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The Principle of Transposition – The Untold Story about History

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  1. Introduction

Although one can dislike the philosophy of history as a kind of bad surrogate for something else, it is curiously one of those areas of thought in which it is impossible not to think sometimes.[1] Most often than not, the philosophy of history is a comment on the margins of something considered more important, such as a particular set of principles assumed as meaningful by a person (character in Kantian terms) or by a group of people often not randomly chosen (ideology in my terms, religions in others’.) However, human history, as part of the total history of the universe of which is a tiny and almost insignificant subset, strikes for recurrent patterns which can be characterized as emerging properties. One of those is being characterized by actions and words about those actions. Human history is a combination of actions and stories about those actions.

Fundamentally, first, there is action, and everything follows. This statement should immediately stand as a very strong philosophical commitment. Indeed, it is. It can be replied, for instance, that it is contrary to the common intuition about action. First, there should be an intention, be it even unconscious, and then any action should follow. However, the first moment of action is indeed its thought, considering this as a human feature. Instead, the statement argues for the opposite. But, as we shall see, the proposition is not an assumption but a conclusion of an argument that has deep consequences on how human history has to be conceived. I will argue that history is an aggregate of actions usually as blind as stones, which is not something as new as anything else under the sun. Spinoza already advocated for the complete absence of will as such. He concluded that we believe to have one because we perceive to have some sort of control over our actions, which is not the case. What we do, according to him, is to tell ourselves that, indeed, our will was the cause of the action.

However, I will show that certainly there are exceptions, which are as rare as perfection, and I will argue for something untold about history. The crucial thesis is that human history is shaped by human actions grounded on reaction to circumstances through emotions. And the two most common reactive emotions which drive humans are a very strong fear of loss and a weaker but appealing sense of reward for easy gains. All the rest is about fake narratives to explain or justify those actions without any consistency to both principles and actions. With this in mind, please, let me introduce you the first part of the drama: How the mind can cause action.

  1. Where it is Shown that the Mind has Causal Power over the Body and Vice Versa

The starting point is the very idea and possibility that life can be governed by thought. Without this very simple assumption, there is no need to write. Interestingly, as with everything that can be written, some philosophers deny that thought has causal influence, power, or whatever, on bodies.[2] That is to say; your mind doesn’t control your movements, which also means that your inner life is completely disjointed by what the body does. Now, I hope this should sound offensive to you, as it is a vision that brings your life out of yourself and puts it in the usually nasty hands of fate, which is something that happens but not as often as it should be according to this way of thinking.[3]

Without any causal connection between mind and body, there is no way to relate action to its thought, not because there are no thoughts, but because they are not causes of behavior. Even more awkwardly, this means that thought is a curious mirror game in which it witnesses the body acting just by chance. It is as if a camera is able to take the real picture of what is happening, although there is no relationship between its optics and the external events. Difficult to imagine it, but this is what the assumption would lead. Therefore, in such a scenario, politics and morals are two completely empty endeavors: As long as we are just powerless, we cannot change our actions as they don’t belong to us. This metaphysical standpoint has far reach consequences, but it is, as many of its kind, an extreme thesis whose disproof should be a good exercise for all of us. Thus, once assumed that there is a connection between mind and body, we can take a deep breath and be happy, as we are not outside morals and, after all, we can have a good influence on both ourselves and others both in terms of thought and deeds. However, both changes on ourselves and others require causal relations and, ultimately, some action.

We have shown, hopefully rightly and convincingly, that thought has causal influence over the body. There is no need to prove the opposite (that the body can cause some sort of thought.) It is sufficient saying that if there is a causal chain that forces the body to act according to a given thought elaborated by the mind, this causal chain has limits and constraints due to the very nature of the body, which even only indirectly forces the mind to think in certain ways and not in others. For instance, if the body cannot lift a given weight, the mind records it and recalculates its considerations about the world and, eventually, change the course of action. Naturally, we know, especially through neuroscientific experiments, that the mind is in constant contact with the body in an endless and always ongoing chain of feedback, checks, and control. Then, now that we are on the safe side, we can introduce the great actor of this story, the principle of transposition.

