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The Principle of Non-Contradiction’s Incredible Implications

Thomism’s metaphysical first principle of non-contradiction (PNC) reads, “Being cannot both be and not be at the same time and in the same respect.” Its sister first principles are those of identity and excluded middle. Its logical form reads, “The same predicate cannot be affirmed and denied of the same subject.” The metaphysical statement is about being itself (that which in any way has existence), not about propositions about being.

There appears little reason to examine something so basic and obvious that everyone, even little children, just presumes its truth and concretely applies it to everything. It looks like merely a logical tool governing linguistic expression.

Yet, what is incredible about this metaphysical principle is that it offers a primary truth about being itself that is both absolutely certain and universally true. Because the PNC is presupposed by their own methodology, such philosophical systems as positivism, scientific materialism, and the analytic tradition have absolutely no way of explaining why it is true. Moreover, the PNC is radically transcendental, that is, it applies not only to the observable world of sense phenomena, but to anything at all -- even beyond the finite world to God himself.

Absolutely Certain

No one can actually doubt or deny the principle of non-contradiction – for the very act of denying or doubting presupposes its validity. To say, “I deny,” is to affirm that you deny and deny that you affirm, both of which need the PNC for their very intelligibility. To say “I doubt” is to affirm absolutely that you doubt, which is to deny its contradictory of not doubting. To say, “I am not sure” is to affirm that you are not sure and deny that you are sure. To say, “Well, maybe” is to affirm that something could be and deny that it is impossible.

Every declarative expression of words or thought is absolute, because the mind forms judgments solely by combining two concepts in an affirmation or by dividing two concepts in a negation. We speak this way, because we cannot think otherwise. The mind operates by judgments that combine or divide subjects in the form of “is” or “is not” copulas or some variant thereof, which reflect the PNC. Failure to do so is a failure to form any judgment at all. It is a failure to think or say anything at all.

Not Empirically Verifiable

A most fascinating PNC fact is that the most prevalent atheistic worldviews, for example, scientific materialism, positivism, or naturalism seen through a materialist lens, cannot explain the principle’s certitude within their own methodology. This is because the PNC cannot be empirically verified, since every experimental method presupposes the PNC’s truth.

That is, in order to empirically verify anything, the experimental data must first be affirmed as correct and its contradictory rejected. An instrument reading must be accepted as given and not as simultaneously not given. All scientists operatively presuppose the PNC whenever observations are recorded or results are reported. It remains an eight hundred pound gorilla in the room for positivistic worldviews.

Nor does the PNC derive from mathematics, since every supposition or axiom presupposes the PNC for its intelligibility. Let p > q presupposes that you are affirming that supposition, and the affirmation has meaning solely if it excludes its denial. In logic, no formal expression can ever be posited without simultaneously denying its contradictory. Even modal logic, wherein statements are qualified, presupposes absolute affirmation of statements.

Some of the greatest philosophical truths are hidden in plain sight. Parmenides’ simple starting point for Western philosophy is the initial concept of being. Brilliant minds sometimes overlook the obvious.

Universal and Transcendent

Because the principle of non-contradiction is a metaphysical law of being, not a principle limited to particular essences (natures), it applies to all possible things, even those transcending physical reality.

Imagine being confronted with something new and being told it is a chicken. A chicken has certain qualities specific to its nature. Having encountered one chicken, you know something of its nature. Now, if you were told that something existed, but not what it is, you would not know what qualities belong to it. But, if you were then assured that it was another chicken, you would immediately know something about it, because you already know what a chicken is. That is, once you form an initial concept of a chicken, you know that its basic qualities will hold for all possible chickens. This means that these qualities will apply to any entity – provided you are guaranteed it is another chicken.

But, what if you were told that something might or might not exist -- and that you will never encounter it anyway? What if you were told nothing about what kind of thing it might be? What would you then know about it? Nothing?

Not so. You would still know that, if it existed, it could not also not exist at the same time and in the same way. What might or might not exist might not be a chicken or any particular thing you have previously encountered. But, it will still obey the laws of being.

Once the mind has encountered any being, it forms an initial concept of being that will hold good for all possible beings. Since that knowledge is not restricted to some limited essence, like chicken-ness, it will apply to anything that can possibly be or exist. And if nothing exists, the PNC remains applicable, since nothing cannot both not be, and yet, be.

The concept of being’s universal nature directly causes the principle of non-contradiction to apply validly to each and every possible being – that is, to transcend any possible limitation of application.

Moreover, while something new might express some essence never before encountered, if it exists, it still is a being. And the mind has already encountered being from which it has formed a concept that applies to any being whatever.

Knowledge of this law of being is transcendental. Our minds necessarily affirm the principle of non-contradiction applies to every possible being. And yet, that does not mean that that this truth is somehow regulated by, or limited in scope to, our mind. If the laws of thought about being do not reflect the actual laws of being, the mind becomes utterly useless as an instrument with which to know reality. In that case, both natural science and common experience become unintelligible.

As a side observation, St. Thomas Aquinas proves the human soul’s spiritual nature through its ability to form universal concepts,1 which, unlike sense images, are entirely free of the conditions of matter. While a man or triangle can be concretely imagined as particular objects, concepts, such as humanity or triangularity, cannot. This is because universal concepts are entirely free of the conditions of matter, which means that no bodily organ produces them. This reveals concepts’ spiritual nature and the spiritual nature of the mind able to form them.

In virtue of its transcendent universality, no concept is as universal and totally unimaginable as the concept of being. Hence, the concept of being uniquely manifests the spirituality of the human soul.

Kant's Transcendental PNC Use

The principle of non-contradiction cannot be inductively derived the way David Hume (1711-1776) views induction, that is, by attempting to predict regularity in relations of future phenomena based on prior repeated experience. This approach led him to conclude that there was no way to show that Newtonian scientific laws could be truly universal, since they assume an indemonstrable uniformity of nature, especially as regard causal relations.[

The German idealist Immanuel Kant[ (1724-1804) attempted to save Newtonian physics from Hume’s skepticism by postulating a priori forms of all possible cognition that guaranteed that physical laws -- even space and time itself -- would hold good for all possible experience, but only for experience – not for things in themselves. It is much like wearing rose-colored glasses would assure that everything would “look rosy,” despite the fact that real colors might be varied. But Kant’s defense of Newton entailed limiting the mind’s certitudes to possible experience – meaning that speculative pure reason could never be used to go beyond possible experience in order to prove God’s existence.

For Kant, to use speculative pure reason transcendentally would mean erroneously to apply a priori categories of the apperception (such as space and time) and of the understanding (such as cause and effect) -- categories designed solely for the phenomena (things as they appear to us) -- to the noumena (things as they are in themselves).

Kant claimed he proved his thesis through his antinomies of pure reason, which alleged that such transcendental use of speculative reason led to contradictory conclusions. Kant actually failed to save Newtonian science because his system limited its guaranteed universal laws solely to the phenomena, whereas physicists maintain that physical laws apply to the real physical world in itself (the noumena).

Astoundingly, Kant himself – despite being what he calls a “critical idealist” -- still applied the principle of non-contradiction transcendentally, when he claimed his antinomies led to contradictory conclusions about the noumena -- since he recognized that it was objectively impossible to have contradictions in things in themselves.

Just as Kant insisted that his a priori forms held good for all possible experience, similarly, Thomistic first principles hold good for all possible being. This is why we instantly know of some hypothetical entity, which allegedly we know nothing about, that it cannot both be and not be -- as long as we judge it from the exact same perspective.

Since the PNC is a law of being, not essence, it is not limited to the Kantian phenomena, that is, merely things’ appearances. It applies to all being, including the noumena (things in themselves). Moreover, since it applies to all being, whether that being is finite or infinite makes no difference, which is why it is legitimate to test the coherence of the concept of God by seeing whether any divine attributes entail intrinsic contradictions either with the divine essence itself or among themselves.

How Do We Do It?

How can the PNC be known with such absolute certitude and transcendental universality? Here one must distinguish (1) knowledge of the fact from (2) knowledge of the explanation of the fact. Such certitude and transcendentality are facts directly evident in human experience. Now must be examined why this is so evident.

It is much like skipping down stairs two at a time. In the midst of the feat, one is certain that one is doing it. But any attempt, at the same moment, to think about exactly how one does it would be a distraction risking catastrophe! One need not know how one does it in order to be certain that one is doing it.

Similarly, that being cannot both be and not be is certain -- even should it not be possible to explain fully why such certitude exists. The importance of this distinction is that the present section of this paper is not essential to its overall thesis.

Truth’s basic notion is conformity of the knower to the known -- of experience to reality. If I think my car is red, and it is, that is the truth. But if it is blue, then my knowledge is false with respect to its color.

Any experience whatever entails a union between knower and known (even if what is known is purely subjective) – or else, no knowledge, either true or false, is had. Knowledge is an act of experience, which has content. But to experience any content is to experience some form of being – from which a concept of being can be formed.

Even if someone is hallucinating pink elephants dancing on the ceiling, the hallucinations are still real as hallucinations. Since the concept of being is formed from any being whatever, it matters not whether the content experienced is merely subjective or extramentally real – or even a psychotic hallucination. It remains an undeniably real experience of something. Since both the concept of being and the PNC are based on being, and not on essence or nature, any encounter with being whatever can ground our universal certitude of metaphysical first principles, including the PNC.

We have visual experience of colors and can reflectively know we are having this experience – even if it is merely a visual hallucination or the content of a dream. Similarly, when we encounter reality in any form, we know it as real and existing -- and reflectively know that we know it as being.

The mind reflectively judges its own act of conforming to being, and in so doing, recognizes that it is constituted to know its own conformity to being. That is why all men are intellectually forced to admit the PNC’s truth as a presupposition to any judgment they may utter or think.

Just as color compels sight to experience it, so being compels intellect to acknowledge its presence. The metaphysical first principle of non-contradiction is neither given in sensation alone nor demonstrable. But, it is self-evident. Sensation alone is not a judgment, but being is known by the intellect when it judges that something exists, for example, as encountered in sensation.

From that first experience, which entails both sense and intellect, the initial vague concept of being is formed. And from this vague concept of being is soon formed the refined concept that Parmenides proclaimed in the form of a judgment: “Being is. Non-being is not.” From this we get the principle of non-contradiction: “Being cannot both be and not be” – adding “at the same time and in the same respect” in order to make clear that it is the same exact being or aspect of being we are apprehending.

One last point: Given that the above-described principle is undeniably given at the very starting point of all human knowledge, there is no “secondary level” philosophical system or theory that can disprove it, especially since all such alternative epistemologies presuppose the self-same principle of non-contradiction in their own initial premises and expositions.

Findings

(1)The principle of non-contradiction is apodictally true.

(2) It is transcendentally universal – applicable to all things, even to God.

(3) Natural science cannot explain why the PNC possesses these properties, because natural science’s experimental methodology absolutely presupposes its truth.

(4) Even if it were falsely alleged that the PNC is merely a law of thought, as a law of thought, the PNC must still reflect the actual law of being, or else, the mind becomes utterly useless as an instrument with which to know the real world. This would make natural science unintelligible.

(5) Thomism’s principle of non-contradiction stands prior to, and independent from, natural science, since it is a philosophical first principle that natural science absolutely presupposes, and therefore, cannot adjudicate.

(6) The human soul’s spirituality is classically proven through the intellect’s ability to form universal concepts, because such universals cannot be explained by sense knowledge -- as evinced in the case of the image, which is always under the particularizing conditions of matter. The PNC achieves its universality, and thereby manifests the spiritual nature of the human mind, precisely because it is based on the unique concept of being that transcends the particularity of all sense knowledge.

 (7) It is absolutely impossible that knowledge of the PNC could arise through some mechanism of materialistic biological evolution, since it is impossible for strictly material causes to account adequately for strictly immaterial, that is, spiritual, effects, such as the human spiritual soul, whose intellect forms the PNC.

(8) The PNC is formed from our initial encounters with being, and thereby begins the metaphysician’s journey toward the First Being, God – Whose self-existent being is the ontological foundation of the principle itself.

Notes:

  1. Brother Benignus Gerrity, Nature, Knowledge, and God (Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Company, 1947), 191-196.
Dr. Dennis Bonnette

Written by

Dr. Dennis Bonnette retired as a Full Professor of Philosophy in 2003 from Niagara University in Lewiston, New York. He taught philosophy there for thirty-six years and served as Chairman of the Philosophy Department from 1992 to 2002. He lives in Youngstown, New York, with his wife, Lois. They have seven adult children and twenty-five grandchildren. He received his doctorate in philosophy from the University of Notre Dame in 1970. Dr. Bonnette taught philosophy at the college level for 40 years, and is now teaching free courses at the Aquinas School of Philosophy in Lewiston, New York. He is the author of two books, Aquinas' Proofs for God's Existence (The Hague: Martinus-Nijhoff, 1972) and Origin of the Human Species (Ave Maria, FL: Sapientia Press, third edition, 2014), and many scholarly articles.

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  • Ficino

    Dr. B, you'll convert me to neo-Platonism yet! (:

    • Jim the Scott

      That would be a step up. Well done. Cheers.

  • >Thomism’s metaphysical first principlof non-contradiction (PNC) reads, “Being cannot both be and not be at the same time and in the same respect.”

    This is not a first principle. This is an instance or a claim in the form of the law of non-contradiction, which states that "contradictory propositions cannot both be true, e. g. the two propositions "A is B" and "A is not B" are mutually exclusive".

    So this is no more a first principle than saying an apple cannot be an apple AND not an apple.

    Additionally, the more accurate phrasing would be "being cannot be being and non-being".

    >"Every declarative expression of words or thought is absolute"

    Really? How about this one: "This sentence is not absolute."

    • Dennis Bonnette

      State it any way you wish. Being still cannot be non-being. Forcing it into its logical forms does not turn metaphysics into logic. This is primarily a direct intellectual awareness of the concept of being and its necessary implications.

      "This sentence is not absolute," is, in fact, absolutely stated. But logicians long ago recognized self-referential statements as being semantic paradoxes.

      The general solution to these sentences that essentially contradict themselves is the same as the metaphysical solution to self-contradictory beings, such as a square circle. Since such beings define contradictory properties, they cannot exist. Since they cannot exist, they are simply not real or possible beings, that is, they are merely descriptions of non-being.

      For the same reason, your "sentence," and similar ones, such as: This sentence is not true," are not actual enunciations or propositions, that is, with reference to their being as sentences, they are simply descriptive forms of non-being.

      Since non-being is nothing, your implicit objection is really much ado about nothing.

      • John Smith

        How would you counter which most atheists use to the tag argument. "The problem is they they're just asserting that they have the solution, not demonstrating it. Tell his that he has to show how god is the necessary solution, and not merely a sufficient one."

