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Aristotle's Law of Noncontradiction (LNC) is translated in a variety of ways:

Let us next state what this principle is."It is impossible for the same attribute at once to belong and not to belong to the same thing and in the same relation"; and we must add any further qualifications that may be necessary to meet logical objections. [Met, IV.1005b, italics added]

and

It is impossible that the same thing can at the same time both belong and not belong to the same object and in the same respect, and all other specifications that might be made, let them be added to meet local objections [ Metaphysics, Book Γ, 1005b19–23, quoted from Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, italics added].

and

It is impossible that the same thing belong and not belong to the same thing at the same time and in the same respect. [Met, 1005b19-20, quoted from Wikipedia, italics added].

Nonetheless, in all its translations, the law is always qualified with regard to some respect or relation or most generally, some context. Given this intrinsic qualification, one might recast the LNC as a law of recontextualization:

Any apparent contradiction can be resolved through recontextualization.

I am aware of one scholar, Brook Ziporyn, that I interpret as having done so, at least implicitly: [A] statement always brings with it its own way of being true, its own [context], and [contextualizing] is literally unavoidable. Ziporyn is himself interpreting the philosophy of Tiantai Buddhism. Here is the quote in context:

In Buddhist terms, we may say simply that “respects” or “senses” or “contexts ” do not have self-natures. They have no single unambiguous, true-in-all-contexts boundaries that define contexts as having just this set of characteristics and no others. We may see here why it is that Buddhist thinkers in particular have an insight into the non-ultimacy of the LNC: the claim that “a thing cannot contradict itself” is entirely dependent on how we define a “thing,” where we draw the boundaries between “this” and “something else,” how much of the total swath of experience is separated off as one thing as opposed to another. That is, we usually define “this thing” as simply “as many bits of information as can be experienced consistently and as not contradicting each other; where the contradictions start, we ipso facto consider a new thing to have begun.” “Same thing” in Aristotle’s definition is as problematic as “same respect” and “same time,” and for the same reason. “Real entity” and “LNC” are two alternate descriptions of the same idea: a real entity is just defined as whatever accords with the LNC. The Buddhist rejection of any fixed and unambiguous boundaries for any single entity entails also a rejection of the LNC. Contexts must themselves be contextualized to be the contexts they are. Contextual accounts of truths necessitate holism, and holism has no non-arbitrary stopping point. The most comprehensive holism is self-undermining, as the self-reference and self-inclusion paradoxes show. Conventional Truth cannot be kept safe from the ravages of Ultimate Truth, i.e., the fact that the latter negates the truth of every Conventional Truth. The contexts which warrant Conventional Truths are infected by the undermining of them that we see initially in the universal Ultimate Truths. But not to worry: all this means is that there are infinite Conventional Truths, infinite Ultimate Truths, and, thus, infinite paradoxes.

The Tiantai claim is that parameterization is intrinsic to the simple act of making two statements, even two non-contradictory statements, about “the same” thing. To play with a very old Chinese example, if I have a white horse before me, and I say “it is white” and also “it is a horse,” the sense in which it is white is not the sense in which it is a horse. What makes it true that it is white is not what makes it true that it is a horse. In one sense it is a horse, in one sense it is white. “Horse” is the answer to one kind of question about it, while “white” is the answer to another. It is in the context of someone ’s concern with color that it is correctly (usefully, successfully) called white. It is in the context of someone ’ s concern with animal taxonomy (say) that is it correctly (usefully, successfully) called horse.

So it cannot be that “there is an absolute truth,” and “there is no absolute truth” are meant “in the same way,” for no two statements can ever be meant in “the same” way, if “same ” is meant to signify something radically distinct from “different.” The point is that a statement always brings with it its own way of being true, its own parameters, and parameterizing is literally unavoidable. (italics added)

What Does the Law of Non-Contradiction Tell Us, If Anything? Paradox, Parameterization, and Truth in Tiantai Buddhism

Where Ziporyn uses the term parameterization I use the term contextualization. I mention Ziporyn's interpretation of Tiantai Buddhism not to defend it (though I do), but to demonstrate that at least one philosopher has highlighted the LNC's fundamental reliance on the caveat of context (aka respect, relation) and has at least gestured towards understanding the LNC as a claim about using recontextualization as a means of resolving any apparent contradiction.

So with all of that as background, has any other philosopher made a similar argument? Has anyone argued or gestured towards an argument that the LNC can be understood as being a claim about the power of (re)contextualization to avoid contradictions?

