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Why Reason Demands Absolute Certitudes

The concept of certitude itself is not very popular today. Most skeptics, agnostics, and atheists view natural science as providing the surest available rational knowledge, and yet, because of this very fact, view all knowledge, at best, to be a matter of very high degrees of probability – never of absolute certitude.

The inherent epistemological limitation of natural science is its inductive method, since observation of particular events can never produce universal certitudes – as famously argued by the Scottish skeptic, David Hume. Thus, those thinkers who claim to attain absolute certitude today tend to be viewed as being epistemologically naïve.

I aim here, not to demonstrate all possible absolute certitudes, nor even the most important conclusions of speculative philosophy, such as God’s existence or the human soul’s spirituality and immortality. Rather, I propose to show that (1) some cognitive starting points of philosophy entail certitudes, and (2) the proper use of reason necessarily implies some absolute certitudes about reality, which constitute universal metaphysical first principles.

What is certitude? Formal certitude is the firm assent of the mind to a proposition together with clear knowledge that the evidence for the assent excludes error and the possibility of error. Such knowledge will be made evident in the examples that follow.

Scio Aliquid Esse


The seventeenth century French philosopher, René Descartes, insisted that what we first know is expressed as Cogito, ergo sum; I think, therefore, I am.” In so doing, he recognized that, in the act of knowing, there is reflexive consciousness of the self as an existing knower. But what Descartes missed is that in every perceptive act of knowing – the kind first experienced in sensation – what is immediately known is given as an extramental object.1

The equally French contemporary Thomistic philosopher, Jacques Maritain, corrects Descartes’ omission by restating the initial proposition as “Scio aliquid esse; I know something to be.”2 In so saying, he affirms what is first and primarily known is something presented to the knower as an extramental sense object. It is solely in knowing such an object that I become conscious of my own act of knowing – and thereby, reflexively, of myself as the knower. In fact, direct experience tells us that both intramental and extramental objects are known clearly and distinctly, while they are also known as radically distinct from each other.3

Contemporary naturalists would argue that what is known is not directly something in the physical world, but rather some sort of representation inside the brain, presumably caused by an external object. And yet, to know that some internal image constitutes a representation of an external object would require somehow knowing both terms of that relationship. That logically requires directly knowing the external object at some point.

In fact, that is how we developed the scientific explanation of perception – by first knowing the extramental physical world, and from studying it, coming to the conclusion that sensation begins in an external stimulus caused by external objects and tracing the causal sequence from the external sense organs along nerve pathways to the inside of the brain, where, it is assumed, an image is somehow formed and known.

Of course, were it actually true that all the mind knows is the internal images of the brain, then the whole of science would be about images in the brain – in which case science would tell us nothing at all about an extramental physical world.

Still, prescinding from the question of whether what we directly know is some external object or merely an image inside the brain, it is immediately evident that what we know is not thought itself, but thought about something that is real in some way. Scio aliquid esse: I know something to be.4

This immediate experience is sufficient to give us absolute certitude that something is known to exist – regardless of its exact ontological status.

Even skeptics pay tribute to the realization that true knowledge consists in conforming the mind to reality. Error arises when what is known by the self does not conform to the really existing thing. Doubt arises when we fear that what we know may not conform to reality itself. But, in the act of perception, there can be no lack of union between the knower and the known, or else, no knowledge at all would occur. Knowledge actually occurs solely when there is union of knower and thing known.

This is why we cannot doubt the immediately known contents of perception.5 As children, we never doubted that the physical things around us were anything but real, since they are given to us as external in sensation – except for such internally-experienced entities as images or emotions. The external world around us is the primary given of sense experience, intellectually judged as such.

But Descartes rejected this whole world of things as his starting point. Rather, he took thought itself as his immediate knowledge – even forcing himself by convoluted reasoning to prove that extramental things exist, only after proving to himself God’s existence! Small wonder that Descartes’ inquiry, which starts with a subjective intramental starting point, namely, thought itself, inevitably led to subjective idealism – the denial that the mind can reach objective extramental reality.

Realist epistemology insists that Descartes made the fundamental blunder of thinking that the mind’s primary object is its own thought. Rather, thought is always of something other than the act of knowing itself. For this reason, we naturally distinguish between knowing a cow and knowing an image of a cow. The image is always secondary to direct experience of the extramental object.

Still, whether Descartes is right or wrong, what is absolutely certain is that in any act of knowing, what is immediately given is something existing in some way. That is sufficient for our purposes.

The Rules of Reason


No debate about reality’s nature can escape the use of reason. Defenders of naturalism and skeptics alike are bound by the rules of reason. One need not be a professional logician to know that (1) he cannot contradict himself and that (2) claims need to be supported in some fashion.

To say that contradictions are not permitted means that the same predicate cannot be both affirmed and denied of the same subject. I cannot simultaneously say that the moon is made of green cheese and that it is not, when speaking either of the whole moon or of its exact same part.

Even so-called “paraconsistent logics” are merely ones that try to maintain some limited coherence while ignoring or side-stepping such inconsistencies by denying the so-called “principle of explosion” that says that “if contradictories are true, then any statement is also true.” Yet, it is precisely because admission of any contradictories does lead to all statements being true that no exceptions to the principle of explosion can be admitted – ever. Or, as has been pointed out, in paraconsistent logic, “negation” is not really negation, but merely a subcontrary-forming operator.

Obviously, statements become unintelligible if they are ever permitted to mean the contradictory of what they say! Thus, the intelligibility of every possible proposition requires that its content be affirmed and not denied, thereby making the governing rule here absolutely universal.

Nor is it merely an axiom to forbid contradictions, since it is impossible even to posit an axiom without affirming what is proposed and denying its contradictory – and that includes positing the principle of non-contradiction itself. Thus, even to posit ¬(p ∧ ¬p) as an axiom is to presuppose that its contradictory is false, and hence, is to presuppose the very principle being posited.

To say that claims need support means that a statement or proposition must somehow be either (1) immediately evident or (2) that some extrinsic evidence proves it is true. A statement may be immediately evident either (1) because it is self-evident, as when I say every triangle has three angles, or else, (2) because it is immediately-known as when I say that I am presently experiencing some form of change or motion.

Failing to be immediately evident, any claim must have extrinsic evidence, or else, will rightly be dismissed as mere assertion with no reason to be believed at all. If you make a claim that is neither immediately evident nor supported by any extrinsic evidence, no one will listen to you. Nor should they.

These are the basic rules of reason that govern all rational arguments about anything. Everyone, including skeptics and agnostics, are bound by these rules – or else will have their statements derided as not worthy of any belief at all. These rules apply to all rational discourse between intelligent agents – governing all coherent communication between human beings, be they natural scientists, philosophers, theologians, or the proverbial man in the street.

The Rules of Reason are the Rules of Reality


But, do these rules of reason apply merely to logic and the mind alone? Why is reason the sole natural instrument we use to discover the true nature of reality? If these rules of reason do not apply to reality as well as to reasoning, then what is the usefulness of reason? If the rules of reason must apply infallibly within reason itself, must they not also apply to all extramental things as well?

If reason says that I cannot affirm and deny the same predicate of the same subject in making meaningful statements, then it must be that things, if they are real beings, cannot both be and not be in the same respect. Why is this so? Because, if affirming a predicate of a subject is to have any meaning in the real world, it must mean that some existential property is real in relation to whatever the subject of the proposition refers to in reality. And, if denying the predicate means anything in the real world it must mean that some existential property is not real in relation to that same subject. Hence, to say you cannot affirm and deny the same predicate of the same subject in a proposition must mean that, in the real world, you cannot have a property be both real and not real at the same time.

In a word, this necessarily implies the reality of the principle of non-contradiction. To deny what I have just said would amount to saying that the logical form of non-contradiction has no meaning in terms of reality – in which case the mental reasoning process would be absolutely irrelevant and useless in respect to reality, as I just stated above. Moreover, just as the rational principle must apply to every possible predicate – or else, every possible statement is true, so must its metaphysical corollary, the principle of non-contradiction, apply to every possible being. That is, just as its logical formulation must be universal, so too, must the ontological formulation of the principle of non-contradiction be universal. Otherwise, reason would not equivalently reflect reality – leaving rational understanding of the world unattainable.

The Principle of Sufficient Reason


As for the need for reasons in the domain of reason itself, nothing gets a “free pass” here. Reason itself demands a sufficient reason for every claim or assertion that goes beyond what is immediately evident in sense experience itself. Claims of “brute facts” are simply not accepted in the realm of reasoning. Every truth claim that goes beyond what is immediately evident in sense experience itself requires some rational justification.

Moreover, if such a need applies solely to reason itself, then reason becomes irrelevant to the search for ontological meaningfulness. If reason does not match reality, why deceive ourselves by using this fraudulent power at all?

As shown above, some statements are immediately evident, such as those that are self-evident or those immediately evident from experience. I gave an example above of a self-evident statement: “Every triangle has three angles.” This statement must be true since the definition of triangle entails having three angles.

So, too, if the nature of a real being requires a certain property, it is self-evident that it possesses that property. For example, if man’s nature is that of a rational animal, then rationality must be an existential property of man. Or, if a thing’s essential nature included its existence, such a being would necessarily exist. Essential definitions of real beings would be meaningless if they failed to include every necessarily entailed existential property of the thing defined.

It is also immediately evident that the reality of motion or change is “self-manifested” in the very act of being experienced.

That is to say, the fact of motion is immediately evident. But, what of statements about the facts of immediate experience which make claims beyond the facts themselves? For example, what if one says that motion is perfectly self-explanatory? Or, on the contrary, that motion requires a mover other than what itself is in motion?

There is a critical distinction here between the immediately evident fact that the motion itself is real and, on the other hand, any explanation as to why the motion is real. For it is not self-evident that self-motion is inherent in the essential nature of motion. That is, if it is claimed that motion’s self-movement is an essential property of motion, that claim itself must be rationally justified before it can be accepted as true.

Thus, even self-evident statements require an active defense of their self-evidence, or else they will not be acknowledged as self-evident. They cannot be merely asserted as a “brute fact.” Rather, the reason that they are their own evidence for being true must be defended by reason.

In the examples given, claims are being made beyond what is immediately given in experience. Whether motion is self-explanatory or needs a cause is not immediately evident merely from apprehending motion itself. As said earlier, such claims demand actual proof – or else, no sane person would simply accept one of these mutually-exclusive claims without adequate evidence of its truth. In a word, such claims demand a sufficient reason for belief beyond the mere statement itself.

Now, that sufficient reason could simply be that a given property belongs to the subject’s very nature, in which case, the claim would be proven to be self-evident. But if the property in question does not belong to the subject’s nature, then the claim is still in need of some explanation for the property being present, even though it does not belong to the essence or nature of the subject of the claim. In either case, some sufficient reason for the claim must be produced, which is the opposite of a “brute fact” – since “brute facts” require no explanation at all.

Therefore, claims about reality, which go beyond what is immediately given in sense experience itself, must either offer a reason why they are self-evident (1) because something about the very nature of the subject requires them to be true or (2) (hypothetically) some other intrinsic reason not based on the nature of the subject must explain why they are true. Or else, such claims are not self-evident, but rather (3) require extrinsic reasons explaining why they are true. In every possible case, some sufficient reason for the claim must be given – or else, there is no reason to take the claim seriously, since it is being made with no adequate reason or reasons for accepting it as true.

Since all such claims are claims about reality, the reasons needed for them to be true must be reasons pertaining to the real order of being, or else, such “reasons” are totally irrelevant as to why they would support the truth of the claim about reality being made, since it is a claim about reality, not merely about the way reason functions.

Moreover, this analysis is universally true and universally applicable, since it belongs to the very nature of how statements are understood and rationally defended.

If all this is true, then all beings must have a sufficient reason for their nature, properties, and existence either (1) within themselves (intrinsically) or (2) from something outside themselves (extrinsically, from a cause). This is, in fact, a statement of the metaphysical first principle of sufficient reason.

Moreover, if the above given inferences are not true, there is no reason to reason about anything, since the rational order would have absolutely no direct correlation to the real order of existing things.

Implications for the Science of Metaphysics


What all this means is that the universal fundamental rules of reason must also be the universal fundamental rules of reality or being. If statements cannot contradict each other and if statements must either be actively self-explanatory, or else, be explained by other statements, then this necessarily implies that beings cannot both be and not be and that beings must either be their own reason for being, or else, something else (a cause) must be their reason for being.

In a word, the principles of non-contradiction and sufficient reason must be universally affirmed by anyone who recognizes the rules of reason are correct and applicable to the real world. And if these most basic metaphysical principles are universally applicable to reality, as are the basic rules of reason, then they may be employed by metaphysicians as universal first principles necessarily applicable to all beings.

This means that the universal foundational principles of metaphysics are secure and certain. It means that the search for the ultimate existential basis for all finite beings is well-founded both in reason and in reality. It should then be no surprise that classical metaphysics employs these basic existential truths to lead the mind from the reality of finite beings, whose essences do not include their existence, back through a search of extrinsic reasons for their contingent existence, and ultimately to a First Cause for everything finite, the Infinite Being -- the God of classical theism.

But, it is All Backwards!


This essay has shown that the very intelligibility of rational thinking requires that the rules of reason are universally applicable to extramental reality: that logic has no meaning at all unless its rules that correspond to the metaphysical principles of “non-contradiction,” “sufficient reason,” and “causality” apply with equal universality and certitude to the real world as well as to the mental world.6

But, the Thomistic metaphysician – while accepting the truth of this necessary connection between the rules of reason and the rules of being – would immediately point out that this whole explanation is reversed from reality.

That is to say, it is not the rules of reason that dictate the rules of being, but it is the rules of being that dictate the rules of reason.