        • Dennis Bonnette

          I am not quite certain of the point you are explaining. But, you cannot ever make anyone see the force of an argument. You can only present it and hope his own mind will grasp its truth. That is why the First Vatican Council defined that the existence of God can be known by natural reason, and did not say "can be demonstrated" by natural reason. To "demonstrate" is to show to another -- and for whatever subjective reasons may obtain, that other person may fail to grasp the force of the argument. But God's existence can be known simply points out that such a demonstration can be known to the mind -- assuming there is no such impediment.
          Just because I do not grasp the force of a proof you offer to me does not mean the proof itself if faulty.

    • Ben Champagne

      The concept behind the sentence is illogical, but the sentence itself is absolute. Try again.

  • Ulla

    Oh yes, God is purely logical. Or Pure Logic.

    Everything in God is good, truthful, wise, and everything that God is. No contradictions exist.

    Divine Harmony exists but in Heaven only.

    We as people are very often very far from Heaven. Only God can be God. Only God is in the state of Heavenly Bliss.

    For the soul, the only question is: How to get to be with God and how to be in Heaven.

    To be with God is to be with God. God is the only way to God. Only God enters Heaven, only that which is God can ever be one with God. Fortunately our souls are in purity same as God.

    And the purpose of the human life is to find God.

    • Sample1

      In a prior post you said atheists don’t know God. Clears throat. Almost every atheist I’ve ever met was once a true believer. So you’re being demonstrably trite with your claim. Elaborate if you like. Change my mind.

      I’m guessing, with my spidey sense, that you aren’t even Catholic. For a moment I thought George Harrison didn’t really die because you’re parroting many similar thoughts that people like George say.

      But welcome! There are lots of people here and lurkers. Because the lurkers are likely more active than the active visible people, if you take my meaning, I tend to respond as writing for them too.

      So as a newbie here, may I ask what you believe and how do you support it?

      Mike, excommunicated

      • The atheist denies God as an act of the will, namely because of shame.

        To claim that you or any of your fellow travelers had even the slightest inking of God outside of you knowing you have wronged Him is disproven by your ignorance.

        • Sample1

          Good morning!

          I see you followed me from Word on Fire where the discussion was about mandatory child endangerment reporting vs. those who claim the clergy, when they wear the stole in the confessional, should be exempt. The article disturbed my conscience as much as I wanted to support the First Amendment. Considering other countries do not have such rights for religion as we do, I thought the exemption request should be argued on other grounds, not secular protection, to have a chance of being persuasive. I’m concerned that the protection of clergy (with extreme hypotheticals) seemed to be placed above the protection of children.

          At any rate, welcome, fellow human being, to this central place of dialogue between Catholics and atheists. If there is anything you’d like to talk about, feel free to ask!

          Mike, excommunicated

          • bloodthirsty. I sense fear. Also, why are you so intellectually dishonest and disingenuous in everything you say? Like your dark masters in just about every way, except they would be insulted to be compared to a human.

            Do not insult me by attempting to bring me to your level all while being so "brave" as to say nothing in relation to the message you are replying to. It seems you were so affected by the idea of opposition to your dark master's "revolutionary" plot to keep people out of Confession that you are now stomping you feet rather furiously.

            If you want to actually address at all the message you are replying to, you could have done that. I must have left you with little room to worm around in, and what can you do besides worm around?

          • Sample1

            This account has to be some kind of spoof. Are you cleverly, but weirdly, impersonating a 4th century believer to make a point, not to those who are faith-free but to 21st century believers to demonstrate how peculiar their beliefs are?

            If so, I guess that’s a niche you own. Congrats?

            If you’re for real, get back to me when you can tell me what you believe and how you support it. I’ll be ignoring other posts from you that don’t meet that criteria.

            Mike, excommunicated

          • Chesterton said that there is an imbecilic idea that one thing can be true one year and false in the present. No. Truth is beyond time, so no reality is no different now than it was in the 300's.

            As for me, I am a Catholic in 2019 looking at a very turbulent furture that we (Catholics) will once more have to rebuild the world after the pagans destroy themselves.

            Ironically, you are an almost perfect specimen of immediately an immediately pre-collapse ancient roman.

            Therefore I am a man from 2019 talking to you who could easily be out of the actual year 300 who thinks his pagan empire will live forever and only grow.

  • Ficino

    the principle of non-contradiction is a metaphysical law of being ... applies to every possible being... It is transcendentally universal – applicable to all things, even to God.

    Dr. Bonnette, can you flesh out more what is the sense you attach to:
    principle
    metaphysical law
    applicable/applies to

    Tx

    • Dennis Bonnette

      As a principle, the PNC, is at the very starting point for our understanding of being. As a metaphysical law it is a rule of being that applies to anything which exists in any manner at all, and hence, as such correctly depicts every possible reality, including God.

      • Ficino

        So the PNC does not have causal powers? It is not an ἀρχή, not a principium entis?

        • Dennis Bonnette

          As a principle in the mind, the PNC is a judgment about being. But a judgment itself is not an extramental cause of anything. That does not mean that being itself cannot entail causality. But the notion of cause is "down the road" from the very first principles of being: identity, excluded middle, and non-contradiction. In terms of our unfolding understanding of being, sufficient reason comes next, and then, causality. This OP's topic is not directly on the nature of a cause -- although that does not preclude its being mentioned at some point.

          We have to be careful not to just play with words here.

          • Ficino

            Cool, so the PNC is a feature of our reasoning and discourse about reality. It doesn't structure reality itself - but rather, how we talk intelligibly about reality.

            It's a rare person who will not agree with you that the PNC is a law of thought.

            I'm not seeing grounds for further steps above:

            1) being might under some respects not be, which seems implied at the outset:

            “Being cannot both be and not be at the same time and in the same respect.”

            2) that existence is a first-order predicate and that it's a perfection, such that there are degrees of existing. These seem implied soon thereafter:

            that which in any way has existence

            I don't know whether an aim of this article is to make readers more willing to accept that existence is a perfection, and thus to accept the A-T "analogy of being," on which some things we talk about exist more perfectly than others. At the least, the doctrine that existence is a perfection seems pretty clearly to underlie this article. If that's the case, then, as I've said before, it's a doctrine that won't square with modern logic. So there are huge costs in accepting it.

            We have to be careful not to just play with words here.

            Exactly.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            1. I have not said a word here about perfection. You have.

            2. Every statement you make here presupposes the truth of the PNC.

            3. That the PNC is a law of reality as well as of thought is addressed in the article itself.

          • Ficino

            1. You talked about things' having existence. As I read you, that cashes out as treating existence as a first order predicate. If you are saying that existence is a predicate, it is also a perfection down the road one or two more steps in A-T. Are you denying that existence is a perfection? If you are, then, yay!

            2. Of course. I hold that the PNC is a law of thought. Deny the PNC and you annihilate all discourse because all statements become true.

            3. It's asserted in the article, but I do not understand you when you say that the PNC is a "law of being/reality" applied to things apart from statements about things. It is meaningful to say that the PNC limits how we talk about reality. That's indicated even in the word contradiction (my bolding). The PNC looks at facts not things. As I said in the last, when you say that "being cannot both be and not be at the same time and in the same respect," it sounds as though "being can not be in some other respect." There's no problem to say that F is quantified over some x under some conditions and ~F under other conditions. It's nonsensical to talk about being as maybe sometimes not being.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            You appear to be making logic the ultimate science. It. isn't.

            I think one can make the case that Aristotle first reasoned about reality and only later on examined the thought processes employed in such reasoning, thereby laying down the rules of what we call logic.

            Logic absolutely itself presupposes the PNC, both as a law of thought and as a law of reality. Otherwise, why bother following a set of thought rules that may have no relation to the real world at all?

            Of course, I am not denying that existence is a perfection -- only that that is not at issue in the initial parts of my article.

            Philosophy is not primarily about how we talk about reality. First we know things, and then we invent words to describe them. You want to reduce everything to modes of predication. But you don't even have predication unless and until you first have judgments in the mind. And I am talking about the first principle of how the mind works, precisely because it reflects the being that it encounters in reality.

            >" As I said in the last, when you say that "being cannot both be and not be at the same time and in the same respect," it sounds as though "being can not be in some other respect."

            Why do you object to the traditional, standard statement of the PNC? Anyone knowing its proper form already knows that the qualification "at the same time and in the same respect" is added just to assure that we are talk about exactly the same aspect of being. This is a non-issue.

            And if we don't know what it means to say that things "have existence," we might as well quit talking about anything at all. This again is a matter of turning logic into metaphysics. The plain fact is that people know what being is when they talk about things having existence. This is all so primary that one cannot even talk about these matters unless one has a prior understanding of the meaning of being and existence -- at least in a general way.

          • Ficino

            You appear to be making logic the ultimate science. It. isn't.

            I don't know about ultimate. But I go on the assumption that if our logic is off, the conclusions that we deduce employing that logic may not be valid deductions. A system of metaphysical speculation that employs faulty logic is suspect.

            But you don't even have predication unless and until you first have judgments in the mind.

            Isn't a judgment a proposition? If it is, something is predicated.

            And I am talking about the first principle of how the mind works, precisely because it reflects the being that it encounters in reality

            The above is highly contentious.

            >" As I said in the last, when you say that "being cannot both be and not be at the same time and in the same respect," it sounds as though "being can not be in some other respect."

            Why do you object to the traditional, standard statement of the PNC? Anyone knowing its proper form already knows that the qualification "at the same time and in the same respect" is added just to assure that we are talk about exactly the same aspect of being. This is a non-issue.

            Here it would have been clearer had I written: it sounds as though being can "not be" in some other respect. I was not finding fault with the usual qualification. I was failing to detect sense in the sentence, "being can 'not be'." You seemed to maintain that under some conditions, being can 'not be'. Such a problem doesn't arise if we maintain only that the PNC is a law of thought.

            And if we don't know what it means to say that things "have existence," we might as well quit talking about anything at all.

            We all say things like the above linguistic turn in colloquial speech. But it's my understanding that we get farther in philosophical inquiry when we translate "a unicorn doesn't have existence" into "there exists no __ over which 'unicorn' is quantified" or "there exists no thing of which 'unicorn' is predicated" or "the class 'unicorn' has no members" or the like. Thinking of existence as though it's a predicate like other predicates, in which some things participate and other things do not, leads to problems, as far as I know.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I have no objection to making sure that reasoning is logical, but logic is not the subject matter of philosophy itself -- despite the claims of some in the analytic tradition.

            Philosophy has to have an experiential starting point, and that is where the concept of being first arises. That is what I talk about in the OP.

            What you don’t seem to want to accept is that logic is a secondary discipline. First, we know things and form concepts of them. Then we may examine the proper relations between concepts, which is the order of second intentions.

            Again, you seem to want the PNC to be merely a law of thought, but not reality. As I said above, I address this concern in the OP, in part, as follows: “If the laws of thought about being do not reflect the actual laws of being, the mind becomes utterly useless as an instrument with which to know reality. In that case, both natural science and common experience become unintelligible.”

            “Thinking of existence as though it's a predicate like other predicates, in which some things participate and other things do not, leads to problems, as far as I know.”

            People have generally known that existence is not a predicate at least since Kant pointed out Anselm’s error in his ontological argument.

            You cannot say that Sally is blonde, five feet tall, has false teeth, and then add, and exists – as if “exists” were another attribute like the other qualifications. Existence determines whether Sally is real or not. It does not determine her ways of existing, but existence itself. Or, as Kant put it: One hundred real pennies is not one more penny than one hundred imaginary pennies.

            But to say that existence is not a predicate like other predicates is not to say it is meaningless. Rather, as everyone knows, it is the ultimate question about things. There is a catastrophic difference between saying "war is horrible" and saying "a state of war now exists."

            Philosophers have long known the difference between an essential judgment and an existential judgment. What we most often talk about are essential judgments, whereby we combine or divide two concepts – as when we say “a dog has fur” or “no horse has wings.”

            But an existential judgment affirms actual existence of something as when we say “my dog exists.” Modern logicians have long struggled to find ways to formalize the notion of existence, but ultimately one has to presuppose knowledge of it before putting it into some form using quantifiers. Even your own expression in your comment, “"there exists no thing of which 'unicorn' is predicated,” includes the word, “exists,” which is useless unless you already know its significance.

            Existence may not be a normal predicate, but when we encounter a being and judge that it “has existence,” we know its significance, or else, all your reflections in the order of second intentions will be for naught. We know the difference between saying that I will terminate your earthly life and that I will terminate your existence, since a spiritual soul can “have existence” after this life.

          • Ficino

            logic is not the subject matter of philosophy itself -- despite the claims of some in the analytic tradition.

            Quine et al? Well, you are in the Thomist tradition and you're making a rival claim. So many claims, so little time! Whose claim wins? I'm sure you agree that one ought to subject claims to testing, as well as one can.

            What you don’t seem to want to accept is that logic is a secondary discipline.

            Didn't say this, exactly, but it will matter in what sense logic is or is not "secondary." I tried to restrict claims for logic to determining validity, not soundness also nor truth of conclusions. Logical form doesn't establish truths as truths.

            Again, you seem to want the PNC to be merely a law of thought, but not reality. As I said above, I address this concern in the OP, in part, as follows: “If the laws of thought about being do not reflect the actual laws of being...

            The truth of the antecedent in the above has not been established, as far as I can see, for I don't find a demonstration that the PNC is a law of being. That's just the point in question. But I will keep rereading.

            If I remember correctly, Garrigou-Lagrange actually says that Identity is the first metaphysical principle, not the PNC, which he derives from it.

            People have generally known that existence is not a predicate at least since Kant ...

            I'm glad we're agreed that existence is not a (first order) predicate. But again, if I remember correctly, what Kant denied was that existence is a perfection. Above you said you hold that existence is a perfection. Do you want to stick with that? If you do, I think you may wind up holding that existence is a predicate, since a perfection is a predicate. Perhaps you have suggestions for disentangling this matter.

            Modern logicians have long struggled to find ways to formalize the notion of existence, but ultimately one has to presuppose knowledge of it before putting it into some form using quantifiers.

            We're often deceived, of course, about whether there exists some x such that it is F, or whatever. But I do not maintain that we can't know what we're talking about, or know what exists, or even maintain that nothing exists. Gorgias maintained those already!

          • Dennis Bonnette

            " I don't find a demonstration that the PNC is a law of being."

            Of course not! You do not demonstrate first principles -- or they would not be first! I did not offer a demonstration, but a reductio ad absurdum.

            First principles are self-evident -- in the manner described in the OP regarding the PNC.

            >"If I remember correctly, Garrigou-Lagrange actually says that Identity is the first metaphysical principle, not the PNC, which he derives from it."

            That is correct. But the whole set are called "first principles," since they all serve in that role -- even though it is possible to show how one inheres in another. I have no quarrel with Garrigou-Lagrange. Identity, excluded middle, and the PNC are generally grouped together as the "first" among the first principles.

