“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Friday, May 27, 2011

Hymens and Logic

P ∧ ¬ P

During my recent trip to Melbourne I had the pleasure of meeting with Graham Priest, a logician working on (or rather against) the law of non-contradiction (LNC), a concept that's been around since Aristotle but which has, strangely, never received any justification apart from a circular one, to wit, "If you don't believe in it you're not logical."

This was the kind of thing that made me have a low opinion of logic. The discipline seemed capable of easily being misused by the kinds of alpha chimp that try to dismiss your argument by making you feel like you're talking nonsense. Now Priest, like Derrida, is opening up LNC, but unlike Derrida, from within logic as such.

Since a lot of Ferguson's talk involved ambiguous or both-and constructs, one of which is the notion of "doorway," I thought we should be interested that one of Graham's examples of a situation that cries out for a more subtle logic (there are many, it seems) is the notion of being in a doorway--are you inside or outside the room?

It also seems to me, intuitively, that one reason why patriarchy seems obsessed with the hymen is its (here is Graham's term) dialetheic status (di = double, aletheia, truth). Hence the drive to reduce the contradictoriness to "You're either a virgin or you're a woman" (wow by the way I can't believe that modern website, see the notes below on Margie's lecture). And the drive to excise the hymen.

This seems to resemble the drive to excise from logic things like the Liar paradox ("This sentence is false"), despite Gödel's proof that for a system to be coherent, it has to be inconsistent, that is, it has to contain a sentence that says something like "This statement cannot be proved." (Let alone deconstruction and so on.)

The connection with Aristotle seems interesting, since he develops the LNC (and the unexplained taboo against violating it), at the same time as not restricting the notion of hymen. But his quite teleological view of bodies (hands are for clapping, ducks are for swimming etc.) might have played into fears about hymens. In which case what the heck are modern (hence anti-Aristotelian) doctors doing with it?


Thomas Gokey said...

Fascinating stuff. "The Double Session" is my all time favorite piece by Derrida.

Is there a particular book/article that you would recommend as a starting point for Graham Priest?

I'd also be interested in reading Margie Ferguson's text when it appears somewhere. I read about those hymen restoration surgeries a few years ago.

Timothy Morton said...

Hi Thomas, I'm reading all of Priest right now and will be posting on it frequently so I'll let you know more. For now, look at the Stanford Encylopedia entry on dialetheism. He wrote it...