become merely background for what is seen as the important side of the relation, men. They are now apart from the activities of men, which are valued.

Radical exclusion is the belief that a particular dualistic relationship is an absolute difference. That is to say that the two terms of the relationship have absolutely nothing in common. If one side of the dualism has a characteristic, it is impossible for the other side to also have that characteristic. This feature of dualism is a major part of racism. Races that are divided in this way, white and non-white for example, are believed to be fundamentally different, lacking any common features. This denies the possibility of a common humanity and drives the belief that "there is no reason to apply principles relevant to one side of the dualism to the other" (Scott L. Pratt, 2006).

Relational definition is the belief that one side of the dualistic relationship defines the other. Thus, whatever qualities define one term are necessary to define the other. Scott Pratt provides the example of the reason/emotion dualism. "If reason is a process that is objective and formal" then emotion must be "subjective and informal (unstructured)" (Scott L. Pratt 2006).

Plumwood's fourth feature is instrumentalism. This is the defining of one side of the dualism based on its role in service to the other side. The relationship between humans and nature is often viewed as an instrumentalist dualism in which nature is viewed as being fundamentally different and separate from man, existing only as a resource to mankind.

The last feature Plumwood describes is homogenization. Homogenization is the belief that all parts of one side must be the same. In order for the division's integrity to hold strong all members of the terms in question must be similar to each other and different from all things on the other side of the dualism. For example, the male/female dualism presents social pressure to conform to the standards set for men and women. A more extreme example of homogenization occurs when individuals who cannot be accounted for by a dualism (e.g., transsexuals or people of mixed-race) are forced into one group (usually the weaker of the two) and assigned the traits that are expected of members of that category.

Dualism is really a cultural phenomenon caused by man's tendency to classify things relative to his own position and interests in the situation. It is very interesting the way that these dualisms seem to revolve around power relations. However, that is another discussion entirely. Dualism poses a number of problems for logic and is deeply tied to both the problems of abstraction and incommensurability.

The problems dualism poses
A main goal of logic from a realist perspective is to form a system for grouping things together based solely on the way that the world presents itself to us. When we make a division between things we should hope that the division is real and present in the things themselves. However, dualisms in our world today seem to point out that many of our divisions are relative to our interests. Is it possible to reject dualism and accept division as the basis for a logical system, and, if so, can this provide a new and better logic for us, or will we only be left with some form of radical relativism?