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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.

Confused?

“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.

47 thoughts on “Metaphysics: Peter Kreeft’s Summa Philosophica Part II Leave a comment

  1. The problem of metaphysicians is that they are eggheading just as furiously as any other person, while pretending their cuisine is godly. However, we go see their ingredients and they are eggs too. Obviously.

  2. Relatively Brilliant argument as always Luis!


    The problem of ‘X’ is that they are eggheading just as furiously as ‘Y’, while pretending their cuisine is godly. However, we go see their ingredients and they are eggs too. Obviously.

    “any other person”, or a similar universal categorical descriptor, is, of course, the only acceptable ‘Y’, for using a specific implies an exemption to any not specified.

    ‘X’, however, being the current object of ridicule, can be either an individual person or specific category of persons.

    To better appreciate the relative depth and effectiveness of the above argument, simply replace ‘X’ with anything. Such as:

    Realists, anti-realists, physicists, materialists, objectivists, socialists, determinists, nondeterminists, libertarians, statisticians, psychologists, republicans, Al Gore, democrats, individualists, neurosurgeons, economists, Americans, Christians, atheists, etc…

    Relativism. It’s what’s for dinner.

  3. Pangloss, I am at liberty using playful rethoric, when I’m deliberately called an “egghead” or a “Sauron-wannabe” in the original post.

    However, having said that, no, one cannot substitute the “X” in my comment with your choices and have the meaning of it unscathed. To think you can shows how you did not understand my critique, no matter how cheap it was.

  4. Ok, let’s leave aside the joyful back and forths and bite the bullets.

    So, the first “insight” we get from this post is that the relativist just makes up words, confusing the hell out of anyone else, (or alternatively we can guess, he just borrows words that the absolutists so painfully and relentlessly “discovered” in the Real World they live in) like the eggheads they are. “Why won’t you get a job”, you might even be inclined to sing along your disdain of such a fatty untrustworthy creature.

    To counter, we have Alice, who understands that words have Definite Meanings, derived from God almighty Himself, and that it is no place for an egghead to just decide what they mean instead!

    All this is obnoxious paranoid rubbish. To start, conversation requires a good degree of intelligibility on the code used. It would be of no use to have people make words up every single minute “because they can”. Of course, that people *can* do such things is obviously true, it is also obviously annoying and useless, and so people tend to use words they know the interlocutor understands at least partially.

    Second, it is utterly untrue that words are not created by us for us and so on. We see the birth of new words constantly. Unless you propose that these words come from the TRUTH or from REALITY itself, that is, if we pressupose we are talking sensibly about these things, we realise that words are consensualized code. If I use the word TROLL I am pretty sure everyone in the audience understands its meaning here, although I wouldn’t be so sure if I were speaking inside a church.

    I will say no word against the claim that Metaphysics derive from experience. Of course it does. And it is, obviously, its weakest spot. To understand this problem is to understand the flawed nature of every metaphysical “building”. However, this humility is something that many metaphysicians simply do not get. It is probably a disease that is communicated through the purity of mathematics. Just like the soft-sciences are “physics-envy”, so the metaphysics are “mathematics-envy”. To deny Global Warming or Psychological Studies is the same as being a “science denier”, and we all know that these fields are just as good as physics. Don’t we? Likewise, denying Metaphysics is like denying mathematics to these people.

    Third, what mess one makes about the issue of “Time”. I’ll leave that one to tomorrow though.

  5. @ Louis.

    My take on the Humpty Dumpty comment is that it is not about making up words but rather taking existing words with agreed upon meanings and using them to mean something else entirely.

    While I do not acuse you specifically of this, it is something that many reletavists in the public sphere do constantly.

    For example, take a term for those who practice certain sexual acts. The majority of people find these acts offensive, so the term takes on negative connotations.

    People who object to the negative connotations take an existing word with existing unrelated meaning with no negative connotations and apply it a euphamism for the original term above thinking that the change in language will change peoples thinking.

    Of course the change in peoples thinking never happens and the new term takes on the original term’s negative connotations. At which point a new euphamism is invented and they pretend that the previous euphamism has always been offensive rather than having been an approved euphamism. Then they go and accuse anyone using the previous (or earlier) euphamism(s) of bigotry even where the context is clear that the person was using it for it’s original meaning before it was coopted as a euphamism.