What the mind of man first knows is the concept of being – abstracted somewhat confusedly, but with certitude, from the first things it encounters in experience. This applies even to the subjective certitudes of experience described at the beginning of this essay. It is these initial certitudes (1) that being cannot be non-being and (2) that being must have reasons either in itself or from another, which force the mind to form the rules of reason that govern all our correct thinking and rational communication with others.7

Still, whether non-Thomists will accept this explanation or not, the very fact that all rational persons must accept the basic rules of reason, and that these rules of reason necessarily imply their universal application to extramental reality or being, is enough to establish with certitude the foundations for that very metaphysical science which is so anathema to contemporary naturalism. And it also shows us how certain absolute certitudes are possible.

Notes:

  1. Benignus Gerrity, Nature, Knowledge, and God (Bruce Publishing Company, 1947), 308-313.
  2. Jacques Maritain, The Degrees of Knowledge (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1959), 71-81.
  3. Benignus Gerrity, Nature, Knowledge, and God, 382-384.
  4. Jacques Maritain, The Degrees of Knowledge, 75-76.
  5. Benignus Gerrity, Nature, Knowledge, and God, 308-310.
  6. Benignus Gerrity, Nature, Knowledge, and God, 400-401.
  7. Jacques Maritain, A Preface to Metaphysics (Sheed & Ward, 1939), 90-105; Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, God, His Existence and His Nature, Vol. I (B. Herder Book Co., 1934), 156-198.
Dr. Dennis Bonnette

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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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  • what we know is not thought itself, but thought about something that is real in some way. Scio aliquid esse: I know something to be

    So help me out. By the "something known to be", what is the "something". Say I am looking down the road on a hot day and I see a puddle. Are you saying we immediately know this puddle to be there, and we are certain it is? What is certain? That the puddle is really there, that we are having an experience of seeing what appears to be a puddle, that we are having a thought about seeing a puddle, or just we are having a thought?

    I would say all we could say is that we are having the experience of seeing what appears to be a puddle. After that experience we can reflect on that experience and that is a thought/an experience about that thought.

    But do we agree none of this can give us certainty that puddle is actually there?

    • Dennis Bonnette

      You have to read this text very carefully. I presented both the Cartesian position and also the realist position, but then took no absolute stand on either one: "Still, prescinding from the question of whether what we directly know is some external object or merely an image inside the brain, it is immediately evident that what we know is not thought itself, but thought about something that is real in some way."

      I am not saying that the epistemological question cannot be answered, but we do not need to settle the question about the extramental existence of the puddle in order to know that the object of experience is immediately and certainly given in the act of experience itself. And that object, whether it is the extramental puddle or merely an image of a puddle inside my head, is "something that is real in some way."

      That is the only certitude I affirmed in this context. Do not conclude from this that extramental reality cannot be known with certitude, but do realize that that is a separate and distinct question.

      • Ok so all you're saying in this section is all we can be certain is that we are having an experience?

        When you say "This is why we cannot doubt the immediately known contents of perception", by "contents" you mean the mental but experience of perceiving a puddle, but we can certainly doubt that there is a puddle there.

        • Dennis Bonnette

          In the essay, I deliberately avoided trying to defend knowledge of an extramental object in perception. That does not mean it cannot be done. The fact is that sense knowledge begins with experience of an extramentally-given object. That means we experience being in a world of real physical objects other than ourselves. No one is a born idealist. That is why I said in the article that we all grow up as realists. Whether this "naive" realism is epistemologically justified is a separate question than what I defended in the article. All I said in the article is that the object as experienced was certainly known.

          Quite aside from the article's contents, just notice that when directly confronted with an angry dog about to bite you, you really have no doubt about its physical existence! But when the dog is gone and you just remember it, you can then doubt its extramental reality. What you cannot doubt then, though, is the remembered image of the dog, since that is what you now directly apprehend.

          • Yes, we can't doubt out thoughts. We can't doubt that we have an experience of being bitten or remembering it. But we can never be certain there even was a dog. Agreed?

            Or do you think there is a way to be certain the dog was there, you're just not making that case in this essay?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            " But we can never be certain there even was a dog. Agreed?"

            Well, I don't know about this particular dog, but my article makes clear that we have to have some direct knowledge of extramental reality, or else, we lose the very science that now makes us doubt your dog's reality.

            From the OP:
            "Of course, were it actually true that all the mind knows is the internal images of the brain, then the whole of science would be about images in the brain – in which case science would tell us nothing at all about an extramental physical world."

            But, no, I am not making the case for a realist epistemology in this essay. In fact, the main thrust of this entire piece is the rest of the article, showing that the universal rules of reason must apply to extramental reality.

          • But I'm not asking about knowledge, asking about certainty. Science doesn't have certainry about anything.

            I mean if a you're saying is we can be certain of the laws of logic and the existence ofour own thoughts/self, then just about every skeptic and atheist would agree.

            Are you not suggesting we can be certain if more?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            "I mean if a you're saying is we can be certain of the laws of logic and the existence ofour own thoughts/self, then just about every skeptic and atheist would agree."

            Since you are agreeing that we can be certain of the laws of logic, all you have to do is carefully read the rest of the article in order to grasp the implications of what you have agreed to.

          • I did. What implications do you mean?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Here are the final implications:

            "If all this is true, then all beings must have a sufficient reason for their nature, properties, and existence either (1) within themselves (intrinsically) or (2) from something outside themselves (extrinsically, from a cause). This is, in fact, a statement of the metaphysical first principle of sufficient reason."

            Now please do not tell me that you do not accept them, since they are preceded by the clause, "If all this is true."

            That means you must read and understand all the preceding reasoning that led up to the conclusion.

          • No, neither of those facts imply the PSR. The laws of logic and the cogito do not entail the PSR.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Neither of which facts? I did not give you facts in my above comment to you. I gave you my conclusions, which you had just asked for.

            You merely assert that the laws of logic (reason) do not entail the PSR.

            That is precisely what the whole article is about, which you do not appear to have understood.

            I cannot make you go carefully through my argumentation in the article. That is up to you. Merely saying that you don't "get it," does not make me wrong.

  • >As for the need for reasons in the domain of reason itself, nothing gets a “free pass” here. Reason itself demands a sufficient reason for every claim or assertion. Claims of “brute facts” are simply not accepted in the realm of reasoning. Every truth claim requires some rational justification.

    This depends. Logical validity does not, but sound logical argument does.

    This is a different presentation of the PSR than I'm familiar with.

    It seems here to be: any claim made, to be reasonable must have a sound epistemological justification.

    This is quite different than: everything that exists has a sufficient explanation for its existence either from an external source or its own nature.

    The former is an epistemological statement the latter an ontological one.

    You speak of immediately evident claims bit these seem more tautological. A triangle is three sided polygon doesn't make it evident that this is the case, its just a definition.

    While I would agree that tautologies are certain, this is just restating the laws of logic. A triangle is what it is: a three sided polygon.

    By contrast the ontological PSR, i.e. there are no brute facts, is by no means certain.

    >That is to say, the fact of motion is immediately evident.

    Ok but by evident do you mean certain? Our perception of motion is evident, but that doesn't mean any motion is actually occuring. For example if idealism were true there might be no actual motion. Unless you can be certain idealism is false, one cannot be certain of motion.

    • Dennis Bonnette

      Your dodging around distinctions between the "epistemological order" and the "ontological order" are precisely why I took so long to carefully lay our the reasoning that forces one to move from the way we reason to the way reality actually must be. This transition is partially explained in the follow citation from the article:

      "Since all such claims are claims about reality, the reasons needed for them to be true must be reasons pertaining to the real order of being, or else, such “reasons” are totally irrelevant as to why they would support the truth of the claim about reality being made, since it is a claim about reality, not merely about the way reason functions."

      You really must read my article point by point to see why the rules of reason, which even skeptics accept, logically force anyone to accept that they must also apply to reality itself -- or else, reason itself is useless and has no application to the real world.

      You comment about motion: "Our perception of motion is evident, but that doesn't mean any motion is actually occuring."

      What you fail to realize is that motion even within a mere perception is a real change itself, and this constitutes motion actually occurring. Even within an idealistic epistemology, change actually takes place in subjective experience.

      • I'm not dodging anything. You appear to be equivocating by suggesting reason demands sufficient reason for claims.

        Do you mean to be reasonable we need to be able to justify our claims.

        Or do you mean to exist a thing cannot be a brute fact?

        I do accept the laws of nature identity, non-contradiction, and excluded middle, but none of these demands sufficient reason for a claim.

        A brute fact is what it is, is not what it is not, and is nothing in between. There is just no explanation for its existence.

        What the laws of logic have and the PSR lacks is self-attestation. Even to be wrong the laws must be correct. But if the PSR is wrong it just means there are brute facts.

        • Dennis Bonnette

          What the article shows is that reasoning requires adherence to the PNC and PSR in your rational discourse. Since your discourse is constituted of claims about reality, if the rules of reason you are using are valid, they must be valid about reality -- which means that the PNC and PSR must validly apply to reality as well as reason.

          You still have a way out. Admit that reason is not valid and does not apply to reality. But do not try to argue this position with me, since if you are right, giving a rational argument in support of your claim no longer tells me anything about the real world.

          If you cannot understand or accept my brief explanation in this comment, I must simply refer you back to the entire article. Show me where there is a specific flaw in it. Don't just wave your hand and allege that it cannot be true.

          • Yes, good reasoning means logically valid structure and justified premises.

            But is that all you think the PSR is? That when reasoning your premises must be justified?

            There could be brute facts and I can claim there are brute facts. I may be able even to justify a claim that x is a brute fact. In so doing I would have conformed with the PNC, but proven the PSR false.

            Unless your version of the PSR is that only some facts have explanations.

          • Jim the Scott

            >but proven the PSR false.

            Which version of the PSR? The scholastic version or the rationalist version?

            Because the rationalist version is likely false. The scholastic version excludes propositions.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            “Justified”premises means premises for which reasons are given. There are facts for which no further proof is needed. Those are statements or propositions that are either self-evident or immediately evident, such as those immediately given in sense experience.

            But any other claims need justification in terms of reasons being given. You can claim that x is a brute fact, but x is some statement of fact. To claim that it IS a brute fact is itself a claim for which a reason must be given. And merely assuming that such statements exist is begging the question, since you are assuming that claims exist for which no reason must be given. This is precisely what the process of reasoning does not allow. Every statement of a claim beyond what is immediately evident in sense experience must be supported by adequate reasons according to the universally accepted rules of reason.

            Take a statement like “the Earth exists.” That needs no reason beyond the fact of immediate sense experience. But to say that “the Earth exists IS a brute fact” is a claim that needs supporting by adequate reasons. No one would let you simply make such an assertion without providing reasoning to support it.

            But, while “the Earth exists” is immediately evident through sense experience, the claim that it is a “brute fact” is not and needs proof. If it needs proof, it clearly does not, as a statement, escape the need for a sufficient reason. Mere assertion that this is a brute fact is not sufficient.

            That “brute facts” exist is precisely what is being challenged by my article. If there can be some brute facts, then the reason you give for why X is a brute fact could be just a brute fact itself, having no connection to truth and logic. In other words, the reason wouldn’t be logically connected to your conclusion, “X is a brute fact.”

            Now, if it's possible that the justification for the truth of your conclusion has no logical connection to the conclusion, then how could I possibly know that it does have a logical connection to the conclusion? And any attempt you make to try and show that your justification is logically connected to the conclusion “X is a brute fact” would be just another instance of a possible brute fact, giving me no motivation to believe it. In fact, it may be that my logical powers have no reason to track truth at all.

            In a word, unless all facts have explanations, as the PSR requires, the entire edifice of logical thinking loses all its underpinnings and, as my article argues, becomes useless -- even for skeptics.

          • You can claim that x is a brute fact, but x is some statement of fact.

            No, X is the fact, stating "X is a brute fact" is a statement of fact.

            And merely assuming that such statements exist is begging the question, since you are assuming that claims exist for which no reason must be given.

            No, there is no assumption that any brute facts exist, this is hypothetical.

            Every statement of a claim beyond what is immediately evident in sense experience must be supported by adequate reasons according to the universally accepted rules of reason.

            I would go further, even statements about what is immediately evident is sense experience must be supported by reasons. immediately evident sense experience is justified to the one experiencing it, but this experience cannot be conveyed in a statement.

            Take a statement like “the Earth exists.” That needs no reason beyond the fact of immediate sense experience.

            Of course it does. You're taking for granted that the claimant and recipient both agree on this because they both have this sense experience. Take this example, "the puddle ahead on the road exists" does this require no justification, even if it is sensed by claimant and believed?

            the claim that it is a “brute fact” is not and needs proof

            Of course. But this is not the issue. I agree claims need to be justified. But this does not mean brute facts are impossible.

            It may be the case no brute facts exist. It may be the case some brute facts exist and we can believe some do with justification. Or, it may be the case that some brute facts exist and no one could ever justify a claim that they do.

            In a word, unless all facts have explanations, as the PSR requires, the entire edifice of logical thinking loses all its underpinnings and, as my article argues, becomes useless -- even for skeptics.

            Your article does not argue this and you haven't justified this point. You are here saying, unless all things have explanations, no claim can ever be justified, why?

            Again, say the Universe exists and there is literally no explanation for its existence. It's existence is still immediately evident to observers, justifying their belief in it. Claims that it exists can be justified by the undeniable empirical evidence and billions of constant and consistent observations.

            What is impossible in such a scenario?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Let's face it. The only "brute fact" most skeptics are interested in defending is the existence of the universe without admitting the need for God's existence.

            The word, "fact," can be used just to mean the reality of a given being or state of being. Or, it can be used to mean a statement or proposition representing a judgment made about a being or state of being. This is part of why people get confused here.

            That the world exists is a fact that needs no proof beyond our immediate experience of it. (Whether one can communicate this reality to another is irrelevant to the truth known by the person experiencing the world.) The truth that "the world exists" is known in a judgment and expressed in a proposition. In itself, since it is immediately known in direct sense experience, it needs no further proof.

            But, when you make the philosophical claim that "the world exists is a brute fact," you are in fact making the remarkable claim that the world is just there, and there is no reason why it is there.