  1. The Principle of Transposition – Contradiction as Conflict between Actions and Words

Insofar, we just argued that thought has (not can, has) causal power over the body and, ultimately, that action can be grounded on thinking (deliberate or not, this will be discussed below.) But, then, what is the relationship between thought and action? If each action is caused by a given thought, should we conclude that they are always consequential? In a loose sense, yes, we must. However, we all are accustomed to the intuitive way of saying: “He said x and did not-x, so he contradicted himself.” To make full justice of this ordinary and intuitive statement, we must take it seriously and unpacking it.[4]

The first assumption is that action is a fact that can be equivalent to a proposition.[5] Therefore, for each action a of a subject S at a time t, there must be a state of mind m such that the statement “m caused a” has to be true. This assumption has to be generalized as for each action of any subject there should be a state of mind such that it was the cause of that given action. But this is not enough. Assuming that m can be thought as a proposition is far easier than thinking that this must be the case also for the action a. After all, we tend to believe that language dominates our mind’s life and, as with many limits, it is slightly more intuitive thinking in this way. Instead, assuming that an action a is always completely comparable to a proposition could sound more counterintuitive. However, without engaging with any philosophy of language, it is sufficient to think that an action a can be described through a proposition p whatever p can be. To put it simply, it is always possible to conceive an action in terms of its description, whatever the description can be, though one has to be conceivable. As this is so natural to be incorporate in our standard cognitive equipment, and as I don’t see any reasonable argument against it, after this reasoning, I will assume that indeed if an action is executed, then there is at least one description that fits it completely (and we can even venture to say that that description is true.)

The principle of transposition states that an action a is the result of a state of mind, which we usually call intention, intuitively conceived as an act of the will to direct the movement of the body in a certain purposeful direction. This principle is regulative on our basic understanding of others’ behavior, which means that I interpret others’ behavior assuming the principle of transposition. Naturally, this assumption stands as a regulative component of our mind’s way of thinking about the world. There is no reason to require that the principle has to be formulated consciously. Instead, it is quite reasonable to assume the opposite considering that its effects in the ordinary life in which, we must postulate, the great majority of people show to use it as default. Indeed, the contradiction between intentions and deeds is so uniform in the human race that it is not interesting to explore different possibilities.

Before moving to the transposition commitment, a few important follow-ups are to be articulated as they will turn precious for the next parts of the conversation. First above all, the principle of transposition is only a descriptive or explanatory component of the mind; namely, it is not a rule through which the mind formulates its own thoughts. This means that the principle is a way for the mind to understand and postulate the meaning of others’ behavior. Without it, the mind would be unable to explain why other people behave as they do. However, this doesn’t lead to any further commitment over its own thoughts and, ultimately, actions. Second, the principle of transposition is the way in which stories are also understood, wherewith ‘stories’ I mean people’s self-narrative.[6] For instance, a friend of mine says to me, “The government is wrong in its decision to…” and I understand that he/she is telling me that he thinks wrong has to be interpreted in a certain way and that he/she would do otherwise if in power. As we shall see, this second consequence is, in fact, ungrounded. It can be the case but only after assuming another rule, which will be what I’ve called the transposition commitment, which is what I’m going to present to you now.

  1. The Transposition Commitment

A crucial aspect of all morals is to assume that moral subjects, whatever they are (tendentially, humans), are capable of elaborating rules of behavior such that those rules can cause their behavior. Proving this statement is a good exercise worthy to be done. We already proved that the mind and the body are mutually related by causal chains, and, therefore, a state of mind m can be the cause of a given action a. In a world of causes, it has to be assumed that m is not out of nothing, and indeed it was caused by something else. This something else must be intended as a set of previous states of mind[7] that, through appropriate rules of transformation, bring the new state of mind into existence. This convoluted postulate explains elegantly why a complex theorem is difficult to be elaborated in the first place and, then, shared. Indeed, learning a theorem means to be able to formulate it. But if the theorem’s assumptions are also required, but they are not currently available to the cognizer, then he/she has to spend time to acquire those assumptions, which often are other theorems etc..