    Rinse, repeat infinitely.

  6. Post modernists tend to argue that you cannot mean anythning but what _they_ say you mean. That is, you make a statment. They then say, “you said, ‘thus and so.'”

    You respond, “no, my words were, ‘such and such.'”

    Their response is, “exactly you MEANT, ‘thus and so.'”

    You, “no, no, no! I meant no such thing!!!”

    They, “but that is what you said.”

    You, “no, I said, ‘such and such.’ You jsut agreed I did.”

    They, “exactly, and you meant …

    At which point, you push them in front of a bus, or head for the nearest pub before you do so, if and only if the death penalty acts as a deterent.

  7. The problem is that metaphysical stances are so fundamental that those who deny them must at the same time rely upon them. No science is capable of proving its own axioms. The physics studies things that exist, but must take existence itself for granted. After a while, its practitioners confuse their own methodology with the whole of reality.

    Time is the measure of change in mutable matter. As such, it exists insofar as mutable matter exists. Einstein regarded time (and space) as metaphysical concepts, divorced from empirical science. Time slows down on the proverbial spaceship speeding up toward lightspeed. If time did not exist, what exactly is speeding up? We’d be stuck with Parmenides and Zeno.

  8. The correct response to Humpty Dumpty is that if he can make any word mean anything he wants then the words themselves have no meaning and there fore, he has said nothing at all.

  9. @JWDougherty,

    Yes, there is a deterent effect associated with the death penalty but it doesn’t work the way either it’s advocates or opponents think.

    Here is how it works. Normal people don’t like dealing with lawyers. This is why corporations exist. The limitation of owner’s liability is a nice side effect but the true puropose of a corporation is so that the owners don’t have to deal with lawyers, they hire other people to deal with the lawyers.

    Now with a non-capital crime, the defendent has to deal with a lawyer for the trial and maybe a couple of appeals but then it’s over and done with.

    With a capital crime on the other hand the prosess has been DELIBERATELY set up with infinite appeals. There fore if you get conficted in a death penalty case you will be dealing with lawyers for the rest of your natural life.

    Think about that for a minute. 🙂

  10. A few years ago I made several attempts to read this essay by Christopher Langan. Langan is a self-taught wiseman who held the world’s IQ record, and maybe he still does. At some point he worked as a bar bouncer. These qualifications were irresistible to my curiosity. I like what he is saying here but I always get lost midway through his essay, so I’ve never finished it. It may be viewd as serious attempt to explore that old idea to the effect that “the world is not made of atoms; it’s made of stories.” A brief excerpt follows, and link to the full essay at the end.

    […]
    The Principle of Linguistic Reducibility
    Reality is a self-contained form of language. This is true for at least two reasons. First, although it is in some respects material and concrete, reality conforms to the algebraic definition of a language. That is, it incorporates:

    (1) representations of (object-like) individuals, (space-like) relations and attributes, and (time-like) functions and operations;
    (2) a set of “expressions” or perceptual states; and
    (3) a syntax consisting of (a) logical and geometric rules of structure, and (b) an inductive-deductive generative grammar identifiable with the laws of state transition.

    Second, because perception and cognition are languages, and reality is cognitive and perceptual in nature, reality is a language as well.
    While there have been many reductionist programs in science and philosophy, the promised reduction is always to the same thing: a theoretical language. Because this is necessarily true, language is fundamental. The fact that most such theories, e.g. theories of physics, point to the fundamental status of something “objective” and “independent of language”, e.g. matter and/or energy, is quite irrelevant, for the very act of pointing invokes an isomorphism between theory and objective reality, an isomorphism that is subject to the Reality Principle, and which could not exist unless reality shared the linguistic structure of the theory itself.

    Perhaps the meaning of this principle can be most concisely expressed through a generalization of the aphorism “whereof one cannot speak, one must be silent”: whereof that which cannot be linguistically described, one cannot perceive or conceive. So for the observational and theoretical purposes of science and reality theory, that which is nonisomorphic to language is beyond consideration as a component of reality.