            It is precisely this sort of claim that no one gets away with in rational dialogue. This claim goes far beyond merely stating that the world exists. And this is why such claims, which go beyond a mere observation of what is evident in sense experience, require rational evidence, that is, a real reason is expected to be given -- one that shows in terms of real actually-existing things, why the claim must be true.

            That is what is meant by providing a sufficient reason for the "fact" that the world exists.

            That means that even the claim that there is no sufficient reason in reality for the world existing needs to be defended in terms of some evidence, based on reality, that shows that no explanation is needed in this case.

            But such a sufficient reason itself would contradict the claim that no sufficient reason need be given for the initial fact claim, which is, namely, that the world exists without any sufficient reason.

            This is why, more generally, a world in which sufficient reasons are not universally required is a world in which reason and logic cease to be effective, since you would never know when a reason would be required, when one would be sufficient, or whether any logical sequence of premises were actually connected in reality or not.

            The claim of my article is that the rules of reason require that the PNC and PSR be universally applicable to reality itself, since the explanations of all claims, that go beyond what is immediately evident in sense experience, must themselves be verified in terms of, not mere logic, but the real state of affairs in the really existing world.

            Real reasons for claims that go beyond what is evident in sense experience cannot be restricted solely to the order of second intentions, but rather must be based on extramental realities that support and show the truth of the claims proposed.

            This is why refusing to extend the implications of the function of logic and reasoning to the extramental application of the PNC and PSR necessarily implies that the rules of reason themselves are inoperable.

          • >That means that even the claim that there is no sufficient reason in reality for the world existing needs to be defended in terms of some evidence, based on reality, that shows that no explanation is needed in this case.

            >But such a sufficient reason itself would contradict the claim that no sufficient reason need be given for the initial fact claim, which is, namely, that the world exists without any sufficient reason.

            This is the issue. There is no contradiction in proving something is a brute fact, say the world. Because the explanation for why the world has no explanation, need not, and in fact could not, explain why the world exists.

            You say if the PSR is false wouldn't know if reasons are required, I assume you mean in rational discourse. This is not the case, rational discourse always requires reasons. It's just if the PSR were false sometimes no reasons would be available, or any reasons advanced would be wrong.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            "This is the issue. There is no contradiction in proving something is a brute fact, say the world. Because the explanation for why the world has no explanation, need not, and in fact could not, explain why the world exists."

            You have the wrong issue. I did not ask you to "explain why the world exists." I asked you to do exactly what you said you would do, namely, explain "why the world has no explanation." But that would be to give a sufficient reason for why you claim the world has no explanation, which is exactly what the PSR demands. That is, the PSR demands that every claim whose content goes beyond what is immediately given in sense experience be explained by reasons that apply to the real world.

            And you misunderstand the point of my essay. You admit that "rational discourse always requires reasons." Then you say that "if the PSR were false sometimes no reasons would be available or any reasons advanced would be wrong."

            Again, you miss the point. If rational discourse always requires reasons, then reasons had better exist, or else, our faculty of reason is inherently defective. If even skeptics intend to use reason to investigate the nature of reality, it has better be right about the need for reality to have reasons. Otherwise, reason itself is so defective as to be useless.

            As I said in the article, " If reason does not match reality, why deceive ourselves by using this fraudulent power at all?"

          • Ok, then you are not advancing a version of the PSR that isn't that every fact has an explanation, but that every claim must be justified in reasoned discourse?

            Our faculty of reason is not great, as it contends with numerous cognitive biases. But if the reasons we rely on are wrong, is this a surprise? I mean doesn't this happen all the time? That people rely on unsound premises? But if our justification of premises is wrong it is equally a problem with epistemology, not logic. Now if you conflate these into "reasoning", sure there are serious problems with people's reasoning. But problems with reasoning doesn't mean it has inherent flaws, just flaws. Of someone practices scientism, they will fail to accept evident facts. Or if people apply biblical literalism, like Ken Ham, they will wrongly dismiss evident facts like evolution.

            These problems do not render reason defective and useless.

            But this is beside the point. There is nothing about reason that requires everything have an explanation for its existence. Just that claims in discourse have justifcations. Whether the world is it is not a brute fact in no way depends on whether people claim it is or can prove it is.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I agree with you in not saying that reason always finds the correct explanation for all phenomena.

            What I AM saying is that reason always demands that there BE an explanation for every claim that extends beyond what is immediately given in sense experience, which IS a universal assertion of the Thomistic form of the PSR.

            (That form, just to clarify, states that every being must have a reason for being or coming-to-be.)

            My article is a detailed explanation as to why, if the faculty of reason is right about this fundamental demand for reasons for all claims (beyond what is immediately given in experience), then this universal demand by reason necessarily implies that reality itself is governed by the same need for reasons for all such phenomena, and that this constitutes affirmation of the metaphysical first principles of non-contradiction and sufficient reason.

            "But problems with reasoning doesn't mean it has inherent flaws, just flaws."

            No, if my article makes its point correctly, these are not just flaws in reasoning, but the very process of demanding explanations for all such claims is "inherently flawed."

            That is why the article takes over three thousand words to explain the existential implications of how reasoning works in human discourse, since this flaw negatively implicates not only the order of second intentions, but our most basic knowledge or reality itself.

            On the other hand, if reason is wrong in it demand for reasons for all such claims, then reason itself cannot be trusted in its most fundamental function -- together with the disastrous implications this would have for all human knowledge and science.

            Just to be clear, this is why the essay takes great pains to make clear that the universal demand that claims be supported by evidence or prior premises requires that the explanations be in terms of extramental reality itself.

            So that, if we cannot trust the mind to be right about the need for extramental reasons for claims, then we cannot trust it to be right about science or any of the other uses of reasoning about reality.

            This result would be damning for the function of reason itself. Not just a flaw in its use, but an inherent malfunction.

            Remember, we ALWAYS demand that the exponent of a claim must provide rational evidence for his claim. If this is not well founded, then we have no right at all to demand that any claim be rationally supported by reasons based on real facts about reality itself.

          • It's unclear what form of the PSR you're advancing. You define it as both:

            1) reason demands that there is an explanation for every claim.

            And:

            2) That every being must have a reason for its coming to be.

            Surely you see the difference?

            Of course reason doesn't "demand" anything. Humans define reasoned discourse as one in which arguments are strong if they are logically valid and have sound premises. So when we have reasoned arguments humans criticize premises that are not agreed or justified.

            I disagree that this implies reality is governed by a need for reasons. Humans engaged in reasonable discourse do. Nor if it did would this affirm the PNC. It's consistent with it, but the PNC is true irrespective of whether reason demands reasons. The PNC does not engage reasons at all, but only logic.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            “It's unclear what form of the PSR you're advancing. You define it as both:
            1) reason demands that there is an explanation for every claim.
            And:
            2) That every being must have a reason for its [being or] coming to be.
            Surely you see the difference?”

            Of course, I know the difference between saying that every claim requires an explanation and saying that every being needs a reason for its being or coming to be. That is why I clarified this relationship in my essay:

            “Since all such claims [that is, claims that go beyond what is immediately evident in sense experience] are claims about reality, the reasons needed for them to be true must be reasons pertaining to the real order of being, or else, such “reasons” are totally irrelevant as to why they would support the truth of the claim about reality being made, since it is a claim about reality, not merely about the way reason functions.”

            Thus, claims that go beyond immediate experience are really claims made about being, and hence, in demanding an explanation of such claims one is also recognizing the need for a reason for being or coming to be.

            “Of course reason doesn't "demand" anything. Humans define reasoned discourse as one in which arguments are strong if they are logically valid and have sound premises.”

            Perhaps, “reason” itself doesn’t demand anything, but humans using reasoning properly must demand that reasons be given for all claims about the real world. Humans demand reasons that are based in reality from anyone making a claim about reality that goes beyond direct experience. This is not simply a matter of what “humans define” as reasoned discourse. If you make such a claim and cannot back it up with sound reasons based on reality, no one in his right mind is going to listen to you – and with good cause!

            Every truth claim that goes beyond what is immediately evident in sense experience itself requires some rational justification, that is, a sufficient reason proving what is claimed is true. But, if such a need for a sufficient reason for the truth of a claim applies solely to reason itself and not extramental reality, then reason becomes irrelevant to understanding the truth about the world.

            What the skeptics do not grasp is that reason always demands explanations in terms of reality, not just some abstract logical argument. If you make a claim to me, you have to show me why reality supports that claim. Otherwise, I can make any claims I want and there is absolutely no need to defend them rationally.

            The simple truth is that the human mind always demands reasons for any claims that are beyond what is immediately evident, such as the claims that the universe needs a cause or that it can exist without any reason. As I have clearly shown in the OP, these reasons must be found in the reality we all share beyond mere logic and reasoning itself. This means that reality itself is bound by the need for reasons for all its aspects of being, or else, we must reject the most basic compulsion of the human mind. This last point would mean we can no longer trust our own minds to be reliable in either science or everyday experience. Presumably, even naturalists and skeptics would find this conclusion abhorrent.

          • George

            "the need for God's existence"

            Do you think it's possible that "God" could just mean whatever is convenient for whatever argument is at hand?

          • Raymond

            So what is a brute fact? Does this statement of yours define a brute fact?
            "There are facts for which no further proof is needed. Those are statements or propositions that are either self-evident or immediately evident, such as those immediately given in sense experience."
            And then this one:
            "That the world exists is a fact that needs no proof beyond our immediate experience of it. ...The truth that "the world exists" is known in a judgment and expressed in a proposition. In itself, since it is immediately known in direct sense experience, it needs no further proof."
            This sounds like "the earth exists" is a brute fact by definition.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Not at all.

            The fact that "the earth exists" is not a brute fact, but it is a fact -- a fact that is immediately evident in the noetic order through sense experience.

            But to claim that "the earth exists with no reason for its existing" would be a brute fact, since a brute fact is one that needs and has no explanation at all.

            The explanation for us knowing that the earth exists is our own sense experience. But the explanation as to why the earth exists demands giving some reason in the real state of things as to why it has existence.

          • No, a brute fact, in my understanding is a fact that has no explanation, no reasons.

            There can also be claims of brute facts, but I agree such a claim would need justifcation, just as claiming all facts have explanations needs to be justified.

            I don't have a clue is there are any brute facts, but I also don't see how they can be ruled out.

            This OP seems to suggest it's a necessary inference of logic itself.

          • Ben Champagne

            In order to do this, you would have to explain away all possibility to the contrary for said brute fact, thereby conforming to the PSR.

          • No I wouldn't. I would just need a sound basis to believe a fact is brute.

          • Ben Champagne

            Listen to what you are saying. 'Sound basis', thereby once again, proving the necessity of the PSR.

          • No, not at all. Unless by PSR, you mean "all claims must have a sound basis". But the PSR goes much further than that! It states that all facts have reasons, not just at claims.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            You are again missing a distinction I have already made clear.

            Some "facts" are directly evident in experience, such as that "the universe exists." But the claim that goes beyond the "fact" asserts things like "the universe exists without any reason for it existing."

            When you make the latter kind of claim, a "sound basis" for your claim needs to be in terms of actually existing conditions, or else no one will listen to you.

            But, actually existing conditions" are real ontological reasons, evident truths about reality that you can point to -- reasons that support your claim. In so doing, you are conforming to the principle that says we need a sufficient reason (in reality) for every claim.

            Otherwise, human reason is inherently untrustworthy.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          Everyone talks about these brute facts, but no one ever seems to produce one.

          • Just like gods!

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            'Fact' is from factus est, meaning something that has been accomplished, a deed, a feat. so it is something observed, seen, heard, smelled, tasted, or otherwise touched. Hence, a fact is something material.

            To the Greeks, Poseidon was not just an old man who liked under the sea. Poseidon was the sea, and the sea was Poseidon. But Poseidon was not a brute fact. He was the son of Chronos, that is, of Time.

            God is something different from gods, and like mathematical theorems, cannot even in principle be a fact, not even a 'brute' fact.

          • Everyone talks about this god, but no one ever produces her.

          • Brute Facts end up negating themselves. Metaphysical Reductio Ad Absurdum is chosen over Metaphysical Closure.

            A basic example via a basic fallacy:

            (A) “It Turns Out That “3X” Actually Piggybacked Off Of “X”. Therefore 3X Is Fallacious. Because [Knowledge].

            (B) “Calculus piggybacks off of subtraction & addition. Therefore calculus is fallacious. Because [Knowledge].

            The [reductio ad absurdum] there is that *everything* [Piggybacks] off of [something]. Therefore, *IF* one means to tow that line *THEN* one’s Reason had better Piggyback all the way home — to Reason Itself vis-à-vis Being Itself.

            But that is of course what the Affirmation of Brute Fact ipso facto refuses — and for no good....reason.

          • How do you know everything piggybacks off something?

          • You misunderstood. The fallacy is that various X's are claimed to be error "because they grew out of" various Y's ((so to speak)). Whether it's Polytheism and Monotheism and Math and Calculus and so on is not the point. The "IF/THEN" is the point. It's fine if our Non-Theist friends want to "trace the steps of knowledge" back to "whatever" but IF they wish to do THEN they need to finish the job which includes their own epistemic experience, their own first person experience, their own reasoning "therein" itself. And so on.

            Given Metaphysical Naturalism's Necessary Conservation of [No-Mind] and/or [No-I-Am] as with respect to the fundamental nature or rock bottom or explanatory terminus of ANY-thing, and the Non-Theist's commitment to that necessary conservation, it all leads back eventually to the sacrifice of Mind/I-Am at some ontological seam somewhere. Of course that's just regular old Eliminativism, which is fine. But the fun part is when our Non-Theist friends try to avoid that sacrifice of Mind/I-Am at some ontological seam.

            Of course, if you AFFIRM such ((Mind/I-Am)) as reality's concrete rock-bottom ((Etc.)) well then you ipso facto deny the Elminativist's "A" along with his "Z".

