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.”
Read Part I.
1You know you want to laugh.