MYTHOS - LOGOS - NOMOS
FOUNDATIONS OF THE
Copyright © by Barnabas D. Johnson
As science swallows logic whole, then moves beyond, so cybernetics properly understood swallows science whole, then moves beyond. See Cybernetics of Society. Law is the quintessential cybernetic calling, transcending science. Failure to understand this might doom civilization.
Understanding this requires delving into ancient Mythos, Logos, and Nomos. In doing so, however, we must forever remind ourselves that these words denote a "territory" of impressionistic, unarticulable mind-stuff which we see, map, and in a sense create in retrospect — with benefit of hindsight. As "BC" came into being only after "AD", so Mythos and Logos have no meaning except with reference to their child, Nomos.
More specifically, Mythos did not "exist" (or at least could not have been distinguished or recognized) except with reference to what evolved out of it, and in relation to it, namely, (a) Logos, the precursor of modern logic and science, and (b) Nomos, the precursor of evidence-based, reason-upholding, systematically-normative Constitutional Democracy, whose global quickening into that "Nomosphere" this book seeks to illuminate.
The Mythos-Logos-Nomos "triangulation" remains part of the crucial "relic grammar" of thought. It illuminates the Ecology of Mind's ultimate justification: "calling forth" the Ecology of Values. Much of this historical and philosophical ground is covered in First Trinity.
This earliest Nomos was the basis of Isonomia — equal justice and, hence, constitutional democracy — which, in turn, undergirds what I here call the "nomosphere": a global government under law based on mathematics, physics, chemistry, and biology (the biosphere) as well as all our knowing and thinking about these, and our relationships to them (the memesphere) which, together — necessity being the mother of invention — are giving birth to deliberative choice, democratic will, constitutional governance.
We must distinguish modern "cultural territories" from ancient mappings of their precursors. Extended metaphors and related cultural software are tools, including tool-making tools, that must never become ends in themselves. Paying heed thereto, we must forge our global future based on inspired yet humble blueprints reflecting our best understanding of how to achieve biospheric and memespheric success.
Those blueprints constitute that nomosphere.
In the Ecology of Mind, ideas evolve not in a vacuum but in relation to other ideas and to the people who utilize "thinking" for the advancement of their purposes. Seek, and ye shall find. The parameters of our questions necessarily shape any answers we will recognize as being responsive thereto. Except under the spell of extreme solipsism, world view does not "create" world-to-view ... but it might as well, unless we are careful to allow "world to view" to modify and even transform our world view. Such "feedback cultivating and harvesting" is of the essence in cybernetics, properly understood. Its absence leads to insanity, individual and societal, including faith-based beliefs that ignore evidence-based realities.
So, what is the "world to view" and how can we know it reliably?
First, context: What is the problem, and what is the goal?
Principled "truth finding" and "theory testing" should lie at the heart of any "theology" Humanity knowing Divinity? worthy of being called so. Logic, science, and cybernetics are not "opposed" to religion; yet religion bereft of them is empty at best, toxic at worst; indeed, our world needs a "new religion" that is deeply rooted in the long quest for principled thought that can instruct impeccable behavior. That quest started in ancient Greece before the dawn of Judeo-Christian-Islamic monotheism, and understanding those roots remains vitally relevant to our world's present and future capacity to shape "religion" in light of "the Book of Life": experience recorded with fidelity, without fear or favor. Another word for such experience is evidence.
At the dawning of systematic thought in the West, starting with Thales (c. 624-547 BC), who is generally considered the first philosopher of ancient Greek civilization, the Mythos the totality of all knowledge, contained in songs and stories but not yet written begat the Logos. The word "logos" came to have several meanings, including (in this historical order): writing, truth, the rules governing physics, the rules governing metaphysics, God, the "Word of God", and according to contending Christian formulations the "Child of God" or the "Holy Spirit" or other conceptions or aspects of the Christian Trinity (arguably there are many). Triune conceptions are deeply rooted, perhaps even in the very structure of the human brain. See First Trinity.