            You seem to have mistaken the above for a defense of Theism rather than the "IF/THEN" it actually was regarding the Non-Theist's Piggybacking Tendencies which he is forever employing even as he is forever denying them.

            This comment is http://disq.us/p/27c7cwv

          • Actually

          • No idea what you're on about sorry.

          • Then why did you ask about the validity of the claim that Knowledge Piggybacks off of Knowledge? The narrow lens is some sort of simple fallacy such as “Christianity piggybacked off of Judaism which piggybacked off of...” and etc. Whether that is the topic or mathematics ((...Calculus piggybacks off of...)) or the Philosophy of Mind // Consciousness ((....and therein **reason**...)) is irrelevant as the fallacious If/Then is the same in all cases.

            It seems now you are claiming that you don’t recognize that method of how Knowledge grows and piggybacks ((Etc.)) after asking how I know it’s a valid claim that Knowledge piggybacks. I’ll pretend you’re kidding.

            It’s not a problem to make those references on how Knowledge grows & piggybacks etc. if one believes that it’s a helpful path wrt “Knowledge”. In fact we observe it in neuroscience too as we explore and unpack the nature of “Mind”. But then that just is the topic of this thread — that of the nature of reason and therefore of mind and what areas of data inform other areas of data as our understanding of neuroscience grows.

            At some point though ((...and this is the part you will pretend to not understand...)) that very same process runs into “itself” as we’re forced to employ our own first person experience ((...perception of self / mind “i-am” / Etc..)). Whether it’s reductionism / elimitivism or non-reductive Physicalism or Theism or Idealism and so on isn’t the point — instead the point is whether or not one means to apply that same process of Piggybacking // Mapping to one’s own abstractions and indeed to one’s own self / mind too ((...and therefore to “reason/reasoning” by default...)). If one doesn’t that’s fine too as that simply leaves one with no epistemic ontology/justification other than having granted one’s own mind a kind of immunity to the process — as if one’s own mind / perceived self ((...first person experience of “i-am” etc...)) is itself a Brute Fact.

            Typically that doesn’t do well as the stopping point for the aforementioned Piggybacking and so Non-Theism’s Piggybacking typically goes on into emergence either with or without Eliminativism. In all cases though the simple observation is how Non-Theism cannot “End” or “Terminate” in “mind itself as being itself”.

            Which is fine but as pointed out the fun part is to watch our Non-Theist friends insist EITHER that they are NOT sacrificing Mind at some point before they reach their terminus ((....else Theism...)) OR that they are BUT it does not matter.

            Is your explanatory terminus for “contingent consciousness” something OTHER than “Non-Contingent” ((Necessary)) Consciousnesses?

            Options:

            Non-Reductive Physicalism TRIES to get “close” to that but the Piggybacking morphs into equivocation and into “physics free of physics” ((David Bentley Hart has a few insights on that topic)) — meanwhile Idealism & Panpsychism also claim a terminus of consciousness.

            You?

            This comment is https://strangenotions.com/why-reason-demands-absolute-certitudes/#comment-4797953033

          • Tom More

            How can anyone who denies the necessary MIND at the ground of being still continue to use words.... all of which assert intelligible order and an intelligent; Mental ordering intentionality. If one denies the final end cause, one denies all the mini ends along the way. Its like the parallel and related foolishness of atheistic views of evolutionary science speaking about "higher"life forms or beings.. as if their view permitted such judgments after the imposition of MINDlessness.

          • Tom More

            Aww...what a cutie... so fashionable. And offering as an alternative to Einstein's MIND and Aquinas's Love as final cause... the not even stupid. Not even stupid isn't a great answer its the refusal of the operation of one's own mind.

          • Raymond

            Ahhh...semantics. Assuming that a word means exactly the same thing that it originally meant, despite the passage of time and vagaries of translation. Refreshing,

          • Jim the Scott

            They also fail to make a distinction between a metaphysical brute fact vs an epistemological one and they also equivocate between the two gumming up the discussion with confusion & irrelevancies.

            An Epistemological brute fact is something that has no known reason to be vs a metaphysical brute fact which refers to something that has no reason for its existence because there is none and can be none in principle.

            God in the Classic Sense according to the Scholastic PSR is His own reason to be. God can't be His own cause be He can be His own Reason to be given He is Pure Act.

            Then there is the tendency to confuse the erroneous Rationalist PSR with the correct Scholastic one.

            Tedious...…….

  • Ficino

    We can't have certitude about the names of God when they are predicated analogically.

    But it doesn't follow from that that we can't be certain of the PNC.

  • Dennis Bonnette

    The simple truth is that the human mind always demands reasons for any claims that are beyond what is immediately evident, such as the claims that the universe needs a cause or that it can exist without any reason. As I have clearly shown in the OP, these reasons must be found in the reality we all share beyond mere logic and reasoning itself. This means that reality itself is bound by the need for reasons for all its aspects of being, or else, we must reject the most basic compulsion of the human mind. This last point would mean we can no longer trust our own minds to be reliable in either science or everyday experience. Presumably, even naturalists and skeptics would find this conclusion abhorrent.

    • Chris Morris

      I've often found that "simple truth" may be too brittle to carry much weight and that, while many naturalists frequently suffer from such sclerotic thinking as to see the world in the extremely black-and-white form suggested here, the whole point of scepticism for me is that "truth" is very rarely simple and that withholding judgment in areas of uncertainty doesn't prevent one from getting on with life with reasonable certainty.

      • Dennis Bonnette

        I will happily admit that simple truths are relatively rare. Still, the principle of non-contradiction is one of them. And the fact that the human mind demands that claims which are not immediately evident require reasons before acceptance is another.

        • Chris Morris

          Well, I don't know about your mind but my mind tends to the view that the principle of non-contradiction and my mind's need to demand reasons for non-obvious claims are both things that generally make sense only in a wider (or the widest possible) context. Of course, this isn't a claim that I would expect anyone to accept at face-value but simply an observation that human minds don't always work the way we expect them to.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            It isn't that " human minds don't always work the way we expect them to," but rather that we sometimes voluntarily reject what they expect.

            I can always form propositions that conflict with basic principles. For example, although I know that contradictions are impossible, I can still form a proposition that says that they are possible -- even though I cannot really think an actual contradiction as real. That is, I can say "square circles" are real, even though my mind cannot actually countenance one.

            So, too, I can say that I can enunciate a claim that goes beyond the immediately evident and then say that there is no reason for it, but my mind still expects no one to believe me without my stating a reason -- and for good reason.

          • Chris Morris

            Rather than contradictions being impossible, my view would be that the human mind is, itself, a contradiction (or, perhaps, the contradiction); a process emerging from the incompatibility of the contradictory elements, whether they are termed 'physical' and 'non-physical', 'individual' and 'collective' or whatever, depending on the context.

            Presumably, you would see the soul as the solution to that dichotomy. I would take a more Hegelian view that there is no solution but that we're engaged in a continual juggling act which provides the driving force for social change.

          • Chris Morris
          • Dennis Bonnette

            Of course, one thing can contradict another. But the PNC simply points out that this does not occur at the same time and in the same respect. Contradictory forces can beget outcomes found in neither force. But none of this itself contradicts the impossibility of simultaneous contradictions. Otherwise, everything you have written here and I have written here would be meaningless, since its contradictory meaning would equally be asserted. We all know Hegel effectively denies the principle through his dialectic, but that does not make him right regarding the principle itself. Rather, he hypothesizes a process which essentially ignores the contradiction in order to generate his needed becoming. That, of course, Marx picks up later as a theme for his dialectical materialism.

          • Chris Morris

            Well, what Marx derived from Hegel is neither here nor there. Hegel's view, which so many people fail to grasp, is the very opposite of 'ignoring the contradictions', rather it is that, as human individuals, we are the act of holding that contradiction, not resolving it but living it as a process.

            As a sceptic and a relativist, I wouldn't make the claim that this view is correct or 'meaningful' per se, but in the context of how I experience the world it makes sense to me. So, yes, if I were making some claim to absolute truth your "...everything you have written here and I have written here would be meaningless..." would be correct but it is meaningful in a particular context.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Of course, in an existential sense of living one's life, it is possible to allow contradictories to stand in suspended opposition so as to drive forward some agenda. But that has nothing to do with the ontological status of their simultaneous impossibility in respect to the exact same unit or aspect of reality.

          • Chris Morris

            Yes, as I say, it's the context that decides: there can be no contradiction in the physical realm (as in, it's either raining or it's not raining) but in social reality, where we become truly human, contradiction is foundational.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            But even in the social realm, if you look closely enough at what you are talking about, there are no real contradictions in the same exact unit of reality. There are contradictions between diverse groups, perhaps, as in the case of political theory. But invariably when the opposing positions are worked out in the concrete, we achieve what we call compromise, whereby each side concedes parts of its agenda and gets other parts. But the parts conceded and gained are not contradictories as such. Specifically, we give up A to get B, and they give up B to get A. The contradictions exist only until some agreed course of action is taken, and within it, there are no outright contradictions.

            Even in the Marxist dialect, the capitalists are overturned by the workers, thereby achieving the utopian classless society.

          • Chris Morris

            I'm looking a lot more closely than that. When I say "foundational" I mean that, in order for anyone to recognise themselves as having an individual identity requires that they understand themselves as an instantiation of the species but, at the same time, differentiate themselves from all other members of the species.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I have no problem with that as long as we understand that that which makes us like the rest of the species is distinct from that which differentiates us. The principle is never violated.

            Edit: in fact, if you forgive my putting this into hylemorphic terms, Aristotle would say that the form is what puts us into the human species, but the matter is what makes us a unique and distinct individual member of the species.

          • Chris Morris

            That's an interesting view but my intuition on this suggests to me that, if that were the case, we would lack the driving force which is the source of all our creativity and our problems. We are fundamentally absurd and the greatest comedians are the ones who most articulately identify with that absurdity but who are consequently also the most likely to be self-destructive such as Tony Hancock, Lenny Bruce, and Robin Williams.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I am sure that creativity arises from tension many times -- and that tension arises from conflicting forces and/or rights. But none of that violates the principle of non-contradiction. It just means that conflict seeks resolution that ends the conflict somehow. Thus warring nations achieve peace when one wins. But they don't both win at once. Yet, it they do reach an armistice or treaty, it is only by giving up on contradictory agendas.

          • Chris Morris

            I suppose this all comes down to a question of 'paraconsistency'; if one believes that there is only a single, all-enveloping, context then the idea of a contradiction continuing through time makes no sense (in the way that, for example, the concept of tragedy did not make sense for Plato) but, for me, this fails to account sufficiently for the real change that we know and experience in the way we understand ourselves as individuals and our relationship with social structure.

            You contend that "...if they do reach an armistice or treaty, it is only by giving up on contradictory agendas." However, in reality, this is not how things work. Take 'Truth and Reconciliation' in South Africa for example; the crimes and horrors committed under the apartheid regime remain real, they are not synthesized away, but a new context has been constructed which may work or it may fail. This pattern is repeated throughout the human experience because it's a manifestation of a real contradiction underlying what it means to be human.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Without trying to explain why each example you give does not violate the principle of non-contradiction, I would simply ask you to examine very carefully every example yourself. If you do, you will find that the "contradictions" you find are never contradictions of the exact same part of reality at the same time.

            You center on what your call the "real contradiction of what it means to be human." I am well aware of the existentialist writers who note what seems to be the fundamental absurdity of the human condition. But that does not mean that any genuine contradictions exist.

            For example, we recognize the superiority of intellectual thought in man, but then lament that man seems to be "a drop of reason in a sea of emotion." Yet, these alleged "contradictions" are, at most, simply paradoxes, which look contradictory, but turn out not really to be such. Thus, while reason is truly superior to emotions, emotions can drag us about so forcefully that we often do irrational things.

            Again, none of this even touches a denial of the principle of non-contradiction.

          • Chris Morris

            I can well understand how difficult it might be for you to engage seriously with this view, accepting instead to see humans as minds which accidentally have a body attached to them creating desires and needs that lead the mind astray but I think the arguments for both embodied and socially embedded cognition are becoming increasingly convincing.

            To me a world of certainty and minds unfettered by connection to emotion just seems so sad; what point would there be in creating or enjoying something so irrational as this:

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ihx5LCF1yJY

            A couple of weeks ago I had this brief exchange with Ken Samples around the same subject:

            https://reflectionsbyken.wordpress.com/2020/01/28/friday-philosophy-from-peter-kreeft/

          • Dennis Bonnette

            My saying that we often do irrational things in no way detracts from the fundamental dignity of man. Nor must one sacrifice the superiority of intellect over the sense appetites in order to appreciate the unity of intellect and sense expressed in such beautiful music as your video manifests.

            The Christian doctrine of original sin explains the paradox of mankind -- creatures so noble in spirit, but so often mired in the depravity of cruelty and vice. Christianity itself is a call to mankind to allow itself to be raised by grace back to its original dignity and holiness, all the while allowing Augustine's City of God to stand nobly shining in the midst of the earthly City of Man.

            Again, the paradoxes of our present earthly existence do not abrogate the reality of the principle of non-contradiction.

          • Chris Morris

            Yes, that stands as a description of one family of explanations as to how we might understand ourselves now and, in the form presented through all the articles you've written on this site, it holds up well to critical analysis but (as a sceptic, my 'but' is always going to get in the way...) the problem with any 'complete' explanation (that is, a closed circle - so this applies to Hegel and 'scientism' as much as to Christianity) is that, from inside the circle, it's very difficult to see or imagine anything being outside the circle.

