Kent Worthington on Consistency and Contradiction

How Ideas Work Review Series: Part I

G. Stolyarov II

A Journal for Western Man-- Issue XLIV-- December 18, 2005

           Kent Worthington—an entrepreneur and intellectual innovator—has authored How Ideas Work: a concise, elegantly structured, and eminently useful book presenting the nature and foundations of correct ideas. In a rational academic environment, How Ideas Work—with its accessible style and numerous relevant examples to illustrate each idea—would have been used as a textbook for teaching the discipline of logic and its inextricable relationship to reality.

Mr. Worthington extrapolates on the intellectual system developed by Ayn Rand; he begins the book discussing areas in which Rand made historic innovations, including the law of non-contradiction and the way valid concepts are formed. Then, Mr. Worthington ventures into ideas Rand had not examined in depth in her writings: causality, inference and proof, the difference between generalizations and conclusions, and the unitary nature of the method by which man understands reality. Mr. Worthington—among his principal accomplishments—shatters the induction/deduction dichotomy which for four hundred years sought to bifurcate man’s knowledge into two conflicting halves.

            Mr. Worthington has published How Ideas Work through his own firm, No Nonsense Press, Inc. This series of articles will aim to encourage readers to purchase this book by systematically summarizing and discussing the importance of the innovations therein. The book’s five chapters, respectively, address consistency and contradiction, similarity and difference, cause and effect, inference and proof, and certainty and error. I will write five articles in total, describing and commenting on each chapter and its importance. The articles are no substitute for reading the book itself—as they must, due to constraints of length, omit the numerous witty and engaging examples Mr. Worthington uses to illustrate every element of his system. However, I hope that readers will find these articles sufficiently stimulating to yearn for further acquaintance with this clear and insightful work.

Chapter 1: Consistency and Contradiction

            Here, Mr. Worthington discusses how the use of ideas greatly broadens the range of human understanding. While man’s perceptual faculties—his senses—can only render him aware of entities immediately before him, his ideas can grant him an understanding of existence in an interspatial, intertemporal context. Through ideas, man can understand past and future, near and far, elementary and complex entities and their attributes.

But, unlike perception, man’s intellectual faculty is not automatic. It must be deliberately trained and directed via the proper method. Reality is the standard for all ideas, and ideas must accurately reflect the specific natures of the entities, qualities, and relationships they describe. In order to successfully fulfill this role, ideas themselves must have a specific nature.

There are only three basic types of ideas: concepts, propositions, and conclusions. While Rand dealt primarily with concepts, Mr. Worthington endeavors to show the validity of all three types of ideas and the proper way of arriving at each. A concept is “a word or phrase formed by organizing entities according to a common characteristic” (8). A proposition is “a statement formed by organizing concepts into a complete thought” (8). A conclusion is “a statement formed by organizing propositions into further knowledge” (8). A historical ambiguity about the nature of propositions and conclusions and the frequent confusion of one for the other have resulted in whole systems of thought positing man’s inability to obtain true, certain knowledge about reality.

Mr. Worthington bases his system on a truth which Rand used as the foundation of Objectivism: the law of non-contradiction. Reality brooks no contradictions, and false ideas are false by contradicting reality. When one’s ideas clash with reality, the ideas must be adjusted to the reality, not the other way around. Mr. Worthington illustrates the devastating consequences of the contrary mode of thinking: seeking to conform reality to one’s wishes—by the mere act of wishing:

When a child throws a temper tantrum to get what he wants, his behavior is appalling. But at least he knows that someone else has to produce the object of his desires. He does not pretend that his mere desire, no matter how strongly expressed, actually produces the object. This isn’t the case for the many groups in America that pressure the government for political favor. They will stomp and squeal relentlessly, until they get what they want. Then [they] pretend that their mere desire is enough, that what they are getting is not really produced by someone else. These organizations evade with impunity what is directly evident, evident even to a spoiled child. (14)

The consequences of irrational ideas and expectations—especially the desire to fake reality through unsubstantiated wishes and whims—can be seen all too clearly in today’s political situation.