To Thales, the Logos was what he was seeking: the "changeless something" from which all change emanates. That search lies as a "relic" undergirding all subsequent philosophy, science, ethics, and (arguably) "goal-seeking" itself, at least in the West. (See Note on Philosophical Origins.) Significantly, perhaps, during this same era somewhat similar "goal-seeking" appears to have animated philosophy and theology in Mesopotamia, India, China, and elsewhere. Systematic and purposeful thinking was "blowing in the wind" far beyond Thales' home, Miletus, in what is now Turkey. This suggests that "mind-stuff" might have traveled fairly rapidly long before invention of, say, the internet. Ideas, good or bad, can be infectious. Developing "antibodies" or resistances to bad ideas is a major goal of the Cybernetics of Society. Although these biological metaphors should not be pressed too far, they can be illuminating. What is most illuminating here, however, is the story of how the Mythos begat the Logos, and how the Logos then begat the Nomos.
In many ways the ancient world of the Mythos, of numerous immortal and changeless gods governing mortal, changeable humans, "called forth" a search for that changeless One from which all fundamental truths, values, and rules were thought to emanate. Interestingly, this occurred at about the same time that a single God, exalted by the Children of Abraham, replaced various polytheisms. More interestingly, Thales' student Anaximander disagreed with his teacher, who thought this "changeless One" was water, and asserted that it must be "apeiron" immaterial, pure mindstuff, beyond mapping and naming not too different from the "name" Yahweh, or Jehovah, which means The Nameless Becoming. Most interestingly, however, (a) Anaximander's student Anaximenes rejected the apeiron for something material, not water but air, which when rarefied becomes fire (the agent of change) and when compressed becomes stone (the agent of changelessness); (b) Anaximenes' philosophical successor, Pythagorus, rejected "materialism" (thereby returning somewhat to apeiron) and asserted that the Changeless is rarefaction and compression number, ratios, mathematics, pure reason and (c) Pythagorus' students founded numerous "schools of thought" whose students diverged ever further in their "dialectical" (conversational) disagreements as to the identity of that One, thereby generating many Ones.
But they all ended up accepting that "the way of discovery" must be something all could agree on: Dialectics, systematized conversations, methodical observations carefully recorded epistemology, the rudiments of logic and science.
Yet this course proved unsatisfactory, and indeed led to bedlam a sort of "societal mental breakdown" which, however, led to a "breakthrough" of no small consequence: A changed question, whose answer was not Logos but Nomos.
In simplest terms, the bifurcation of the Logos into ontology, asking "What is?", and epistemology, asking "How do we know what is?", was as stable as any two-legged chair until the quest for the One became "trifurcated" with the great preoccupation of the ancient Sophists: "So what? How do we convert knowledge and wisdom into choice and action? How shall we live our lives with excellence? How shall we construct a just society?" This third "leg" was called teleology, and these three in turn "fed back" and changed Logos by converting the Mythos-Logos dyad into a triad: Mythos, Logos, and Nomos.
The Sophists got a "bad press" from Plato, who blamed them for his teacher Socrates' death. That is hardly fair. The best Sophists were true teachers, preoccupied with the meaning of virtue, the pursuit of areté, excellence, impeccability, being the best you can be. Socrates was, arguably, the greatest of the Sophists.
Ontology, Epistemology, Teleology
Mythos, Logos, and Nomos composed the first great Trinity (at least of Western civilization), but its begetting required Logos to first generate the sub-trinity of ontology, epistemology, and teleology, and then for ontology and teleology to "feed back" and powerfully enrich epistemology logic and science converting part of epistemology into a meta-science, cybernetics, the art of converting wisdom into choice, choice into action, and action into subsequent evaluation and resulting refinements of future choices and actions especially those choices and actions which Socrates, according to Plato, associated with the art of governance.
Such "cybernetic thinking" was crucial to defining and then enriching Nomos. Note that the ancient Greek verb "kuberne" is embedded in both "cybernetics" and "governance", and their association originated with Socrates' analogy to the art of the kubernetes, the helmsman, the pilot, who must integrate knowledge of the changeless ("stars") with the naturally changing ("winds and waves") in order to choose whether and how to act with reference to that which is humanly changeable to alter the angle of the rudder, the trim of the sail.
Altering either must feed back into choices affecting the other.