There is a clear sense in which we can state that actions are the result of mind’s rules, obviously on a limited and restricted way.[8] Nevertheless, this conclusion is sound, but I want to unpack it so to show why. If the mind can cause the existence of a specific state of mind m through which an action a follows under causal conditions, namely m is the cause of a, if m is caused by a rule R, therefore, for a classic transitive principle which applies to causal relations, R is remotely the cause of a. This is what we call character, namely the rules through which a person acts through time. Therefore, mind’s rules can be causes of actions.

Let’s suppose now, that I elaborate a rule R such that it states: “I will act always according to my thoughts in a way that my acts will never contradict my thoughts agreeing with the principle of transposition.” This rule is what I call transposition commitment. It should be apparent that is not at all equivalent to the principle of transposition. I deliberately use a common word (transposition), which can be misleading, but it makes it clear that they are both under the condition that acts can be conceived or described as propositions. Indeed, they both share this thesis to be meaningful (along with all the rest of the consequences that stem from it.) The main difference between the two is twofold: First, the transposition commitment is what it says to be, a commitment, where the principle of transposition is just an explanatory tool at the mind’s hands and, through which, unconsciously, understand others’ behavior. Therefore, the transposition commitment is a normative rule, which counts both as a way to act (a prescription) and as a way to evaluate (a judgement) subject’s own behavior. Then, if an agent S assumes the transposition commitment as a rule for action, then S will determine his/her thoughts consistently to it and he/she will act according (or not) to it. Therefore, the transposition commitment, if assumed stably by the mind, can count as a principle for action, which is not the case for the principle of transposition. Second, the commitment typically assumes a first-person perspective in its first formulation, where the principle of transposition is grounded on a third-person perspective (or, in the aggregative way, first person plural.) This means that once a subject has assumed the transposition commitment, he/she will evaluate his/her own actions in its function, namely he/she is bounded to the principle to judge each of his/her own act and only after that he/she can use the commitment to evaluate others’ behavior.

This last point is so crucial that brings us immediately to the most important aspect of the distinction between the two rules, where we use unfortunately one word for two different things (one is a normative rule, the other one is a descriptive principle.) The very fact to be forced to think according to the principle of transposition does not force in any way whatsoever the adoption of the commitment principle, so that a subject S can be unable to think others’ behavior without thinking that others’ acts are in line with others’ thoughts, while, at the same time, he/she does not feel compelled to apply the same rule of understanding to him/herself. This is because the mind intuitively believes to have a direct access to its own behavior without further requirements for its understanding. However, many experiments (and, as we shall see, endless historical cases) show exactly the opposite and, to understand history itself, we cannot assume that indeed things stay otherwise. To reinforce the point, I will reiterate it once more: The principle of transposition leads only to the presumed understanding of others’ conduct without any consequence on subject’s own behavior, which instead would require the transposition commitment. Now let’s turn our attention toward what people tell about themselves.

  1. Confabulation as Standard Self-Narrative

As we reached a good point for unveiling something deeply counterintuitive and awkward, we are almost ready to see human history in a slightly different light. Unfortunately, there is still another crucial intermediate step. Insofar I arrived at the point to elaborate the simple idea that there are rules that cause actions consistently through time. I’ve also proposed the simple idea that a principle of understanding others’ behavior does not count as a norm for action, although action is always the result of thought, namely of something produced inside the mind. These intermediate points seem to be so in line with ordinary life that requiring their philosophical understanding seems trivial, although it should be apparent that this was indeed an illusion (as the reader, along with me, is taking long breaths all the time to digest this essay.) However, it won’t have been out of sight an ostensible objection.

We must reach the conclusion that very few individuals arrive to the transposition commitment explicit formulation. This can be inferred by sheer induction from real life experience, but after all, if it is a normative rule of thought, and if it is not required by the toolkit available to the mind from the inception, then it must be produced and therefore it must be rare.[9] It can be self-learned or it can be induced by interactions with other people or both. But the transposition commitment must be produced in some ways, which means that it has be produced as any other state of mind, meaning through other states of mind and rules. Therefore, where the principle of transposition is indeed embedded from the beginning to mind’s principles of understanding (which sometimes is called empathy), the commitment is, instead, a product of the mind. As any other things in nature, also states of minds require information, energy, time, and some material components to exist. Therefore, the formulation of the principle requires efforts and introduces inside the mind a new rule for producing states of mind and, ultimately, actions.