            Which is why the idea of creativity is so central to this view that I'm struggling to clarify (to clarify to myself as much as to anyone else); it seems to me there must always be the possibility that there will be a space for things which don't fit inside the circle. If it were true that "...we understand that that which makes us like the rest of the species is distinct from that which differentiates us" then it seems to me creativity and history would simply be contingent stories which run alongside us rather than acts which we perform that are essential to our identity. I suspect that, if the PNC actually applied to human consciousness at the most basic level rather than being a very successful invention that allows us to communicate in ways that couldn't happen previously, a complete scientific understanding of human consciousness leading to a fully operational general artificial intelligence would now be available.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            "I suspect that, if the PNC actually applied to human consciousness at the most basic level rather than being a very successful invention that allows us to communicate in ways that couldn't happen previously,..."

            I am going to try to get inside your concern by first expressing what I suspect is the heart of your objection here.

            I think what you may be getting at is the idea that, while my epistemological and metaphysical worldview is coherent in itself, there is always the possibility that it is so self-contained that it fails to encompass a wider view that goes beyond it inherent limitations. Perhaps our minds just evolved to see reality this way, and so, we cannot, even in principle, grasp that there is a wider reality outside the box in which we operate. Therefore, we fail to grasp the limits and exceptions that could and would only be evident in that "transcendent" world, of which our reality is merely a part.

            Am I getting close to your objection's essential insight?

            My response must be schematic at best, since this touches the deepest epistemological insights of realist philosophy.

            The reason that the PNC is truly universal, and even transcendent all the way to God, is that it is a law of being, not essence. If I encounter a chicken, my mind forms a universal based on the essence of "chickenness," which holds good for all possible chickens. So, if you show me a chicken, I already know something universal about it. But if you show me a non-chicken, my knowledge may fail, since it applies to all chickens only.

            Here is the central insight. If I encounter a being, my mind forms a confused but essential concept of being, which holds good for all possible beings. (Note the parallel to Kant's a priori forms of all possible cognition?)

            Now, if I encounter another being, the universal concepts applicable to all beings apply. But what if what I encounter is a non-being? Well, while there can be non-chickens, there are no non-beings. Thus, my concept of being, as well as all the metaphysical principles that hold good for the nature of being, applies to anything that can possibly exist, whether immanent or transcendent to my consciousness and world.

            That is an agonizingly brief response to your skeptical concern. A more complete response would take an entire course in realist epistemology! Here is a link to an earlier article of mine containing some of this reasoning, but also with some more elaborate explanations:
            https://drbonnette.com/are-metaphysical-first-principles-universally-true-part-ii/

            Hope this helps.

          • Chris Morris

            "Am I getting to your objection's essential insight?" Yes, I think so although this is directed at your worldview only in the sense that I happen to be talking to you at the moment; it applies to my worldview and any others just the same. And I approve of the quotation marks around transcendent in this context as I think much of the motivation for Hegel in developing and criticising Kant's work was to make sense of/absorb that transcendentalism under the influence of an Aristotelian immanentism perhaps.
            "Thus, my concept of being... applies to anything that can possibly exist, whether immanent or transcendent to my consciousness and world."
            "A being lacking sufficient reason has no explanation for existence either within or outside itself, which means nothing differentiates it from non-being."
            But it seems to me that we must have some notion of non-being preceding having sufficient reason in order to recognise that we know anything in the first place. As you say, our intellect forms the concept of being "from its very first experience of anything at all" so that it must, at that point, be able to distinguish between being and non-being.

            I'm dubious about "Metaphysical reasoning inevitably demands assent to the existence of an Ultimate Cause of all creatures, a Cause that is quickly recognized in terms of the classical understanding of God." I haven't yet come to the point where my metaphysical speculations demand that an ultimate cause must exist. I think that so long as there is a possibility that something has always existed and that, at some future time, scientists may prove that life from inanimate matter is possible then "inevitably" is an unwarranted certainty. However strong the logical arguments are, by themselves, for such certainty they would have to give way to any strong scientific evidence in my view.

            I share your frustration that these conversations can never do justice to something as fundamental as this. To quote Rob Abney, "everything is connected" so there doesn't seem to be anything that isn't relevant at some level to the discussion.

            Your mention of David Hume in your essay makes me want to share this photo. Whenever I'm in Edinburgh I like to take time out to have a quick word with Hume and lately I've found that Jehovah's Witnesses have set up their stall nearby - I'm sure without any sense of irony at all.
            https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/d00fb5d3563cd14bdc5ac7b856f9c5e8681e3ed09ff38526ab745a7883e500d0.jpg

          • Rob Abney

            "I think that so long as there is a possibility that something has always existed and that, at some future time, scientists may prove that life from inanimate matter is possible"
            This is the hope that you have that someday you can have certainty, but until then you will have the despair of skepticism and relativism. You seem to have contradictory beliefs.

          • Chris Morris

            Rob, it should be fairly clear from what I've written that I do actually see being human as contradictory at the most basic level. However, I don't see any contradiction at the level of the chronological process of moving from 'not knowing' to 'knowing'; that I know things now which were not available to me when I was a teenager, for example, does not present a contradiction between my 67 year old self and my 17 year old self, it's simply that I know things now that I didn't then.

            I presume that, if you've grown up with the certainty of the Catholic Church, it will be very difficult for you to see scepticism and relativism in any terms other than despair but any problems deriving from the lack of certainty that I experience seem to me to be a natural part of being human - an opportunity for changing, learning, and growing rather than a cause for abandoning hope. If you look at the photo above I don't think you see someone trapped in a pit of despair!

            I have no expectation that those scientific discoveries, if they're even possible or they ever happen, will occur during my lifetime so I have to assume that these are things that I may never know along with all the other things that I will never know. I think that we all work with the world we find ourselves in, a world which seems to be an inextricable mixture of the physical environment, the various overlapping cultural and sub-cultural contexts that we move through and our individual reactions to those elements most of which are subject to change over time periods which range from thousands of years to a few days.

          • Rob Abney

            I'm referring to the despair of not knowing that is the essence of skepticism and relativism. You may not be experiencing despair yourself because you have this hope that one day you can have certainty. Future possibility of knowing is not comparable to knowledge gained from past to present.
            I also don't expect you to have despair because you probably do have certainties though you claim skepticism but I suspect that you classify those certainties as relative to yourself.

          • Chris Morris

            In that case I won't take it personally, then! However, I'm not sure what I can say philosophically in reply. Maybe you're right and I'm simply pretending that I don't have any expectation of certainty, maybe I'm being untruthful in claiming scepticism while secretly holding to certainty. Well, actually, no; what I'm suggesting is that I (and I suspect a lot of other people) live a life in which we can be reasonably certain of some things, absolutely clueless about many things, and totally oblivious to not knowing some things that we ought to know. This may well be a source of anxiety at times but, as I say, it is also the possibility for creativity.

            I'm slightly bemused by the idea that "future possibility of knowing is not comparable to knowledge gained from past to present." I know things now that I didn't know before so I know from past experience that I will know things in the future that I don't know at present. This process will go on until I die or develop dementia. This is one of the things I'm reasonably certain about.

          • Rob Abney

            I'm not denying that you will know more in the future, I'm saying that what you know now, from the past, is real and what you expect to know in the future is unknown, so you can't base your present certainty on "unknown" knowledge.

          • Chris Morris

            "...so you can't base your present certainty on "unknown" knowledge."

            I must confess, I'm even more confused now. What "present certainty" is this?
            I'm slightly dubious about classifying knowledge from the past as being more "real" than the potential knowledge in the future. Is 'unknown' the same as 'unreal'?

          • Rob Abney

            Yes, in this case unknown is certainly unreal. But, the whole point of my first comment to you was to note that your skepticism doesn't seem to be comprehensive since you expect truths to be discovered, whereas a full-on skeptic would say that "we cannot know".

          • Chris Morris

            "Yes, in this case unknown is certainly unreal." I don't know; I think that may be a subject for a long philosophical debate but my whole point (and one that other people are making, too) is that my scepticism is not "comprehensive". Show me a "full-on skeptic", the idea of "comprehensive scepticism" seems meaningless. The fact that I am, presently, sceptical of some view because I lack some knowledge in that area in no way implies that I regard it as impossible for me or anyone else to ever be reasonably sure about anything. As a sceptic, I couldn't support that level of certainty...

          • Rob Abney

            Ok, good, you agree that truth can be known, you just have certain things in particular that you don't know. But do you still consider yourself a relativist, that some truths are personal only?

          • Chris Morris

            I would say that I'm reasonably confident that we can know some things that seem to apply universally (Boyle's Law, for example, which describes the relationship between the volume and pressure of gases very accurately), including some things which apply to the relationship between humans and their physical and social environments (for example, in the other thread of this conversation I've just asserted something, about dementia, as being more correct than Dennis's view because my experience in that area leads me to have confidence in that assertion).

            This doesn't seem to me inconsistent with the idea of knowledge having meaningful contexts which may sometimes be contradictory. So, yes, I think we each create a framework formed by a cross-fertilisation of our multifarious cultural contexts and our individual reaction to those contexts which maintains the process of our identity in such a way that we may well know things that only apply individually. This presumably gives a phenomenological view of philosophy, that I need to describe how I experience my reality and compare it to other people's experience of their reality in order to discover the differences and commonalities.

          • Mark

            certain of uncertainty

          • Ficino

            Rob, I think people may be pulling different senses out of "despair" in what you write. Do you mean a subjective feeling, or a recognition that some x is not going to occur (or is not likely to occur), or something else?

            I think there are many things that will be discovered in the future, and I'm fine with supposing that the answers to some questions cannot be known. Though in that case I start to wonder whether the questions are best called "pseudo-questions." Anyway, I don't walk around with a subjective sense of "despair" about the limits of our knowledge. When I was a fervent believer, I accepted the line that non-belief entails despair. I think that line is akin to the line that non-belief entails no basis for morality. I don't see the basis for those lines now. I don't feel despair over not knowing whether in a particular case our cognitive capacities give us access to a Sufficient Reason or not.

            The whole movement of Pyrrhonian Skepticism in fact claimed to release people from anxiety (or despair), and help them gain peace of mind, by showing how many of the big questions debated by other philosophical schools can't be answered. Though Sextus never says he stops inquiring. It's fun to delve into the retorsion arguments he used against Stoics et al and the retorsion arguments dogmatists used against skeptics!

          • Rob Abney

            I'm referring to the despair that a human has when he cannot do what a human is capable of doing, in this case being able to discover deep truths. That despair might manifest as anywhere between depression and elation depending upon the person's other aims in life (political, religious, social, etc.)

            As far as myself avoiding despair, I had a period in life where I was a believer but without any classical theism understandings, at that time it was easy to be dismissive of those who preached that God loves me. But now I can know that God loves us all and has made us to know Him, based upon my understanding of deep truths.

          • Hope? Certainty? This is either a fact or not, we can have good reasons to believe it or not.

            We don't now, we may never. But the same for gods.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            For some odd reason, I did not realize you replied to my previous comment made some two days ago. I was not intending to ignore you.

            And thank you for that picture of yourself and your mentor. It is a bit distant to see you clearly, but that is a great improvement over our usual dialogue with unseen interlocutors on this thread. If you have not seen it yet, here is a video of me made some five years ago when I was "only" about 76. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rVCnzq2yTCg

            As for your comment itself, I must remind you that I was forced, because of our limited space here, to give but the barest outline of the foundations for my worldview.

            The most basic ontological insights are the battleground of anyone's total worldview. That is why getting "being" right is crucial. You are right in seeing that some notion of "non-being" must precede "sufficient reason," but I don't see that a great problem. We form the improper concept of non-being by comparing diverse beings and seeing that one lacks the being another has (qualities of being, of course). By extrapolating those relative instances of non-being to the notion of universal negation, we form the very odd and perplexing notion of "non-being." We can describe what we mean, but there is no proper direct concept of it!

            Central to the position of skepticism found in Hume and most moderns is an implicit commitment to sensism and materialism. That is why metaphysical insights and arguments seems more like "word salads" than forceful demonstrations to modern skeptics.

            But that is also why my OP was designed, not to give a direct defense of the PSR, but to show that any denial of it leads to the destruction of that very reason that is central to both our everyday reasoning about the world and, especially, to the necessary use of reason in natural science (since science is the new "god" of modern skepticism and materialism).

            If one is willing to abandon all reason, then anything follows. But the application of the PNC and even the PSR to social contexts is inevitably secondary to these principles initial foundation in classical philosophy.

            I hoped I made clear in my previous thread comment that pointing to metaphysical principles as "inevitably" leading to an Ultimate Cause was in no way intended as a proof, but merely as a map showing where I find basic principles of being lead the mind.

            "I think that so long as there is a possibility that something has always existed and that, at some future time, scientists may prove that life from inanimate matter is possible then "inevitably" is an unwarranted certainty."

            Something "always existing" in no way avoids the metaphysical argument that God is still needed to explain why anything exists at all. See this: https://drbonnette.com/how-cosmic-existence-reveals-gods-reality/

          • Chris Morris

            Replies get easily missed - Disqus still seems to struggling, so no problem.

            I have to say two things first: I'm jealous that you have more hair than me and I wouldn't regard Hume as a mentor. I've just finished reading a biography of Adam Smith by Nicholas Phillipson (highly recommended) which gives a good picture of his relationship with Hume and both were clearly first-rate human beings - hard-working, modest, entirely honourable, and extremely well-liked. However, my view, reinforced by the book, is that they were both very practical men whose published works were dealing with very specific problems in a particular context. Much of the problem that I see in the criticism of Hume, particularly, comes about through taking his views out of that context and attempting to present them as universals.
            If I had to name some 'mentors', the names that come to mind first are Max Horkheimer, Stephen Toulmin, and Alisdair MacIntyre which seems a rather odd crew.

            Yes, all of these posts are necessarily bare outlines and I try to keep that in mind when I'm responding which is why I frequently experiment with personalising them. Of course, it would also be strange for an embodied cognitivist such as myself to be satisfied with communication through disembodied words on a computer screen.