This involves a complex kind of thinking, the rudiments of cybernetic thinking. This kind of thinking has itself evolved, of course — coevolved with all other elements of civilization — but understanding the origin of the "idea of governance" as here summarized is essential to understanding modern constitutional theory, establishing competent constitutional democracies, and upholding liberal arts education aimed at enhancing liberty and justice worldwide.
First and foremost, we must understand that this dialectical or conversational approach when focused on finding the Truth about the Good, about areté, about excellence in all is of supernal value, and that this is why any competent constitutional system must guarantee freedom of inquiry, thought, conscience, expression, association, etc. Although no values are absolute, there is a hierarchy of "abiding values" (highest societal commitments) ... and the abiding (and closely tied) values of free inquiry, association, and expression (limited, of course, by other abiding values) together stand about as high within this hierarchy as can be imagined. The Ecology of Mind requires free minds, requires liberty bounded only by justice.
Law as Art
The word "art" used above comes from the Greek techne, and refers to those things humans make using skill, reasoning, intelligence. Aristotle wrote extensively on this subject, and is our main source of understanding the evolution of ideas leading to the concept of governance as an art honoring but transcending science as science honors but transcends logic.
Such cybernetic thinking is "proper to" participatory systems in which what we know and do changes the systems we are embedded in, changes our relationships to them, and changes our concept of "understanding" to require an ecology of reasoning-rich activity, a participatory endeavor spanning time, often spanning generations, centuries, millennia.
Thus, when we talk about the Rule of Law based on the Rule of Reason, we are talking about a special kind of reasoning feedback cultivating and feedback harvesting, seeking not only the True but also the Good and then doing something about it, and monitoring the consequences, and refining, revising, improving. We live and learn, as individuals and societies; we plan our further living and learning accordingly; and we see in a good constitutional democracy a fit "learning organism" that enables us to do all this better, securing liberty with justice, wisdom with will.
Law is "science" only in the astonishing sense that we humans are engaged in a long-term "controlled experiment" testing whether the evolution of intelligence and of the capacity to choose based on knowledge, including self-knowledge is evolutionarily viable. Such intelligence is powerful indeed, allowing us to eradicate all forms of intelligent life on this planet, and perhaps all forms of human mayhem. Perhaps these things should go without saying. Then again, many requisites of "sustainable development" can benefit from explicit identification. We must examine, inform, and inspire. We must find a basis for hope, for without it our world will not be viable. This hope must be based on genuine confidence born of genuine competence the capacity to combine and embody the quest for Truth with the determination to find, and do, the Good.
Note on Philosophical Origins: Aristotle's writings, especially his Metaphysics, provide the best summary of ancient Greek philosophy, and also set a powerful pedagogical example by summarizing an "ecology of ideas" (Thales said x, to which his student Anaximander replied y, regarding which Anaximenes responded z, etc.) before weighing in with his own observations, commentaries, and conclusions.
Although, looking back across two and a half millennia, we must disagree with many details in Aristotle's work — and perhaps many fundamentals, too, although that remains debatable — his approach is astonishingly "modern"; as with Shakespeare's writings, Aristotle's seem "composed of familiar quotations"; his first lines from Metaphysics thunder a manifesto that, despite everything we now know, can hardly be improved upon:
"All men by nature desire to know. An indication of this is the delight we take in our senses; for even apart from their usefulness they are loved for themselves; and above all others the sense of sight. For not only with a view to action, but even when we are not going to do anything, we prefer seeing (one might say) to everything else. The reason is that this, most of all the senses, makes us know and brings to light many differences between things."
Regarding Thales' original quest for the "Fundamental Principle" (the ontological foundations) of existence, Aristotle wrote:
"Thales, the founder of this type of philosophy, says the principle is water (for which reason he declared that the earth rests on water), getting the notion perhaps from seeing that the nutriment of all things is moist, and that heat itself is generated from the moist and kept alive by it (and that from which they come to be is a principle of all things). He got his notion from this fact, and from the fact that the seeds of all things have a moist nature, and that water is the origin of the nature of moist things." (Book 1, Part 3, Para. 3.)
See Aristotle's Metaphysics.
Go to List of Jurlandia Writings
Go to Jurlandia Institute
Go to Home Page