William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Logic: Peter Kreeft’s Summa Philosophica Part I

Since we had so much fun pulling apart Ed Feser’s The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism (start here), I thought we’d do the same for Peter Kreeft’s brand new Summa Philosophica, a book I’m delighted to report which has emerged unburdened of a subtitle.

St Thomas Aquinas’s—a Doctor of the Church, and stalwart physician ready with cure for what ails us Moderns—most famous work is the Summa Theologica. It is a primer for readers like you and me; that is, people who can parse a syllogism without developing a headache, have opinions about philosophical and theological matters, and want a précis to all the Big Questions.

The Summa, like many another Medieval philosophy book, is as rigidly structured as a symphony. It is divided by distinct movements called Questions, the answer of each handled by several themes, or Articles. For example, “Question 2. The existence of God” is answered by “Article 1. Whether the existence of God is self-evident?” (No), “Article 2. Whether it can be demonstrated that God exists?” (Yes) and “Article 3. Whether God exists?” (Yes).

The Articles are divided into two parts: nay and yea. The “nay” methodically lists Objections to the Articles, the lead Objection starting with “It seems that the answer is the opposite of what is truth.” Only the most pertinent and strongest Objections are shown.

The “yea” follows sonata form. Immediately after the Objections, the exposition “On the contrary” appears as introduction to a pithy dismissal. Development begins with an “I answer that“, the meat of the serious case for truth. Finally, recapitulation where the theme is used to rebut each Objection.

Throughout, economy of words rules. It is a dry form, a mere skeleton to which fuller arguments can be later attached. But this format is easy to read, as long as one does not, as PG Wodehouse warned of his collection of Jeeves stories, attempt too much at once. Words blur and blend together after the second Question. It is best to think of the Summa as philosophical poetry: read snatches, then digest.

Now, this over-long introduction was necessary because Kreeft wrote Summa Philosophica in the Medieval manner. Like Aquinas’s work, it is thus difficult to summarize, since the original is a summary. Nevertheless, we’ll do our best and hit every Question, but not every Article. Away we go. These posts won’t be contiguous.

Logic & Methodology

It might have been true that philosophy begins as the love of wisdom, and in his first Article Kreeft argues that it still must, but he is clever to separate small-p philosophy from its academic step-cousin, where love of anything besides grants, tenure, and paper count is largely absent. “Philosophy was not a ‘department’ to its founders. They would have regarded the expression ‘philosophy department’ as absurd as ‘love department.’” Our first Amen.

Every department, every person, has a philosophy: even the materialist scientist who boasts, “I have no philosophy!” espouses one. Which brings us to scientism, which is dealt the first of many blows. The assumption that “the scientific method is the only valid or legitimate method” for uncovering truth

is self-contradictory and self-eliminating because it cannot be proved by the scientific method. If the objection [we are past philosophy and onto science] assumes that only verifiable or falsifiable ideas are legitimate, and that only empirically or mathematically verifiable or falsifiable ideas are verifiable or falsifiable, that very assumption is self-contradictory and self-eliminating because it is not empirically or mathematically verifiable or falsifiable.

No matter how many times this (simple, really) argument is presented, it never seems to sink in; the dedicated empiricist just can’t admit to having an ultimately unverifiable philosophy. Stubbornness? Something worse? Let it pass.

Similarly, philosophy cannot use the “method of universal doubt” for “one must first believe something in order to then doubt it.” Skepticism is a theory only ever entertained, but never believed, by mischievous academics. Try increasing a skeptic’s class load and you will soon hear from him all about Truth.

Article 5 asks “whether philosophy should be a required subject in schools?” Objection 1 begins: “It seems that it should not, for 95% of American colleges and universities have decided this question in the negative.” Perhaps an underestimate. Logic (Art. 6) too should be required even though it is “dull and empty of content, like mathematics.” Our second Amen.

Article 8: Whether deductive arguments (e.g. syllogisms) really prove anything?

Objection 1: It seems that they do not, for as the ancient Greek skeptics pointed out, every syllogism depends on its premises, which it assumes rather than proves. In order to be certain of the syllogism’s conclusion, these premises must be proved by other syllogisms, whose premises in turn depend on still other syllogisms and other premises, et cetera ad infinitum, so that nothing is ever proved with certainty…

Reply to Objection 1: Aristotle answered this objection very simply: the infinite regress of proving the premises of premises stops at two points: direct and indubitable sense experience and the direct and indubitable intellectual experience, so to speak, of logically self-evident first principles such as “Do good, not evil” in practical reasoning and the laws of identity [X is X], non-contradiction, and excluded middle (either p is true or not true) in theoretical reasoning.

Regular readers will be on solid ground here (e.g., this is why I argue probability is part of logic). The pun is apropos: on a foundation of axioms, simple logical truths for which there is no evidence but which we know, via faith or revelation or however you want to phrase it, and direct sense experience (we know we exist and have experiences), every truth is built. Further, every argument is a finite (and usually short) chain of earlier arguments, all of which must end at this axiomatic, experiential base. Those who doubt this are invited to pick up any fundamental mathematical text and see it for themselves in its simplest form.

Consider that any objection to this argument must be itself an argument, which will have premises, which themselves must be proved true by earlier arguments and so forth, all ending upon axioms which we each of us know are true. There is just no escaping this—or any, really—truth.

