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Humanist Archives: March 31, 2020, 8:05 a.m. Humanist 33.713 - tree-diagrams, Aristotle & Ibn Sina (Avicenna)

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 33, No. 713.
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        Date: 2020-03-30 11:06:43+00:00
        From: William Pascoe 
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 33.708: tree diagrams


Love it or hate it, Deleuze and Guattari perform a very influential
deconstruction of tree structures and how it influences thought and reason in
the first few chapters of A Thousand Plateaus. Contra the assumptions inherent
in the analogy of a tree-like root structure reflecting the tree above that we
so often use to understand the world, they propose their famous 'rhizome' -
where the root system is not a mirror image of the plant above ground, and
rather than being heirarchical it is a decentralised network. Despite Deleuze
and Guattari reaching a pinnacle of the obtuse obfuscating language that post-
structuralism is so often derided for, IMHO it remains an important and valuable

In relation to this I don't think it would be hard to find many critiques of the
mania for (mutually exclusive) hierarchical classification in Enlightenment
thought and science. Although I haven't read it, I'm guessing Umberto Eco's
'Kant and the Platypus' would be a popular example, and probably a bit more
intelligible than D&G. Something about the platypus defying categories, having
attributes of mammals, birds, reptiles, marsupials, being amphibious, etc etc.
Incidentally, on a DH note, I found a fair understanding of this invaluable when
working with LDAP in contrast to heirarchical directories like the old Novel and
Active Directory systems it was replacing when it came in. The important thing
was that there were always 'entities' that belonged in more than one branch of
the tree (in this case for granting permissions), so there was always a problem
of associating and connecting multiple instances in different places - the
beauty of LDAP was that it is a flat 'heirarchy', just a big long list, and
everything is done by attributes, and filters querying those attributes - so
instead of forcing things into mutually exclusive tree structures and then
trying to figure out where on earth to put the platypus, you just have a huge
list of things with properties, and just query whatever is relevant to the
purposes - so instead of 'all entities under mammal' you can go 'all egg laying
creatures' or 'all lactating creatures' depending on what is relevant to the
problem at hand, and a platypus is no problem.

Anyway, in terms of the history of reasoning across fields, in the history of
Western thought, probably the most important part of the origin story is
Aristotle. Clear and thorough categorisation of everything, across and within
all fields was a core part of his philosophical method. A brilliant, and one of
the most important exponents of Aristotelian approach, leading to modern science
is Ibn Sina / Avicenna. In just the first few pages of his Metaphysics, with an 
apparently effortless flick of the pen, he summaries absolutely everything that 
may be reasoned about by the art of distinguishing categories - and then proceeds 
with a project of comprehending everything by this technique, inventing clinical 
method, among other things, along the way.

Just because I happen to have it handy, see how deftly he analyses all that is
into categories that remain our basic assumptions to this day ('household' is
obviously a vital aspect of Islam, but Westerners can also understand this as
'economics' coming from Greek 'oikonomia', dealing with household management,
particularly in the sense of managing incomings and outgoings, such as what the
farm produces, what is in the stores, etc as well as the level described of mid
level relationships between society at large and the individual):

1. The beginning of first philosophy

First Chapter: the number of philosophical sciences
For each science there is a subject matter the condition of which is
investigated by that science. Subject matter is of two kinds: the one which
depends for its being on our action, and the other which does not depend for its
being on our action... The one which informs us of the condition of our action
is named practical science... The other informs us about the nature of the being
of objects... This science is named speculative science.

From each of these two sciences we derive three sciences. There are three
practical sciences. The first is the science of public management which assures
us about associations for which there is a need to be orderly. And this is of
two kinds. The first concerns the nature of religious laws, and the second
concerns the nature of the science of politics... Another is the science of
household management which is meant to regulate the associations taking place in
a house between husband and wife, father and child, and master and slave. The
third is the science of the self, specifying how man should be with his own
self. Since it is man's condition to be alone or to be in association with
others, and since associations are either with members of a household or with
fellow citizens, there are three kinds of practical sciences governing these
associations: that of civic management, that of household management, and
finally that of management of the self.

The speculative science is of three kinds: one is named first philosophy, the
science of primordials of that which is beyond nature; another is an
intermediate science which is called the science of syntax and mathematics; the
other is called a natural science or inferior science to the fact that things
are classified only into three kinds. Either their being (ie: that the subject
matter of these sciences) is in no way connected to sensible matter, mixture and
motion... Or (2) there are other kinds of subjects whose beings are not
separated from sensible matter and things in motion... Or (3) other kinds of
subjects that are such that their being is in materials, and defining and
imagining them are related to matter and to the nature of motion, as was
clarified by means of our previous example.

- Avicenna, Metaphysica, pp11-12
Bill Pascoe

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