Producing new rules is an effort, using them is also an effort, and reiterate them consistently through time and space is even more than a normal effort. Moreover, if we think in Darwinian terms, we also must assume that, though the principle of transposition is indeed very beneficial for the sheer survival of the human machine, this is not necessarily the case for the transposition commitment. Indeed, the principle of transposition is conducive of basic capacity of social interaction, even when only very illusory. It gives the ability to think to be able to understand others’ behavior and, at a very basic level, it does. In addition, as the principle leaves very high margins of adaptations to the human machine, because of its impressive ability to change itself over time, it is again surviving-conducive. And, again, this is not the case for the transposition commitment because it forces the human action to rigorously adhere to consistency and non-contradiction, which is, obviously, much more demanding and doesn’t allow easy adaptation from context to context. Obviously, I hope, this should not be interpreted as a rejection for the transposition commitment, but only as an explanation for its rarity. It always wondered me how humans are able to act in complete distance from what they say they think to the point that their entire life can be the opposite of their saying and, almost always, they don’t know it. So, are they lying? Here is the thing: They do, and they don’t and both propositions are true in different conception of the word “lying.”[10]

Once accepted that most of the time, the ordinary human being does not produce his/her actions through the transposition commitment, two crucial questions must be raised. They are so crucial that if there is only one thing the reader should think after this boring reading is to reply to both whatever their own thought is or was. The first is indeed: “What is the real cause of action, once accepted that there is no ultimate commitment to thinking before acting and tell it as it is?” and the second one: “What do people mean when they tell their own story about themselves?” Let’s start from the first question.

We already concluded that there is no action that is free from thought. However, though usually thought is naively intended as some sort of ‘the result of some rational way of computing’, I would argue that this is a philosophical abstraction, and thought is just what it usually is: Something which exists in the mind. Now, not all the mind is dominated by rationality, as everybody knows, and as all philosophers would subscribe (especially some of them.) Not only that, I would venture to say that the mind, as everything else alive, produces waste (e.g., unsound arguments, the product of wishful thinking, prejudices, unchecked assumptions etc.), and dead ends (e.g., unconclusive reasoning, blind loops etc.). To put it simply, as based on a biochemical hardware subject to natural decay and cumulative damages through time due to entropy, the mind is also full of flaws. A great portion of human mind is simply reactive to body’s stimuli, meaning emotions, where I always would like to distinguish emotions and sentiments as the latter are the qualitative experience of reasoning where the former are the qualitative experience of a body reaction.

If emotions can be causes of actions as deep thoughts for exactly the same reason, then, this would explain elegantly the natural conservativeness and opportunism of human behavior. The reader should not take this as a judgmental conception of the state of affairs, as I would venture to say that thanks to this structural feature of humans, they managed to survive in the wildlife. In fact, emotions are reactive states of mind produced in the continuous interaction with the environment through the body as a medium. Although they can be reduced to some more fundamental emotional states, of all two emotions stems out as being particularly influential: The strong fear of loss and the weak appreciation for easy gains. It’s easy to see why those two emotions are so crucial for human survival in the wild. Fear of loss tend to induce the minimization of damage strictu et latu sensu. However, though conservative in nature for good reasons, humans also appreciate (possibly easy) gains, although in different proportion with the fear of loss. And here the simple descriptive principle: All things being equal, if a human being can get x and x is (perceived as) sufficiently easy to be taken, then he/she will take it. This simple principle is so widespread in all latitudes that I won’t even take the effort to prove it further, beyond saying that from Machiavelli onward, it is simply a basic assumption to understand human behavior, and rightly so. As all animals before them, humans simply fear to be served as lunch for others and they like to have lunch, if this doesn’t imply too much of risk. Fasting is always an option in the face of immediate death. And, by the way, this is true also for mind’s fasting, so to speak.