            There may be more to be said about the exact meaning of a perfection, but the essence of Kant's critique of the ontological argument rested on existence not being like other predicates, which affect the way something exists, but are not existence itself. Recall the "pennies" example? His example used the Pfennig, of course! :)

            I am most happy to hear that you do not embrace the radical skepticism of Gorgias. :)

            Edit: I just looked though the entire OP and found no reference to the notion of perfection or to existence being a perfection. Please check the OP to see if I missed something.

            Edit2: Better yet, I just did a "find" for "perfection" on this page and the word, "perfection," appears solely in the comments, NOT in the main article at all.

          • Ficino

            You do not demonstrate first principles -- or they would not be first! I did not offer a demonstration, but a reductio ad absurdum.

            Yes, after I wrote what I wrote, I thought of the above objection. But as I've been saying, what most people hold as axiomatic about the PNC is that it's a law of thought. We cannot make meaningful statements without already adhering to the PNC.

            Aristotle can't be accused as a bad philosopher because he didn't anticipate Fregean/Russellian logic, but I think his discussion of the PNC betrays confusion between the ontological and the logical that later work helped clear up.

            When Aristotle discusses the PNC in Metaphysics Gamma, he describes the task of defending it as "to demonstrate elenctically" (1006a11 ff.), and he does call the outcome a "demonstration" (ἀπόδειξις, a24)--elenctic in the sense of proof or argued conclusion from what the interlocutor offers, though it's not deductive from a principle laid down by oneself. Then what he gives as an example of an elenctic defense starts, not with intuitions about "being," but with demanding the interlocutor make a significant statement. He gives as an example a statement about a human, and that a human is a two-footed animal: "if a man is something, this [i.e. two-footed] will be the being for a man," a33-34. We're getting what seems to me to be confusion between talk of different predicates vs. talk of different ways of existing.

            Aristotle words the PNC as "it is not possible for the same thing to belong at the same time and not belong to the same thing, and in the same way etc..." (1005b19-20) Good insofar as "belong to" functions in a logical sense, as signifying what is predicated. I think that's why today most people won't go beyond agreeing that the PNC is a law of thought. Do most philosophers also hold that it is "a law of being" on top of its being a law of thought? I have only heard Thomists say this. If it's self-evident that the PNC is a law of being, one might think most philosophers would so construe it.

            As for Gorgias, I am guessing that if one of his students had argued that the money for the fee did not exist, on the grounds that nothing exists, Gorgias would have employed his rhetorical skills in other directions - in court. Heh heh.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I can accept that your reading of Aristotle is well founded. Even though we often speak of Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophy, the one and a half millennia between Aristotle and St. Thomas produces many significant differences. So, I am much more concerned about what St. Thomas's perspective and those of his commentators -- both classical and modern -- would be.

            And even if Thomists turn out to be the only ones defending that the PNC is a law of being, that might only serve to confirm Leon Bloy's famous dictum: Il n'y a que deux types de philosophie: le thomisme et le bullshittisme. :)

  • The principle of non-contradiction is the irrefutably true foundation of all logic. Yet I have encountered people, even on this very site, who have been prepared to deny that principle, if doing so gets them the result they want. Sigh.
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/73c4329a3166f1bd4a0d232a9a954ecc7b8f4588cac28fd0b76a42574a2ff922.gif

    • Sample1

      You ignore that human beings are evolved mammals and we speculate that nature does not owe us any irrefutable true foundations of understanding for anything that we perceive.

      It is a wonder that we can develop models that help us reliably predict how nature will behave. But physical models of reality are not necessarily the territory and neither are mental models of logic necessarily more than how we perceive them to be. Logic included.

      I’ve had suspicions about so-called logical absolutes for some time now. Some say refuting logic is impossible. Perhaps. But we can speculate that they may be incomplete understandings of the territory. Until then, we do behave for all practical purposes that they are absolute. But I think it is not impossible that we could even be mistaken about that.

      This is not radical skepticism, for I do operate as if they are absolute. I just don’t claim they necessarily are absolute. I would need omniscience to claim that. Keeping a teeny tiny door open to the possibility that the logical absolutes are mistakenly understood at a fundamental level is wholly in keeping with the practice of the scientific method where concepts are continually refined.

      Mike, excommunicated

      • Michael Murray

        This discussion reminds me of the fact that once we thought the world was obviously modelled on Euclidean geometry because we had deduced Euclidean geometry from that very same world! The mistake, obvious in hindsight, is that we deduced it from the very small part of that world we have evolved to live in which does look Euclidean.

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          But to say that hyperbolic geometry provides a better model (*) than Euclidean geometry on large scales is (implicitly) to affirm that there is some rational basis for preferring hyperbolic geometry over Euclidean geometry. If reality is not itself rational, then we are kidding ourselves when we prefer one model over another on the basis of rationality. Core conceptions of rationality (i.e. metaphysical principles) provide the basis for saying that science "improves" in any sense over time. Those core conceptions can't possibly be refuted by data because the process of refuting ideas based on data depends on those conceptions.

          (*) Slightly nitpicky perhaps, but I think it is not quite right to say that applying Euclidean geometry to space-time is a "mistake". I think it is more accurate to say that it was an approximation that left room for improvement, just as hyperbolic geometry is presumably also an approximation that leaves room for improvement.

          • Michael Murray

            The reason for preferring one model over another is usually that it covers a larger part of reality. So far science or at least physics has progressed by finding models that do this. There is no intrinsic reason I can see to expect this to continue. We might end up finding that we just have a bunch of models that are incredibly accurate in various parts of reality but no way of replacing with with a Theory of Everything. Or we might find more and more models each subsuming the ones before but with no sign of it ever stopping. (Infinite progress rather than the dreaded in finite regress :-) ) Or we might find that we have to choose between models that cover more of reality but less accurately versus less of reality but more accurately.

            Feynman said it much better than me:

            “Are you looking for the ultimate laws of physics? No, I’m not, I’m just looking to find out more about the world and if it turns out there is a simple ultimate law which explains everything, so be it, that would be very nice to discover. If it turns out it’s like an onion with millions of layers and we’re just sick and tired of looking at the layers, then that’s the way it is, but whatever way it comes out its nature is there and she’s going to come out the way she is, and therefore when we go to investigate it we shouldn’t pre-decide what it is we’re trying to do except to try to find out more about it.”

            – Richard Feynman from The Pleasure of Finding Things Out.

            By the way at large scales you don't want hyperbolic either but the kind of curved Lorentzian geometry you get when you solve Einstein's equations. At least if you are in a situation where you can ignore quantum mechanics. Which you aren't always.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            OK, but presumably when we say that model A, "covers a larger part of reality" than model B, we mean to suggest that it is not simultaneously true that model B "covers a larger part of reality" than model A. We are implicitly affirming that reality can only be one way or the other in that sense.

            If I were to say to you: "Well, yes, model A 'covers a larger part of reality' than model B, but it may also be true -- in exactly the same sense -- that model A 'does not cover a larger part of reality' than model B", I think you would rightly complain that I was being illogical. And if I were to elaborate with, "Look, I know that's illogical, but reality is under no obligation to conform to your preconceived, parochial views of logic", I think you would rightly complain that under that view of reality it is absolutely impossible to have a rational basis for preferring one scientific model over another.

            To me, the Feynman quote speaks to a slightly different issue. That's the matter of whether we will ever get to "the finish line". I'm certainly open to idea that there is no ultimate scientific finish line, and in fact I strongly lean toward that view myself.

          • Michael Murray

            Yes if the correct translation of "A covers a larger part of reality than B" is "A covers everything that B does and more" then I agree.

      • Dennis Bonnette

        You are forgetting that the entire system of science that is the foundation for all of evolutionary science absolutely presupposes, as explained in my article, the validity of the PNC. If the PNC lacks absolute force, then so, too, do your speculations about evolution lack absolute force.

        Science may allow that concepts are continually refined, but that does not sanction the assumption that science's own logical foundations are similarly insecure. I say this, because if that "teeny tiny" possibility you refer to is true, then none of science has any value at all and no inferences whatever can be drawn from it.

        You are also ignoring the fact that there are essentially two parts to my article. The first explains the universal necessity of the PNC in human thought and why that thought must conform to extramental being, or else, even natural science is destroyed.

        The second part of my article moves the argument to the level of epistemic-ontological analysis which any philosophical explanation must deal with. This is the part about "how do we do it?" and gives an ontological explanation of the basis for the logical form of the principle. This part makes clear that our certitude about the PNC arises from the human mind's ability to grasp its own acts in relation to being and shows why the theory of evolution has nothing whatever to do with its certitude.

        This function of intellect also happens to proceed from its non-material nature, which, as non-material, cannot be explained by mere biological evolutionary forces. But this last point is not necessary in order to defend the ontological value of the PNC.

        • Sample1

          You are forgetting that the entire system of science that is the foundation for all of evolutionary science absolutely presupposes, as explained in my article, the validity of the PNC.

          An unjustifiable claim but also an unintended compliment. It’s a compliment because if I was forgetful the logical inference is that at least I once knew the material. One can’t forget what one never knew.

          If the PNC lacks absolute force, then so, too, do your speculations about evolution lack absolute force.

          You are not even forgetting. In other words you seem to have never learned the philosophical strength of scientific inquiry: imagination can be more important than knowledge.

          Science may allow that concepts are continually refined, but that does not sanction the assumption that science's own logical foundations are similarly insecure. I say this, because if that "teeny tiny" possibility you refer to is true, then none of science has any value at all and no inferences whatever can be drawn from it.

          Science doesn’t passively allow it, it requires it. Make your logical syllogism from the contents of your above claims and I’ll call any permutation of it into doubt with a single reply: maybe not. I’d love to see you try!

          You are also ignoring the fact that there are essentially two parts to my article. The first explains the universal necessity of the PNC in human thought and why that thought must conform to extramental being, or else, even natural science is destroyed

          Toothless. Your bark is worse than your bite. Lay out your logical syllogism for the contents above and I’ll show you why it’s an unjustified absolute claim.

          The second part of my article moves the argument to the level of epistemic-ontological analysis which any philosophical explanation must deal with.

          If by dealing with it you mean justifiably ignoring it, then I agree.

          This is the part about "how do we do it?" and gives an ontological explanation of the basis for the logical form of the principle.

          I agree it gives an explanation. Relieved you didn’t claim it gave the explanation. Without omniscience the latter is a hubristic claim.

          This part makes clear that our certitude about the PNC arises from the human mind's ability to grasp its own acts in relation to being and shows why the theory of evolution has nothing whatever to do with its certitude.

          Unintelligible.

          This function of intellect also happens to proceed from its non-material nature, which, as non-material, cannot be explained by mere biological evolutionary forces.

          A faith claim. No supporting evidence provided.

          But this last point is not necessary in order to defend the ontological value of the PNC.

          I will also dismiss it, with you! from the category of helpfulness.

          Tl;dr: The so-called logical absolutes are not proprietary claims owned outright by metaphysicians but are rather concepts invented or discovered (we do not know which) to help model human perceptions of reality.

          Mike

          • Dennis Bonnette

            First, you claim the total validity of experimental science, which assumes, not only the PNC, but also other philosophical presuppositions, such as, the reality of extramental physical things, the reality of causes for effects (such as subatomic particles that “cause” readings on Geiger counters, x-rays, and electron microscopes), the trustworthiness of the mind in analyzing and making inferences about physical data, and yes, also the trustworthiness of the senses, not only of yourself, but of all the scientists of history on whose sense observations and judgment you base the validity of all the experimentation that is the foundation for the whole of natural science.

            Second, from all this, you then want to place your total trust in evolutionary theory, which is surely less certain than the natural sciences themselves, in all its massive claims about human origins and nature, including our ability to know truths, such as those listed above.

            Third, and finally, you declare that the PNC (and all those other presuppositions listed above) are not absolute and universal truths – but that, while you must act as if they are absolute, there remains a “teeny tiny” possibility that they might not be such in light of possible defects in the brain allowed by evolution itself.

            I get it! You want to have your cake and eat it too!

            Build the edifice of evolution on the edifice of natural science – all of which presupposes the PNC et al – but, be prepared to pull the rug from under the PNC et al, if need be, to defend your skepticism and atheism.

            Then you tell me, “Make your logical syllogism from the contents of your above claims and I’ll call any permutation of it into doubt with a single reply: maybe not.”

            You know as well as I that a first principle, because it is first, cannot be proven by any syllogism. But it can be defended through a reductio ad absurdum, such as pointing out that any rejoinder by you, like “maybe not,” or any other objection at all, necessarily presupposes the truth of the PNC itself – since, in affirming your “maybe not,” you deny its contradictory, “it may not be not.” See the OP for further examples and explanation.

            Aside from the hyper-short straw you are willing to draw so as to support your skeptical worldview, the real problem is that our knowledge of the world does not start with experimental science, but with direct experience of something -- be it intramental or extramental -- from which we immediately form the concept of being. And it is this direct intuition of being that makes it impossible for us to honestly deny the PNC in any given instance – no matter what or where.

            We can form words to deny the PNC in theory, but the mind simply sees its truth directly and knows that it is true -- because we also see that our minds know that we see its truth. That is, it is a law of being immediately evident in the being we now experience, which we see directly cannot both “be there” and “not be there” simultaneously.

            I give a more complete presentation of this explanation in the OP. It is not only an explanation, but the only possible real explanation as to what happens when you argue against me about this.

            You will be claiming that you are right and I am wrong, which presupposes that you are not both right and wrong at the same time: hence is presupposed the PNC. In fact, even when you allege there might be a “teeny tiny” possibility that the absolutes are wrongly understood, that possibility itself is being absolutely proposed as true and not false -- under pain of lacking all intelligibility whatever.

            Personally, I am unwilling to bet my life or my immortal soul on a “teeny tiny” possibility.

            And, I contend, you don’t even have any possibility at all.

          • I must commend you for humouring these users. I myself would not bother to reply, since, in my view, anyone who denies the principle of non-contradiction has ipso facto placed him or herself beyond the reach of reason.

          • Sample1

            Third, and finally, you declare that the PNC (and all those other presuppositions listed above) are not absolute and universal truths

            If English is your native tongue, a comment like this is very difficult to differentiate from some form of lying.

            Mike, excommunicated

          • Dennis Bonnette

            This was directed at DoughnutGuy, but you are quoting me.

            I don't get the reference to lying -- or whether you are suggesting that I am inferring that you are lying or that you mean to imply that I am lying.

            Neither is correct in any event. Here is the citation from your earlier comment which is the basis for my wording above:

            >"This is not radical skepticism, for I do operate as if they are absolute. I just don’t claim they necessarily are absolute. I would need omniscience to claim that. Keeping a teeny tiny door open to the possibility that the logical absolutes are mistakenly understood at a fundamental level is wholly in keeping with the practice of the scientific method where concepts are continually refined."

            I have said that you declare that the PNC et al are not absolute and universal truths.

