The Essential Threat

"Subjective mental habits destroy your ability to think."

When subjective thinkers are given that warning, a justifiable response is: "By what mechanism? What is destroyed, and what does the destroying?" To see the answer, consider the idea of essentials.

Put yourself in dance class. A dancer is going to demonstrate various steps. The teacher will show you particular movements that identify each step. If you move this way, it's a tango. If you move that way, it's a rumba. You cannot move your feet in the pattern of a box step, and call that a waltz, because getting the movements right is essential to doing a particular step. It is the whole idea. If you could move any way you felt like, and call that any step you thought of, then what would you be doing in dance class?

The point this makes about essentials is that you identify them, but you do not make them up. The essential movement of a dance is not the movement that you like the best, or that seems most important to you. It is the movement that makes you say, "I recognize that dance!" Essentials must be objective, not subjective. Not only dances, but most things in reality are recognized by essentials. If you invent essentials, you are inventing reality, and you will lose the ability to recognize what things really are.

To make a concept, you find what is essential to a range of similars. You do not look for what is important to you, but for what is essential to make those things into a group. If you wanted to subdivide furniture, you could make a group called chairs by grouping the items that provided a seat with a back. The essentials would be the seat and the back. No matter how important comfort was to you, it could not be the essential of chair, or else it would be meaningless to talk about an uncomfortable chair.

The essential of a conceptual group is not what one thinks should be there, but what objectively must be there for the group to be intelligible. The essential is that characteristic which brings into your mind the most complete context in the least words. You identify the essentials of a concept by looking for what makes it possible to understand the most at once.

Only man plays chess. Only man is capable of being rational. To find which of these is more fundamental, ask which can explain the other. Can you explain rationality by chess? Can you explain chess by rationality? Then rationality is more fundamental.

If you compare all characteristics of man in this way, you find that while rationality does not obviously explain every characteristic, it can explain by far the largest number of characteristics. That makes it objectively the most useful defining characteristic. The standard is not subjective preference, but objective fundamentality.

Since identifying essentials is basic to using concepts, it is basic to all thinking. Whenever you make up essentials subjectively, the thought involved will be misleading and invalid. If you get the essential wrong sometimes, reality will correct you. If you get the essentials wrong by habit, reality will destroy you.

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