Deconstructionism, or rather its corpse, is displayed in Article 9 for its pathological curiosities, after which it is re-interred. And then comes our final Amen, Article 10, which asks whether symbolic logic is superior to Aristotelian logic. The answer, for most people and most purposes, is a resounding No.

Symbolic logic, and in mathematics symbolic equations, are just the thing for anxious logicians and mathematicians who want to focus on a narrow subject and calculate. But they are a positive menace and bar to clear understanding for the rest of us (particularly beginners) who want to understand. There are many who have memorized statistical equations, for example, but few who understand what they mean. Excessive symbols are the cause of reification, a terrible disease epidemic in the academy, causing people to actually prefer their abstractions over reality (cf. climatology). The cure is obvious: remove the source of the infection until one’s reasoning powers are sufficiently strong to have built up an immunity.

Next time: metaphysics.

Reminder: civilized discourse rigidly enforced.

67 Comments

  1. No matter how many times this (simple, really) argument is presented, it never seems to sink in; the dedicated empiricist just can’t admit to having an ultimately unverifiable philosophy.

    Better to admit one’s own limits and flaws than to declare one’s primal intuitions to be absolutely right and make them as premises to a “perfect” metaphysical building, I would say.

    Give me the finite, the incomplete, the irony, the imperfect. I hate perfect things, for they are always false, rigid and cold.

  2. Briggs

    18 September 2012 at 9:55 am

    Luis,

    A fourth amen if you speak of modern architecture’s perfect buildings.

  3. Civilized discourse is an acquired taste. It can never be enforced any more than children can be made to eat their vegetables. I think that we will always disagree as to the usefulness of the term scientism so I won’t pursue that topic. The spell checker doesn’t even recognize it. Let us focus on Skepticism with the capital S instead. I know that the ancient Greeks had an entire philosophy with that name but other people have different definitions. Which one are you using?

  4. A fourth amen if you speak of modern architecture’s perfect buildings.

    tsc, tsc, there are no such things as perfect buildings.

  5. Better to admit one’s own limits and flaws than to declare one’s primal intuitions to be absolutely right and make them as premises to a “perfect” metaphysical building, I would say.

    If “admitting one’s limits” involves denying the reality of the law of contradiction then you expressly admit no limits.

  6. If “admitting one’s limits” involves denying the reality of the law of contradiction then you expressly admit no limits.

    I never denied “the law of contradiction” as being an amazing useful tool for logic, mathematics, science, and so on.

    However, anyone who dares to proclaim its absolute truthiness is obviously someone who never exposed himself to the outstanding world of politics, for instance. Or less cruely, poetry. And so on.

  7. However, anyone who dares to proclaim its absolute truthiness is obviously someone who never exposed himself to the outstanding world of politics, for instance. Or less cruely, poetry. And so on.

    What in politics or poetry denies/proves false the law of contradiction? I’m genuinely curious. If your move is to cite lies on politicians’ lips, or metaphors and paradoxes on poets’, these don’t deny the law of contradiction; a lie is parasitic on its validity, being a knowing statement of what is not.

  8. And a paradox is an apparent contradiction that resolves into intelligibility, re-validating the law of contradiction (if the statement is true). Take Chesterton’s definition of courage: a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die…’He that will lose his life, the same shall save it.’

  9. What in politics or poetry denies/proves false the law of contradiction? I’m genuinely curious. If your move is to cite lies on politicians’ lips, or metaphors and paradoxes on poets’, these don’t deny the law of contradiction; a lie is parasitic on its validity, being a knowing statement of what is not.

    It doesn’t “deny” it at all. It just renders it useless or becomes genuine source of very funny poetic insights.

    I have deep skepticism of all claims that purport to have reach some kind of nirvana-esque status of reaching an unassailable, undeniable, perfect truth. It’s perhaps more of an attitude, a way of being on my side. Whenever someone tries to sell me something that is “unequivocal” I reach for my wallet.

  10. And a paradox is an apparent contradiction that resolves into intelligibility

    That’s one way to put it. I call that kind of “solution” weasel-wording your way out of a contradiction. Or, more bluntly, poetic. The contradiction still stands and it is a marvelous paradox in life, many wise people will agree with his statement. Just because you like this contradiction, this feeling should not be sufficient reason to rename it as a “paradox” and claim that the contradiction was solved.

    I’ll give you another example: God is One, but is also a Trinity. (And I’m quite sure the geeky metaphysicians will also declare this to be “solvable” because we can distinguish between the “one god” and the “three parts” with subcategories and multiple excuses masqueraded as deep schematics).

  11. @Luis Dias,

    You seem to be arguing that there are no absolute truths. This apears to itself be an absolute truth there by contridicting itself. Therefore there must exist at least one absolute truth.

  12. Although the assumptions that are needed for implementing the scientific method contain a couple of logical fallacies, being self-contradictory is not one of them.

    Kreeft objects that the assumptions of the scientific method are themselves not scientific truths. So what? Science is a game for making accurate and precise predictions about reality. And, It Works, Bit**es.” That’s its goal. It is not about finding philosophical or abstract or religious truth. Why is that limitation so hard for Kreeft to understand?

  13. You seem to be arguing that there are no absolute truths. This apears to itself be an absolute truth there by contridicting itself. Therefore there must exist at least one absolute truth.