            You have said above that you "just don't claim they necessarily are absolute."

            Where is the discrepancy? Where is the lie? In substance, I read both expressions as virtually equivalent. To say something is not necessarily absolute sounds to me the same as declaring it is not absolute for all practical purposes. I can see a possible nuance, and if that is your concern, I apologize for not reading your position perfectly correctly. Normally one would simply point out and correct the alleged error. That is the give and take of debate.

            I sincerely do not understand your remark about lying. What am I missing?

          • Sample1

            Whoops, I had meant to reply to you directly, not to another. Thanks for responding.

            I have a lot of problems with how you characterized my post. Unless, that is, when you say the words “declare,” “total validity,” and “total trust,” you also meant implicit qualifying descriptors. But you didn’t, and you should know better as a professional who teaches philosophy. It’s incredibly sloppy on your part. My suspicion is your background, which does trade in those types of “certainty words” is spilling over into a discipline that does not.

            If those are your impressions from my post, then you should have asked for clarifications rather than asset I did a, b or c.

            This isn’t a new behavior for me. All claims that I make have a fundamental tentative quality to them leaving the door open, however tiny, to new evidence. Indeed I am not an absolute claim maker. And I’ve recently pointed that out to you! Absolute claims are typically, if not exclusively, found in the faith environment, not the scientific method environment.

            Mike, excommunicated

          • Dennis Bonnette

            If it is a universal qualification of all your statements that you are "not an absolute claim maker," I can see why you could never assent to the absolute and universal character of the PNC. Or, for that matter, any conclusion to God's existence.

            Unfortunately, those are precisely the sorts of claims that I am making. My foundation for such claims is that reality itself is absolute. And I would contend that the human mind is so constituted as to know reality -- just as you know what I am saying to you right now.

            Edit: last clause added.

          • BTS

            And I would contend that the human mind is so constituted as to know reality -- just as you know what I am saying to you right now.

            Might it not be possible that God intended the human mind to know him at some future date, and he/she/it is sitting back in delight - much as a parent with a toddler would - as we fumble in the dark?

            In other words, we might just be the beta version of humanity, equipped with faulty brains that will some day stumble in fits and starts into discovering truth.

            Why, oh why, are folks always assuming we are some glorious finished product that god just plunked down on this planet. So terribly unimaginative.

            This is the premise of Arthur C. Clarke's imaginative novel Childhood's End. This version of humanity gets the shaft, but the next hyper-evolved generation gets to visit the stars.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            In other words, we might just be the beta version of humanity

            That's pretty much the premise of Christianity, isn't it? 1 Corinthians 15 and all that? Romans 8, etc. ??

            , equipped with faulty brains that will some day stumble in fits and starts into discovering truth.

            "For now we see through a glass, darkly ..."

            Why, oh why, are folks always assuming we are some glorious finished product that god just plunked down on this planet.

            Are there really a lot of people who assume this?? As best I can tell I have never encountered one. Maybe Rousseau with the whole "noble savage" thing, but that's about as close as I can think of. In any case, such a view would seem hard to reconcile with a Biblical trajectory that proceeds from Eden through our current purgation and onward toward something truly new, some "Destiny of Glory".

          • BTS

            Jim, I'll be more clear here, I hope. But I don't think what I said is controversial.

            Are there really a lot of people who assume this??

            Yes. Any Christian who doesn't believe in evolution does indeed believe we were just plunked down here as a finished product. I suppose they mean we are a finished product full of sin that will get purified in the NEXT life. That's millions (tens of millions?) of people. Umm...evangelicals in America? Followers of Ken Ham? But that's not my main point.

            My main point:
            Dr. B was stating that our minds are "so constituted as to know reality" and I was pushing back a bit saying that this may be eventually true, but our minds (as a species) might not be "all there yet." There may be insights we cannot comprehend for another 35,000 years of species evolution.

            When I say we might be the beta version of humanity I'm not talking about us getting perfected and becoming version 2.0 in heaven, which is what I think you are implying the Scriptures say.

            I am saying we will keep evolving in this world to a point where we understand the universe better and we become humanity 2.0 in this world.

            There are implications for such evolution:
            What I am implying is that there might be problems with our understanding of natural law. If god created us to evolve, then natural law can evolve with us as well.

            For example, in 1,000 years humanity might look back and be utterly astonished that anyone took issue with homosexuality. Or what if humanity spreads to different planets but in order to live there we have to genetically modify ourselves to have fewer children because resources are scarce? We will have to directly disobey "natural law" as revealed by our minds which as Dr. B says are constituted to know reality. Or maybe we will have a different understanding of natural law by then because our minds have evolved. So maybe we don't know as much now as we think we do.

            So when you say:

            That's pretty much the premise of Christianity, isn't it? 1 Corinthians 15 and all that? Romans 8, etc. ??

            I can agree to a point...If we have the trajectory you mention and you agree our minds as a species are not sufficiently tuned or capable (yet) to decipher the truths of the universe, then maybe we are wrong about a lot of things. Maybe we are wrong about a lot of things and that doesn't bother god at all. We'll get it right in loooong run. We will eventually have minds that are constituted to know reality (again, in this world, as a species), but for now we are galatic toddlers.

            Side note: Why does it have to be called purgation? Can we just call it learning and evolving?

            Edit: And I think science is the toolkit that will get us the abilities to learn more about the universe.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            There may be insights we cannot comprehend for another 35,000 years of species evolution.

            I should let Doctor Bonnette speak for himself, but I'm pretty sure that he wouldn't disagree with that. To "know reality" is not to perfectly understand everything about reality. A mind that directly encounters reality may understand precious little about it. God knows there are people I directly encounter every day whom I scarcely understand.

            Maybe we are wrong about a lot of things

            For sure!

            and that doesn't bother god at all

            ... maybe ... or, to offer a possible nuance of that view, it may "bother" God in the same way that it "bothers" me when my daughter can't grasp a math concept. It's not that she bothers me (unless she's not trying ... that does bother me) but I am unsettled as long as there is a chasm between her and the truth, and I'm going to keep trying to bridge that chasm. If God is good, He must be "bothered" in that sense by lack of understanding.

            Why does it have to be called purgation? Can we just call it learning and evolving?

            Sure, we can call it that if you like. Though personally, I strive for historical continuity where possible. The more I can speak the language of my forebears, the more I will presumably benefit from those thousands of years of evolution. Also, "learning" perhaps runs the risk of connoting a merely cerebral process rather than something you necessarily have to strive through with your heart and soul. But hey, no linguistic expression is perfect. I can live with calling "learning" if you like.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I meant to also pick up on this in my response:

            When I say we might be the beta version of humanity I'm not talking about us getting perfected and becoming version 2.0 in heaven, which is what I think you are implying the Scriptures say.

            I am saying we will keep evolving in this world to a point where we understand the universe better and we become humanity 2.0 in this world

            What I imagine to be the case does not correspond to either of those scenarios. I subscribe to the notion of Resurrection Life which, in its orthodox Christian articulation, is both continuous and discontinuous with our present universe, just as the resurrected Christ was (according to the Gospel reports) both continuous and discontinuous with the earthly Jesus. Or, to use Paul's imagery, the relationship of this world to the next will be comparable to the relationship between a seed and a sprouted plant. Like a sprouting seed, our world will be "broken open", as so nicely described here:

            https://www.facebook.com/Gratefulness.org/videos/10150117421417469/

          • BTS

            Thanks, I need some time to review it.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            2 + 2 = 4

            I wonder what that will be in 35,000 years.

            5?

          • BTS

            Dennis, that's pretty snarky, which I believe is against the SN policy.

            2 + 2 will still be 4 in 35,000 years.

            But by then we also might devise on our own or encounter alien life that will show us a completely new way of doing high level math; perhaps string theory equations or some such that will open doors to a completely new paradigm and way of understanding the universe. The point is we don't know what we don't know what strange marvels await.

            I read your posts and give them careful thought and consideration. I would expect the same in return. I get the distinct impression you're not really listening, because you appear to already know everything.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Boy! That is pretty good when you can be accused of violating SN rules for pointing out that 2 + 2 = 4!

            My evident point is serious. Some things don't change. Some truths will stand as affirmed forever.

            And, if it doesn't sound too snarky, if human nature is essentially unchanging, then natural law based on human nature is unchanging as well. Just like 2 + 2 = 4.

            I know. You are assuming that human nature can evolve with respect to things like sexual ethics. But logically you have to admit that it is also possible that human nature is one of those things that don't evolve. You suggest that I am being presumptive in saying that natural law ethics is universal and unchanging for human beings. Unless you really know what natural law ethics teaches, you cannot be sure that your own presumption that it may change is correct.

            Without us both having a full understanding of what natural law teaches, it is impossible to have a coherent discussion of this topic. I am just saying that I am not holding my breath for the changes you envisage.

            Edit: I know. At this point you are thinking you are dealing with a know-it-all with a prediluvian mentality. I plead "not guilty." I know I do not know everything. I also know that we live in a changing world in which biological evolution makes a good case. But I also know from studying some of these issues for a rather long time that what human nature is is poorly understood by many people who think we are nothing but highly developed animals. And that conditions my perspective. I also am of the opinion that, unless we develop three sexes instead of two, some elements of sexual ethics are firmly fixed. You are entitled to another opinion. But, just as you think I may be wrong, it is also possible that your view of the extent of human malleability is overestimated.

          • Sample1

            I know I do not know everything.

            Humor point: but this could also mean that everything you do know is without error. :-)

            Also, I think the snarky part was the 2+ 2 =5 in 35k inclusion, which you didn’t reference in your explanation. Pretty light snark, imho, but was it a sin of omission to leave out the 35k?

            Your last post to me was a great reply. I always appreciate the thoroughness. Doesn’t mean I always agree, of course. But I look forward to responding.

            Mike
            Edit done.

          • Jim the Scott

            Not snarky at all. Simple, to the point and brilliant.

            Anyway I love BTS naive belief Evolution will over time turn us into some unknown higher lifeform. Like the Orgainans on Classic Star Trek (see episode Errant of Mercy). Evolution is a blind Mechanism concerned with the 3 "f".s Fighting, Food and f...reproduction.

            Evolution has no meaning beyond that & even evolving into something even higher requires divine providence. Naturally in the classic sense.

          • Sample1

            It would be naive if BTS claimed that humans will improve as a direct result of time. But he didn’t say that or imply that. He was conjecturing using the appropriate caveats of might and may. His entire point was a hypothetical. Perhaps he will disagree with me. If so, then you’d be correct.

            It is in heaven that a change of the perishable body occurs, into a claimed glorified body that is powerful, honorable and spiritual. 1 Cor. 15:42-53.

            So definitely correct on the second part. If it’s true!

            Mike, excommunicated
            Edit done.
            Edit: snark removed.

          • Jim the Scott

            I read him differently then you & yes he can explain himself and has the final word as to what he meant.

            Humans will never "evolve" to know 2+2 in some fashion can equal 5. That is just insane. In a like manner no amount of evolution will cancel the natural law either.

          • Sample1

            And I would contend that the human mind is so constituted as to know reality -- just as you know what I am saying to you right now.

            Yes, you could be right about the human mind. We are a bit stuck with that position lest we delve into hard solipsism and paradoxes. Fun to visit occasionally but no place to call home.

            I’m not down with your empiricism-esque position that all knowledge comes through the senses. I’ve had this discussion before with starlight and the nuclear reactions taking place at the atomic level which we do not attain through any of our senses directly. We have models for that which are arrived at by reasoning.

            Nor am I driven to accept that knowledge must only come by testing a claim. As Deutsch would say, we don’t test the claim that eating a kilogram of grass cures the common cold. We are not going to empirically test that claim, nor should we. Why? Because it is a bad explanation. We can arrive at good explanations through reason without always needing empirical evidence or sense experience to do so. Like we’ve done with starlight and eating grass.

            Bad explanations, those that are easy-to-vary, can be dealt with philosophically and when those ideas survive such criticisms we can then move on and test them empirically. For me, and you will disagree, faith-based explanations are just too easy-to-vary to test empirically. Philosophy is mired in ways to get them to the level of testability. If there is a supernatural creator, I don’t know why it should not be amenable to empirical verification. But I do know why bad explanations aren’t amenable to testing. Of course one person’s good explanation is another person’s bad explanation.

            Perhaps the real challenge before us is how to decide what constitutes a good, hard-to-vary explanation and why we should or should not be interested in those.

            Mike

          • Dennis Bonnette

            >"For me, and you will disagree, faith-based explanations are just too easy-to-vary to test empirically. Philosophy is mired in ways to get them to the level of testability. If there is a supernatural creator, I don’t know why it should not be amenable to empirical verification."

            I do not consider something like a proof for God to be a "faith-based explanation," since philosophical arguments employ reason and not premises from revelation.

            This whole question of verification is interesting.

            In natural science, we start with observable phenomena and form hypotheses which we test by empirically observed experimentation. In general, we are reasoning from observable effects back to what we believe to be rational explanations, usually in terms of unobservable causes. For example, from observed behavior of masses in motion, we infer the existence of gravitational forces (or, perhaps, instead space-time curvature) which we do not observe with our senses. In so doing we reason from observed effect back to unobserved cause.

            From this, we may formulate some hypothesis which we then test by further observations of phenomena predicted as consistent with that hypothesis. If the test works as predicted, we then infer that the results "tend to confirm" the hypothesis. Of course, no experiment can ever absolutely prove an hypothesis, since some unknown factors unrelated to the hypothesis may have caused the experimental results.

            My point is that it is absolutely normal for scientists to reason from observable effects back to unobserved causes. Now, this is exactly what the philosopher does when, say, proving God's existence. The only difference is that the metaphysician does not assume that the cause, in this case, must be some physical entity, whereas the scientist always makes that assumption.

            It is reasonable to assume, also, that a physical cause would, in turn, produce observable effects when we design an experiment to test an hypothesis about said physical cause.

            But what do you do when your reasoning forces you to conclude that the unobserved cause must not be physical in nature? That is what happens in the First Way, which starts with observed motion and reasons back to a First Unmoved Mover. Since motion is a universal property of physical things, the process of reasoning has necessarily led to a cause which is not physical.

            Is this less of a reasonable move than that of the scientist -- just because reason leads to a non-physical cause? Is that process of reasoning invalidated because a non-physical cause may not be subject to empirical testing? Indeed, what kind of prediction could one make from finding a First Mover that moves things in the physical world? That motion will continue? Well, it does. But of course, that proves no more and no less than did the initial argument from motion back to the First Mover.

            Recall that in the scientific experiment we still are reasoning from seen effect to unseen cause when we predict that the properties of gravity will produce certain phenomena -- and we are again presuming that the unseen gravitational force must be physical -- even though we never feel the gravity itself, only the effects of gravity.

            And what of the "hard to vary" explanations of the broader implications of natural theology. That is, can we "vary" God's nature to make it easier to explain objections to his existence?