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    +1 for Buddhism. The world would be much better off if we just threw everything else away and started there.
    – Scott Rowe
    Mar 15 at 22:43
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    Most western philosophy and popular logics including classic or intuitionistic logics which rejects LEM treat LNC simply as unqualified context-free same as law of identity. Perhaps Graham Priest's dialethism and some paraconsistent logic would reject or limit LNC under some (re)contextualization. Philosophers like Wittgenstein, Quine, and Davidson all expressed similar views, such as Davidson's Reality Without Reference could be said to reflect and skeptical on the conventional contextualization power... Mar 15 at 22:43
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    @DoubleKnot Those are the 'usual suspects' I've been investigating! The subtext for my question is that my Law of Recontextualization (LoR) can be interpreted as a less pejorative gloss of trivialism. As such, Priest would definitely reject it. As for W, Q & D, I completely agree that they would be sympathetic to LoR, but none, to my knowledge, actually expressed anything closely resembling it. Cites to the contrary much appreciated. I'll look at Davidson's RWR to see if there's any explicit resonance. Thanks.
    – Nick Gall
    Mar 15 at 23:06
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    There seems to be a rationalistic leap from "impossible to belong and not belong to the same thing at the same time and in the same respect" (negative claim) to "can be resolved through recontextualization" (positive claim). One can certainly argue the latter, but it will be more than simply "recasting" Aristotle's more modest assertion. Wittgenstein, for example, contemplated impossibilities that cannot be so "resolved", at least not by us. Ziporyn outlines why our recontextualizing powers are not entirely up to the task. Hegel argued similarly with respect to Heraclitean flux.
    – Conifold
    Mar 16 at 1:15
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    Possibly related: In a inconsistent Axiomatic Framework, anything can be proven true. So, at least in formal logic, there is always a recontextualization that makes something true. Mar 16 at 17:47

2 Answers 2

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Fuzzy logic maps degrees of truth over the otherwise conventional logic membership relations (MATLAB - What Is Fuzzy Logic?):

https://youtu.be/__0nZuG4sTw

Call it recontextualization or whatever term.

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  • Thanks for this insight. I agree that fuzzy logic is a particular way of 'recontextualizing' (ie via changing the truth value weight) to avoid all contradiction. See this example of how fuzzy logic recontextualization can avoid the Liar Paradox: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liar_paradox
    – Nick Gall
    Mar 17 at 16:09
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Resolving a contradiction is an issue that arises in dialectic: there is an apparent inconsistency in my/your/their beliefs and I want to resolve it. In the Metaphysics Aristotle isn't coming from the standpoint of resolving contradictions, and so he talks about dialectic only incidentally. For resolving contradictions we should instead consult Aristotle's works on dialectic, where we indeed find the "law of recontextualization" stated by Aristotle himself (Sophistic Refutations 19) as the solution to the fallacy of ambiguity:

At the start, then, one should reply with regard to an ambiguity, whether of a term or of a phrase, in this manner, that 'in one sense it is so, and in another not so.'

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  • Wow! Thank you so much for your answer! I wasn't aware of this part of Aristotle's work. So Aristotle himself arguably understood the relationship between the LNC and my Law of Recontextualization. So I wonder if he would have embraced my recasting. He seems to come close in SR 20: 'It is evident also that not all refutations depend upon ambiguity as some people say they do.' Aristotle seems to suggest that at least some people embrace something like my Law of Recontextualization. I wonder who they were!
    – Nick Gall
    Mar 17 at 16:34
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    @NickGall Interesting point. As I understand, you want to say that what I pointed to as the Law of Recontextualization isn't really a universal law because Aristotle applies it only to one specific fallacy and only "some people" say that ambiguity is the one and only fallacy. But possibly you could still say it's a universal law (though I haven't examined this closely). Ambiguity is contradiction arising from words and phrases with multiple meanings, but since your Law of Recontextualization isn't limited to that case possibly all solutions of fallacies could be viewed as (re)contextualization
    – b a
    Mar 18 at 0:02
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    Glad you like it. And I agree with your way of 'saving' the Law of Recontextualization'. I'm in the process of reading a paper that addresses these issues, 'What is a Sophistical Refutation?' It's pretty slow going for me. I'll report back my takeaways from it when I finish it. researchgate.net/profile/David-Botting/publication/…
    – Nick Gall
    Mar 18 at 14:25

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