    Glad to advise you to read this post, it will clear any doubts on where I stand:

    http://wmbriggs.com/blog/?p=5668

  14. It doesn’t “deny” it at all. It just renders it useless or becomes genuine source of very funny poetic insights.

    Perhaps you misunderstood me. Paradox in poetry and lies in politics still make very good use of the law of contradiction. Still don’t see where it’s useless. Your critique, I promise you, fails even on your own criteria.

    The contradiction still stands and it is a marvelous paradox in life, many wise people will agree with his statement. Just because you like this contradiction, this feeling should not be sufficient reason to rename it as a “paradox” and claim that the contradiction was solved.

    Please read my statements more carefully, especially if your are going to bother to quote them. I said “apparent contradiction,” meaning “not a contradiction at all.” Paradoxes derive their power from surprise, an understanding that what seemed at face value to be a contradiction actually is not, and expresses a surprising truth about reality.

  15. Why is that limitation so hard for Kreeft to understand?

    Actually, Kreeft understands the limitations of natural science. It studies the natural, physical order. Perhaps you misunderstood him. His point is that scientific axioms, such as “Science is a game for making accurate and precise predictions about reality” (you) are themselves not discoverable by looking under a microscope.

  16. @Luis Dias,

    I have read that post and I went back and re-read it.

    Wether we can prove any absolute truths or know them with certainty isn’t relevant.

    Both deductive and inductive reasoning must start from somewhere.

    Therefore at the core of any rational mind there must be at least one truth that is accepted as true on faith. Please note that I am not suggesting that there is once such truth accepted by all rational minds, the truth accepted on faith can differ from one mind to another.

    Without this, rational thought is not possible.

  17. Briggs

    18 September 2012 at 2:07 pm

    George Crews,

    “Science is a game for making accurate and precise predictions about reality.” Discounting your disingenuous use of game let me ask this: how do you know that “making accurate and precise predictions about reality” is good? Once you answer that, you will see you are in Kreeft’s world after all. That you have used a premise which is not scientific, which is in fact metaphysical.

  18. Luis “todos los” Dias:

    I also read your guest post and found it most entertaining. I’m new to this blog and love the different flavors of guest postings. You say:

    We have to ask ourselves this simple question: is there any Truth about the World that we can be 100% sure of?

    I’d say there are at least 3:
    1)Law of Identity
    2)Law of Contradiction
    3)Law of Excluded Middle

    Saying these are “quirks of the mind” and not objective features of reality (if indeed you are going to say that) is wrong.

    I differ from Matt above in that I don’t accept these truths on faith, I accept them because I am rationally compelled; i.e., I cannot not think this way. These are not doubt-able.

    Edited by Blog Owner

  19. I said “apparent contradiction,” meaning “not a contradiction at all.”

    And that’s where we disagree.

    Both deductive and inductive reasoning must start from somewhere.
    Therefore at the core of any rational mind there must be at least one truth that is accepted as true on faith. Please note that I am not suggesting that there is once such truth accepted by all rational minds, the truth accepted on faith can differ from one mind to another.
    Without this, rational thought is not possible.

    I agree with you, with a slight caveat. For instance, I do not need to agree with the “truth accepted on faith” to follow the rational argument and thought. We are seemingly able to do a “for the sake of argument let’s suppose etc”.

  20. @Josh

    “I accept them because I am rationally compelled; i.e., I cannot not think this way. These are not doubt-able.”

    But there is no evidence or inductive or deductive chain of reasoning that compels you to think this way. You may not like the word, but I suggest that this IS faith.

  21. Luis “todos los” Dias:

    Not spanish, Josh, tsc tsc. Don’t ever treat a portuguese as if he was a spaniard, although it’s not quite as bad as confusing a japanese with a chinese.

    I’d say there are at least 3:

    1)Law of Identity
    2)Law of Contradiction
    3)Law of Excluded Middle

    Saying these are “quirks of the mind” and not objective features of reality (if indeed you are going to say that) is wrong.

    I do indeed say that and I am saddened for your second insult towards me… You task me, Josh, you task me!

    I differ from Matt above in that I don’t accept these truths on faith, I accept them because I am rationally compelled; i.e., I cannot not think this way. These are not doubt-able.

    You should not confuse a limitation of your own brain (unability to doubt something) as a proxy for some absolute truth. I admit I have not pondered too much time over these issues, but there are Dialetheistic philosophies out there too. Sure, I don’t grant them too much time in my thoughts, but I wouldn’t count them out as absolutely as you do.

    Edited by blog owner

  22. @Luis Dias,

    “We are seemingly able to do a “for the sake of argument let’s suppose etc”.”

    I would suggest that it takes a rather considerable chain of rational thought which must itself start from somewhere to get to that point. Yes, we can do a “For the sake of argument let’s suppose .”, but we cannot do this starting from zero.

  23. @Matt:

    But there is no evidence or inductive or deductive chain of reasoning that compels you to think this way. You may not like the word, but I suggest that this IS faith.

    The evidence for their truth is that they cannot coherently be denied if we are to reason at all. I’d count that as evidence, and certainly of a different quality than how I put stock in the Incarnation, or somesuch.

    @Luis Dias:

    Not spanish, Josh, tsc tsc.

    My bad. I took a shot.

    You should not confuse a limitation of your own brain (unability to doubt something) as a proxy for some absolute truth.