    As we have already seen, the Reality Principle says that reality contains all and only that which is real. As defined by this statement, the predicate reality is primarily a linguistic construct conforming to syntactic structure, where syntax consists of the rules by which predicates are constructed and interpreted. In this sense, reality amounts to a kind of theory whose axioms and rules of inference are implicitly provided by the logical component of the conceptual syntax in which it is expressed. The Principle of Linguistic Reducibility merely clarifies the issue of whether reality is a linguistic predicate or the objective content of such a predicate by asserting that it is both. Thus, where the reality predicate is analytically (or syntactically) self-contained, reality is self-contained. This can be expressed as follows: on the level of cognitive-perceptual syntax, reality equals reality theory. Where theory and universe converge, Occam’s razor and physical principles of economy become tautologies.

    Because perception is a sensory intersect of mind and reality, perception is impossible without cognition, and to this extent the cognitive predicate reality equates to its perceptual content. On the level of cognitive and perceptual syntax, language is necessarily isomorphic to that which it describes; in a perceptual reality like that which exists around us, it is tautologically true that the basic language of cognition and perception is syntactically isomorphic to reality (though illusion and falsehood become possible on the semantic level). It follows that we can speak of reality in terms of generalized cognition and perception, where this phrase denotes conformance to cognition and perception on the syntactic level. In particular, generalized cognition is that process through which reality everywhere “recognizes” itself.

    The Principle of Linguistic Reducibility provides a mandate to add an advanced form of language theory to the mathematical arsenal of reality theory. The reality-theoretic benefits of this addition are incalculable. In conventional physical theory, the fundamental entities are point particles, waves and more recently, strings; each class of object has its problems and paradoxes. In the CTMU, the fundamental objects are syntactic operators (units of self-transducing information or infocognition) that are not only capable of emulating all of these objects and more, but of containing the syntactic structures to which they must inevitably conform and resolving their characteristic paradoxes in the bargain. Because meaning equates to semantic connectivity and is thus linguistic in every sense of the term, the shift to a linguistic perspective is indispensable to teleology or any other form of meaning.
    Now we know that reality is a linguistic self-contained syndiffeonic relation, although we still seem to be knowing it from an external vantage in a rather inspecific way. Where should we go next in search of clues? At this point, we could really use a MAP (Metaphysical Autology Principle)
    […]
    Christopher Michael Langan
    The Cognitive-Theoretic Model of the Universe
    A New Kind of Reality Theory (pp. 18-20)
    http://www.iscid.org/papers/Langan_CTMU_092902.pdf

  11. My take on the Humpty Dumpty comment is that it is not about making up words but rather taking existing words with agreed upon meanings and using them to mean something else entirely.

    Not really relevant to my own point about the unambiguity required for conversation, and I do agree with the critique against the euphemization of language. However, I disagree with the notion that this is somehow a “relativistic” thing or a “post-modernist” thing. It’s not. It’s the usual not-so-unintelligent process of bastards in power to manipulate people to do what they want them to do.

    The reverse is also true. For instance, whenever we get into political debates of what is the best way to manage health care, every single conversation that includes the word “government” in it is automatically despised as “communism”, destroying the whole conversation right there. For another instance, more close to heart here, whenever someone asserts relativism or atheism, one is immediately dubbed as an amoral, meaningless bastard that doesn’t know anything at all and shouldn’t even be able to breathe.

    So what I am saying is that these “redefinitions” of concepts are always happening and they cut *all the ways*, and many of them go against what we personally would like them to. So what? If anything, this whole process is evidence that language flows and meanings also flow, and it is also evidence that words are not enough to “make a change”. And that latter point is great to know.

  12. The problem is that metaphysical stances are so fundamental that those who deny them must at the same time rely upon them. No science is capable of proving its own axioms. The physics studies things that exist, but must take existence itself for granted. After a while, its practitioners confuse their own methodology with the whole of reality.

    Mathematics envy! Math-e-mat-ics envy, I say!

  13. @Louis

    You went wrong in your very first paragraph.