Emotions do not require nothing else to exist that sheer interaction with the environment plus, naturally, filters in the relationship between mind and body. Environment here is intended latu sensu (natural, social, whatever.) Therefore, as emotions are reactive in nature, they are also rarely consistent through time when looked at the actions they usually produce. Therefore, they lead to “contradictions” in the principle of transposition terms. They usually lead the individual to act inconsistently and, ultimately, without asking to him/her much effort, though naturally they tend to bring life to something chaotic and, ultimately, driven by external conditions in an extreme sense; namely that the individual is almost entirely capable of surviving in a mere reactive sense. However, this individual will also still try to understand others’ behavior and, to do that, he/she will have to use the principle of transposition, which others’ apply to him/her. This condition creates the necessity for a self-narrative, which is the collection of the proposition an individual postulated about him/herself.

As these propositions are usually disjointed by actions and their real causes, they tend simply to be a story a person elaborated through time about him/herself. Indeed, once the verbal language is learned, it starts naturally to live its own life inside the mind which, sometimes, uses it deliberately as computational multiplier. The omnipresence of language in our inner life is so obvious that, again, is thought to be ever efficient and transparent to us, which is naturally untrue. Obviously, this is not true all the time and for everybody, but still ordinarily we live unable to check ourselves and this must be especially true for those who didn’t formulate the transposition commitment, because they are not linking their behavior to their words and thoughts with few exceptions in time. Then, as long as human understanding is grounded on interpreting net of propositions to which a meaning is associated, story are produced all the time and these stories are just a mixture of descriptions, explanations, and evaluations of pieces of the world, among them the individual itself. Then, once the story started nothing can stop its creation, as the spider blindly weaves its web creating wonderful geometries, so human beings through time silently work inside themselves often producing beautiful pictures of reality and themselves which have nothing to do with both reality and themselves.

Usually at the very best, what happens is similar to the difference between Euclidean geometry and Babylonian geometry. The first is systematic and sequential in nature, very strictly bounded to logical consistency; where the second is a collection of good ruses for solving specific geometrical problems without necessary consistency in the overall theory, which is indeed absent. Thus, individuals could elaborate partial areas of their story which are, indeed, consistent but leaving all the rest of it out of the contradiction principle and the transposition commitment when translated into action. And this is why individuals without the transposition commitment often lie sincerely. They lie because they actually tell something misleading at best and blatantly false at worst. However, they are sincere (and then, they are not strong liars,) because they really believe (or, more accurately, they believe to believe) in what they are saying. Therefore, the opposites are both met: People often contradict themselves when describing what they do and what they think. All of it at the same time.

  1. Human History as Actions First and then Everything Follows – Or Why History is more about Lies and less about Truth

Now the ironic but sad title of this paragraph should already be clear, but let’s restrain ourselves to jump immediately to the thesis, allowing ourselves to contemplate the last intermediate step. Now, an observation could be immediately raised. Well, but if individual stories (which we can call ‘individual narratives’ or simply ‘narratives’ in short) are caused by weaving emotions through time, knowing that emotions are intermediate reactions to environment stimuli through the body, then we should expect a much wider difference in the personal narratives. After all, as it is said in the advertisement, all of us is so beautifully unique so to be perfectly comparable in the market. This is a fair observation, and a reply is needed.[11]

Let’s start from the obvious observation that, actually, all individual narratives are indeed different, though caused by similar reasons. First, our minds work on similar laws, implemented on a sufficiently comparable hardware. Then, subjective statements are relative to an individual, but they are not arbitrary at least in the way in which those statements were in fact produced. Second, humans have their own differences, but they can be overcome them looking to the categories of the basic components and behavior of their life, which is remarkably uniform. However, and this is the crucial point here, narratives are not only bounded to the sheer mechanical process as they are also constrained by the interaction with others’ stories. This is what is usually called culture.

If I live in a certain country, I will plausibly interact with other people, whose values and actions are shaped by their interactions with older people, who have also their values etc. Living in the same space, under the same environment, with similar social rules and legal system (or whatever works in that space-time region), inevitably human life assumes an interestingly uniform character, in spite of what looks like as a chaotical event in nature (the emotional condition of human existence.) In addition, social interactions are mediated through language and, therefore, by specific subsets of uses of it.

