Tag Archives: Richard McKeon

Things, Thoughts, Words, and Actions

Here are some additional fourfolds from philosopher Richard McKeon.

McKeon wrote much on the subject of rhetoric. A favorite fourfold of concepts was that of Things, Thoughts, Words, and Actions. He called these “commonplaces of inquiry” or “places of invention and memory”. Two rhetorical devices he used were amplification and schematization. Amplification can extend the scope of, for example, words to the other three, similar to the principle of indifference. “Objectivity is the inclusive principle of indifference by which it is recognized that being is grasped only in what we think, and say, and do about it.” [1] Schematization was used to identify and distiguish, for example, commonplaces. Thus I think amplification is a conjunctive device, and schematization is a disjunctive device.

Another fourfold of subjects by McKeon was Topics, Themes, Theses, and Hypotheses. McKeon wrote, “Speculation concerning discourse must avoid the fixities of categories, doctrines, methods, and assumptions which discourse assumes in any one form of philosophy or inquiry, if it is to include all the forms which discourse takes in philosophy and in inquiry, action, and production. This is possible because the variety of categories or elements is approached in discourse by way of common topics or ‘commonplaces’; the variety of facts or statements of what is the case by way of common hypotheses; the variety of arts or methods of treating problems by way of common themes; and the variety of assumptions or principles by way of common theses.” [2]

Are both these fourfolds aligned correctly with the previous Knowable, Knowledge, Known, and Knower? McKeon’s use of terms in his rhetoric was very fluid, perhaps to prevent systemization or to promote pluralism. However, his main reference to fourfolds was Aristotle’s four scientific questions, or Four Causes, which we can use to try to understand his fourfolds.


Theresa Enos (ed.) / Encyclopedia of Rhetoric and Composition: Communication from Ancient Times to the Information Age

[1] Richard McKeon / Selected Writings of Richard McKeon: Volume One: Philosophy, Science, and Culture

[2] Richard McKeon / Selected Writings of Richard McKeon, Volume Two: Culture, Education, and the Arts


H. L. Ulman / Things, Thoughts, Words, and Actions: the problem of language in late Eighteenth-Century British rhetorical theory

[*5.197, *6.140, *7.162, *7.165]



The Archic Philosophers

In a word, the Sophist begins from man, the Democritean from matter, the Platonist from form, and the Aristotelian from functioning.

— From The Architectonics of Meaning, by Walter Watson

Inspired by philosopher Richard McKeon, I believe that philosophy as a whole is encompassed by four main philosophical stances, exemplified by four ancient philosophers: the Sophists (as a group), Democritus, Plato, and Aristotle. Their four systems of thought lay out principal philosophical directions, much like the compass directions east, south, north, and west lay out a complete set of primary directions.

Of course the compass directions can be subdivided into north-east, or south-south-west, and so on, and similarly each of these philosophical systems can be divided into four parts. This division into a four-by-four matrix is called the Archic Matrix and was written about at length in the separate but complementary works of Walter Watson and David Dilworth.

Watson and Dilworth described the four main philosophical directions to be perspective, reality, method, and principle: perspective for the Sophists, reality for Democritus, method for Plato, and principle for Aristotle. I have written about these philosophical perspectives previously in several ways.

Thus philosophy as a practice goes around and around and revisits the same ideas over and over. Perhaps McKeon thought his philosophical system followed in the footsteps of Aristotle, and probably Watson and Dilworth had a similar view.

Likewise, I believe that my fourfold of Structure-Function represents these four philosophical directions in the following way: Action(s) for the Sophists, Part(s) for Democritus, Structure for Plato, and Function for Aristotle.



J.-Y. Girard’s Transcendental Syntax

With the recent release of the paper found at the link below, logician Jean-Yves Girard has updated his program for a transcendental syntax to version 2.0. The first version was available last year only in French, but this new manuscript is available in English. Girard is known for his refinement of classical and intuitionistic logic, Linear Logic, and his exploration into the mechanisms of logic, Ludics.

In this new paper, Girard describes four levels of semantics, his infernos: alethic, functional, interactive, and deontic. They descend into the depths of meaning, and thus are numbered from -1 to -4. The negatively first, alethic, is the layer of truth or models. The negatively second, functional, is the layer of functions or categories. The negatively third, interaction, is the layer of games or game semantics. The negatively fourth, deontic, is the layer of normativity or formatting.

Interestingly, these four levels are in good agreement with Richard McKeon’s schema for philosophical semantics, represented by the fourfold of reality, method, perspective, and principle.