    “So, the first “insight” we get from this post is that the relativist just makes up words, confusing the hell out of anyone else, (or alternatively we can guess, he just borrows words that the absolutists so painfully and relentlessly “discovered” in the Real World they live in) like the eggheads they are. “Why won’t you get a job”, you might even be inclined to sing along your disdain of such a fatty untrustworthy creature.”

    No, the Alice in wonderland isn’t showing the relativist making up words as you state. Rather he is re-defining existing words with existing definitions on the fly.

    While I agree that there are both Democrats and Republicans in the public sphere who engage in this kind of thing, I would conside both to be relativists.

  14. @ Louis (Continued).

    Note: I consider myself to be a conservative leaning libertarian.

    I would respond on the health care issue not with “Communist” but with “Incompetance”. I do not believe that the government is competant to “manage” the health care system. History teaches that goverment in general with few exceptions will ultimatley screw up almost everything it touches.

    The problem with the pre-Obama US Health care system is not free market failure, but the fact that there is no free market for health care due largely to government interferance (Mostly at the state level) that limits competion and other insurance regulations.

  15. “The problem of metaphysicians is that they are eggheading just as furiously as any other person, while pretending their cuisine is godly. However, we go see their ingredients and they are eggs too. Obviously.”

    Or…. perhaps the metaphysicians of Kreeft’s stripe simply know you have to crack the egg and turn on the stove to make an omelet.

    As to Humpty’s equivocation of language, see Adler’s “Ten Philosophical Mistakes”. Of course we made up the word “dirt”; but we didn’t make the actual dirt, did we? What grounds language is denotation, yes?

  16. No, the Alice in wonderland isn’t showing the relativist making up words as you state. Rather he is re-defining existing words with existing definitions on the fly.
    While I agree that there are both Democrats and Republicans in the public sphere who engage in this kind of thing, I would conside both to be relativists.

    I’d say that calling these activities “relativism” is actually a very ironic example of the exact same “redefining” BS that the egghead displays. Relativism is not an activity, it is a theory on how things work. It is not prescriptive, it does not tell us that we should reinvent the meaning of the words in the fly to confuse our interlocutors or to manipulate them, etc. That does not require “Relativism”, it just requires you to be an a_h.

    Or…. perhaps the metaphysicians of Kreeft’s stripe simply know you have to crack the egg and turn on the stove to make an omelet.

    Except when you don’t, of course. That’s the beauty of metaphysics: it’s always true except when it is not, and this very insight is proof that it is!

  17. What a load of bull, Josh. So because I disagree with the notion that whatever the egghead is doing is either not relativism (misleading everyone to manipulate them into doing whatever he wants them to do) or just a basic accusation that covers pretty much everyone else (participate in the creation of language as we all do), I am “moving the goalposts all over the place”?

    Stop eggheading. Also, soccer does not include moving the goalposts and it is a beautiful game. Perhaps your analytical problem is more general.

  18. @ Louis,

    What is described in the Alice in Wonderland examples is NOT “participating in the creation of languaguage as we all do” it is rather a unilateral re-definition of terms without reguard to the process involved in the creation of language.

    The creation of language is a social process. You can not simply make up any word you want and say it is part of the language. If others do not accept and use your word and your definition of it, it does not become part of the language.

    While I accept that Relatavism does not prescribe the sort of unilateral re-definition of terms, such behavior is not something that one who truly believes in absolutes would be likely to engage in.

  19. So because I disagree with the notion that whatever the egghead is doing is either not relativism (misleading everyone to manipulate them into doing whatever he wants them to do) or just a basic accusation that covers pretty much everyone else (participate in the creation of language as we all do), I am “moving the goalposts all over the place”?

    Yes, let me define “moving the goalposts” for you, as I am now a relativist, and believe that words are merely conventions divorced from the essences they were purported to refer to. It now means “arguing like a Luis Dias.” And if I get 51% of the people in the combox here to agree with said definition, I will consider this worthy of submission to Webster’s.

    Also, soccer does not include moving the goalposts and it is a beautiful game. Perhaps your analytical problem is more general.

    I of course realize this, but I figured a non sequitur does as good as a reasoned response in your case. I gained this insight through a general analytical insight of your own responses; maybe you’re right and it is defective. I’ll go read some Nietzsche, that paragon of analytical wisdom, to get the scales righted again.