First, natural language is already a first filter on the capacity to elaborate stories of a given kind, as many languages can even lack words to express certain states of affairs (we don’t use to refer many shades of white so all white looks like the same, which is good in an urban environment but less so on the arctic.) Limits of the language can be overcome but it is not easy. I assume that all natural languages, as specific instantiation of the general human linguistic capacity, have all the potential for expressing the same propositions. Then, the most important constraint to personal narratives are customs and social rules, which tend to express values and ways to behave. Interestingly, breaking social rules and customs trigger an almost universal rule which is that the rule-braker justifies reaction, which can go from unpleasant verbal behavior to physical threats and violence. Then, a social rule can always be broken with intrinsic risk. Naturally, as there are social rules that bound direct or indirect movements, so there are rules that constraint the public use of language, which tries to force the individual’s endorsing on a given value. This is exactly what the old notion of education was about, as now there is nothing as empty as general education itself. Education was about learning discipline, which usually means a shared set of rules on how to statistically behave, talk, and possibly think appropriately in different but similar contexts.

Social rules of this sort are indeed trained and reinforced since a person is born. For instance, we were told that asking for the age to a person of a certain sex is not good, and it counts as a misbehavior. From that rule others follow naturally, and many of them are just assumed tacitly. Then, rule after rule, restriction after restriction, the individual learns that not everything possible is profitable, something has to be feared and something else is allowed under certain conditions. He/she also learns conditional behavior, that is under which circumstances a given act is indeed profitably allowed when, otherwise, it isn’t. Everything is subjected to this simple fact, as much as even extremely morally wrong behavior such as killing, and rape can turn to be acceptable in appropriate historical circumstances. For instance, during the great terror in the USSR, people unable to report allegedly misbehavior of others’ usually got themselves denounced and killed. To put it simply, preemptive killing was rewarded and, indeed, encouraged if not directly required. There are countless historical examples of the same behavior, though not necessarily of the same scale. But nothing can prove this principle better than Nazi Germany in which the ordinary bureaucracy, composed by absolutely exemplary ordinary people, as recognized since Hannah Arendt’s Eichman in Jerusalem, turned out to be the main way to organize and execute mass killings. Therefore, there is nothing to be expected by the plasticity of human morality, when some principles fall and other start to be applied. Whatever they have done in the past, whatever they said they believed, they tend naturally to comply because of fear and easy rewards.

Many of these rules are simply conventions, namely they are assumed without checks, and can be different and the rest of the world would stand equal, but they allow people to know what to expect from other individuals in certain circumstances. This is what the principle of transposition is all about. However, the social rules, as all human things, are usually unreasonable, unsound, and completely irrational. Many of these rules is what shape a society. For instance, usually people eat what geography and weather let them to have in their kitchen. Notwithstanding, if inquired, the majority will invent a better story, a nicer one, to explain why they prefer eat pasta instead of insects, which are rich of proteins and, allegedly, can be tasty. But insects are banned culturally, that is whoever is inscribed inside a given not-insect culture is also bounded to restrain in eating them and they are also encouraged to say so and, possibly, think as if they really believe it. And this restrain is applicable to action as well as to language. Therefore, all cultures are the strongest constraint over the individual narrative, which can vary but they must conform to certain social rules.

As a variation on a given theme, individual narrative can different, but they are not randomly created, they are not subjective as if the subject was indeed free to create him/herself as he/she pleases. This is not the case, the self-narrative is as bounded as few other things conceivable, so much so that I would even argue that there is almost only one universal narrative, which is basically reducing life to a way to survive with other people, a way to mate and maintain the offspring (marriage), and a vision of death (where here the main distinction is merely methodological, where obviously, it has to be seen as caused by the arbitrariness of history.) But this can be the topic for another issue.

To summarize, individual narratives are naturally produced by the mind, which accumulates propositions through time and start to see connections among them. At the same time, the mind is trained to endorse rules of evaluation (values), which are the result of the interaction among people in a certain common environment. Therefore, if an individual is grown into a Catholic country, he/she will tend to assume certain rules and values, as well as a person who lives in a communist country learns differently. But at the end of the day, as long as this person is not bounded to the transposition commitment, he/she will use the local culture only a set of boundaries to construct his/her own narrative to be shared with others when required. This means that without a self-endorsing consistency and connection between thoughts, speech and actions, which is what we called transposition commitment, the narrative will be constituted by set of propositions whose truth-value will be randomly determined and, obviously, statistically false as false propositions far exceed the number of the true ones (there is no need to prove this statement now.)