            I like what you're saying about forming an "improper concept of non-being" rather than a direct concept of it. I'll have to spend some time thinking about that before I can comment on it. However, the "implicit commitment to sensism and materialism" is something I can deal with. Depending on what "sensism" actually means here (empiricism or phenomenology or something else?), I think it should be reasonably apparent from my reply to Rob Abney below that materialism is not a necessary implication of my views expressed here. As I said to Rob, I'm content to recognise the probability that I won't ever find an answer to the question of the ultimate foundation of reality. That being the case, I choose to concentrate on making sense of the reality I find myself experiencing.

            Part of that project involves trying to persuade people that seeing the world purely in terms of two opposing factions with 'no-man's land' between them is not productive. I'm quite sure there are a few such as Dawkins and Harris who hold that radically materialist view just as there are some Christians who read the Bible literally and believe that the world is 6000 years old but the vast majority of people are happily spread along the continuum in between.

            For me, this is where Toulmin comes in, especially with his reintroduction of casuistry. I find the idea of considering the PNC and PSR as primary in their appropriate social contexts much less dangerous than trying to force a universal rule in inappropriate circumstances. Nothing I've written here is attempting to negate any metaphysical argument for the existence of a supernatural realm; like yourself, I'm simply trying to make sense of how the world appears to me.

            I hope to find time tomorrow to watch the video of your presentation.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            That video of mine is the only one I ever had made and it was just one of my students in the free courses I not give who made a video of one of my classes. So it is no more planned out than a typical college class of mine. That is why there are a couple places where I just could not remember a name, Stephen Jay Goulds' in this case!

            Thank you for "fleshing out" a bit where you are coming from intellectually.

            I used "sensism" in that contest as meaning simply the position that claims that all cognition is at the sensory level. That is, it denies that intellectual knowledge is qualitatively different from sense knowledge. I would think most materialists are sensists, which is why they reduce all knowledge merely to brain activity and deny the spiritual character of universal concepts and acts of judgment and reasoning.

            " I find the idea of considering the PNC and PSR as primary in their appropriate social contexts much less dangerous than trying to force a universal rule in inappropriate circumstances. "

            The problem as I see it with what you say here is that, if I am right about their universal metaphysical nature as fundamental truths of being, the PNC and PSR are really not being forced onto "inappropriate circumstances," since they must apply to everything -- like it or not.

            In fact, it is in "social contexts" that there is much more room for give and take, since the nature of society requires accommodation of conflicting views for peace, harmony, and progress. Thus, given that people are defending different circumstances, there is no violation of the PNC in them differing in agenda, although it would indicate that only one side can be right if truly contradictory views are advanced.

            But, in themselves, I would argue that the PNC and PSR are quite harmless and indeed beneficial! For all they insist on is that we not contradict ourselves (which would be insane) and that things have reasons for them (which makes reality rational). In fact, was not the point of my article to argue that failure to accept the universal application of the PSR to reality necessarily implies that reason cannot be trusted and that science would be impossible without it!

            Given how many apparently reject even these most basic principles of being and reason, it is hardly surprising that there is so much total disagreement about the general nature of the world. I do not see them as some sort of metaphysical dictatorship, but as allies in the work of man's mind to make sense of his life and its purpose within an intelligible universe. But we must agree on these basic starting points, or debate about the rest of it appears pointless and a waste of time.

          • Chris Morris

            I've now had a chance to watch the video once and take some notes but I'll run it again later in case I've missed something. I'll try to respond both to the video and also your previous reply in one go although I may well run out of time before I get everything I want to say down.

            First of all the lecture is, in a way, an example of why I'm here commenting and trying to present a case for resisting the temptation to see the world in terms of two monolithic opposing sides which require us as individuals to make an absolute choice to be in one camp or the other. In fact, at one point in the lecture you do, I think, actually tell your students that they have to choose either your side or the side which you have presented as the only alternative. This, it seems to me, is using the PNC in a way that is far from being harmless or beneficial.

            In the second half, when you begin to address the question of "what does it mean to say that Richard Dawkins exists?", you make a good start on analysing what I regard as the paradoxical nature of individual identity. As you say, we are a conglomeration of physical parts most of which symbiotically keep us alive (I think I'm correct in saying that we contain more parasites, viruses and bacteria than actual human cells and that some are more readily identifiable as 'part of' us than others) while some parts of us work against keeping us alive, for example cancer and cholesteatoma but all of them providing us with our physical identity.

            Similarly, we are a conglomeration of cognitive parts that also keep us alive and are held together in some fashion, mostly through memory and various filters, to form our individual identity, our social self. This process is a reflexive movement involving my recognition that I know myself as human because I recognise other people as human and they recognise me as human but at the same time I understand that they are not me and they recognise that I am not them. To paraphrase John Donne, in other words we must continually struggle and necessarily fail to be an island. When memory and filters start to dissolve, as happens with the various forms of dementia, those various cognitive strands start to unravel and the individual identity disintegrates.

            Now, comparing this view with your definition of "sensism" and materialism, am I reducing all knowledge to mere brain activity? I'm not sure; perhaps I should claim "structured ignorance" (a phrase I learned from Luke Breuer) but our knowledge seems to me to exist in many layers of cultural spaces, some many thousands of years old and some changing almost on a daily basis, sustained by many brains and informed by the physical environment. It does appear to be 'common sense' that some thing must be required to connect the mental and the physical if we are to claim some freedom from being physically determined so perhaps 'soul' or 'spirit' is the answer but I really don't understand what those words stand for. Maybe Davidson's anomalous monism is true and there doesn't actually need to be a connection. At the moment, I don't have an answer.

            What I am sure about, though, is that even those who feel not even the slightest inkling of doubt that they've found the Ultimate Truth should be promoting the view that there must be two irreconcilable camps and that everyone must be in one or the other. I agree that those basic principles can, and should, be our allies in making sense of the world but if they're used to polarise views rather than provide an umbrella to allow different views to understand each other then they do become a dictatorship.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I think we have to be careful not to make these individual comments too long and complex, both for the readers and, at least, for my own comprehension!

            One thing you must remember about that video. It is a quick summary of a lot of material -- most of which is explained in far greater detail in the rest of the course. And, among other reasons not to make too much of possible ambiguities, is the simple fact that I cannot give the rest of the course in these comboxes! Condensing that extensive a thesis into one hour is a daunting task. Try it.

            Moreover, the PNC IS applicable to such matters. If defined rightly, either you are a materialist or not. Either you reduce all reality to space/time or not. The principle of excluded middle excludes some forms of fence sitting.

            "When memory and filters start to dissolve, as happens with the various forms of dementia, those various cognitive strands start to unravel and the individual identity disintegrates."

            This line above reveals your own struggle to maintain some "individual identity" in the face of a very complex earlier description of the many, many parts that make up the human organism. But here is precisely where the PNC is relevant. Either you are substantially one being or not. Either you have a single substantial act of existence that unifies all that is "human" in you or not.

            The only way to assure that Richard Dawkins or you or I actually exist is if there is some unifying principle that constitutes all that is really "this human being" as a real being in the world. I can see you struggling to maintain some sort of personal identity, which sounds more and more like some epiphenominon of neural activity -- something constantly at risk of disappearing into the nothingness of dementia!

            Given that most all the cells of the body are replaced every seven years or so, maintaining real personal identity from birth to death makes suspicious that the returns of our pensions are being made to someone other than who earned them!

            No. Here again the PNC cannot be simply ignored. Either we are really one being, or else, we dissolve into a myriad of interacting parts that really have no more personal identity than a name and an identity number (in the States, we would say our Social Security number). That is why I would defend my charge that, while atomism may exist as a philosophical system, atomists do not -- since their own worldview (however you dispute the exact terminology) does not sustain the "I" with which they constantly make philosophical arguments.

            "I agree that those basic principles can, and should, be our allies in making sense of the world but if they're used to polarise views rather than provide an umbrella to allow different views to understand each other then they do become a dictatorship."

            Right reason is not a dictatorship. It frees the mind from illusions of ignorance. Sometimes views ARE polarized, and impaled on the PNC. And rightly so.

            Indeed, remember that, if the PNC is not absolutely most certainly true, you cannot even grasp the meaning of this sentence, since its opposite meaning is equally true.

            "...

          • Chris Morris

            OK, I'll try not to make too long a post here. And as for condensing a substantial thesis in to a one hour lecture, no chance; I become hopelessly tongue-tied as soon as I try explaining anything in that type of situation.

            Rather than an over-burdened response, then, I'll link to a paper by Graham Priest titled "Kant's Excessive Tenderness for Things in the World, and Hegel's Dialetheism" which I think provides quite a good summary of the some of the ideas I've been trying to make clear.

            In regard to your "This line above reveals your own struggle to maintain some "individual identity"..." In a general sense, yes; it reflects the necessary struggle that makes individual identity what it is. On a personal level, it's a result of my experience of twenty years working as a carer looking after dementia sufferers. During that time I watched many people undergoing that experience of gradually losing their identity so one of the few things of which I am fairly certain is that the assertion "either you are substantially one being or not" does not describe fully the reality of our identity.
            http://grahampriest.net/publications/papers/

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Since Graham Priest's paper is 135 pages long, I suspect you miss the point of my suggestion for briefer comments. Frankly, I don't have time to study and write another dissertation. I have done that once and that was enough. I think it more profitable to limit thread comments to concise points of agreement or disagreement that other readers can more easily follow.

            Being nearly eighty-one myself and with three friends now suffering the effects of dementia, I have great sympathy for the pathology you properly lament. Still, that has absolutely nothing to do with substantial unity of a living human organism.

            If a thing does not have substantial unity it lacks the basic meaning of "being" that we have always attached to the word, as when we say that a bee or a horse or a man is a being.

            We do not say Joe has ceased to exist because he now has dementia, since we understand that a being's substantial unity extends far beyond the proper functioning of neural networks in the brain.

            That is why solely some unifying principle such as Aristotle's substantial form makes sense of the near universal understanding of what it means for a thing to be one thing. That is why I raised in my video the basic question: Does Richard Dawkins exist?

          • Chris Morris

            Sorry, I thought I could link directly to the paper but it only links to his list of papers. If you scroll down the list you will find the paper which is only, I think, 19 pages and only takes a few minutes to read.

            "Still, that has absolutely nothing to do with substantial unity of a living organism." But we're not talking about just a living organism, we're talking about a human individual with a name, whether that name be Richard Dawkins, Chris Morris, or Dennis Bonnette.

            "We do not say Joe has ceased to exist because he now has dementia" - only because we need to respect the identity that once belonged to that name. In reality (and I'm sorry to be so brutally frank about this) in late-stage dementia that individual identity no longer exists.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I did try scrolling down, but only found what I reported to you.

            While understand what you are talking about in dementia, I strongly disagree. It is little different than a person under deep anesthesia. His mind is essentially inoperative, but he is still a single living, breathing human whole being lying on the operating table.

            The real question is in what sense we are one being. I am saying what common sense has always said, namely, that I am not just the brain in my head, but the "whole" of me -- from top of my head to the bottom of my feet! You are redefining the conventional understanding of a single living substance and equating it with just the part of the brain associated with self-conscious identity. This is simply an atomistic philosophical position which flies in the face of the universal experience of mankind -- except for Democritus and his modern followers.

            Moreover, this common sense experience is supported by the facts that (1) all the parts act for the good of the whole and (2) we have direct cognitive awareness of everything that acts on or in our entire body as well as direct cognitive awareness of actively commanding all the parts under direct motor control as we wish. I don't want to get into this latter part of the argument, but these latter points are largely why common sense drives most human beings to think that they are not just their brains, but the whole of their physical body combined with mental experience.

            Remember, if we are merely the neural networks associated with certain cognitive behaviors and experiences, how do you maintain your existential continuity from conception to death, since most all the cells in your body are replaced evey seven or so years. I know. You can make a case for some kind of software continuity, but, I submit, this gives the real "you" at a given time about as much long term survival chances and are actually present for someone about to enter a Star Trek transporter!

          • Chris Morris

            Graham Priest's published papers are listed in chronological order, with 19 papers listed under 2019. The paper on Kant and Hegel is the 18th, so the penultimate one on the 2019 list.

            "It is little different than a person under deep anaesthesia. His mind is essentially inoperative..." This is one of those rare occasions when I can say that I'm right. Dementia is nothing like anaesthesia; the various cognitive faculties that constitute the mind are all very much operative but the sense of identity which ties them together is gradually lost, thus the dementia sufferer is living in an alien landscape. Without the unifying process of identity, that person loses the ability to maintain the framework with which we make sense of the world, the thing that reveals or creates the significant connections that we recognise as a 'world'. Without that framework, that ability to recognise meaningful connections, all we have is random, meaningless, objects and that is exactly what people in the later stages of dementia experience until eventually they completely forget that they ever knew any meaning at which point they find peace. However, most people die before they reach that stage as it tends to be a very long process.

            "I am saying what common sense has always said, namely, that I am not just the brain in my head, but the "whole" of me..." Which part of 'Embodied Cognition' do you not understand? How many times in these conversations have I explained that this is one of the essential foundations of my world-view? I'll let you in to a little secret: your brain is part of your body - your body won't function without it, just the same as it won't function without your skin or your liver.

            I think your need to have your views accord with 'common sense' suggests you've led a somewhat sheltered life. Having lived in many countries and countless different cultures and worked in many different occupational categories, one of the things that such wide experience has shown me, as I've mentioned previously, is that 'common sense' is rarely common and often doesn't make sense especially when evidence shows it to be mistaken.

            The human body is made up of hundreds of different types of cells divided into two different categories, eukaryotic and prokaryotic, and mostly they live between a few days and a year. On the other hand, neurons in the brain are different. Up until the 1980s it was widely accepted that, after embryonic development, those neurons weren't renewed. Since then, work by Nottebohm and Weiss among others has suggested that it's possible for stem cells to migrate from the lateral ventricles and form immature neurons which can integrate with the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus where they may have a role in learning and memory. Whether this hypothesis is confirmed by further evidence, the brain is clearly a very special part of our body.