  20. While I accept that Relatavism does not prescribe the sort of unilateral re-definition of terms, such behavior is not something that one who truly believes in absolutes would be likely to engage in.

    You assume that the present terminologies are perfectly correlated with Reality. More precisely, you assume that an absolutist will always believe the last sentence. However, I do not have absolutists to be so damned stupid at all :). We all know the history of things like “Gravity” and how its definition has been modified in History.

    Now, given the above, it is perfectly reasonable to infer that the definitions we currently have about the terms we are aware of may not be in their best shape. And if you believe you can define some term in a better way, it’s not being an Absolutist that will stop you.

    From that point above, it is but a small step to start to reformulate the words and the dictionary if it so pleases you. It’s not as if “English” is “the” perfect language as it is.

    Josh,

    Yes, let me define “moving the goalposts” for you, as I am now a relativist, and believe that words are merely conventions divorced from the essences they were purported to refer to. It now means “arguing like a Luis Dias.” And if I get 51% of the people in the combox here to agree with said definition, I will consider this worthy of submission to Webster’s.

    That’s not behaving like a Relativist, that’s just being an a_hole. You might think the terms are synonyms, which is evidence of the wisdom “errare humanum est”.

  21. That’s not behaving like a Relativist, that’s just being an a_hole. You might think the terms are synonyms, which is evidence of the wisdom “errare humanum est”.

    You assume that the present terminologies are perfectly correlated with Reality.

  22. @ Louis

    “You assume that the present terminologies are perfectly correlated with Reality. More precisely, you assume that an absolutist will always believe the last sentence. However, I do not have absolutists to be so damned stupid at all . We all know the history of things like “Gravity” and how its definition has been modified in History.”

    I assume no such thing. Of course there is a difference between believing that some fundamental absolutes must exist (even if we don’t and can’t know for sure what they are) and beliving that all truths must be absolut.

    There is also a difference between proposing a new / beter deffinition for some term then arguing for it’s acceptance and unilaterally re-defining a term mid conversation and persisting with your new definition over the objections of the other participants.

    I posit that the latter is incompatible with beleif in any absolutes at all.

  23. @ Louis

    You might be able to convince me that I am wrong on the final point in my previous post but so far you haven’t even come close.

  24. There is also a difference between proposing a new / beter deffinition for some term then arguing for it’s acceptance and unilaterally re-defining a term mid conversation and persisting with your new definition over the objections of the other participants.
    I posit that the latter is incompatible with beleif in any absolutes at all.

    What both you and Josh are not understanding is that the latter is not being either a relativist or an absolutist. It’s behaving like an a_hole. Look, I think I’m somewhat a nice guy. I don’t usually behave like that, constantly redefining words or expressions into something so preposterous silly that no one else understands.

    Josh begs to differ. I might start to think he likes behaving like a jerk while pretending to be making some nebulous point.

  25. You assume that the present terminologies are perfectly correlated with Reality.

    Just in case you are not trolling me here, I’d like to tell you something obvious here. I do never assume my terminologies are correlated with Reality with big R because, and pay attention for the first time here, I am not an absolutist. I just assume that I’ll be somewhat, relatively understood. And I have evidence that I am not being understood, sometimes at all. Like in the sentence quoted above.

  26. @ Louis,

    I am not suggesting that you behave like that, or that all relativist do so.

    What I am saying is that absolutists would tend more to stick with old deffinitions of things that everyone else has long abandond than to continually re-define terms.

    The constant re-defining of terms takes a special kind of extremem fundamentallist relativist who refuses to accept the possibilty of there being any truth extrinsic to himself (or herself).

    While I don’t think you are that far out there, there are people in US politics that activelly promote such extremem relatavism (that there can be no truth external to the individual) even if they don’t actually belive it themselves.

  27. Absolutists tend to be conservatives as well. So yeah, in that sense the correlation does not seem preposterous to me.

    The constant re-defining of terms takes a special kind of extremem fundamentallist relativist who refuses to accept the possibilty of there being any truth extrinsic to himself (or herself).

    Here you go. That’s not called “Relativism”. That’s called Solipsism. Look it up. It’s not even a subset of relativism.