    ‘Tis not a limitation of my brain at all. Those three axioms are the very conditions of any thought; they are the soil out of which any chain of reasoning must be embedded, necessarily. And if no people were around, the world would still manifest them: things would still obey the law of contradiction, even though no one would be putting it to use in a syllogism.

    Edited by blog owner

  24. I see I’ve been edited. My apologies, Mr. Briggs. I didn’t mean to callously insult anyone, but I do believe those who deny the reality of these axioms to be fools, or insane, in Chesterton’s formulation, and demonstrably so. I shall soften my language.

  25. Briggs

    18 September 2012 at 2:40 pm

    Josh,

    I embrace Chesterton: better to demonstrate his formulation than to assert it of somebody.

    Do, however, keep the arguments coming.

  26. ‘Tis not a limitation of my brain at all. Those three axioms are the very conditions of any thought; they are the soil out of which any chain of reasoning must be embedded, necessarily. And if no people were around, the world would still manifest them: things would still obey the law of contradiction, even though no one would be putting it to use in a syllogism.

    There are people who may disagree with you, that is all. People that perhaps are not so representative of the citizens of Idiocracy too. For further details see:

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/logic-paraconsistent/

    Edited in the hope of ending the mini thread inside this thread.

  27. Luis:

    I’ll just quickly focus on the aforementioned Dialetheias in your link there, guessing that it’s what you want to highlight. The Liar’s Paradox is put forward as a case. But this isn’t a counterfactual to the law of contradiction (maybe there’s something in particular in that large article that you want to bring out). In fact, the only reason the Liar’s Paradox is interesting is because the law of contradiction makes it so.

    No thinking person (cognitively, not morally) can possibly deny the law; they can merely say it is located in the brain, as a material condition, or a necessary category. In which case, any proposition is as good as any other. Especially “it is located in the brain, as a material condition, or a necessary category.” Does that smack of good sense to you?

  28. Luis:

    I didn’t actually think this thread was off topic, as it started with reference to Kreeft, but I’ll gladly let you have the last word.

  29. Briggs

    18 September 2012 at 2:59 pm

    Josh,

    I have hopes that we’ll (somebody, perhaps soon) bring our brother Luis back into the fold. I know where we can get a fatted calf.

  30. Briggs,

    Curiously enough today’s posts on mises.org are in memory of someone who you may have much in common with. See (http://mises.org/daily/6195/Father-James-A-Sadowsky-SJ-RIP) and (http://mises.org/daily/6198/Private-Property-and-Collective-Ownership). These posts reflect the topic at hand as regards the cosmological argument and your general position as regards the primacy of philosophy.

  31. Briggs

    18 September 2012 at 4:30 pm

    WS,

    Thanks for that. A relevant quote for probabilists (Kreeft takes this up in a later question, so we’ll return to it):

    One of the most important to him was “strict finitism,” a position he had learned from his friends Morris and Alice Ambrose Lazerowitz. In this view, there cannot be an actually existing infinite number of physical objects. As he often said to me, “the world is a totality.” He used this view to support an argument for the existence of God called the “kalam cosmological argument”; but it was the standard cosmological argument that he deemed the strongest proof for God.

  32. @Josh and @Briggs

    I was objecting to Kreeft’s use of the term “self-contradictory” (and probably “self-eliminating”, but I’m not sure what he means by that) when describing the scientific method. If he had simply stated that the assumptions of the scientific method can’t be proven using the scientific method, I would not have objected.

    We seem to all agree that the scientific method is not very suitable metaphysical questions. And there is no meta-scientific method. The four basic assumptions, dealing with: non-contradiction, experiment, parsimony, and verification are either acceptable to someone–or not.

    At the risk of going slightly off-topic, I would point out that that the assumption that the sole test of scientific knowledge is experiment does not suffer from the logical flaw of self-contradiction, but of drawing conclusions from reasoning from the specific to the general. Abduction. So the objection that the scientific method is logically flawed is not a fatal one for the method. It still works, Bit**es. :-)

  33. Ye Olde Statistician

    18 September 2012 at 5:07 pm

    “Science is a game etc.”

    But there is no objection that the scientific method is not applicable to the metrical properties of physical bodies; that is, to the proper sphere of natural science. (In college, I took courses in political science and military science, so “science” as such is much broader than natural science. Come to think of it, I was also required to take four semesters of philosophy.)

    What scientism claims is not that the method is useful for producing profitable products, but that it is the only legitimate way of knowing anything at all. This is usually said by those who know nothing outside the realm of science, and so from their perspective it really is true, because “everyone I know” uses it. This is a good argument for getting out and meeting more people.

    The other response is to redefine science as simply logical thinking, thus making most of the claim tautologous.
    + + +

    The Trinity is not a contradiction any more than to say that I am Mike the Father (to my kids), Mike the Son (to my dad), and Mike the Lover (to my wife) and yet am one person. It’s not the same thing, but it is analogous, which is the best we can hope for.

  34. he is clever to separate small-p philosophy from its academic step-cousin, where love of anything besides grants, tenure, and paper count is largely absent.

    ‘Bout time.

    The Summa, like many another Medieval philosophy book, is as rigidly structured as a symphony.

    A book that needs a fair hearing.

    All of that editing could get tiresome.