            On the contrary, if you read my article on the Santa Claus "proof" for God, you will see that in order to meet the many objections to God's existence, it is necessary to have a very refined conception of God that can meet these daunting objections. A purely anthropomorphic God won't get to first base. A God that changes through time won't make it either. Or one that is identified pantheistically with the world. Or a dozen other Gods with special problems. The only God that has even a chance of meeting the objections raised is the God of classical theism whose nature required centuries of examination in order to be coherent. His nature did not "vary," but had to be carefully refined to meet these challenges -- without contradicting specific qualities previously defined.

            This is not like saying God is like the Tooth Fairie one time, and then changing completely to say that, if there is a problem with Tooth Fairies, then God is more like Superman. That would be easy to vary. But living with the specific characteristics of God forced by the technical demands of metaphysics requires, not that his essential nature can vary at whim, but ever more tightly defined characteristics that must stay coherent with those previously affirmed.

            In other words, I am not so sure that the "hard to vary" criterion applies well in the case of serious natural theology, even if it is useful in the development of realistic scientific theories.

          • Sample1

            Grab a snorkel.

            I do not consider something like a proof for God to be a "faith-based explanation," since philosophical arguments employ reason and not premises from revelation.

            Fair enough. Proof is a high bar. It’s not an explanatory level that science claims to wield, as science measures the veracity of an explanation in terms of plausibility and probability. My favorite level of explanatory power is, you guessed it, the hard-to-vary types. Indeed, a priori reasoning for a claim only rarely enjoys scientific merit. Reasoning corroborated with evidence outside minds is the gold standard. This is a position explained by the philosophy of fallibilism, a philosophical claim with outside-of-minds evidence that human reasoning, while occasionally remarkable, is not infallible. If one accepts fallibilism as eminently reasonable, I don’t see how an ontological argument can ever claim the level of a proof that is also necessarily instantiated in reality. I’m not a philosopher but just thinking about this now it dawned on me that an ontological proof cannot be claimed apart from further explicit assumptions about realms of existence outside the physical. And those assumptions will require their own explanations. Are there philosophical premises for the existence of a Christian heaven that do not involve faith claims?

            This whole question of verification is interesting. In natural science, we start with observable phenomena and form hypotheses which we test by empirically observed experimentation.

            Glad it interests you! Ok. Well, we may also start with a priori reasoning too or, gasp, even mere guesses. Often the latter! The recent image of a feature of space time, a black hole, was first based on reasoning through Einstein’s field equations rather than observing a BH. We still don’t observe a BH per se, but rather the accretion disk (if present), shadow and the radiation. In a certain sense, therefore, we are still accepting only through a priori reasoning that a BH is really there. Is there any comparable confidence in a priori ontological reasoning? If not, is scientific a priori reasoning a potentially better method of explanatory power?

            In general, we are reasoning from observable effects back to what we believe to be rational explanations, usually in terms of unobservable causes. For example, from observed behavior of masses in motion, we infer the existence of gravitational forces (or, perhaps, instead space-time curvature) which we do not observe with our senses. In so doing we reason from observed effect back to unobserved cause.

            In general yes, but as I’ve shown, not always. Masses in motion were once thought to require a Mover to keep them in motion. Galileo was the first to conjecture otherwise—remarkable considering he could not observe frictionless objects—and later formalized by Newton’s 1st Law of Motion. A thousand years of incorrect reasoning wiped away in decades. Because God is an easy-to-vary explanation, these corrections can be subsumed. Let me clarify that. The hallmark of a hard-to-vary explanation can be stated as: any component within the theory that changes will have an effect on the explanation. But with God, components to a claim for his existence can be changed without affecting its explanation. This is why the metaphysician need not worry when science corrects itself. All corrections can be subsumed in an easy-to-vary explanation. We call those bad explanations. Homeopathic history demonstrates being a bad explanation. When physics and chemistry ruled out certain claims, homeopaths invented “water memory”. An unobservable claim, in principle. Worse, the confidence level for homeopathy is probably below mere statistical noise. As time goes on, homeopathy looks more like religious ontology. No offense! Aquinas was brilliant, homeopathic founder not so much.

            From this, we may formulate some hypothesis which we then test by further observations of phenomena predicted as consistent with that hypothesis. If the test works as predicted, we then infer that the results "tend to confirm" the hypothesis. Of course, no experiment can ever absolutely prove an hypothesis, since some unknown factors unrelated to the hypothesis may have caused the experimental results.

            Agreed. But I’d emphasize that scientific prowess is not diminished by philosophical exceptions that do indeed sometimes destroy other philosophies. If you’re looking for absolute certainty, science won’t give it. But you will be able to have confidence in claims that range up to a p-value of 1! Not too shabby despite what @lukebreuer:disqus might be trying to get me to talk about. Hi Luke!

            My point is I that it is absolutely normal for scientists to reason from observable effects back to unobserved causes.

            As mentioned science can use a priori reasoning too and my prior mention meant to point out that it may use a priori reasoning better than philosophical a priori reasoning. Philosophy has an arguably better competitor on that front. But I’ll currently grant you the ought claims unless Sam Harris gets his act together and convinces all to meditate (which I think is part of the inspiration, along with science, for his attempts to make everything at bottom an “is”). Just a guess, we don’t need to go there.

            Now, this is exactly what the philosopher does when, say, proving God's existence. The only difference is that the metaphysician does not assume that the cause, in this case, must be some physical entity, whereas the scientist always makes that assumption.

            In practice yes, that’s the scientific way, but not in principle. A scientist is not a priori against the immaterial or non-physical. If an explanation is compelling, a scientist will consider it. Open mindedness and all that. In my opinion it’s fellow believers of different denominations and philosophies that you’ll have a harder time convincing. Why? Because they have their own easy-to-vary explanations. Hence thousands of denominations. Are there different kinds of physics for rocket launches? Nope. Hard-to-vary. You get the picture.

            It is reasonable to assume, also, that a physical cause would, in turn, produce observable effects when we design an experiment to test an hypothesis about said physical cause.

            Unless there are no physically contingent causes, as in radioactive decay. Which to my knowledge is explained well by entropy and unstableness resulting in spontaneousness. But also yes, agreed.

            But what do you do when your reasoning forces you to conclude that the unobserved cause must not be physical in nature? That is what happens in the First Way, which starts with observed motion and reasons back to a First Unmoved Mover.

            I don’t know. Wait. You become a metaphysician and/or a Thomist evidently! :-) Honestly, I’m skeptical about the other ontological assumptions needed for the realm of this First Mover not needing faith in the premises. You can’t fault me for thinking ahead! It’s an evolutionary trait of our species.

            Since motion is a universal property of physical things, the process of reasoning has necessarily led to a cause which is not physical.

            This is where, as mentioned, changes to the understanding of motion since Aristotle’s time did not change the God explanation which indicates an easy-to-vary explanation. And you know how I feel about those. :-)

            Is this less of a reasonable move than that of the scientist -- just because reason leads to a non-physical cause?

            You know my answer.

            Is that process of reasoning invalidated because a non-physical cause may not be subject to empirical testing?

            Feynman would throw the chalk eraser at you and flail wildly about! But I will say, probably not. But on a confidence scale it’s not winning any ribbons. The Templeton Foundation has billions to pursue that. I wish them luck for I am not adverse to truth.

            Indeed, what kind of prediction could one make from finding a First Mover that moves things in the physical world? That motion will continue? Well, it does.
            But of course, that proves no more and no less than did the initial argument from motion back to the First Mover.

            There are natural explanations for motion that do just fine. That means there is no need for your hypothesis.

            Recall that in the scientific experiment we still are reasoning from seen effect to unseen cause when we predict that the properties of gravity will produce certain phenomena -- and we are again presuming that the unseen gravitational force must be physical -- even though we never feel the gravity itself, only the effects of gravity.

            Gravity is not a physical force as once thought. There is no force to be seen because, well, it isn’t a force. Describing it as geometry is better. It doesn’t make sense to me to say we can feel the effects of gravity but not gravity itself. Gravity is one thing, geometry, and there is a way, technically, to feel it apart from just effects. Position yourself above a sufficiently massive gradient in spacetime, like a black hole. The nerves on the bottom of your feet will be the first tell your brain that you’re experiencing gravity, qua gravity. Don’t try this at home kids.

            [Paragraph shortened] And what of the "hard to vary" explanations of the broader implications of natural theology. The only God that has even a chance of meeting the objections raised is the God of classical theism whose nature required centuries of examination in order to be coherent. His nature did not "vary," but had to be carefully refined to meet these challenges -- without contradicting specific qualities previously defined.

            In other words, I am not so sure that the "hard to vary" criterion applies well in the case of serious natural theology, even if it is useful in the development of realistic scientific theories.

            Oh but it does. It’s not about God varying in his nature,it’s about evidence not changing the explanation that is still God. Why do you think so many previous explanations (all the scientifically filled gaps now) about God, namely what people claimed he controlled, can have zero effect on God as an explanation? Because the explanation for God is easy-to-vary. God is essentially a panacea-type explanatory contrivance. You may disagree but that’s the reason why explanations invoking him are easy-to-vary. Not unlike Persephone whom the ancient Greeks used to explain seasons. Axial tilt can be subsumed into that explanation too, as previously discussed with others. Why? Three little words. :-)

            Thank you for this back and forth. I learn much from you as I often have to sharpen up my own thoughts, which often are off the cuff otherwise. Though we disagree, I don’t think we are being trivial, these subjects will be bandied about for millennia more so long as there are people who reason like us today.

            Mike
            Final edit done.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I am going to try to force myself to be brief. Too much length invites not being read -- especially by third parties. But I DID read your comments. Still, I shall hit only key points:

            >"In a certain sense, therefore, we are still accepting only through a priori reasoning that a BH is really there. Is there any comparable confidence in a priori ontological reasoning? If not, is scientific a priori reasoning a potentially better method of explanatory power?"

            I do not see why you keep referring to a priori reasoning. Certainly, the proofs for God are based on a posteriori reasoning, starting with observation of the world and working back to God as the necessary cause of what is observed. That is a posteriori, not a priori. And science uses that also when looking at phenomena and reasoning back to possible explanations for those phenomena.

            Now you may think that the starting point of philosophy is at least a priori, but I deny that completely. We start with experience whose content forces the mind to recognize as the being from which the concept of being is derived. From that concept is again formed the metaphysical first principles which then are applied to empirically observed phenomena, such as motion, to produce arguments leading to necessary conclusions.

            Metaphysical first principles then are not a priori like mathematical theorem that begin with mere assumptions. Rather, they are derived from experience, making them a posteriori in nature. I know you won't agree with this, but that is my take on them.

            And it should be clear that the methodology of the proofs for God is a posteriori, not a priori. This is explicitly pointed out by St. Thomas in the Prima Pars.

            >"Masses in motion were once thought to require a Mover to keep them in motion. Galileo was the first to conjecture otherwise—remarkable considering he could not observe frictionless objects—and later formalized by Newton’s 1st Law of Motion. "

            This is just plain wrong as to its inference. Objects in motion, even those whose motion is ascribed to inertia, still require a mover to keep them in motion. This is a philosophical analysis, true -- but one that has never been disproved by modern science. In fact, Newton himself held that some mover must keep objects in motion. See my article:
            https://strangenotions.com/whatever-is-moved-is-moved-by-another/

            >"Gravity is not a physical force as once thought. There is no force to be seen because, well, it isn’t a force. Describing it as geometry is better. It doesn’t make sense to me to say we can feel the effects of gravity but not gravity itself."

            If you read my text carefully, you will see that I did not miss your point: " we infer the existence of gravitational forces (or, perhaps, instead space-time curvature) ..."

            Whether a physical force or merely the geometry of space-time, my point about you only feeling the effects, not the gravity itself is absolutely correct -- even at the edge of a black hole.

            The whole point of all this is that we humans can only reason from what we know of the world through sense experience. Physical science uses various methods to reason from observed phenomena to hypothesize about possible explanations, assumes such explanations belong to the physical universe, and then uses experiments to see whether such hypotheses can be falsified or not. That is fine.

            Philosophy uses the same observed phenomena and reasons back to causes, but is forced in some instances to conclude that some cause exists which cannot be part of the physical universe. Science really has nothing to say -- pro or con -- about this methodology. For science to insist that such reasoning must be made to conform to the methodology of natural science, or else, it is automatically declared to be irrational faith or simply wrong -- is simply the general philosophical fallacy known as scientism.

            Your "hard to vary" methodology may have utility in natural science, but it is no substitute for the careful reasoning processes developed by classical philosophers. Reasoning is only as good as its logic and assumptions.

            The assumptions you make belong properly to natural science -- maybe. But in extending them to the entire realm of human knowledge, you commit the fallacy of scientism.

          • Sample1

            Thanks for the reply.

            Mike

          • Heaven is our Home. Our return to it exists on earth just like the fall to hell begins on earth.

            That all you see before you is a void, reading all your posts gives a sucking, empty feeling foes not bode well for you.

            In fact, are you even alive?

            That "incorrect reasoning" is called Truth. you mutter endlessly about "science" that has no foundation except in manichean philosophy, and therefore has no validity in reality.

            you aren't interested in science though. What you are interested in is hoping the dead husk of the sciences are big enough to hide your sin behind.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            >"Indeed I am not an absolute claim maker."

            Please notice that you just absolutely declared that you are "not an absolute claim maker." :)

          • Sample1

            You see? You can distinguish nuance when you think it fits your agenda.

            Mike, excommunicated

          • Dennis Bonnette

            And my agenda is to get to the truth and disseminate what can be found, not only by me, but by anyone else as well.

            The point I am making in noticing your own absolute declaration is the same one I develop in the section of my article entitled: "Absolutely Certain." The article explains itself.

            But the key point is that every human judgment is expressed in absolute terms. Even when you say that there is a tiny reservation about any statement you make you are absolutely affirming that that tiny reservation exists.

            This is nothing more than the human mind affirming a certain state of being and denying its contradictory, which is clearly a law of reality as well as of the mind -- otherwise our statements might mean nothing at all.

          • Sample1

            A good explanation and one I understood from about the age of 10 when a child’s mind explores infinite regress paradoxes.

            If it bothered or poked science in the eye I’d care. But it doesn’t. It’s important only for a metaphysics desperately trying to remain relevant and authoritative. It can be fully ignored without harming the reliable success of the method. Science explores, metaphysics stays home in an invisible room contemplating invisible things producing nothing of practical import while claiming real consequences without evidence.

            That’s my “absolute” opinion.

            Mike, excommunicated

          • Dennis Bonnette

            You are right. Thomistic philosophy never has impinged upon the legitimate claims of natural science.

            And natural science, remaining within its own proper competence, is no threat to Thomistic metaphysics and its transcendental demonstrations about the intrinsic nature of reality, including the proofs for God's existence.