  28. The dictionary is for the most part a history book of how words have been used up to its publishing and how they can still be used – unless you are a post modern deconstructionist; then it is just a series of letters put in a certain order by the dominant culture so as to suppress the afflicted.

  29. I looked it up and I stand corrected.

    Matt, don’t back down so easily; solipsism is the belief that only one’s mind exists, and therefore entails relativism; everything is literally relative to one’s own mind.

    @Luis:

    What both you and Josh are not understanding is that the latter is not being either a relativist or an absolutist. It’s behaving like an a_hole.

    What you aren’t understanding is that the OP was not making a point about practical nominalism/relativism, i.e., all of them are and must be Humptys, but that their metaphysical position logically entails that there can be Humptys who are perfectly consistent. That you aren’t a Humpty is nice, but you certainly don’t have the privilege/prejudice to be able to judge Humpty if you accept relativism. I think you should apologize to him. I think he’s all broken up.

  30. Matt, don’t back down so easily; solipsism is the belief that only one’s mind exists, and therefore entails relativism; everything is literally relative to one’s own mind.

    Less hilariously Josh, Solipsism is an absolute belief in one’s own mind’s existence and an absolute belief that the rest of the universe is just an “expression” of your own self. It’s a ridiculous metaphysical position that is commonly used as an insult towards philosophical positions some people do not like (as say,Relativism). The hilarious part here is that you apparently still confuse the two.

    What you aren’t understanding is that the OP was not making a point about practical nominalism/relativism, i.e., all of them are and must be Humptys, but that their metaphysical position logically entails that there can be Humptys who are perfectly consistent.

    Unnecessary paragraph there Josh. Humpty’s reasoning is, of course, perfectly logical once he accepts a solipsistic worldview. There’s nothing in Relativism that can turn you into a solipsist. The only way you can confuse the two is if you make some pretty grand logical mistakes along the way.

    Being both (healthily) skeptical of the “Self” and the “Subjective Others” and so on does not place a Relativist on a position of absolutely believing in the Self and absolutely denying the Others. It puts the Relativist in the cautious place of wondering “what the hell is going on here”, and trying to arrange a better method of figuring it out than just “pondering” over it.

    That you aren’t a Humpty is nice, but you certainly don’t have the privilege/prejudice to be able to judge Humpty if you accept relativism.

    Of course I do. I have both the privilege and the prejudices to judge the egghead. I am human, and humans keep judging all the time. You are still confused about the dycothomy between “absolute” and “relative”. What you can say about me is that I cannot judge in an absolute way about Humpty. And of course, every “common sense thinking” knows this. It is aptly summed up in a wise phrase: “God Knows” (The beauty of that phrase is that it works for both theists and atheists).

    For all I can tell, Humpty *could* well be right, and I *could* well be a figment of *his* imagination. Or inside of a dog’s dream. Or inside a Matrix. Infinite etceteras. How can I ever *prove* Humpty to be absolutely wrong? Most importantly, most pertinently however, why should I even care about an unprovable, innefable absolute like that?

  31. The hilarious part here is that you apparently still confuse the two.

    Why bother to read anything you write any longer? I very clearly said solipsism entails relativism meaning I get the distinction. Everything is relative to one’s own mind, which is the only absolute. Then you go wandering into irrelevancies, like as if I was saying you couldn’t make a value judgment of Humpty, when it’s clear to anyone with a smidge of understanding that I meant a logically consistent relativist has nothing to say against Humpty except they “don’t like it.” This really is a waste of my time; there are plenty of intellectually honest comboxers around elsewhere.

    why should I even care about an unprovable, innefable absolute like that?

    Why indeed.

  32. @Josh

    I am not here to win an argument, but to understand. There fore I don’t see that I have anything in particular to back down from.

    I wans’t completely ignorent of Solipsism before but I didn’t know that much about it and I was under the impresion that it was an extreme branch of relatavism. However, having looked it up (Ignoring Wikipedia, why does it allways show up first when searching for the definition of a term?) I have to agree with Louis on this one. Solipsism is an absolute belief and is there for in-consistant with relatavism.

    With that in mind, the Alice in Wonderland example is certainaly an exercise in Solipsism rather than realism.