            Man’s mind has a reliable way to avoid lapsing into whim-worship, however. This way requires the relentless elimination of contradictions in one’s thinking. When two ideas contradict each other—or when one or both of them contradicts reality—the individual should recognize that at least one of the ideas is wrong and fix it by referring to reality. In order to fix the problem, one must ask two questions: “Is the idea consistent with reality?” and “Does it contradict anything else [one] know[s]?” (23). When an idea passes this test of internal and external consistency, it becomes verified as a fact: a datum of knowledge about reality—held without any doubts as to its validity.

Mr. Worthington’s thoughts here imply a fundamental denial of “mainstream” conceptions about ideas. The conventional dichotomy between fact and opinion—taught in elementary schools across the country to paralyze an entire generation of young minds—is an invalid one. Any idea is either a fact—or it is wrong or arbitrary. If an “opinion” is correct, it, too, is a fact of reality.

But in order to properly discover facts, man requires a specific method of thinking. This method proceeds from the automatically, infallibly known perceptual entities that every human being accesses through his senses. Entities are then organized into concepts via the process of abstraction. Concepts are organized into propositions via the techniques of grammar. Propositions are organized into conclusions via the method of inference. This organization must be an unbroken chain—always referring back to the perceptual level in order to be correct. If any link in the chain is severed, the concept, proposition, or conclusion ceases to refer to reality and is thus no longer relevant.

            In this chapter, Mr. Worthington provides an eloquent defense of grammar and explains how the “mainstream” academic assault on it constitutes an assault on man’s ability to think and accurately understand reality. Grammar is indispensable to the creation of complete thoughts. Without a subject—“that which is referred to” (26)—and a predicate—“that which is said about it” (26)—a sentence cannot make sense; it cannot transmit any meaningful knowledge about reality. Grammatical correctness is not sufficient to make a sentence true, but it is necessary; in addition to being structurally sound, the proposition must express a relationship that actually exists in reality.

            Academia’s campaign to pervert grammar often has twisted motives behind it. Mr. Worthington cites the National Education Association’s deliberate attempt to obscure the difference between various parts of speech—in this case the direct and indirect objects. The NEA’s frequent statement, “We teach children, not history,” is meant not only to create a vicious false dichotomy, but also to self-righteously justify not teaching children history. Mr. Worthington compares this to “the school cafeteria announcing, ‘Today we are serving children, not spaghetti’” (28). Depending on which part of speech the word “children” is, this means the children will either get eaten or starve. Intellectual starvation is the consequence of rejecting a rigid, uncompromising adherence to grammar.

            Yet because proper grammar is still widespread, the construction of structurally sound propositions is the least of the difficulties plaguing most people today. The formation of concepts and conclusions is far less understood, yet “without these methods, your concepts and conclusions can make no more sense than your propositions can make without grammar” (29). No formal academic environment will teach you these skills today—a result of the mass rejection during the 20th century of the validity of logic and man’s ability to make sense of reality. Yet a thinker can be just as confident in the truth of his ideas as an engineer can be confident in the soundness of his bridge. This is because, like the engineer, the rational thinker constantly undertakes a process of validation for his ideas. To validate an idea is to ascertain that the evidence—“the facts and method required to support [the] idea” (30)—are present at every step of the thinking process.

Every stage of idea-formation requires an individual to ask a series of vital questions. Validating a concept implies asking whether the entities the concept encompasses actually have the characteristic by which the concept organizes them—and whether the way in which the concept organizes the entities is clear and non-contradictory. Validating a proposition implies asking whether the relationship between subject and predicate is a genuine one—and whether the statement itself is clear or contradictory. Validating a conclusion implies asking whether the propositions of which the conclusion consists are all consistent with reality—and whether the conclusion actually follows from the specific propositions and the way in which they are organized (30). In every step of his method, a thinker must ensure that the chain between his idea and the perceptual world is unbroken—that every fact he knows is consistent with the idea and that sufficient evidence exists to enable him to assert the idea’s truth.

            The construction of ideas is like the construction of buildings in that it requires a clear method, continuous validation, and a specific set of tools. In the remainder of How Ideas Work, Mr. Worthington provides these tools: the proper theories of concept formation, causality, inference, and certainty.  

You can order How Ideas Work at

G. Stolyarov II is a science fiction novelist, independent filosofical essayist, poet, amateur mathematician and composer, contributor to organizations such as Le Quebecois Libre, Enter Stage Right, and the Autonomist.  Mr. Stolyarov is the Editor-in-Chief of The Rational Argumentator and a Senior Writer for the Liberal Institute ( He can be contacted at

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