System Versus Synopsis


There is a distinction to be made in styles of thinking, which could be called a difference of aesthetic ideals, between the systemic and the synoptic. The cardinal systemic value is completeness, and it is the ideal of having an answer to every possible question; the cardinal synoptic value is perspicacity, and it is the ideal of putting matters in their proper context and perspective. Their respective methods are positivistic and negativistic: the one style proceeds by building up logical edifices brick by discursive brick, taking care that each next proposition rests soundly on the last; the other proceeds by negative space, using propositions only to exclude alternatives, and allowing the totality to move from ambiguity to absoluteness all at a single stroke. Degenerate system tends to dogmatism, and degenerate synopsis tends to skepticism. For examples of the systemic bent in philosophy, one could look at figures as diverse as Hegel and Russell; for examples of the synoptic bent in the same field, one could look at Merleau-Ponty or Wittgenstein.