  33. With that in mind, the Alice in Wonderland example is certainaly an exercise in Solipsism rather than relativism.

    Except it isn’t (except obliquely); it’s an exercise in the absurdity of nominalism, and making words conventions(relative to a mind only) as opposed to having explicit reference to universals that exist as part of forms that make up things in reality. Solipsism isn’t mentioned once in the OP, except in the sense of “reality is subjective.” Which is precisely one of the things relativism shares in terms of epistemology. Not all relativists are solipsists, but all solipsists make reality relative to their minds necessarily.

    That they believe this absolutely doesn’t mean anything; that just highlights the point that no one gets away from an absolute belief at some point, because even the belief that there are no absolutes is, you guessed it, an absolute. Even an appeal to “what works” as a guiding tool instead, reserving judgment, is a veiled absolute: “We don’t or can’t know anything for sure.” All this is fairly clear in the OP though.

    I didn’t mean any offense in my rejoinder, I simply think you had more ground to stand on than you allowed yourself. I ain’t here to win anything either, just to defend truth as best I can in a setting that’s horribly suited to it, the BlogComBox.

  34. Why bother to read anything you write any longer? I very clearly said solipsism entails relativism meaning I get the distinction.

    Why indeed, if you keep making mistakes like that? You very clearly said something deeply wrong. No, solipsism does *not* entail relativism. If anything it entails a radical form of an absolutist idealism, which has pretty much nothing in common with relativism.

    ….when it’s clear to anyone with a smidge of understanding that I meant a logically consistent relativist has nothing to say against Humpty except they “don’t like it.”

    … and again saying something deeply wrong. No, a relativist is still perfectly able to make a logically consistent judgement against (or for) Humpty Dumpty. The remaining difference between an absolutist and a relativist on this one is that while the absolutist will (try to) ground his logic on an “absolutely true premise”, the relativist concedes that his logic is grounded on falsifiable premises, imperfect truths, incomplete assessments.

    The relativist acknowledges the human condition. That is the only difference. Such perceived flaw is in fact a strength, just as humility shows more strenght than arrogance.

    Not all relativists are solipsists, but all solipsists make reality relative to their minds necessarily.

    This usage of “relative” is quite disingenuous. Solipsists ground their reality in their minds. And that groundness is as “relativistic” as in any other absolutism. For instance, your particular type of absolutism make “reality relative” to the assumptions you deem as absolutely true.

    This is not the same “relativism” that I am endorsing. The usage of the same word may have confused you, but you must understand these are separate things in themselves. No, Solipsism is *one* absolutist metaphysics. Please, do not pound on the error while complaining that this is “a waste” of your time.

    …because even the belief that there are no absolutes is, you guessed it, an absolute

    I don’t have to “guess” this, the critics of Relativism have this ignorant criticism on their lips all the time, even despite the fact that I’ve asserted over and over and over that this is just not the case. Whoever told you that I hold that belief in an absolute way? Not me, surely, for I haven’t said that. So you just like putting words into my mouth, you adore telling me that I do not believe what I say I believe, that I believe in what you tell me I believe. You are still not behaving unlike a jerk, Josh.

  35. I don’t have to “guess” this, the critics of Relativism have this ignorant criticism on their lips all the time, even despite the fact that I’ve asserted over and over and over that this is just not the case.

    “No one is listening to me make my unsubstantiated assertions, dang it!” That comment above wasn’t addressed to you anyways, Luis.

    You are still not behaving unlike a jerk, Josh.

    K bro. I’ll give you a wide berth in future Kreeftposts, which interest me because I have the book. Go your way and I’ll go mine, and never the twain shall meet. Pax vobiscum.

  36. Metaphysics answers “the” questions indeed. But giving an answer does not automatically mean that the answer is the right one. The way to check an answer is to look for evidence, or better, to look for proofs that the answer is wrong.

    Hence Science only looks for answers that can be disproven. Not because nobody wants no answer for the metaphysical questions. But because there are way too many of these answers, without ways of checking how good these answers are.

  37. @Fransico,
    That Langan essay seems like a fascinatingly convoluted way to say “In the beginning was the Word”. Still reading and digesting it, though.

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