William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

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Metaphysics: Peter Kreeft’s Summa Philosophica Part II

Been a while since we began these (last September), and I only just now realized that we never finished (too many distractions). Therefore, before continuing, I’m reposting the first two in the series before we start again on Part III tomorrow (God willing).

Read Part I.

“I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory,'” Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t–till I tell you. I meant ‘There’s a nice knock-down argument for you!'”

“But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument’,” Alice objected.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean–neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”

Alice was too much puzzled to say anything, so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again. “They’ve a temper, some of them–particularly verbs, they’re the proudest–adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs–however, I can manage the whole lot! Impenetrability! That’s what I say!”

The good Doctor Dodgson’s sideshow tour through philosophy’s Wonderland has done nothing to dissuade many Enlightened from adopting Humpty’s position and claiming that there is nothing behind what they say, that truth is relative, that reality is subjective, that words mean just what they say they mean and nothing more. “Believe me when I tell you that nothing can be believed with certainty!” Modern eggheads in particular will argue in a circle like this: the one ring that rules them all1.

Alice couldn’t be suckered into accepting relativism. Pus truth and realism were never entirely abandoned, of course. These lovelies still exist in the academy, too, but in somewhat shriveled form. Kreeft’s book aims to change that by building up our philosophical muscles. Let’s continue laying the foundation.

Some claim (Article 2) that metaphysics does not originate in experience. One Objection goes like this:

If metaphysics, like the special sciences, originated in experience, then its questions would be resolvable by experience, as the questions of the special sciences are, in which experienced data constitute the standard which verifies or falsifies hypotheses. But the questions of metaphysics are not resolvable by experience, for if they were, they would have been resolved by now…

To which the simple reply:

The objective truths sought by metaphysics are indeed a priori, for the are true universally, true of all possible experience. But the psychological process of arriving at these truths begins with experience.

Metaphysics also answers the questions. Why is there something rather than nothing? What are the characteristics of reality? What can we know? Does God exist? And so on. “Those who intend to avoid metaphysics do not really do so. For any indicative sentence, that is, any assertion that something is (an existential judgment), or that something is what it is (a copulative judgment about what it is, thus about both essence [“what”] and existence [“is”]), is by its nature a metaphysical statement, a statement about what is, even if the one who utters it does not attend to that fact.” (all markings original).

Incidentally, “nothing” does not mean quantum fields, dark energy, the “laws” of physics, mathematical axioms and theorems, etc. Nothing is complete non-existence. So how do we pop from absolutely nothing to having just a little something? This has an answer, which we’ll come to next time, but I’ll give you hint: the answer does not and cannot originate from science.

Answers to the Big Questions come instead from, for example, the study of universals. What’s that you say? “All universals are unreal”? That’s what I thought you said, Humpty. “Bah,” you reply, “There’s an exception to every rule.” To which I say, I heard you the first time.

After you’re done circling back on yourself, I’ll meet you here and we can do one of Kreeft’s metaphysical exercises. How about Article 8, “Whether time is real?” The Objections say no. “I answer that to say or think that time is unreal takes time. So if time is unreal, we cannot say of think that time is unreal. But if we cannot say or think that time is unreal, we cannot argue for that proposition, for we cannot argue for what we cannot say or think.”

Okay, that was an easy one. How about, “Whether all that is real is material?” One Objection is that “No one has ever seen the invisible. But all knowledge begins with and depends on sense observation of the visible, or the object of one of the other senses. Therefore the existence of invisible, immaterial beings cannot be known, only believed.”

I answer that (1) the knowledge of any object cannot be part (or dimension) of that object. For if it were—if the-fact-that-I-knew-X (let us call that Y) was one of the parts of X—then the X that existed independently of my knowing it would not be the same as, but would be less than, the X that I knew, since it would lack one part: namely, of the-fact-that-I-knew-X. But in that case my knowledge of X would not be a true knowledge of X, for true knowledge is the identity of knowing subject and known object.

(2) But I can know material things. Materialism could not be true if I did not know material things.

(3) Therefore my knowledge of material things must be not merely part of the material things I know.


“Would you tell me please,” said Alice, “what that means?”

“Now you talk like a reasonable child,” said Humpty Dumpty, looking very much pleased. “I meant by ‘impenetrability’ that we’ve had enough of that subject, and it would be just as well if you’d mention what you mean to do next, as I suppose you don’t mean to stop here all the rest of your life.”

“That’s a great deal to make one word mean,” Alice said in a thoughtful tone.

“When I make a word do a lot of work like that,” said Humpty Dumpty, “I always pay it extra.”

Next time: natural theology


Read Part I.

1You know you want to laugh.

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.

Evolution Is Not Inconsistent With Christianity

Today, a link to an important essay by The OFloinn, of which I was reminded by Mark Shea.

This essay cannot be missed and must be bookmarked. It must be on hand to give to your science pals who triumphantly proclaim that evolution, “selfish” genes, or other observations and speculations of biology “prove” the Christian/Jewish Bible is in error. I don’t think you will find a more succinct account of what orthodoxy actually says anywhere.

That is all: go and read.