  35. @George Crews

    To be a little clearer on the point than Ye Olde Statistician: Kreeft was not criticizing the scientific method. He was criticizing scientism see Ye Olde Statistician’s post for the definition of scientism.

    Scientism is self contridicting because you can not discover the scientific method using the scientific method and there fore the scientific method (which is itself knowledge) can not be the only valid way to find knowledge.

  36. @Matt

    The scientific method is all about error management. Knowledge error, false beliefs. It’s central assumption is that all knowledge must be tested against experiment. This is a pretty draconian requirement that some people around here seem to be objecting to. Notice that a sense of certainty, conviction or obviousness (not to mention hubris), no matter how intense, can be substituted as an error management technique.

    Experience has shown (there was no a priori reason it must have) that this is a pretty practical way to deal with errors in our beliefs about nature. What other ways of finding knowledge deal with errors as effectively? I don’t know of any. So I can’t really criticize scientism too much.

  37. @George Crews,

    “The scientific method is all about error management. Knowledge error, false beliefs. It’s central assumption is that all knowledge must be tested against experiment.”

    Provide a reference for this. To the best of my knowledge, your sencond all makes this a false statement.

    It is a central assumption of scientism, but not the scientific method itself.

    There is pleanty of knowledge that is not tested against experiment.

    Literature, Poetry, Language, History, News(current events). These things are not tested against experiment. Do you suggest that they are not knowledge?

  38. I am fond of Aquinas, but in the phrases “direct and indubitable sense experience” and “direct and indubitable intellectual experience”, the word “indubitable” definitely begs the question, and the word “direct” is merely a kind of synonym, or at least as surreptitious as “indubitable”. The paragraph just amounts to saying that that which is indubitable is not to be doubted (and therefore needs no further syllogisms). I don’t doubt it, but it doesn’t help me identify the indubitable.

    “It is a well known fact that nothing is known, and that (we) all are ignorant. And even this is not known with certainty. For if it were, then at least that much would be known. It is suspected.”
    Quevedo: The world from the inside (ca 1607)

  39. I didn’t actually think this thread was off topic, as it started with reference to Kreeft, but I’ll gladly let you have the last word.

    Many thanks. I’ll restrain from continuing the discussion, only to point out that a person might not need to be stupid, irrational or a fool to embark in different logical possibilities, leaving no dogma unquestioned or in the pedestal of absolute truth. I don’t think that this huge feeling you let yourself abide by is healthy, and I disagree with it. You might learn a lot of new things without such feelings, and might even learn what the contradictory (you’d simply call it “paradoxical”) wise saying of Socrates about “knowing more” meant at all.

  40. “It is a well known fact that nothing is known, and that (we) all are ignorant. And even this is not known with certainty. For if it were, then at least that much would be known. It is suspected.”
    Quevedo: The world from the inside (ca 1607)

    That is a brilliant quote. One more for my textbook!

  41. “It is a well known fact that nothing is known, and that (we) all are ignorant. And even this is not known with certainty. For if it were, then at least that much would be known. It is suspected.”
    Quevedo: The world from the inside (ca 1607)

    This quote conveys literally no information. I’m not even sure it’s a proposition. Or maybe it’s just an uninteresting, self-refuting one.

    @Luis:

    I’ll restrain from continuing the discussion, only to point out that a person might not need to be stupid, irrational or a fool to embark in different logical possibilities, leaving no dogma unquestioned or in the pedestal of absolute truth.

    Again, pardon me if you thought I was imputing some moral stupidity to you; I think some of the most brilliant people in history make a very dumb and completely unwarranted mistake in rejecting the law of contradiction and its brothers. In a way, I’m actually thereby affirming the fragility and error-prone nature of humans in saying that too, a proposition you make the cornerstone of your philosophy.

    I don’t think that this huge feeling you let yourself abide by is healthy, and I disagree with it.

    My affirmation of the law of contradiction isn’t an emotional concern at all; it comes strictly through reason. If it were, I suppose I could take a pill to get rid of it, though I imagine nothing less than a cyanide tablet would do the job.

  42. This quote conveys literally no information. I’m not even sure it’s a proposition. Or maybe it’s just an uninteresting, self-refuting one.

    “scio me nihil scire or scio me nescire”

    It’s probably a wisdom that your philosophy cannot cope with without short-circuiting.

    Again, pardon me if you thought I was imputing some moral stupidity to you; I think some of the most brilliant people in history make a very dumb and completely unwarranted mistake in rejecting the law of contradiction and its brothers

    No one ever mentioned “rejecting”. Just because one does not sees it as an absolute it does not mean one “rejects it”. I use it everyday and I thank the ancient philosophers who came up with it.

  43. @Luis:

    It’s probably a wisdom that your philosophy cannot cope with without short-circuiting.

    All right, Luis. You do realize it’s called Socratic Irony for a reason, right?

    No one ever mentioned “rejecting”. Just because one does not sees it as an absolute it does not mean one “rejects it”.

    When someone says, “there are no absolutes that we know for certain,” I say, “pardon me, cowboy; the law of contradiction actually is such a thing,” and you say there’s no rejection in that first statement? It’s very clearly implied.

    I use it everyday and I thank the ancient philosophers who came up with it.