          • Sample1

            And natural science, remaining within its own proper competence, is no threat to Thomistic metaphysics and its transcendental demonstrations about the intrinsic nature of reality, including the proofs for God's existence.

            God is a lousy teacher. I mean he really is. Choosing to reveal himself through fallible biological instruments (humans), using corruptible mediums like extinction prone languages and novels, for an organism that is curious, adventurous and continually finding life affirming principles through logic, reason and evidence. Did he not know we would eventually use those tools for introspection and escape from the slavery of merely being given fish to eat by learning how to fish for ourselves?

            A truly loving parent would celebrate that evolution to adulthood and emancipation. But not this God. That is when his psychopathy enters full on mania as he thrashes, spits and shrieks: “all will love and obey me or meet an end of eternal punishment consumed in fire.”

            It would seem we love God more than he is capable of loving himself. We truly lament his need to control and demand the love of his creation rather than celebrate the freedom love provides. God tried to be human because he wanted what he didn’t have. He has so much to learn.

            The story of God (and all gods) is the story of ourselves.

            Mike, excommunicated

          • Jim the Scott

            The Theistic Personalist "deity" you rant about doesn't exist.

          • Sample1

            Sure it does. All it needs is a disqus post (textual evidence) and an ontology: no other being more lacking in love can be conceived.

            Unfortunately many of the original disqus posts were wiped by heretical moderators in the Great Purge of 2014. All we have left are eyewitnesses and copies of the originals on another site. Thankfully, we have an online tradition of teaching where the original concepts are expanded upon and further refined.

            The best part? You can’t prove me wrong.

            Mike, excommunicated

          • Dennis Bonnette

            But empirical verification does occur -- post mortem!

          • Sample1

            Humor or seriousness aside (always hard to tell where the emphasis lies) I think one of the Herculean problems people like me encounter is falling into the trap of arguing a layered apologetics rather than the origins and explanations for the apologetic adoptions of a naked belief.

            If we cannot agree that it’s possible to gaslight oneself, all we end up doing is addressing post hoc rationalizations.

            Mike

          • Dennis Bonnette

            You raise a legitimate concern as to what is the best, most unassuming, way to proceed to address these fundamental divergences in worldviews.

            Philosophically, I would go back to the initial epistemological condition, that is, what we initially know at the most basic level of experience. I would argue that we all have to start at that same place, regardless of any theories or conclusions we have learned from our advanced sciences -- since we never can get to those advanced, sophisticated sciences without presupposing our initial certitudes. I don't say this to "load the dice." I honestly find it necessary to start with our epistemological condition. From this understanding of the noetic starting point I find the first concepts which condition the development of metaphysics that leads me to certain conclusions about the world and it origin and purpose.

            Still, I realize that this is a philosophical analysis and starting point that few would either want to share, perhaps, or be able to share. Were it not for my philosophical background, I probably would never even have thought of starting out this way!

            I realize many other people would begin with the common experience of the world and accept the findings of the best science we have to offer today. I realize that that appears to be your personal point of departure -- one shared by most members of the scientific community. And it is from theories about the evolution of human psychology and sociological influences that perhaps condition your view as to where things like religious belief originate.

            I don't know if these are gaps we can really bridge in order to reach a more common view of the human condition. We also have to do honest soul-searching as to what things most deeply motivate us to embrace our basic worldviews. In most cases, I suspect that there are multiple fundamental anchors in our belief systems that sustain our overall conclusions and make them very difficult to overturn -- regardless of seemingly contrary evidences.

          • If we cannot agree that it’s possible to gaslight oneself, all we end up doing is addressing post hoc rationalizations.

            Would you say more about this "gaslight oneself"?

          • Jim the Scott

            >Sure it does. All it needs is a disqus post (textual evidence) and an ontology: no other being more lacking in love can be conceived.

            To bad Ontological Arguments for the existence of God are invalid.

            https://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/11/anselms-ontological-argument.html

            https://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/12/plantingas-ontological-argument.html

            http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/04/descartes-trademark-argument.html

            >Unfortunately many of the original disqus posts were wiped by heretical moderators in the Great Purge of 2014. All we have left are eyewitnesses and copies of the originals on another site. Thankfully, we have an online tradition of teaching where the original concepts are expanded upon and further refined.

            What fallacy of equivocation are you channeling now?

            >The best part? You can’t prove me wrong.

            I just did(or better yet Professor Feser and Aquinas did the Yomen's work) on the Ontological Argument. Good luck refuting the defeater.
            Perhaps you can come up with a "scientific" argument to refute a philosophical argument or some such blather you do.

          • Sample1

            Zero interest.

            Mike, excommunicated

          • Jim the Scott

            That is an honest response. If you can't do the philosophy then don't. Well done. Peace.

          • God is a lousy teacher. I mean he really is. Choosing to reveal himself through fallible biological instruments (humans), using corruptible mediums like extinction prone languages and novels, for an organism that is curious, adventurous and continually finding life affirming principles through logic, reason and evidence. Did he not know we would eventually use those tools for introspection and escape from the slavery of merely being given fish to eat by learning how to fish for ourselves?

            Are you perchance a fan of Justin Schieber's stance in the 2017 SN article Would God Create Perfect Creatures? – A Christian/Atheist Dialogue? Schieber believes that it is an error for God to even create imperfect creatures—creatures with potential that has not been actualized. To be a bit mean, one could compare Schieber to the NYT opinion piece The Philosopher as Bad Dad and suggest that perhaps he finds childhood disgusting. Why not just skip that part? Even I have the prejudice of wanting to wait until my friends' kids are at least Lego-building age before I find them interesting. I suspect it'll be different if/when it's my own.

            I do question whether we humans have better ways to do things. Are we in the 21st century really better at raising our children than ever before? What I actually see are more and more calls for Teacher to come in and fix things—whether Teacher is a school administrator who punishes faculty members for challenging students or a moderator on a social media network who believes that mere speech can constitute violence. I myself had a rather different experience: one day in pre-calc my peers were being especially awful to me and Teacher ignored all my requests for help. After class, she pulled me aside and told me that I'd need to learn to deal myself, because Teacher would not always be there. But there is a deeper problem: power is never in favor of the oppressed, because it is doing the oppression. Therefore, one cannot appeal to power for true justice. Only the belief that power is ontologically good makes the logic work, and yet that is a scary belief!

            A truly loving parent would celebrate that evolution to adulthood and emancipation. But not this God. That is when his psychopathy enters full on mania as he thrashes, spits and shrieks: “all will love and obey me or meet an end of eternal punishment consumed in fire.”

            Are you not conflating the all-too-common failure of Christians to expect "maturity of all" with perfectly plausible interpretations of scripture, held by some Christians? We ignore Sturgeon's law at our own peril.

            As to the shrieking, you seem to be presupposing that God is not goodness/​being. After all, what does pure logic say of those who flee being and goodness? As to the 'eternal' bit, it seems rather easy to question whether God would continue to uphold the existence of those who have fully rejected him. And according to @dennisbonnette:disqus on inertia, God would have to constantly will the continued existence of those people.

            We truly lament his need to control and demand the love of his creation rather than celebrate the freedom love provides.

            If God had a need to control and were omnipotent and omniscient, then he has a really, really weird way of showing that control. And what parent celebrates his/her children's "freedom" to become addicted to crystal meth? It seems to me that only the most terrible of parents would refrain from trying to rescue their children from its deceptive, controlling grip. Furthermore, this rescue will look like "control" from certain perspectives, but is it really right to use the same word "control" to describe all these things?

          • Jim the Scott

            Well said. Dispute not with those who deny first principles as rational disussion is not possible with them. Sample1 tends on the practical level to be what David Stove called an "irrationalist".

      • Keeping a teeny tiny door open to the possibility that the logical absolutes are mistakenly understood at a fundamental level is wholly in keeping with the practice of the scientific method where concepts are continually refined.

        I'm not sure how this "teeny tiny door" functions in the ecology of A–T thought. One might think that all the times that you see a "therefore, God exists", there would be a "teeny tiny door" that "God does not exist"—an exceedingly small probability. One which, you quite admittedly, don't know how to open.

        Now, I do see one place where the spirit of your thinking might offer a critique to theology. @dennisbonnette:disqus and I talked a while ago about whether inertia is real or God is actually sustaining ("moving") the object. I would like to hold out the possibility that God can truly withdraw his presence from part of creation. It seems to me that instead of instantaneously poofing out of existence, what you get is a closed system with entropy which always increases until it hits a maximum. To deny this possibility is to deny that we could ever recapitulate the mistakes of those Israelites in the OT who gave YHWH the boot after he knocked at their door with prophet after prophet. And yet, if we don't have a place in theology for something which can really happen, we will be blind to it happening at small signal levels (and maybe even large ones).

        There's another matter: how can we talk about the accumulation of knowledge produced by science, if no identifiable proposition is necessarily "knowledge"? What true thing can be said about the constantly growing mass of knowledge? It seems in some way to be nameless, describable only by something analogous to apophatic theology. This is rather close to Popper's falsificationism, where what you're really saying is what never happens. Are there any absolutely necessary prerequisites for saying "Through scientific inquiry, we are growing in knowledge."? To the extent you can't say this, of quality is the fulcrum and lever you are using to move the world argument?

        • Sample1

          There's another matter: how can we talk about the accumulation of knowledge produced by science, if no identifiable proposition is necessarily "knowledge"

          Just so I’m clear, are you asking to have a discussion about the word knowledge? I haven’t heard your understanding of it. Philosophy has made a kind of mess of the word. I think I would begin by describing knowledge as information. Does that work for you?

          Mike, excommunicated

          • I … don't think so? I'm talking about that accumulated body of knowledge that scientific inquiry is ostensibly making bigger and bigger over time. The weird thing is, any particular item I pick out of it could be wrong. Sometimes items are found to be wrong. In some sense, nothing in it is known to be true. And yet, that is the most trustworthy thing we have, according to a very prominent line of thinking.

          • Sample1

            You reject that knowledge is information or are you saying you are not sure if knowledge is information?

            Sometimes items are found to be wrong.

            When a previously understood finding of science is found to be incomplete or in error what way of knowing is used to point out that error and how is it justified as being a correction?

            Mike, excommunicated

          • S1: Just so I’m clear, are you asking to have a discussion about the word knowledge?

            LB: I … don't think so?

            S1: You reject that knowledge is information or are you saying you are not sure if knowledge is information?

            Sorry, I was responding to your first question, as I've now made clear. I'm not sure we need to define the word 'knowledge', although perhaps we do. What I'm trying to do here is establish what things we say we are most confident in, and see whether there are some contradictions between that and other things we appear to believe with even greater certainty.

            When a previously understood finding of science is found to be incomplete or in error what way of knowing is used to point out that error and how is it justified as being a correction?

            Strictly speaking, a contradiction is introduced into the system, from which anything can be proven true and anything can be proven false. (WP: Principle of explosion) What is chosen for modification/​ejection to remove the contradiction is up to scientific judgment; there appears to be no determine algorithm or method which is used in every case.

            I'm not sure how the above helps us name the growing body of knowledge that scientific inquiry is ostensibly developing. It's as if any building on a small patch of that body of knowledge could be easily toppled. But then we should not predicate too much on any small patch. If there is a kind of unreliability of the body of knowledge generated by science, then doesn't that unreliability taint any and all statements made from that body of knowledge? There appears to be at least a "teeny tiny door", here. Well, what are the full implications of that door? Might it be that some aspects complained about in religion actually show up here, on careful analysis?

          • Sample1

            There are many ways people claim that they can come to know something. Have knowledge, information.

            This tack I’m taking is coming from a Jerry Coyne talk given at LogiCAL.

            Art, literature, music. Some might claim the humanities can give us knowledge about the cosmos. We might discover art that shows a Hapsburg genetic deformity in the portrait. Or a novel like Moby Dick, fiction, but the author was a whaler who can provide knowledge. But what are we really doing but using evidence to make art and literature a way of knowing something that’s true.

            Then there are fields like history, economics, archeology and the social sciences. Some within those fields might claim they give us knowledge about how to understand the cosmos. When an economist describes the law of supply and demand she is providing empirical knowledge. Likewise with archeology where findings converge as evidence for claims.

            Then we have philosophy and mathematics. Some claim these fields can give us knowledge about how to understand the cosmos. Darwin didn’t use any equations to figure out evolution. But equations can also help us understand the cosmos when we find math corroborating with evidence for observations.

            Religion claims to be a way of knowing about the cosmos too. Authority, tradition, holy books and revelations, and even feelings, are religious currency. But what do we find? Multiple exclusionary claims about the cosmos. This is apparently attractive to you? I guess I can understand how, once being a believer myself, but as a way of reliably knowing about the cosmos, not so much.

            And then we have the fields called sciences. Similar to the other ways of knowing described above, except religion, a harmony of knowing emerges that is indicative of a more reliable method of understanding the cosmos.

            Saying science does not make absolute claims does not damage the reliability of the method, it strengthens it.

            Mike, excommunicated
            Edit done. Final.

          • Religion claims to be a way of knowing about the cosmos too. Authority, tradition, holy books and revelations, and even feelings, are religious currency. But what do we find? Multiple exclusionary claims about the cosmos. This is apparently attractive to you? I guess I can understand how, once being a believer myself, but as a way of reliably knowing about the cosmos, not so much.

            The only attractive bit about the Bible being multiply interpretable is that it functions as a Rorschach test to reveal† the thoughts and intentions of the heart. We humans, you see, are very good at hiding, at acting (a hypokritēs was an actor), at deceiving ourselves and others. We need a façade-piercing tool and the Bible seems pretty good at that in my experience. A beauty of this Rorschach test interpretation is that I need not be grounded in infallible tradition for it to work. (more) I can be in error and it can still work. Si enim fallor, sum.

            You are big on "reliably knowing about the cosmos", but what about reliably knowing about human nature and social nature? Science seems much better at understanding that which is non-human, than that which is human. (More precisely, science's helpfulness seems to take a nose dive whenever subjectivity is relevant.) And yet, how much of humanity's need today can be satisfied with what science is good at delivering—more power over nature and humanity?

            † Being an imperfect instrument for measuring reality, I can only gain probabilistic information from investigating another's interpretation. But I can do better than the principle of indifference.

            Saying science does not make absolute claims does not damage the reliability of the method, it strengthens it.

            You appear to be responding to a straw man. I am interested in the calculus of [non-100%] confidence and careful accounting to be sure that the more-confident is never founded on the less-confident.

    • Michael Murray

      It's not the true foundation of para-consistent logics.