Now modern genetics does not falsify the Adam and Eve tale for the excellent reason that it does not address the same matter as the Adam and Eve tale. One is about the origin of species; the other is about the origin of sin. One may as well say that a painting of a meal falsifies haute cuisine.
Still, there are some interesting points about the myth of Adam and Eve and the Fall. Not least is the common late-modern usage of “myth” to mean “something false” rather than “an organizing story by which a culture explains itself to itself.” Consider, for example, the “myth of progress” that was so important during the Modern Ages. Or the equally famous “myth of Galileo” which was a sort of Genesis myth for the Modern Ages. With the fading of the Modern Ages, these myths have lost their power and have been exploded by post-modernism or by historians of science. Before we consider the Fall, let us consider the Summer. No. Wait. I mean the Summary.

Aside: it took me several minutes to realize what “IOW” meant. Then, as I tweeted earlier, for years I thought “LOL” was “lots of luck.”

P.S. Don’t skip the footnotes.

P.P.S. Flynn also points to a Feser article on same subject.

Six Rules For Wearing Suits For Beginners

Don't ever do this

Don’t ever do this

I was looking through the Fedora Lounge and somebody asked whether Details’sThe Complete Guide to Suits: 57 Rules of Style” were of any use.

I thought not. There were too many and they were too persnickety, with too many ‘rules’ mere observations about some suits they happened to have on hand. Worst, there were too many wrong answers. Here’s a better guide.

1— Wear one. If you’re not used to wearing one, you’ll be frightened to do so, particularly if your wardrobe consists of “ironic” t-shirts and ugly jeans which you think look good on you (they do not).

When you finally screw up the courage and don the wool you’ll think everybody’s looking at you. They will be, too, because you’ll be acting like you’re sneaking contraband.

So begin with a jacket. This way you can keep your teenager-gear, but you can mask it with a bit of adulthood. Start with a navy blazer, but eschew shiny buttons. You’re not ready for them yet. Then get a gray. After a few weeks of mixing the two, substitute the t-shirt for a man’s shirt, which is one with a collar and cuffs which extend to your wrist. Give that a go for a solid month and then, on a Wednesday, switch over your high school pants for genuine trousers. If you’re still weak, cotton will do. But if you’re made of sterner stuff, keep to wool, linen, or silk.

Stay with this regime for another four to six weeks, and then add a tie, also on a Wednesday. If anybody asks, tell them your mother’s here to visit. This gives you the excuse to wear a tie several days in a row. People soon won’t notice you have it.

At that point, put on the suit.

2— Some say, “Don’t dress better than your boss.” You know who says this? People who aren’t bosses. Dress better than everybody.

3— Some say, “I don’t care what other people think of how I look.” These people always tell the truth. They become the sort of neighbors who paint their house shocking orange with green trim and never mow their lawn. Or they never brush their teeth, reasoning they’ll just eat again so why bother. “If somebody has to see my fuzzy teeth, that’s his problem.”

These folks forget the main reason to dress well is to please other people, to contribute positively to civilization, to not become a walking eyesores.

4— Which suits not to wear? Don’t wear the suits featured in Details unless you are 22, boyish, and want to look like a slave to fashion, which is to say, advertising. People will assume you watch the shopping channel and drink flavored vodka. Consider, every Details model is anemic and looks to be suffering from depression. Tragically hip. If your underpinnings are no thicker than a supermarket bratwurst, you don’t want to advertise the fact by wearing skin-gripping trousers. You’ll look like the weak one in the herd.

5— Which suits to wear? Go to the most expensive men’s store you can find which is old and not devoted to “brand names”. Once there, examine the wares. You won’t be able to afford these clothes, so when whichever salesman wins the arm wrestling contest to serve you sidles over and asks if he can help, you can say, “I can’t afford any of this stuff. I’m just looking.” He will flee from you as fast as a professor of literature meeting an evangelist. When you go to places you can afford, you’ll know what best approximates top-of-the-line.

If you’re not near any stores, surf over to Paul Stewart, J. Press, Oxxford and the like. You can’t see texture well in pictures, nor can you feel the quality, but it’s better than nothing.

Do not look at Brooks Brothers: they assume all men’s bodies are in the shape of squat parallelepipeds, i.e fat robots. Do not bother with Men’s Wearhouse. Third rate. Joseph A Bank can work. Sometimes. You can be very pleasantly surprised by Macy’s and the like, particularly off season.

6— Which material? You’ll see Super 100s, Super 120s, Super Duper 150s, Super Duper Wowwee 180s, and ever finer. Terrible stuff if you want to wear the suit regularly. The higher the number, the more marketing has been pumped into the material, the easier it wrinkles, the quicker it wears. Look instead for higher weight wools (12+ ounces) which have looser weaves, especially for spring, fall, and winter. Or wear linen, seersucker, or silk (but coarse) for summer. Ask any Bedouin, heavier but looser weaved material will be cooler than any tissue-thin Super Duper Wowwee 180s, which doesn’t breath.

Update John Cook reminds us that one of our most brilliant minds, John von Neumann, was a snappy dresser. For those who don’t know, von Neumann was the computer geek. So there’s no excuse for you.

At his 1926 doctoral exam, the mathematician David Hilbert is said to have asked but one question: “Pray, who is the candidate‚Äôs tailor?” He had never seen such beautiful evening clothes.

Update My collection of posts on men’s fashion.

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