The Epistemological Status of Complementary and Symmetrical Premises

It was noted above that in human interaction, symmetry and complementarity may be complexly combined. It is therefore reasonable to ask how it is possible to regard these themes as so fundamental that they shall be called "epistemological," even in a natural history study of cultural and interpersonal premises.

The answer seems to hang upon what is meant by "fundamental" in such a study of man's natural history; and the word seems to carry two sorts of meaning.

First, I call more fundamental those premises which are the more deeply embedded in the mind, which are the more "hard programmed" and the less

137 This was not originally an AA document and its authorship is unknown. Small variations in the text occur. I have quoted the form which I personally prefer from AA Comes of Age, op. cit., p. 196.

susceptible to change. In this sense, the symmetrical pride or hubris of the alcoholic is fundamental.

Second, I shall call more fundamental those premises of mind which refer to the larger rather than the smaller systems or gestalten of the universe. The proposition "Grass is green" is less fundamental than the proposition "Color differences make a difference."

But, if we ask about what happens when premises are changed, it becomes clear that these two definitions of the "fundamental" overlap to a very great extent. If a man achieves or suffers change in premises which are deeply embedded in his mind, he will surely find that the results of that change will ramify throughout his whole universe. Such changes we may well call "epistemological."

The question then remains regarding what is epistemologically "right" and what is epistemologically "wrong." Is the change from alcoholic symmetrical "pride" to the AA species of complementarity a correction of his epistemology? And is complementarity always somehow better than symmetry?

For the AA member, it may well be true that complementarity is always to be preferred to symmetry and that even the trivial rivalry of a game of tennis or chess may be dangerous. The superficial episode may touch off the deeply embedded symmetrical premise. But this does not mean that tennis and chess propose epistemological error for everybody.

The ethical and philosophic problem really concerns only the widest universe and the deepest psychological levels. If we deeply and even unconsciously believe that our relation to the largest system which concerns us — the "Power greater than self" — is symmetrical and emulative, then we are in error.

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