      • Dennis Bonnette

        Para-consistent logics do not negate the truth of my article. The aim is to retain as much classical machinery as possible in developing a system of paraconsistent logic which, nonetheless, avoids explosion when faced with a contradiction. The "explosion" hypothesis claims that from a self-contradictory antecedent anything at all logically follows. This is non-sense. From a contradiction, nothing follows. It is no different than the ontological solution to claims that God cannot make a square-circle, and therefore he is not omnipotent. The solution is to realize that a square-circle is, because it is self-contradictory, simply non-being. The inability of God to create non-being is not a limitation on his power, since it simply excludes nothing from his power. So, too, from a self-contradictory enunciation, which is the linguistic equivalent to non-being, nothing at all can be inferred.

        Paraconsistent logics were designed to "handle" such self-referential statements as: "This statement is false." The correct solution is not to include such statements in your logical system, but to realize that a statement that is logically inconsistent is just like the self-contradictory "power" of God described above. That is, a statement that contradicts its own expression is simply an impossible statement or a non-statement. Non-statements do not require integration into a system of logic.

        Nevertheless, such self-contradictory or inconsistent statements do occur in language at times, which leads to my final point.

        Paraconsistent logics essentially attempt to "work around" the presence of inconsistencies within otherwise apparently logical systems. Many such "methods" are proposed, including multi-valued logic that allows that statements may be not only true or false, but also true and false. Here again, there is value in attempting to retain some inferential force in a logical system while working around inconsistencies, for example, in the development of computer logic, where inconsistencies necessarily appear.

        But none of these pragmatic "solutions" to practical problems that try to retain inferential value in systems including inconsistencies actually obviate the ontological necessity of the simple and self-evident truth that being is not non-being, as explained in my article.

      • Para-consistent logics seem to be to uncollapsed wavefunctions as classical logics are to what happens after you've made a measurement. There is a key potentiality/​actuality distinction.

  • The spring before David Politzer received the Nobel Prize in Physics, he told me that he believed a crucial stage in intellectual/​scientific maturity was the ability to hold two contradictory ideas in one's head without immediately rejecting one of them. He was drawing on at least one of the following:

    Before I go on with this short history, let me make a general observation—the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise. This philosophy fitted on to my early adult life, when I saw the improbable, the implausible, often the “impossible” come true. (F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Crack-Up)

    A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. — 'Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.' — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood. (Ralph Waldo Emerson: Self-Reliance)

    This isn't a denial of the Principle of Non-Contradiction, but instead a restriction on its usefulness, to those stages in thought where you have a great system with all the problems ironed out and you can finally enforce consistency to beneficial ends. And great systems, such as Classical Mechanics, have their anomalies (e.g. the ultraviolet catastrophe). How often do we really have all the pieces so well-organized and well-characterized that it is useful to enforce the PNC without mercy? Has life ever yielded to a philosophical system which was shown to be perfectly consistent and empirically adequate? I am not aware of any.

    By the way, Politzer received his Nobel Prize for asymptotic freedom, which was counter-intuitive in his time. All forces to-date had diminished with distance, such as gravity falling off with the square of the distance. What Politzer discovered is that quarks attract each other more strongly the further apart they are. I wouldn't be surprised if his deep appreciation for tolerating contradiction was important for his discovery.

    So while we do use the Principle of Non-Contradiction, how often is it not the right tool for the job?

    • Mark

      Non-enforcement of PNC is anti-intellectual and that is never the right tool for the job. In reason, tolerating contradiction propositions leaves us all searching for who shaved the barber. In science, tolerating contradicting evidences is imperative. I guess I fail to see the point Luke.

      • I'm not sure I agree: if formal reasoning [of sufficient power] is always incomplete or inconsistent (Gödel's second incompleteness theorem), then is it always true that introducing an inconsistency in order to try to increase descriptive power is a bad idea? One would of course then work to eliminate the inconsistency. But you seem to be saying that there must never be an inconsistency within a … "genealogy of reason".

        Another way to look at it is this: every time that we encounter a contradiction in a system of thought, must we immediately discard the entire system of thought? If the answer is "no", then under certain conditions it is acceptable to tolerate violations of the PNC—for a time. You might say that it is only acceptable to tolerate violations when they are not known, but then we can ask if, upon discovery of a violation, all other priorities in reasoning are suspended until it is eliminated. If the answer is "no", then we have some important nuance which does not show up in your reply.

        • Mark

          Godel's model applies to mathematical axioms not first principles of thought. You cannot even get to natural numbers without PNC as Dr. B points out:

          This is because the PNC cannot be empirically verified, since every experimental method presupposes the PNC’s truth.

          My understanding is that you are equivocating what you call a system of thought with a first principle of thought. Tolerating contradiction in second order/a posteriori reasoning in say science or math isn't the same as tolerating contradiction in PNC. Restricting the usefulness of PNC looks like what exactly?

          • I was objecting to "Non-enforcement of PNC is anti-intellectual"; if you wish to restrict the domain to thinking which cannot handle basic arithmetic and proofs, then Gödel's incompleteness theorems do not apply. One might say that the PNC is very important at the micro-level but can be violated for times at the macro-level.

          • Mark

            What would micro versus macro violation look like?

          • I'm not sure I can come up with good examples off the top of my head which help sketch out the difference. But the precise difference is the minimum requirement for Gödel's incompleteness theorems to hold: systems which contain arithmetic for the first, adding Hilbert–Bernays conditions for the second (i.e. basic provability).

            For something very macro, consider John Milbank's The Suspended Middle: Henri de Lubac and the Debate Concerning the Supernatural. The question is whether there is any middle entity between nature and grace. Now imagine that we find a contradiction in Milbank's argument. Do we instantaneously throw all of his work out as a result, or at least instantly reject premises until a logical contradiction cannot be found?

          • David Nickol

            What would micro versus macro violation look like?

            What follows is my own opinion, not an attempt to answer for Luke. Logic is a very powerful tool, but "real life" is often complex and even messy. It would be nice if every issue could be reduced to a few syllogisms or written down in symbols and solved like an algebra problem. But life is seldom like that.

            I read a story recently about a student at a religious school who sued the state over a requirement to be vaccinated, objecting that the vaccine was made from cells from aborted fetuses. I suppose to many it might seem an open and shut case, but as it turns out the Vatican weighed in on the issue back in 2005 with a fascinating document about "cooperating with evil" that actually gives (very guarded) permission to use the vaccine in question.

            It seems to me in Catholic medical ethics there are a number of cases in which elaborate reasoning sets aside simplified questions that may seem to some black and white but comes to surprising conclusions. Off the top of my head I am thinking of the handling of ectopic pregnancy, the principle of double effect that may (rarely) justify what might seem to some as abortion, and the permission to not use "extraordinary means" to prolong life. If one thinks of the principle of noncontradiction and asserts that one may never cooperate with evil, and then realizes that some moral reasoning permits some cooperation with evil, it looks like a contradiction.

            A macro (economic!) case might be the disagreement between liberal and conservative economists about whether minimum wage legislation kills jobs or not. It can't both kill and not kill jobs according to the PNC, but we seem to tolerate both sides of the argument.

          • Rob Abney

            The difference is that there is no gray area between being and non-being, you can't have partial being or partial non-being.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            >"If one thinks of the principle of noncontradiction and asserts that one may never cooperate with evil, and then realizes that some moral reasoning permits some cooperation with evil, it looks like a contradiction."

            I suspect you already know all this, but this is why the PNC has that little qualifier, "in the same respect," added.

            In all the cases you mention, the PNC remains absolutely inviolate. There are always distinctions which avoid a head on collision between being and non-being. Ethics, especially, is often complicated. But "complicated" need not mean "self-contradictory" or "incoherent."

            QM is extremely complicated mathematical physics. But if someone alleged it was therefore self-contradictory or incoherent, it would quickly lose scientific support.

            I understand that until about 1940 moralists thought that ectopic pregnancies were not pathological conditions and thus forbade abortions even in those cases. But as soon as they realized that this was a pathological condition in a fallopian tube, they reasoned that what one was doing was removing the diseased portion of the tube, not directly intending to kill the baby. Thus double effect applied.

            The solution to the ambiguity of "extraordinary means" is that what is extraordinary in one set of circumstances or to one party may not be in another or to another. Notice the shift in perspective.

            You never can violate the PNC. But you sure can find a lot of distinctions so that you are no longer talking about the exact same bit of reality that you were before.

            Nor is this an illegitimate attempt to fudge on the PNC. We make distinctions all the time in law and elsewhere -- precisely because we discover that two things are not precisely the same and a genuine difference must be recognized, such that what applies to one does not apply to the other.

          • David Nickol

            Godel's model applies to mathematical axioms not first principles of thought.

            I had never heard of "Godel's model," so I just did some Googling and discovered that while there is something known as Godel's model, it doesn't seem to have anything to do with incompleteness. This is all largely over my head, so I'll just give this link.

  • Jeremy Klein

    Dr. Bonnette,

    I could use your help dealing with a philosophical problem: radical skepticism. I was talking to someone online about the argument for PSR from skepticism, and he said that, though the argument works, we don't have reason to believe that we can find truth whether or not PSR is true. When I brought up that skepticism is self-refuting, because if it's true then any proof of skepticism cannot be true, he said that this then becomes a vicious cycle: since, if skepticism is not true, then the possibility of skepticism being true comes back up again. He then said that the self-refutation isn't a problem because, although it leads to a meta-skepticism of its own, that doesn't refute skepticism in its own right.

    I'm really on my last legs here, at least in regards to faith. I feel a bit like I'm going crazy from asking how we can truly know if anything is true, real, or correct. Do you have any ideas on how to defeat the monster of skepticism?

    • Dennis Bonnette

      It is hard to do basic epistemology in a thread like this one. Here are a couple earlier articles of mine that might help:

      https://strangenotions.com/are-metaphysical-first-principles-universally-true/

      https://strangenotions.com/brute-facts-vs-sufficient-reasons/

      Without attempting too deep an analysis, let me just suggest to your friend that he consider his immediate experience of the moment. One can feign skepticism about anything, even immediate experience. Whatever he is doing at the moment, he is having some sort of experience. Can he really be doubtful that he knows what he is experiencing? Well, yes, we can doubt anything -- but not without playing an illicit mental game.

      In any direct experience, we know something to be (Scio aliquid esse of Maritain). Since knowledge is true when the knower conforms to what is known, immediate experience (even if merely subjective or hallucinatory), involves a union of knower and what is known (content of experience). The act of knowing IS the union, which means that while one can distinguish the content as object known from the knower having that union with what is known, you cannot "break" the union without "turning off" the experience itself.

      In other words, the act of knowing is the very union of the know and the known, where knower and known are distinct poles of what is a single act of knowing, a union of knower to known in which conformity is unavoidable because you could only have a lack of conformity if the knower were not united to the known, but then, you would have lost your experience as well!

      How do we then doubt anything at all? Simple. Our minds have the ability to abstract and consider things separately from the context in which they are found. So we abstract the subject/knower pole of the noetic act from its object/known pole -- treat them as independent entities in our minds, and then, deny their conformity! But that is by comparing two abstracted aspects of the noetic/knowing act to each other. This is not the actual act of knowing, but a secondary act in which we have separated the poles of the noetic act from the act itself, and then, could treat them as separable and non-conforming entities. But that is NOT how they exist in the actual act of experience, where their union makes them one and incapable of lacking conformity, since a thing cannot lack conformity with itself.

      I usually would tell my still skeptical students to go home and sit on the largest roofing nail they can find. Then, let them say they are in doubt about the experience of encountering something we call "sharp." They might still doubt what is causing the pain, but total skepticism about the reality of the pain itself is impossible, since it is pretty hard to abstract the subject and object in the immediacy of that experience.

      • Sample1

        There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact. -Deutsch

        Epistemology. I lean toward the philosophy that we never actually experience things in reality directly, or as they might really be. All experiences are filtered through interpretations. Some are dependent on our prior experiences, others upon our genes, or our brains, etc. The web of interpretive filters by which we experience something is vast.

        Since the Enlightenment, we have learned to construct a theory and place it between us and the phenomenon. We know reality by having good explanatory theories. Because our senses can be mistaken, we further discovered an error-correcting tool, critical rationalism, so that when a theory is wrong we can adjust it. Each time we improve a theory we get closer to a better explanation of what is there.

        This mode of thinking doesn’t only work in science. It works for any kind of inquiry in any discipline when the goal is to understand what is really there. From economics, to art, to education and of course, science.

        JPII knew these issues as he really wanted to experience things as they truly are. He studied Husserl’s philosophy and wanted to update Aquinas by trying to incorporate the philosophy of phenomenology into Thomism. He failed to mesh the two, of course. The weakness I see with most religions is that they build upon foundations. Foundations they think are true. But I believe all humans are prone to error, we are fallible, and so if an edifice of philosophy, or religion, is built from the bottom up, by a foundation, that religion or philosophy risks the entire structure if the foundation is wrong. I don’t believe in foundations anymore. Rather, I believe there are problems to be solved and one can start anywhere, not just with a foundation. That way, whatever body of knowledge is constructed it isn’t resting on a potential error in a foundation. Any errors in a critical rationalism scheme are dealt with singly without destroying the body of knowledge wholly. Of course, many religions have tweaked their philosophies to have unfalsifiable claims thereby avoiding foundations to crumble. What I would call an easy-to-vary system. If that floats your boat, fine. It’s just not for me or others like me.

        At any rate, I’m not looking for a long discussion about this, just wanted to offer a different point of view.

        Mike, fragrance free

        • Rob Abney

          But if you do have a small error in your foundation then all of your problem solving will be faulty.
          From Aquinas: A small mistake in the beginning is a big one in the end, according to the Philosopher in the first book of On the Heavens and the Earth. And as Ibn-Sînâ says in the beginning of his Metaphysics, being and essence are what is first conceived by the intellect.

          • Sample1

            That’s why I don’t care about so-called beginnings or foundations in the philosophical sense. Obviously, colloquially, those words have their uses and I’ve no problem there. But as a philosophical approach, I think they are terrible relics of the past for thinking about reality. Humans are fallible and we are often wrong. The beauty, the excitement however, is that because there are ways to be wrong that means there are also ways to be less wrong.

            I care about having the right knowledge creating tools to solve problems.

            Mike

          • Rob Abney

            What if the error is deciding that not everything has a sufficient reason for changing so you stop looking for the reason? That will affect all future experiments!

          • Sample1

            There are plenty of professionals who’ve chosen to devote their lives to questions like that Rob. They can publish and be critiqued like anybody else. Systems of thought, be it religious or political, that shy away from criticism are red flags. Any system that closes down critical examination is an enemy to those interested in knowledge. Why? Because problems are solved through knowledge acquisition. Look at North Korea. Criticism is punished. And the correlation is lack of knowledge. Lack of knowledge prevents them from progress.

            Good explanations, those that are hard-to-vary, wherever they come from, are always welcome. Bad explanations or untested explanations are useful too, but in a different way. They can add to one’s own knowledge about how not to think. We sharpen our knowledge skills by always remembering that we could always be wrong. We apportion our certainty, our confidence based on hard-to-vary theory laden explanations.

