Defining the Atomic Premise

And it's Application in Education

All opinions derived logically or otherwise, arise from a set of premises as statements. The majority of premises can be broken down to other premises, until one arrives at an "atomic" premise, so to speak. While an atomic statement is one which is either true or false, a premise can always be questioned further. Because of this, one is inevitably drawn to forming a premise which is not entirely justified logically, but which may be a fair assumption due to the nature of human lives.


Premises typically arise in defense of a statement being questioned. A discussion of pure curiosity, or rather a non-argument, can be imagined in such an order:


1.A: Action

1.B: Request for reasoning

2.A: Premise

2.B: questioning premise

3.A: Atomic premise


If person B is particularly insistent on discovering the truth, 2.A and 2.B would occur cyclically until arriving at an atomic premise; one which is either too outrageous or just agreeable enough for the action to be justified. Take the following example:


Katrina walks down the street with her young son Pyotr. Pyotr, the curious boy that he is, never shies away from picking up up interesting things he notices along the way. He picks up a chestnut, dropping it soon after as it pricks his fingers. He finds a stick and drags it for a block before tossing it into a tree. Finally he sees a coin or other little thing glitter by the news stand, grabbing it as he passes.

"Look what I've found mama," the boy states, lifting his hand to show the ring mounted on his fingers.

"Don't touch that Pyotr," she exclaims grabbing the ring from her child's hand.

"Why mama? I like it" he questions.

"That's some kind of gipsy trash ring," Katrina, who has been raised from youth to revile gypsies and has seen enough to recognize the craftsmanship of their jewelry. replies. The boy, trusting that his mother wants best, or perhaps fearing repercussions, tosses the ring in the grass.


The conversation follows the structure of discussion mentioned earlier: beginning with 1.A at "Don't touch that Pyotr", and concluding with the atomic premise 3.A at "That's some kind of gipsy trash ring". To truly understand the example however we have to examine how the discussion would have gone if Pyotr was something beside a child.

How then, would the discussion go if Pyotr was particularly curious and knew his mother would not be upset by further questions (or perhaps he no longer cares)? Say, he is older and not only lost the fear of his mother's hand, but has become acquainted with the contrarian skepticism of teenage years. In such a case, the atomic premise would be just another premise, questioning which is permitted and intellectually respectable.

"So what if it's a gipsy ring?" Pyotr laughs.

"Gypsies are filthy, Pyotr. You don't know where that ring has been. And besides that, people will laugh at you walking around wearing gypsy rings like some sort of beggar," Katrina laughs at her son.

Here we see

How would it have gone differently if instead of Pyotr, Katrina was walking with her friend Ema? One can suppose, if Ema were raised in the same culture, she may hold the same racist beliefs. In this sense we can suppose Ema would act just as the boy, only with a deeper understanding of Katrina's reasoning.


The internal difference between these examples is how the atomic premise is reached. In the first, Pyotr stops questioning his mother because he cares more about avoiding the result of continuing to question than arriving at a premise he accepts. with this in mind, this is a defensive arrival at an atomic premise. In the second example, the atomic premise is displaced with a 2.A-2.B cycle when Katrina expresses a premise with which Pyotr agrees. This is to be called a sympathetic arrival. In the third, the atomic premise is reached immediately, as in example one, but is a sympathetic arrival, as in example 2. One need not say that an atomic premise can be reached in more ways than mentioned.


So, what does this all mean? The most noteworthy application of an examination of atomic premises arises to the end of education. When education is of concern, it isn't typical for a student to question his teacher's premises. More than any other area, subjects within philosophy have a tendency to be quite polarizing, so it is helpful to consider application in this context. In any polarizing subject it is extremely important that an instructor be able to understand and teach commonly held theories beside the ones he personally holds. After all, if in the course of explaining one's world-view, the students reach the atomic premise defensively (such as avoiding questioning the premise for fear disturbing the class), a student will struggle to understand everything the instructor teaches from that point on. In contrast, having the intellectual honesty to admit that your conclusions: ethical, metaphysical, or otherwise, arise from an atomic premise (meaning you accept a premise not because it's infallible but because the subject is relative and the premise is convenient), will allow an instructor not only to keep his credibility but to help his pupils examine and develop their own opinions and world views.