If this is all true for single individuals, then, what about groups of individuals? Well, as subsets of societies, subgroups will have their own social restrictions on language, action and maybe thinking. Subgroups starts with a common culture, which offers them constraints under which they can construct their own idiosyncratic rules, values, and permissions to action. Everyone will participate to weaving a piece of the common web, which is the group narrative, where all individuals play their own part. The group narrative can turn to be oriented to action and definition of common goals, which means that each individual will try to do his/her part to achieve it along with all other participants. Varying the normative domain, we call this group narrative as religion, political ideology, or morals (customs.)

Then, if statistically each individual has its own narrative, which is beyond his/her own check, then, we must conclude that group narratives are also unchecked or unreasonable, as those narratives that constitute the way to think and talk by the average person of the group. Indeed, what usually group narrative does is to simply add new boundaries and new constraints on what a single individual can say, act, and possibly think. And finally, many people simply say to believe in X, where X is group narrative, although they don’t act according to it. Why? Because, first, they are free from the transposition commitment and, therefore, they say so and they can also think it, but they act according to their own emotions, which usually are fear and the weak appreciation for easy gains. Group narratives are very often used as a shield against the individual behavior when he/she looks at the rest of the people to who has to interact. What always stroke me reading the history of the XXth century is indeed how similar communists and fascists can act. And even more strangely, how little individuals change their comportment when regimes change. There is so many historical evidence about this unchanging nature of human behavior in spite of all the narrative diversity through time among the very same people that if the reader will ask me to find some, I will kindly invite him/her to find him/herself those examples as an intellectual exercise. But to be very quick, he/she just can open an average newspaper and will find all the updated needed evidence. For instance, when the relativist individuals act, they tend to follow power, which usually they criticize. This is not a surprise to me, as power offers a limit to their actions and, so, it is naturally immune to their talk. However, at the same time, power generates fear, and, then, it restrains the average uncommitted person quite effectively.

If all this analysis turns to be correct, we should think that then human history must be a fraud, as it is shaped by political ideology, religions, group narratives, and individual narratives that are clearly randomly false in the average. This is exactly what the history of ideological regimes teaches us, especially the history of the USSR, but we can extend this to all others. However, I will never allow to draw such a needless conclusion. More accurately, there is a lot of truth in saying that human history is a fraud, but this is as unilateral as incorrect. In fact, first, there are people that consciously or unconsciously endorse the transposition commitment. There are a few individuals that are in fact able to do what they preach or, at least, to be coherent with their own principles. But not all of these few individuals are indeed morally good, as the commitment principle must be intended as a meta-moral principle, and a meta-moral value, but nothing more. However, some of these individuals are also good and, some of them, can try to positively influence others. Therefore, human history is, in a sense, the struggle between entropy and human rationality in which the latter is in the weaker side and in a very difficult position, but not a lost one, and that’s why there will be always hope in human history. It is indeed a natural feature of reason applied to morals the searching for consistency and connection between thought, speech, and action. Even without external aid, rational human beings are fully able to elaborate the transposition commitment and they usually do. Notwithstanding, it is indeed possible to live a life which is meaningful, but this requires the transposition commitment as a prerequisite and, after it, the endless strive for truth, first, and good, second (as there is no good without truth, where vice versa is possible.)

  1. Conclusions

I tried to show the difference between the principle of transposition and the transposition commitment, arguing a descriptive/explanatory requirement for the first and a normative dimension for the latter. The causal power of thinking was considered, and we moved on considering how individual narratives are established. Moreover, it was shown how culture offers common boundaries to individual narratives and how group narratives are collected and alimented, extending the process up to define religions, ideologies, and morals in its historical component (customs). The conclusion was that human history as common local narrative is in fact far from reality so to be statistically false, though there are remarkable exceptions. These exceptions are so deeply important to lead us to a personal take away.