    You cannot not use it, and I’m positive God is thankful for your proxy thanks. :-) Chuta para canto

  44. “direct and indubitable sense experience”
    and
    “the direct and indubitable intellectual experience”

    The human organism makes both of those unreliable. Numerous examples are readily available (Malcolm Gladwell, for example, has made a small fortune selling his books where he’s presented various studies & findings of this in layperson’s terms).

    In other words, Aristotle’s very simple dismissal of a basic objection fails, miserably, in the face of hard data & facts.

    But, if the analytical technique is to stick solely to philosophical realm with thought exercises, then pesky little details like hard data can be easily ignored–and rationalized as doing so remains well within the ruled of the analysis. Such as it is….

  45. @Josh,

    Why can’t he use the law of contridiction? Just because it’s a basic property of the universe?

    So is gravity and we have been using that to do usefull work for hundreds if not thousands of years.

  46. Numerous examples are readily available (Malcolm Gladwell, for example, has made a small fortune selling his books where he’s presented various studies & findings of this in layperson’s terms).

    @Ken:

    I’ve read Outliers, and I’ve never seen anything in it that refutes Aristotle. Maybe you had a specific example in mind. The “direct and indubitable” part of perception is that which enables us to talk meaningfully about the same thing, like a wine glass between two people on a table next to a window. The fact that one perceives the wine as dark and the other light is no refutation of Aristotle, because we understand that something is coloring the perception, namely the ray of sun in one’s face that’s not in the other.

  47. Why can’t he use the law of contridiction? Just because it’s a basic property of the universe?

    @Matt:

    Sorry I don’t follow. I said that he cannot not use it, meaning that he doesn’t have a choice if he wants to reason with others. My silly turn of phrase may have been confusing.

  48. @ Luis

    “I use it everyday and I thank the ancient philosophers who came up with it.”

    There is the crux of the issue, really. The whole point is that ancient philosophers didn’t ‘come up with it’; they recognized it. They merely articulated it as a feature of reality, not just of thought.

    @Ken

    “The human organism makes both of those unreliable…”

    No doubt that my senses have failed me before. I’ve seen a mirage, or thought I heard my name called from the other room. Why do we consider these a failing of the senses? Because those are instances against the norm. The only reason I recognize them as so, is because they so often work. If our senses are so unreliable in interacting and learning about reality, how is it our species has survived the perils of brute existence??

  49. @Luis
    The original reads: “Es cosa averiguada […] que no se sabe nada, y que todos son ignorantes, y aun esto no se sabe de cierto, que a saberse ya se supiera algo; sospéchase.” http://www.ensayistas.org/antologia/XVII/quevedo/mundo.htm

    On second thought, a better translation might be something like: “It is an established fact that nothing is known… (etc),” since Quevedo takes care to avoid any form of “saber” in the first part of the sentence in order to avoid making the contradiction immediately obvious.

    @Josh
    A sentence playing on the countless variations of the idea that nothing is known should (ideally) be entirely devoid of information, the better to agree with itself. To the exact extent it conveys no information, it succeeds.

  50. A sentence playing on the countless variations of the idea that nothing is known should (ideally) be entirely devoid of information, the better to agree with itself. To the exact extent it conveys no information, it succeeds.

    @Francisco:

    Well, you’ve made a marvelous Ouroboros there. I’ll spend some time digesting that quote while realizing there’s nothing to digest.

  51. All right, Luis. You do realize it’s called Socratic Irony for a reason, right?

    Not a good comeback, Josh. Irony is one of the things I hold in the highest regard, and unlike you (apparently?), I take great lessons of humility from it. Of course it is irony, and of course irony laughs joyfully and majestically at the pretensiousness of absolutism. It’s its long time tradition.

    When someone says, “there are no absolutes that we know for certain,” I say, “pardon me, cowboy; the law of contradiction actually is such a thing,” and you say there’s no rejection in that first statement? It’s very clearly implied

    First, let’s be clear on an important matter: I hold no special relations with cows other than eat them from time to time.
    Putting that non-trivial matter aside (it has to do with “identity” after all), you are deeply confusing two separate propositions.

    The first is the one where someone denies the Law of Non-contradiction;

    The second is the one where someone denies the absoluteness of said law.

    The two propositions are not equivalent. The first one implies one is unable to use the law effectively. The second one does not. It implies we can use it, but always on the lookout of the off-chance that such law may not encapsulate a current problem one might have in the best way.

    Consider the Ockham’s razor. A much less reliable tool than the law of non-contradiction. Despite the fact that I do not regard it as an absolute criteria, it does not mean I am unable to use it.

    Do you understand now?

    You cannot not use it

    Of course I can. There are too many examples, which are “chutados para canto” by the absolutists as meaningless. Nevertheless, I do not consider them meaningless. Take for instance the example of rain.

    Either it is raining or it is not. Now, what if it is both raining and not raining? That would be absurd, wouldn’t it, going against the law of non-contradiction and so on. However, when humidity is very close to 100% we could probably describe the environment as “both raining and not” and not be saying nonsense. We could call it something else, to spare us from that looming perspective of negating an “absolute law”.

    JTC,

    There is the crux of the issue, really. The whole point is that ancient philosophers didn’t ‘come up with it’; they recognized it. They merely articulated it as a feature of reality, not just of thought.

    Semantics. To me, while the difference between invention and discovery exists, it is a meaningless difference at the margins. Many discoveries are inventions and many inventions are discoveries (Yes I know all of these statements are highly controversial to you).

