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Antithesis

A Very Opinionated Philosophical Dictionary

 

Antithesis


A logically oppositional relationship between two concepts or propositions. A concept is the definition of a single term: a bachelor is an unmarried male. A proposition stipulates the relationship of a subject and a predicate: John (subject) is a bachelor (predicate). Antithetical concepts or propositions are not merely different concepts or propositions; they are contradictory to each other. So, the concepts bachelor and spider are different, but not antithetical to each other, since the world contains bachelors and spiders. (But, of course, nothing can be both a bachelor and a spider.) However, the concepts theism and a-theism are antithetical to each other. We can put this idea propositionally by saying that the statement God exists is antithetical to the statement God does not exist. In other words, there is no possible world in which the statement God exists is true and statement God does not exist is likewise true. Even an executive order could not do that.


Our philosophical exertion protects us from forming or saluting any illicit syntheses. Lazy or perverse minds try to reconcile the irreconcilable. One cannot synthesize good and evil, although a subject (say, John) may be both good and evil. But good and evil are two distinct elements in his being.  He does not synthesize them in his being, since good and evil are antithetical concepts. We might say that John is a combination of good and evil, but in that case, good remains good and evil remains evil. Oil may be combined with water, but oil and water cannot be synthesized. Concerning religions doctrines (concepts and propositions), the essential and distinctive teachings of one religion cannot be synthesized with those of another religion. Pantheistic nondualistic Hinduism cannot be synthesized with monotheistic Judaism.  Or consider the teaching of The Apostle Paul:


Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?  Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever?  Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols?—2 Corinthians 6:14-16.


Those educated in the logic of antithesis must avoid the fallacy of the false dichotomy. An antithesis exposes a dichotomy, such as light and darkness or theism and atheism. However, false dichotomies may be wrongly labeled as antitheses.  For example, many postmodernist Christian writers, such as James K. A. Smith, claim that Christians must be either heart and image oriented (which is good) or worldview and intellectually oriented (which is bad). Of course, the biblical way of life demands both rigorous thinking (Romans 12:2) and right conduct and ecclesial formation (Galatians 4:19). Those so confused also claim that we must preach and not try to convince others of the rationality of Christianity. Of course, we must do both (1 Peter 3:15-16; 1 Peter 4:11).


Chemicals may be synthesized; antithetical ideas cannot be synthesized. What logic puts asunder let no man join together. William Blake to the contrary, there is no “marriage of heaven and hell,” but, rather, as C.S. Lewis wrote, A Great Divorce. Let us not synthesize when we must apply the antithesis.

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