            However, your attempt to present this as a pure dichotomy, as though there can only be a straight choice between your Thomist view and the simple-minded materialism of those you regard as the opposition, misses the true complexity of being a human social individual, a complex system comprising physical, psychological and social elements.

            My apologies for yet another long post but I think it's important to be clear about this.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I finally read Priest's article and thank you for a quick refresher of material I had not seen much of since my graduate school days.

            It did remind me though of how absurd Hegel's claims really are. First, Kant used his antinomies of pure reason to prove, not that contradictories are legitimate, but to prove that the transcendental use of pure reason leads to such absurd contradictories, and that this proves, not that contradictories are acceptable, but that, because they are unacceptable, the transcendental use of pure reason itself is illegitimate.

            For that reason, Kant insists that his a priori categories of all possible cognition must be forever limited to the phenomena, and that any use of them in the noumena entails a totally wrong and false entry into the world of flat out contradictions.

            Hegel, totally misconstruing the thrust of Kant's epistemology, then endorses straight out contradictions, using, for one example, the absurd case of motion, which he claims is an instance of actual contradiction. I say this is absurd precisely because Aristotle solved this problem two millennia previously by simply pointing out that matter remains while form changes, so that what exists in one way at one time exists in another way at a later time -- thus avoiding the absurdity of saying that the thing in motion both is what it is and is also not what it is at one and the same moment.

            Thank you for reminding me why Hegel's attack on the PNC was tantamount to intellectual suicide.

            So as to limit my comment here, I will end it and reply to the rest of your comment separately.

          • Chris Morris

            If you're adding a further comment, I'll just give a quick response to that point in the meantime.

            "It did remind me though of how absurd Hegel's claims really are." There you are, you see; we do agree on absurdity, it's just the ontological status of absurdity that we disagree about!
            Hegel isn't, I think, misconstruing Kant so much as reacting against that extreme dualism. Yes, some of the examples he used seem rather silly at first sight but the way Hegel's insights have spread and developed indicates to me that this is not suicidal.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I guess if one wants to live with contradictions, that is a choice, such as was Hegel's, that can be made. But it is in violation of the most fundamental fact of reality. I prefer to follow reality.

          • Chris Morris

            Of course, I unhesitatingly support your right to believe that. I think I've sketched a reasonable case for why I've gradually found myself seeing reality as something different from that view. It would, perhaps, be a very slight concern if I thought that my view was utterly unlike anyone else's but I'm aware of many people who share very similar ideas and the reasoning and evidence supporting them so I'm content to let my comments stand if you feel that you've spent sufficient time refuting them.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Can both your view and my view be equally true at the same time and in the same respect?

          • Chris Morris

            Both our views - the experience of reality of any individual - cover a vast area and are made up of a multitude of different layers of cultural contexts so there will almost certainly be many aspects or elements of those views where there are differences some of which relate to personal contexts that don't overlap and can, therefore, both be correct without contradiction, others where we share a context in which case we may find that one is correct and the other is not and so on throughout the whole continuum.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            You essentially just affirmed the PNC by admitting that there can be different perspectives in which opposing views can be expressed, but they do not actually contradict since the contexts "don't overlap, so both can be correct without contradiction -- while there are other shared context where "one is correct and the other is not."

            That completely comports with what the PNC says.

          • Chris Morris

            I'll reply to both your posts here to keep the conversation from splitting up too much.

            I'm sorry that my articulation of these ideas is so poor that it's given you such a wrong impression of my views. My objection to the PNC is the P bit. I'm quite happy to agree that we can have disagreements where one is correct and the other is wrong - that should be clear from our discussion of dementia - and that we can have disagreements where it doesn't matter or it can't be decided whether one is correct and the other not but, at the level of individual identity, as far as I can understand there is a necessary contradiction - I am both you and not you.
            So I'm sceptical of non-contradiction being a Principle.

            I'm not sure how serious you were in your response to my dentist example but that doesn't seem to answer the point so I'll let it go. However, the A-T view of science is worth looking at. Yes, I think you're correct in saying that modern scientific methods depend on a somewhat contradictory tension between empiricism and rationalism but this is precisely the thing that has made physical sciences so successful. When it comes to the results they produce, this contradiction doesn't enter in to it - the results stand by themselves. This necessarily limits modern science to the physical environment as the contradiction becomes increasingly problematical as the investigation moves in to the social realm.

            "It is not a question of whether we are "entirely contained in our brain circuitry," but whether the entire human organism constitutes one being." Yes, of course, I and you and every other person have an individual identity which is a complex of physical, psychological and social; that's what makes us human. But the view I'm presenting holds that this unity is maintained as a process by those three elements working together.

            "I fear your view is so atomistic that it loses the substantial reality of the living whole person in favour of some accidental unities of partial subsystems of the whole." No my view is that presenting reality as a dichotomy entirely divided between atomism and holism is to "miss seeing the wood for the trees". Yes, a person does cease to be that individual in the later stages of dementia - I've watched it happen and the families sometimes spend years mourning the person they've lost as that identity gradually slips away. To some extent it's the horrifying experience of watching that happening so many times over the years that motivates me to spend time on these blogs and Facebook conversations trying to get this message across. So, for me, this is less about logical categories and fancy analytical arguments (although these have their place, too. A large part of our reality is created, made available, through language so words are important) than the 'flesh and blood' everyday experience of life which is undeniably real but, I suspect, much more complicated than you're suggesting to your students.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            "So I'm skeptical of non-contradiction being a Principle."

            I am not so sure you are. In practice, you apply the PNC every time it appears needed! And with good reason.

            I have not given the direct argument for it before, since my article doe not give it. But the simple fact is that the mind always sees the truth of the PNC from the first moment we encounter being and form an initial and even confused concept of being. The mind sees being just as the sight sees color. And once seen, it is forever self-evident that what is cannot be what is not.

            Yes, I will defend the principle as absolutely universal. As I said earlier, while the laws of chickenness hold good for all possible chickens, but may fail for non-chickens, the laws of being hold good for all possible beings -- and there aren't any non-beings!

            "This necessarily limits modern science to the physical environment as the contradiction becomes increasingly problematical as the investigation moves in to the social realm."

            My point is that modern science's very method presupposes epistemological realism -- or else it could not deal with the real extramental world, as well as the PNC and the PSR, since these principles are needed to affirm clearly what data is observed and how we reason from hypothesis to its verification.

            Moving these basic principles to the social realm tends to fudge their application in the minds of many, but not because they cease to apply. It is just that we hypothesize social concepts which appear to conflict abstractly, even though the reality "on the ground" again never can conflict with such universal principles actual application.

            "Yes, of course, I and you and every other person have an individual identity which is a complex of physical, psychological and social; that's what makes us human. But the view I'm presenting holds that this unity is maintained as a process by those three elements working together."

            Here is where we part company again. You can define humanity sociologically, but that is an abstraction based on confusing two things: (1) the concrete living individual substance, and (2) the social interactions that substance has with other human agents.

            Individual humans interact in society without losing their individual substantial being, even though external factors may profoundly impact the quality of their lives. So, too, although dementia can profoundly disturb the subjective psychological experience of the individual's personal unity, this in no way destroys the ontological substantial reality that a human being is "one thing" until death itself.

            In a word, I do not deny either the complexity of human experience nor the drastic impact of brain disease on the subjective living of personal identity. But these realities operate at a secondary level that presupposes the actual existence of the individual human being regardless of this whole panoply of psychological and sociological factors which take place at what A-T philosophy calls the accidental order of being.

          • Chris Morris

            Unfortunately, I've been laid low by a virus so this will only be a brief reply (for which you will be thankful!).

            "In practice, you apply the PNC every time it appears needed." My point is I'm not applying any principle, some things are contradictions and some aren't.

            "...the simple fact is that the mind always sees the truth of the PNC from the first moment we encounter being..." I really don't know that this is true; perhaps what you're seeing is that, in order to maintain a sense of unity in our identity, we feel a very strong need believe the PNC. Perhaps this is why people become so distressed by the idea that it's not the underlying universal principle.

            Modern science presupposes very little. It's a pragmatic enterprise where the results decide whether it works or not.
            "Individual humans interact in society without losing their individual substantial being, even though external factors may profoundly impact the quality of their lives." This seems to me very much the sort of atomism that you claim to disagree with earlier. My view would be that what you refer to as "the accidental order of being" is not at all accidental or contingent. We are, at the deepest level of our being, the product of our entire history and our various cultural contexts as well as our individual response to those pressures.

            Time for me to take another paracetamol and go back to bed.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            "My point is I'm not applying any principle, some things are contradictions and some aren't."

            But you ARE applying the PNC if you realize that contradictions are impossible.

            Your alternative explanation of why we "believe the PNC" is interesting -- and there is little room here to debate the matter, but I maintain still that the mind has no choice in the matter because it literally "sees" being just like the sight "sees" color. We not only know being, but we know that we know it and that it is as we know it. That is why no one really can reject the PNC or say that you can get being from absolutely nothing at all (NOT a quantum vacuum!).

            "Modern science presupposes very little." On the contrary, it absolutely presupposes extramental realism -- or else, we could never trust its extramental observations and measurements on which the entire edifice of science is built. It also presupposes the PNC so as to affirm those observations and measurements and the PSR to make the necessary connections between inferences about data. If either principle could ever be wrong, then we could never be sure when it is wrong, and all science would collapse.

            "We are, at the deepest level of our being, the product of our entire history and our various cultural contexts as well as our individual response to those pressures."

            Unless we exist above the atomic level (with a unifying principle such as substantial form), there is no "we" to be the product of anything -- and again, neither you nor I nor Dr. Dawkins exist.

            I am truly sorry you are ill. It is no fun. And that your, what we call acetaminophen or Tylelol here, helps. I have heard one explanation that it may be better to let the fever run (up to a point), since that is the body's way to kill the virus and you cannot use an antibiotic on it anyway. It is claimed faster recover takes place. But I am only a philosopher, so you are on your own on this! You might try prayer -- just in case. ;-)

          • Chris Morris

            Thanks for your concern. I must admit I didn't try prayer but 'sweating it out' seems to have worked!

            I'm puzzled by your "But You ARE applying the PNC if you realize that contradictions are impossible." Where have I suggested that contradictions are impossible? I think that every time I've mentioned them it's been in the context of recognising them as very much possible.

            I certainly wouldn't attempt to argue that we get being from nothing at all. My view is that we are where we are as physical beings through evolution. Whether that has come about through God, nature or alien invasion I have no idea and, to me, it doesn't seem that important. As I've mentioned earlier in the conversation, I'm probably never going to know the ultimate answer to that one anyway, so I'm more inclined to deal with things that are within my grasp. On the other hand, our individual identity as social beings seems to me a product of psychological, social and physical forces.

            "If either principle could ever be wrong, then we could never be sure when it is wrong, and all science would collapse." Well, as I've tried to make clear, I tend to see it the other way round; where modern science has been most successful is in areas where the notions of non-contradiction and sufficient reason happen to be applicable and we can be reasonably sure when scientists attempt to investigate areas where they're not applicable because they produce results that are of no significance or fail to produce any results at all.

            "Unless we exist above the atomic level (with a unifying principle such as substantial form), there is no "we" to be the product of anything..." I suppose if you need a 'principle' then human sociality would be it although whether it actually counts as a principle or not is debatable.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I think we have come down to a basic disagreement about fundamental principles.

            "I certainly wouldn't attempt to argue that we get being from nothing at all."

            What I am saying is that you DO have an absolute certitude that you cannot get something from nothing at all. How do you know this? I submit it IS precisely because your mind has a concept of being that entails this consequence.

            Your problem is to explain where it came from and why you are so certain it is true. And you are. And just as you cannot get being from absolute non-being, you also know that you cannot have direct and absolute contradictories -- even though entertain such notions in the more fudgey context of social interactions. But when confronted with direct and immediate contradictions, it seems to me that you realize they really are impossible.

            "My view is that we are where we are as physical beings through evolution."

            I have no problem with the general concept of evolution, but the far deeper question is why anything exists at all -- as opposed to absolute nothingness. As the old joke goes something to this effect, the materialist says to God, "I can make the world just as well as you can. Just give me the matter and evolution will create it." But God rejoins, "Okay. But you supply the matter."

            I must again point out that without having to give reasons for observations and measurement, natural science could not exist at all. If you seriously do away with the PSR, science itself becomes unintelligible. Not even its reasoning processes would make sense, since no conclusions would ever be related of necessity to their premises.

            Your entire worldview stands on an ontological foundation which you either do not see or refuse to acknowledge.

          • Chris Morris

            "What I am saying is that you DO have an absolute certitude that you cannot get something from nothing at all." Sorry, you're misinterpreting my words - when I say that I certainly wouldn't attempt to make that argument I mean that I wouldn't know how to, not that I have any certainty about the truth or falsity of such a claim.

            Hmmm... You seem to be telling me lots of things that I'm certain about which don't really fit with the things I've written here so I'm not sure whether you're just not reading them or dismissing them as meaningless and simply arguing against some mythical materialist or something. However, I'll carry on trying even though it probably means repeating some things which I've already written several times and accept the risk of being boring.

            "I submit it IS precisely because your mind has a concept that entails this consequence. Your problem is to explain where it came from and why you are so certain it is true."
            I have what I think is a reasonable belief that what I would consider our being, that is our identity as human individuals, is the product of our evolution as social animals from primitive primates, the process of developing that sociality, beyond that which other primates appear to have at the moment, by increasing our ability to read the intentions of our fellow humans in a way that has altered the physical structure of our brains and has, further, led to the reflexive, hermeneutic development of a social reality which both is a product of our individuality and also informs that individuality. It is, of course, utterly ludicrous to expect anyone to justify and support this view in a few lines but a lifetime of experience and fifty years of study have gradually led me to consider that it makes sense, for me, of many things which other views seem not to.