    Francisco,

    I’m quite certain that the original was not written in spanish.

  52. @Josh,

    My bad, I missed the double negative.

  53. Luis:

    Not a good comeback, Josh. Irony is one of the things I hold in the highest regard, and unlike you (apparently?), I take great lessons of humility from it.

    I love irony! I think it hilariously ironic when someone tells me the law of contradiction isn’t absolute and then can’t behave as if it isn’t. And yes, I recognize the difference.

    The Socratic Irony re: Socrates was that he was wise by virtue of his humility. I don’t advocate anything different, frankly. The matters of certitude are few, but they are there.

    The two propositions are not equivalent.

    Except when we ask, “what is the nature of the law of contradiction?” and we understand that it’s either an absolute (feature of reality) or a relative (subjective feature only).

    Either it is raining or it is not. Now, what if it is both raining and not raining? That would be absurd, wouldn’t it, going against the law of non-contradiction and so on. However, when humidity is very close to 100% we could probably describe the environment as “both raining and not” and not be saying nonsense.

    There is of course a difference between a rigid designator and a non-rigid one. It still stands, that once we’ve defined the set of real conditions that constitute “raining,” that is indeed impossible for it to be raining and not at the same time. Capiche?

    Luis, what you should really do is embrace contradiction, and admit that while I’m actually wrong, I’m actually right.

  54. Josh

    I love irony! I think it hilariously ironic when someone tells me the law of contradiction isn’t absolute and then can’t behave as if it isn’t.

    I would like to read your evidence of my inability to do this. Not enough to tell me that I cannot because it is an impossible thing when that is the exact stuff in question here. I’m all eyes.

    Except when we ask, “what is the nature of the law of contradiction?” and we understand that it’s either an absolute (feature of reality) or a relative (subjective feature only).

    This is still not denying the law of non-contradiction. At most, it is a redefinition. Do you agree?

    There is of course a difference between a rigid designator and a non-rigid one. It still stands, that once we’ve defined the set of real conditions that constitute “raining,” that is indeed impossible for it to be raining and not at the same time. Capiche?

    Capisce writes without the h. Seriously, and when are you gonna do this “defining the real set of conditions” and so on, when our lives are finite, and no one has ever done this? You are speaking of metaphysical platonic fantasies here, Josh, not of actual things that humans have made or are making, etc.

    Even things like time, space and others which are extremely fascinating on the precision we apply to their measurements have its fuzzy margins too.

    Luis, what you should really do is embrace contradiction, and admit that while I’m actually wrong, I’m actually right.

    Now that’s more like it Josh. You are making progress right here.

  55. I would like to read your evidence of my inability to do this. Not enough to tell me that I cannot because it is an impossible thing when that is the exact stuff in question here. I’m all eyes.

    My evidence: try to doubt it. You’ll find that even an attempt to doubt it presupposes its application.

    At most, it is a redefinition. Do you agree?

    Yes, it is a “redefinition” in the sense that I can “redefine” you to be either existent or non-existent (as a figment of my imagination).

    Capisce writes without the h.

    Fair enough, I’ll quit bandying about languages that I don’t speak.

    Seriously, and when are you gonna do this “defining the real set of conditions” and so on, when our lives are finite, and no one has ever done this?

    My dear Luis, you did it yourself a few minutes ago when you suggested that raining could mean 100% humidity!

    Now that’s more like it Josh. You are making progress right here.

    If you think so, then what you should say instead is that I’m not making progress while I’m making progress.

  56. My evidence: try to doubt it. You’ll find that even an attempt to doubt it presupposes its application.

    …. no. I tried it and I do not have that reaction in my frontal lobe. Perhaps be more specific? Although do not read this as a demand from my part, I am not conceited to think you owe me anything more than the assertion of your beliefs you already gave me.

    Yes, it is a “redefinition” in the sense that I can “redefine” you to be either existent or non-existent (as a figment of my imagination).

    Are we talking metaphysics or Quantum Mechanics here?

    My dear Luis, you did it yourself a few minutes ago when you suggested that raining could mean 100% humidity!

    That one is pretty bad. I told you that these “definitions” would go awry when the humidity was close to 100%. There’s no such thing as humdity being a “100%” as in a “real” physical situation (the measurements can vary in cms, the temperatures can vary, the molecules can behave differently due to different radiological phenomena, etc.,etc.,etc), and what defines “rain” usually comprises of dropplets of water coming down the skies. However, what does it feel to be inside the cloud while it is raining? Is it raining where you are?

    I do think you massively underestimate the problems of untangling what’s “at stake” at every possible scale of measurements and categorizations here. It is perhaps due to this very sensibility that someone who comes from hard science education has a really bad time trying to swallow Aristotelian or Aquinas’ kind of metaphysics.

  57. @ Luis

    “However, when humidity is very close to 100% we could probably describe the environment as ‘both raining and not’ and not be saying nonsense.”

    Ok, the obvious answer here is that we would then simply say ‘the humidity is very close to 100%’. Either that is the case, or it isn’t.

    “…and when are you gonna do this ‘defining the real set of conditions’ and so on…”

    Surely we agree it can be known when it’s raining, and not raining… those are the real conditions that affirm or deny the statement: it is raining. Describe it how you like (e.g. scientifically), the term is applied to the fact that water is dropping from the sky onto my head.