All legends and myths about human heroes can vary, but they are all about the ideal (even a bad ideal) trajectory of life. As far as I know, very few Greek myths were about learning complex theorems leading the person who took that path to solitude and rectitude. Indeed, the myths are all about cheating, getting the best out of the situation and escaping or winning through ruses and cunning. It is not that these are bad stories, it is simply not inside the strict horizon of what is averagely expected by an ordinary person and, therefore, are outside the cultural horizon, but for a subset of people who start to elaborate their own narrative. In a sense, philosophy is exactly that: A counternarrative against the spontaneous living principles, which passes unchecked by reason. We all must be grateful to those few who take the chance to break few unreasonable rules to check them and try to show how things can be freer and different. The myths about the goodness or badness, depending on tastes, of the ordinary person are all ways only to escape one single truth about human life: Reason is the only way to meaning and that’s why great humans are as rare as perfection.


[1] Paradoxically, one of the theories of mine that I esteem the most is indeed my fundamental understanding of human history “The Free Creation of Eternal Truths”, which should look like strange for those few who know my philosophical standpoint. However, even in that case, the quest started for other reasons, and finally I landed up to the general theory which is, after all, a philosophy of history.

[2] Spinoza included, although with further caveats that we will not investigate here.

[3] By the way, I’m not including Descartes in the numbers who defended this position as he clearly denied it.

[4] It always amazed me how few people find weird thinking that an action can actually contradict a proposition and vice versa without thinking to what this ‘contradiction’ should be intended.

[5] In other words, an action is a virtual proposition.

[6] We will consider what self-narratives are later in this essay.

[7] Although we can think in terms of the principle of sufficient reason, I think stating that each state of mind m has to be caused by a previous set of states of mind is more accurate. Indeed, although we can idealize the cause in only one factor, there are always more elements to be included as conditional component of any effect. In this sense, for instance, a state of mind is just an idealization, because it always exists as part of the mind, which is a complicated and complex thing.

[8] For instance, the body has its own rules that are implicitly taken into account in any action. I cannot move my leg more than the leg itself! And considering that I’m short, this is a limitation in certain sports (though an advantage in others).

[9] I always thought that mind has four different way general law of functioning. It is capable of generating knowledge of states of affairs through its cognitive processes. It can believe in some propositions and experience qualitative thoughts (emotions or sentiments.) In addition, it has embedded an evaluative function that generates evaluations of the others components of the psychological life. Therefore, although all humans evaluate and judge according to the universal capacity directly embedded in their mind, they also can formulate different rules of evaluation according to their knowledge, belief, and emotional life.

[10] And therefore the statement cannot count as a contradiction itself.

[11] After all, let’s think how silly is thinking the opposite. Saying that everybody is incommensurably different to another, and the other to a third one, it would be like saying that as long as each person has a different favorite pizza, then, nobody loves pizza! Though absurd this way of thinking can be, this is exactly how it is and, interestingly, the mistake is played in the inability to distinguish the singular particular case as part of a broader category. Therefore, each categorical item is different, but it is still part of a category such that if you like the category, at least tendentially, you also like the items.


Giangiuseppe Pili

Giangiuseppe Pili è Ph.D. in filosofia e scienze della mente (2017). E' stato assistant professor ed è il fondatore di Scuola Filosofica, coordinatore dell'associazione Azione Filosofica ed è il responsabile della collana dei libri di Scuola Filosofica. Egli è autore di numerosi saggi e di diversi articoli in riviste internazionali. In lingua italiana ha pubblicato numerosi lavori e libri. Scacchista per passione. ---- ENGLISH PRESENTATION ------------------------------------------------- Giangiuseppe Pili - PhD philosophy and sciences of the mind (2017). He is a former assistant professor in intelligence studies and he is the founder of Scuola Filosofica (Philosophical School) and the Co-Founder of the philosophical association Azione Filosofica (Philosophical Action). He is the editor in chief of the collective series of books based on the blog (Le Due Torri - Publisher). He is a prolific author nationally and internationally. He is a passionate chess player and (back in the days!) movie maker.

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