            Mike, undead and optimistic

            Edit: (Many of these themes are coming from Karl Popper and Deutsch, I’m still learning their views and as they are at the forefront of my mind right now, my posts are going to echo them).

        • Dennis Bonnette

          Well, you want it short and I will accommodate you.

          You should have read me more carefully. You want to make me say that we "actually experience things in reality directly, or as they might really be."

          I did not say that, as you can see in my final paragraph. The certitude I affirmed was subjective in content: "total skepticism about the reality of the pain itself is impossible, since it is pretty hard to abstract the subject and object in the immediacy of that experience."

          You defeated a straw man. I suggest you reread my analysis much more carefully. It isn't easy to explain properly on a thread -- and I still prefer a classroom, where I can precisely express my meaning to live and reactive students.

          • Sample1

            Actually I wasn’t disagreeing with you, just offering my own ideas based on Popper, Deutsch and a bit of Quine. In fact, I caught that last bit of yours and was pleasantly surprised. It was great to see that. Sorry I didn’t point that out.

            Mike

      • Jeremy Klein

        Thank you for the answer once again! Your answer seems to coincide with this paper I read by O.K. Bouwsma, which was posted on one of Edward Feser's recent blog posts. It's reassuring to get some consistency between answers. :) http://home.sandiego.edu/~baber/metaphysics/readings/Bouwsma.DescartesEvilGenius.pdf

        I have two more questions I've been mulling over lately, but thankfully, they haven't been causing me to have epistemic crises.

        First, do you agree with Maritan's argument for PSR from PNC? I think you mentioned it in one of your articles about PSR. I tend to think it works, but I've seen multiple Thomists, like Clarke and Feser, claim that there's no contradiction about something coming into existence with no cause. However, I don't know if this is what Maritan is saying. Isn't he trying to say that, when something has no sufficient reason to exist, that thing has nothing differentiating it from being at any given moment, yet it exists anyways? Hence, the contradiction would lie in that this brute fact has being without being different from non being, since "ex nihilo, nihilo fit."

        Second, do you know of any good resources (such as articles you or others have written) or books about Aquinas' view on the soul? I've seen Phil make some good defenses and arguments for some kind of hylemorphism, but I don't know where they come from. Also, do you essentially agree with Aquinas' arguments for the soul, as he wrote about in his works?

        • Dennis Bonnette

          I tend to concur with your first case about the PSR and PNC. I think you will find that Maritain is merely following Lagrange
          from his God, His Existence and Nature.

          I may be less helpful on the soul question, since you probably already read my article on Strange Notions dealing with it. As for Aquinas's argument, I am most comfortable with the standard one from the formation of universal concepts.

          • Jeremy Klein

            Sorry, I actually meant Lagrange, not Maritain.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Actually, Maritain in his Preface to Metaphysics borrows a lot from Lagrange.

          • Jeremy Klein

            Another question I've wondered about for awhile: how can God be pure actuality if he can know contingent truths? Wouldn't these contingent truths be part of his intellect, which is part of his essence, making him contingent? Bill Valencia talks about this here (http://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/2017/10/how-can-a-simple-god-know-contingent-truths.html), and doesn't know what to make of it.

            Clearly, we can distinguish between God and his creation unconditionally, but I'm not sure how to make the distinction here. Is it possible that God knows what will necessarily happen if he freely acts in any ways, making God's knowledge of contingent things actually necessary knowledge and meaning that God still has no accidents?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Let me make one thing clear. I am just an old retired philosophy professor who does not know the answer to every possible question. Just because I cannot answer something does not mean the there are not other Thomists who can.

            That said, it seems to me that this confuses the knower with the thing known. We can know the fully extended image on a computer monitor fully unified in a single act of perception -- but this does mean that there must be hundreds of thousands of pixels inside our act of knowing. Immaterial acts of knowing unify the multiplicity of the objects known.

            Similarly, the contingency is in the object known, not in God. God necessarily knows a contingent truth when it has not yet been actualized one way or the other, and he necessarily knows it as actualized when it is. All contingency and multiplicity and limitation are in the creature; conversely not in the Creator.

            This is part of a spiritual agents ability to know what is multiple and divided in a simple single act of knowing, just as we do knowing the pixels unified as an extended image on this screen.

            Contingent truths are knowledge of contingent realities. God necessarily knows them as they are, that is, as contingent. But the contingency is in the creature. The mere act of knowing a thing as it is does not make the knower be in the same manner at the thing known. God has necessary knowledge of the creature, even though the creature exists contingently. This does not make God contingent, but just the creature.

            When I know a dog, I do not become a dog ontologically, but noetically I do. It does not give my intellect or sense powers fur and a wagging tail. That is simply the nature of knowledge. Amazingly, it conforms the knower to the known without conferring the ontological limitations of the thing known on the knower.

            So, too, God knows contingent things in their very contingency, but this does not make God ontologically contingent, even though he necessarily knows the creature in its contingency.

          • Jeremy Klein

            Thanks again. I apologize for using you as a resource so frequently. However, I sadly get the impression that Thomistic philosophers are a rare breed, probably due to the lack of prominence it has had in the last few centuries. It's just very convenient to ask you, that's all! I used to ask Phil a lot of my questions, but he's always quite busy already.

            I'll try to read some books on the nuances of Thomism, so that I don't have to ask as many questions in the future. (Those books by Maritain and Lagrange seemed pretty good when I looked them up.)

          • Dennis Bonnette

            It's nice to know one's a member of a nearly extinct species! :)

      • Jeremy Klein

        Just another question related to skepticism: I've been wondering for awhile now if radical skepticism can be considered self-refuting.

        In its strongest form, radical skepticism is an agnosticism about everything. But, for one to be an agnostic about everything, they must be certain about the fact that they are agnostic about everything. However, they would have to be agnostic about this too. But then, once again, the must be certain about their agnosticism in this regard, which defies their agnosticism about everything. Hence, to be a radical skeptic is self-refuting, since you have to accept something for certain in both the philosophical sense I mention here, and the experiential sense you mentioned in the comment I'm replying to a month ago.

        And then, if you can't be agnostic about everything, you might as well accept those things that we can know necessarily: that being cannot be non-being (PNC), that we know for certain that we have a sufficient reason to except that being cannot be non-being (for which we must assume PSR), that since everything has a sufficient reason it has a cause of its existence (PC)! From there, I think that one can quickly come to realize those metaphysical ideas and distinctions most commonly found in Thomism: the existence of God, final causation, act/potency, form/matter, essence/existence, hylemorphism, and so on/so forth.

        Sorry- at this point I suppose I'm just rambling. But, the more I contemplate philosophy, the more I realize that you're right- the PNC's implications are truly incredible!

        • Dennis Bonnette

          Yes. What I love about the PNC is it is so basic and evident to all. And yet, its implications are astounding. I love to watch naturalists try to explain where it comes from!

          >"that since everything has a sufficient reason it has a cause of its existence (PC)!"

          Well, not quite. Everything except God has a cause for its existence. God is his own sufficient reason. I define a cause as an extrinsic sufficient reason. God is his own intrinsic sufficient reason.

          • Jeremy Klein

            Oh, that was poor wording on my part. As per usual, you're correct. I should have said that every contingent thing has a cause.

  • Tom More

    Thanks so much for the excellent treatment here. I've been wishing to bone up on certainties in the human mind. I've been studying Aristotle and Aquinas ... thank God.. for years. The home of sanity. Cheers

  • Nova Conceptum

    “Absolutely Certain

    No one can actually doubt or deny the principle of non-contradiction – for the very act of denying or doubting presupposes its
    validity.”
    That is self referential assertion that is not universally
    applicable.

    “ To say “I doubt” is to affirm absolutely that you doubt,which is to deny its contradictory of not doubting. “
    Only in the case of “I”, a very limited case indeed. I am
    absolutely certain of my being in some form, but I need not be and in fact
    cannot be certain about the being, non-being, or the both being and non-being
    of anything outside my own sense experience.

    With due respect, Dr. Bonnette, you unjustifiably generalize universally from the seemingly tiny fraction of existence that is “I”.

    The PNC is not absolutely certain outside of ourselves,merely inductively demonstrated, intuitionally true, and true by incredulity with respect to the contrary.

    “This is because the PNC cannot be empirically verified,
    since every experimental method presupposes the PNC’s truth.”
    That misses the scientifically minded position. We materialists do not
    presuppose the truth of the PNC, we accept it provisionally until such time as
    a better principle is demonstrated.

    “it applies to all possible things, even those transcending
    physical reality.”
    The notion of a thing that transcends physical reality is incoherent If a thing is a thing then it is necessarily a part of physical reality, else it is not a thing.

    “If the laws of thought about being do not reflect the
    actual laws of being, the mind becomes utterly useless as an instrument with
    which to know reality. In that case, both natural science and common
    experience become unintelligible.”
    Ok, that is our tough luck in that case, the universe need
    not care about the uselessness of our reasoning capacities or whether the
    fundamental realities of existence are or are not intelligible to us.

    “It is absolutely impossible that knowledge of the PNC
    could arise through some mechanism of materialistic biological evolution,
    since it is impossible for strictly material causes to account adequately for
    strictly immaterial, that is, spiritual, effects, such as the human spiritual
    soul, whose intellect forms the PNC.”
    The PNC is just that, a principle, an abstraction, with
    abstractions being processes of material, the brain. There is no reason whatever to bar the brain from identifying the
    pattern that a thing does not seem to be simultaneously itself and the opposite
    of itself.

    The spirit and the soul are easily accounted for as fantasies, delusional abstractions with no actual existential realizations.

    In what sense do you assert the PNC is strictly immaterial?
    How do you demonstrate that a soul really exists?

    You are asserting a soul, which you assert is
    immaterial, which you assert forms the PNC so therefore the PNC is strictly
    immaterial and it is impossible for this to be the result of material
    evolution? I suggest that to be a very
    tenuous series of assertions indeed.

    • Dennis Bonnette

      You maintain, "The PNC is not absolutely certain outside of ourselves, ...."

      The reason I have not been responding to this post is simply that, if everything you say in it is correct, it is entirely possible that everything you have said is contradictory to reality -- so that no response is needed.

      Not only is this the only needed reply to your post above, but it is the only needed reply to any reply to this reply you may subsequently post.

      In fact, if you are correct, then everything you have said or will say could be entirely meaningless and unintelligible, since it may have no real relation to reality.

      I can only suggest that you reread my article more carefully.

      • Nova Conceptum

        @dennisbonnette:disqus

        The reason I have not been responding to this post is simply that, if
        everything you say in it is correct, it is entirely possible that
        everything you have said is contradictory to reality

        Indeed, I might be god and you might be a figment of my divine imagination. Or perhaps the other way around, and I am only a figment of your imagination.

        Or perhaps you are actually a mentally ill space alien strapped down in a cell on a planet in a galaxy far far away.

        Or maybe...well, I am sure you could dream up similar speculations if you wanted to, although I doubt you find that very interesting.

        So, yes, it is at least possible to speculate that nearly everything you say is divorced from reality because what you perceive as reality is just an elaborate fictional hallucination of some kind.

        Those of us who are scientifically minded materialists, however, provisionally accept that our senses are basically reliable. I am absolutely certain that I am experiencing the perceptions I experience myself perceiving, which is just one way of expressing the logic of cogito ergo sum.

        You also invoke the logic of cogito ergo sum in your assertion that the PNC is "absolutely certain". That is, in my opinion, a misapplication of such logic.

        Indeed, it is impossible to coherently doubt my own being in some form, but it is not impossible to coherently doubt your being for me, or my being for you.

        So, your invocation of the logic of cogito ergo sum to beings and properties of beings outside your own being is inappropriate and logically invalid.

        You have not absolutely proved the PNC, nobody has done so and published such proof into general circulation.

        The PNC is an axiom of logic. Axioms of logic are not absolutely provable, if they were, they wouldn't be axioms.

        I can only suggest that you reread my article more carefully.

        I have read your article and pointed out some, in my opinion, errors within it.

        But I appreciate you taking the time to write a response.

  • Pueblo Southwest

    Interesting article and can be visibly applied in today's world. The average politician simply states that a thing is just not what it appears to be and proceeds to substitute a more pleasing posit to his audience. It is a successful tactic a most discouraging amount of time.

  • Carl Kuss

    We are not forced to accept PNC, because formally (simpliciter) it is not proveable. This means that its not being proveable is not merely the fruit of assumptions (axioms) that we are associating it with. It is per se not proveable.

    The author of the article seems to be saying that the fact (or rather, the truth) that PNC is certain constitutes a kind of proof of PNC: It is certain therefore it is true.

    But PNC is not true because it is certain; rather, it is certain because it is true.

    PNC is certain, but that does not make it certain to us. It is true that PNC cannot be denied (or doubted) without self-contradiction. But the falsity of PNC is thinkable.

    Logicians affirm that if PNC is false (i.e. that true contradictions exist) all affirmations are both provably true and provably false (the Principle of Explosion).

    Provability is then universal.

    That is the thesis of Rationalism. And Rationalism is a thinkable position. The Magisterium of the Catholic Church rejected Rationalism in the Nineteenth Century. But it didn't prove that Rationalism (i.e. that everything is subject to proof) is wrong.

    Then how can we say that PNC is certain? There you have a good question!

    St. Thomas that God's existence is self-evident, certain and true but without being self-evident to us. St. Thomas affirms that God's existence can be demonstrated; but it it were self-evident it could not be demonstrated, for demonstration would not be possible.

    PNC (as metaphysical principle) must coincide with the being (esse) of God. Otherwise one would create an absurd multiplicity of self evident certain truths. When St. Thomas says that God's existence is self-evident he is saying that it is not subject to proof, because that which is self-evident is not subject to proof.

    But wait! Does St. Thomas not teach that God's existence can be proved?

    Here we run into the difficulty of language, but not a contradiction in St. Thomas. One can prove THAT God exists, but to prove that God's exists is NOT to prove God's esse, his very existence, which is self-evident and certain.

    God is a Mystery. He is Mystery with a Capital Letter.

    If empirical truths fall under PNC, empirical truths are demonstrable under PNC. This is why scientists affirm that empirical truths have the same certainty as mathematical truths. Science has faith in empirical truth. But the philosopher is free to ask the scientist why he has such faith. That is a good question.

  • Phil Tanny

    Bonnette writes, "And if nothing exists, the PNC remains applicable, since nothing cannot
    both not be, and yet, be."

    Hmm... Doesn't space, the overwhelming vast majority of reality, often referred to as nothing, both "be" and "not be"?

    There's "something" between the Earth and Moon, or they would be one. But this "something" has none of the properties we use to define "somethings" such as weight, mass, form, color, shape etc.

    Isn't most of reality somehow outside of human generated dualistic concepts such as "be vs. not be" and "exists vs. not exists"?

    I'm sure I don't yet fully understand your article, and so perhaps you can explain whether what I've asked is relevant?