  58. Are we talking metaphysics or Quantum Mechanics here?

    Oh lord.

    Is it raining where you are?

    I do think you massively underestimate the problems of untangling what’s “at stake” at every possible scale of measurements and categorizations here.

    Why is it that you think I go from “It is either raining or not,” to “I know exactly with certitude what it is to be raining”? All I’m asserting is the first proposition as a certitude, and leave it to you, the hard scientist, to define what it is that satisfies the conditions of “raining.” How is this arrogant or dogmatic in any way?

    …. no. I tried it and I do not have that reaction in my frontal lobe.

    I think perhaps you should let me get a screwdriver in there to see what’s wrong.

    ….But fo’ real, I understand your position, and I can only hope you understand mine, and that’s probably the best we can hope for. The real last words are now yours, boss, I promise.

  59. Ok, the obvious answer here is that we would then simply say ‘the humidity is very close to 100%’. Either that is the case, or it isn’t.

    The relationship is not linear and extremely fuzzy, always changing (for instance, the relative humidity near your body can be much higher than the surroundings, or much lower, it depends a lot), the measurements are not perfect. There is indeed a moment where this “either it is or it isn’t” isn’t helpful at all pragmatically speaking.

    Surely we agree it can be known when it’s raining, and not raining… those are the real conditions that affirm or deny the statement: it is raining. Describe it how you like (e.g. scientifically), the term is applied to the fact that water is dropping from the sky onto my head.

    Surely we can know, that’s not the point. The point is that such knowledge is not absolute: it decays rapidly when we check the question at its margins.

    Josh,

    Oh lord.

    I was shooting more for a “LOL”.

    Why is it that you think I go from “It is either raining or not,” to “I know exactly with certitude what it is to be raining”? All I’m asserting is the first proposition as a certitude, and leave it to you, the hard scientist, to define what it is that satisfies the conditions of “raining.” How is this arrogant or dogmatic in any way?

    That you don’t know it with absolute certainty is no mystery: no one I know has ever devised such a definition. As I tried to convey to you: even such things as “Time” have their own fuzzy margins when we try to measure them (there are no such things as “Absolute clocks” – all clocks we have are also material, limited and flawed, and dependent upon our theories on how we should measure the things we measure). For instance, a second is measured in proportion to the rythm of a particular radiation coming from Cesium. This definition has been “redefined” and “refined” ever since, even though that definition is way over our precision requirements.

    ….But fo’ real, I understand your position, and I can only hope you understand mine, and that’s probably the best we can hope for. The real last words are now yours, boss, I promise.

    That’s generous of you, and yes I easily understand your position since it was my own way back then (I do remmeber my heated arguments against anti-realists).

  60. Luis Dias says
    I’m quite certain that the original was not written in spanish.
    ———-

    I suppose you mean it was not a very original idea by the 17th century (let alone today). I am pretty sure it must have been already very old by the time of the Greeks. It’s probably prehistoric (maybe even pre-human) and it must have been said countless times in countless ways before it got written down somewhere. But Quevedo did write that particular variation, and it’s not among the most unfelicitous, as you noticed. I don’t find it a particularly interesting idea to use as a base for any kind of philosophical system, except of course as a kind of trivial and discreet safety net. Using it as a foundation of your show is akin to an acrobat doing nothing but bouncing on his net. It gets old.

  61. No, Francisco, I mean that when you stated that the “original” statement was spanish you were not quite correct, specially when I was quoting Socrates.

  62. Ye Olde Statistician

    19 September 2012 at 7:40 pm

    The human organism makes both [direct sense experience and direct intellectual experience] unreliable. (Malcolm Gladwell, for example, has made a small fortune selling his books where he’s presented various studies & findings of this in layperson’s terms).

    “Studies and findings” evidently not based on direct sense experience. If they were based on, say, observing the misperceptions and misconceptions of others, what makes the direct sense experience of those observations reliable?

  63. No, Francisco, I mean that when you stated that the “original” statement was spanish you were not quite correct, specially when I was quoting Socrates.
    ————————-

    Come on. I was very clearly referring to the original of the Quevedo sentence that I had translated, not to your Socrates quote (which you gave in Latin, for some reason). The Quevedo sentence I translated is not a *quote* of the Socrates saying at all, even if it evokes it. It’s quite different and a lot longer, so Socrates is not the original of that sentence. Further, if you quote a Greek in an English forum, why choose a language other than English or the original Greek?

  64. Sorry Francisco, I wasn’t getting your point.

  65. Also, I wanted to have quoted him on his original Mandarim, but I couldn’t find it.

  66. A J Ayer said, “We practice philosophy for the interest of the questions it raises and our success in answering them.” I guess he was half-right, which seems to be a characteristic of philosophers.

  67. @Luis Dias,

    QUOTE: “I’ll give you another example: God is One, but is also a Trinity. (And I’m quite sure the geeky metaphysicians will also declare this to be “solvable” because we can distinguish between the “one god” and the “three parts” with subcategories and multiple excuses masqueraded as deep schematics).”

    I don’t think you understand what you are arguing against. God is a trinity because GOD IS LOVE. If God is not a Trinity, God is not love. For love requires three things: a lover, a beloved, and a relationship between them. If God were only one person, he could be a lover, but not love itself.

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