Walter Watson and David Dilworth’s Archic Matrix

Throughout the history of philosophy, there have been many conflicting stances both towards claiming what exists (ontology), and how we can know our claims are valid (epistemology). There are the oppositions between idealism and realism, between rationalism and empiricism, between thinking all is change and all is changeless, between all is many and all is one, and so on. One approach to overcome these oppositions is to combine them to form their Hegelian synthesis. Another is to deconstruct them à la Derrida. Another pluralistic approach is to consider that there is a germ of truth on each side of the conflicting stance, an aspect of reality for which that stance is valid. Some might think that pluralism is the same as relativism, but it is not. Relativism and pluralism form yet another philosophical opposition like others mentioned above.

Regardless of the validity of pluralism, it can be very useful to analyze what philosophical stances are possible and how they relate to one another. The philosopher Richard McKeon created a rich schema for philosophical semantics that deserves greater recognition. This schema was both simplified and elaborated on by Walter Watson and David Dilworth in their books about the Archic Matrix. There are four main aspects, all exemplified by ancient philosophers: the Sophists, Democritus, Plato, and Aristotle. Everything else is a combination of these original aspects, or essentially a rehashing of them. The main aspects are perspective from the Sophists, reality from Democritus, method from Plato, and principle from Aristotle. These partition “what is”, however it is conceived, into four aspects, each of which can be interpreted in four different ways.

Considering Whitehead’s Criteria, note that perspective has consistency, method has coherency, reality has applicability, and principle has adequacy.

Walter Watson / The Architectonics of Meaning: foundations of the new pluralism

David A. Dilworth / Philosophy in World Perspective: a comparative hermeneutic of the major theories







Plato’s Divided Line

How to display Plato’s Divided Line? Instead of a continuous line going from low to high as it is usually shown, I’ve shown it as two continuous crossed lines, a fourfold or double dual. Eikasia (imagining) and Pistis (belief) together are Doxa, the phenomenal. Dianoia (understanding) and Noesis (knowledge) together are Episteme, the intelligible. Doxa should indeed be horizontal, corresponding to the phenomenal of Richard McKeon’s Aspects of Knowing, and the subjective or content of other double duals. I believe Eikasia should come before Pistis, as the substance and form of content in Hjelmslev’s Net. Considering the vertical axis, Episteme as Dianoia and Noesis should surely be there for Plato, corresponding to McKeon’s ontic. But how do Dianoia and Noesis relate?

By the measure of the Aspects of Knowing or the Archic Matrix, Dianoia could be considered the method/knowledge and Noesis the reality/knowable of Plato’s Divided Line. Thus Dianoia should be above Noesis, as method/knowledge is above reality/knowable. Yet by other measures, that of the Here and Now or Hjelmslev’s Net, Noesis should be above and Dianoia below. Noesis is the form to the substance of Dianoia. Dianoia can also be thought of as meroscopic, reducing all to number and quantity, and Noesis can be thought of as holoscopic, combining all thing into the hierarchy of forms that culminate in that ultimate form, “The Good”.

The difficulty may be because the lower position, here Noesis, serves both as the position of the real in some fourfolds, as well as the position of earth and matter in others. This is a bias that I would like to avoid, but a resolution will need to come later.



[*6.158-*6.165, *6.186]


Archic Matrix: Principles

Creative cause functioning by virtue of (indeterminate) potentiality transcend what is given, functioning caused is without limit different for different things, indeterminate in kind of functioning caused
Elemental cause functioning by virtue of (determinate) potentiality immanent in what is given, from which the functioning emerges same for all things, all things are the same in their being
Comprehensive cause functioning by virtue of actuality (of totality) transcend what is given, functioning of all things transcends any given thing same for all things, all things are differentiated parts of same whole
Reflexive cause functioning by virtue of actuality (of functionality) immanent in what is given, as the functioning itself different for different things, determinate in kind of functioning caused

Since the Archic Matrix can be thought of as the union of four separate fourfolds, each of the fourfolds of perspective, reality, method, principle can be considered on its own. Here is the fourfold of principles consisting of creative, elemental, comprehensive, and reflexive principles. The content of the table and the bottom figure is derived from Walter Watson’s Architectonics of Meaning.



Archic Matrix: Methods

Agonistic parts are primary, producing whole through endeavors two voices are tested against each other to organize whole close off intermediate wholes because of external forces
Logistic parts are primary, producing whole while remaining same one voice beginning from determinate towards determinate whole extend towards ultimates (least parts)
Dialectic whole determines parts directly two voices are united with each other to organize whole extend towards ultimates (all-inclusive whole)
Problematic whole determines parts reciprocally one voice beginning from indeterminate towards determinate whole close off intermediate wholes because of own internal unity

Since the Archic Matrix can be thought of as the union of four separate fourfolds, each of the fourfolds of perspective, reality, method, principle can be considered on its own. Here is the fourfold of methods consisting of agonistic, logistic, dialectic, and problematic methods. The content of the table and the bottom figure is derived from Walter Watson’s Architectonics of Meaning.