            As for the three remaining points:

            1 Where did life come from? I refer the honourable member to my previous reply.
            2 Why is there something rather than nothing? I'm not sure why the situation 'nothing then something' should be regarded as more likely than 'something always existed' but, as with the previous question, I have no idea about any answer to either of these situations.
            3 "...without having to give reasons for observations and measurements, natural science could not exist at all." Yes, it's called 'evidence'.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            "Hmmm... You seem to be telling me lots of things that I'm certain about which don't really fit with the things I've written here...."

            Let me try to clarify my thoughts here for you. I am not saying that you clearly understand that you cannot get something from nothing merely because you say you would not argue that you could do so.

            What I am really saying is that, if you gave it serious thought, you WOULD have such certitude.

            I am perfectly aware that it is possible to put words or even thoughts together that cannot exist as such in reality. For example, I can say "a square-circle is possible," but that does not actually make it possible.

            So, too, I can think the thought or write a proposition saying that "something can both be and not be" or that "it is possible to get something from nothing." But neither of these "things" is actually possible.

            More than that, and this what I am really saying, if you set aside your more superficial social and evolutionary theory constructs and focus directly on the actual realities depicted by these following terms, you WOULD have to agree with the aforementioned truths.

            That is to say, make yourself think about what it means to exist or to be, and then ask yourself whether it is really possible for the exact same being not to be at the same time? You can write or say the words, but your mind cannot actually directly assent to such a contradiction.

            So, too, and oddly even more evidently, think of nothing (which is itself a daunting task!) and ask yourself whether you honestly think you can get anything out of it or from it all by itself. I don't think anyone can honestly say yes without playing the kind of dodge ball that I see some doing by claiming that a quantum vacuum is somehow nothing, when, in fact, it is part of the cosmos and is merely the lowest energy state possible in the physical universe.

            Of course, what I am really asking you to do here is to set aside your physicist and sociological and evolutionary presuppositions for the moment and try thinking like either a metaphysician, or better, simply a human being who is being fully honest with himself about what is really possible.

            Contemplated in those stark terms, I submit you really DO KNOW that the exact same something cannot both be and not be, and that you cannot get something all by itself out of absolutely nothing. Two primary certitudes.

            And, I further submit that you know these two things are true, not because we evolved to see them this way, but because we can clearly see in the very nature of being itself, that this is how reality must be.

            Finally, if we cannot reach agreement on these two most fundamental truths about reality itself, I don't see any common ground on which to discuss the remaining three questions you address in your comment.

          • Ficino

            "it is [not] possible to get something from nothing."

            [my bolding]

            The above may be entailed by the sense of "get." I think Chris is saying that we don't know that there aren't things/states of affairs that are uncaused. Or maybe I misread him.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I am less concerned to challenge what he is saying than I am to affirm what I am saying.

          • Ficino

            I'm not sure that nothingness is a coherent notion, but I'm also not sure I can prove that it is not so.

            One problem is, do hierarchical series of causes/movers ordered per se collapse into series ordered per accidens? I see some people argue that they do collapse into accidental series -- propagation delay, reciprocal movement, etc. If so, then cosmological arguments are called into question. But again, how do I know a way to adjudicate such matters?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I have to be brief, since I have a class to teach today.

            I see no problem with the concept of nothingness, since it is fully clear to me that it is simply "nothing at all." It surely isn't a quantuum vacuum. I thing there are some things we know clearly and with certitude, even though we may fumble a bit trying to explain how exactly we do so. I use the example of tripping down the stair two at a time (assuming we are young and foolish). We do it. But trying to understand exactly how at the time we are doing it is a sure trip to the hospital!

            Analysed in terms of effects as something whose total reason for being is not intrinsic, causes must be genuinely simultaneous or at least immediately acting upon the effects.

            No, you absolutely do not slip from per se series of intermediate causes into a per accidens series, which would entail causality going backward in time. The arguments simply do not work using per accidens causality. The key is that all intermediate causes or movers must act together at once as a single unit, which is why a first mover/cause is needed. I know many recent attempts slip into that mentality of "propagation delay," etc., but that would be the death knell of the proofs. Causation/motion becomes transcendent in its initiation solely because all causes/movers must act as a single unit here and now.

            As to the actual/virtual problem, I follow the "nothing can give what it does not have" principle strictly, even though understanding that sometimes the possession of the quality of existence in question by not be possessed univocally, but analogously. This is to avoid predicating of God some attribute univocally which is possessed in creatures solely in a finite mode, so that it appears like the limitation of the effect must also be predicated of the First Cause. What is affirmed of the cause is solely the positive qualities found in the effect, while we remove all the limits or imperfections found in the effect when predicating the perfection of the cause.

          • Ficino

            The arguments simply do not work using per accidens causality. The key is that all intermediate causes or movers must act together at once as a single unit, which is why a first mover/cause is needed. I know many recent attempts slip into that mentality of "propagation delay," etc., but that would be the death knell of the proofs.

            The above is why many people say the arguments do not work - because those people deny that hierarchical series ordered per se either are real at all or are always to be found for any event/thing (whatever we call it).

            As to the last, yes, we are familiar with the doctrine of analogical predication, which operates predicamentally and transcendentally.

            The first example that comes to mind of a cause of something's being F, which itself is not F, is the sun as cause of other things' being hot, when it in A-T is not hot. Since that example is based on false assumptions about the sun, we can't use it anymore. I think it was dodgy when it was being used, though, since one needs to stretch language (as perhaps you acknowledge with your invocation of analogical predication) in order to construe "the sun is not hot" as fitting into the principle of proportionate causality--the principle that nothing can give that which it does not have. To say "by nature the sun has the property of heating other things without its being hot" is not giving "property" a very definite identity that can be investigated.

          • Ficino

            Further: In De Pot 7, Aquinas argues that effect of a univocal agent is equal to power of its efficient cause. But no creature as finite can be equal to power of first agent, infinite. So no likeness to God can be univocal. I.e. Thomas expects us to conclude that because no perfection can be received in a creature in the same way as it is present in God, no name which signifies such a perfection can be applied univocally to God (so Wippel, Metaphysical Thought p. 563-4).

            I don’t see why we should conclude this. No creature’s act of being is univocal with the act of being of another creature, so on this line of reasoning, we never predicate univocally. But predication is an act of the intellect as it abstracts from beings, so the predication is not in the same genus as the accidents in the beings. Wippel gives further analogy from SCG I.32, that since the form of a house as present in the mind is different from the form as present in its proper matter, diversity of modes of being (immaterial vs material) prevents the name ‘house’ from being predicated univocally of both. But this destroys all univocal predication and again, makes the mistake of transgression into another genus when it concludes about predication, something secundum intentionem, from what it asserts about things’ acts of being, something in re.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I found this comment only "per accidens," since you referred it back to yourself and not to me.

            Textual analysis can get a bit tedious, and frankly, having written a book doing precisely that, I would rather "retire" from it as much as possible.

            The problem with analogy is that analogy itself is analogous. For example, we have metaphysical analogy, analogy of attribution, analogy of inequality, analogy of proportionality, intrinsic and extrinsic analogies, inter alia.

            In metaphysics, I understand analogy to mean resemblance without identity. In logic, I understand analogous predication to mean attributing a perfection to an object in a sense partially the same and partially different from the attribute of the same name when applied to some other objects. Univocal predication would mean attributing the predicate to two or more subjects in a completely similar sense.

            The real question to me metaphysically is whether we can attribute qualities to God and to creatures univocally, and, it appears, we cannot. For, as St. Thomas says in C.G., I, 32 (2), "... the things that God has made receive in a divided and particular way that which is found in him in a simple and universal way."

            Any positive quality found in a creature is found in God, as the First Cause, in an infinite way which is identical to the divine essence. This immediately means that all limitation or imperfection of the quality found in the creature must be removed as it is found in God. Thus intelligence found in man entails ratiocination, a limitation not found in God -- God, who not only has intelligence, but who in virtue of divine simplicity IS his own intelligence. While the term, "intelligence," applied to man and God pertains to intellectual understanding and judgment, in God it is omniscient and without motion from premises to conclusion. Hence, it is predicated analogously. So, too, with all other positive qualities found in creatures and in God. Once you predicate of God any quality found in limited ways in creatures, the sense in which the term is predicated must be adjusted to the divine infinity, and hence, is no longer univocal.

            This is why St. Thomas makes the same point, when he says that "... there is nothing in God that is not the divine being itself, which is not the case with other things." Ibid., (3).

            Still, I would never defend everything St. Thomas says, since I know places where he is clearly wrong.

            And yet, perhaps one can make sense of a licit claim by St. Thomas even in the example of the "house" in the mind of the builder as opposed to "house" in the building itself, there is a difference in the mode of being of that reality to which the term applies -- since "house" existing in the mind of the builder has existence merely as a mental concept, which, even though it represents the extramental form, is itself restricted to the mental order, -- whereas in the thing itself, it represents the real extramental accidental form that unites the building materials in a functional manner.

            Nor does this destroy univocal predication, since "house" existing in two really existing houses can be predicated exactly the same way because they both refer to the extramental accidental form involved.

            In other words, while the concept of house can be predicated univocally of two really existing extramental houses, one must predicate analogoursly "house" of the "concept of house" and "house" as found in the real extramental "house," since existence in the mind makes the concept really different than "houseness" in the house itself, even though there is a formal likeness between the concept and its realization in the house itself.

            Or again, this means that the same concept can be predicated univocally of the same form as it is found in two different houses, but only analogous predication applies to the concept of house in the mind and "houseness" in the extramental house, since one has only intramental reality. For in one case, you are talking merely about a concept, but in the other case, you are talking about the form found in the concept as realized in the house.

            Yes, both pertain to the essence. But one pertains to the essence as realized as a concept in a mind and the other pertains to that same essence as realized in a real house.

          • Ficino

            only analogous predication applies to the concept of house in the mind and "houseness" in the extramental house, since one has only intramental reality.

            OK, I am guessing that what you say here is consistent with the thesis about which I asked some days ago, viz. that the facticity of something's act of being is distinct from its act of being.

            But then it is still sounding to me as though it follows that we can't predicate univocally, not just of God, but of anything subject of discourse, since the essence in our mind will not be identical to the essence in the thing.

            It also seems to problematize the Fifth Way, for defenses of the Fifth by you, Feser, and others, make use of the premise that the "end" exists already in a mind. But according to what you write above, the form in the mind is not identical to the form in the thing (or in the accident of the thing). The result is that a lot of weight is put on the doctrine of analogical predication, and I'm suspicious about that doctrine's justification if the justification doesn't have premises about God available to it - which would be question-begging in a proof that God exists.

            I'm thinking at present that nominalism may escape these problems - though I know that hylomorphic realists will point to features of nominalism as problems.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            "OK, I am guessing that what you say here is consistent with the thesis about which I asked some days ago, viz. that the facticity of something's act of being is distinct from its act of being."

            This sounds to me like comparing apples and oranges. "Facticity" at least connotes a mere proposition or judgment of the mind, whereas the "act of being" is the act of existence which is really distinct from the essence in any finite being. So, of course, the esse or act of existence is distinct from the whole being: essence and existence. But the difference is a simple and clear one, namely, that the whole being is distinct from its act of existence.

            So, all that Thomists are saying is that ens is distinct from esse, that is, that the whole being is distinct from the essence's act of existence. That should not entail any radical problems such as you infer in your next sentence.

            "But then it is still sounding to me as though it follows that we can't predicate univocally, not just of God, but of any subject of discourse, since the essence in our mind will not be identical to the essence in the thing."

            First, while I tried to explain a possible difference between the concept existing in the mind and the fundamental likeness in the houses above, even if you do not agree with my explanation, it should be evident that the common concept of being does not apply identically to God and creatures for the reasons I gave in my previous comment. That in no way prevents the mind from recognizing real likenesses in creatures that are abstracted from their concrete differences.

            The nature of our knowledge of things is complex, and daunting to explain fully in this thread. But the fact remains that we do know things and we do see both differences and similarities between things. The doctrines pertaining to predication try to sort out these evident realities, but they ought never amount to denying them.

            Yes, nominalism amounts to intellectual suicide, since it allows the universal in the mind, but denies that there is any real foundation in things to support it. This would deny to science the ability to classify its objects and yet insist that they really have common properties in themselves.

            As simple as I dare put it here, when we look at two things with the same form, such as two cats, the mind abstracts the real likeness in the cats. Realism insists that the reason we can form a universal concept from the cats is because there is some formal identity between the cats which the mind perceives. Formal identity does not mean that every least aspect of the cats is identical, but merely that there is a real similitude between them and that there is some common reality in the cats upon which this likeness is based. Thus, such powers as life and sensation are shared in common, while the shape of toenails may differ.

            I don't think there is room here to address every possible objection and distinction, but it should be evident that God does not have the limitations we find in creatures and which limits allow us to distinguish one type of creature from another while, at the same time, to recognize real similarities. Thus, while we see that some living things have sensation and others do not, the limits of both material life and material sensation do not apply to God.

            Thus, while God possesses the positive qualities of being alive and having cognition (since he gives them to creatures), he must possess these qualities in a different way than we find them in creatures. especially since in God all positive qualities are possessed in accord with the divine simplicity. This is what points to the basis for analogous predication.

            You may still see problems in various aspects of the historical doctrines about univocal and analogous predication, but I hope the above at least outlines the rationale for there being such a division in predication without falling into the abyss of nominalism.

          • Ficino

            That in no way prevents the mind from recognizing real likenesses in creatures that are abstracted from their concrete differences.

            So with respect to creatures, that which the mind abstracts as similar between two or more creatures, which we call the form or essence, as an object of intellect, is identical to the form or essence of or in the creatures? I thought what you had said earlier entailed that the essence in the mind is not identical to the essence in the thing. I'm happy to be corrected if I misunderstood.

            Formal identity does not mean that every least aspect of the cats is identical, but merely that there is a real similitude between them and that there is some common reality in the cats upon which this likeness is based.

            [my boldings]

            Here I think the operative term is "real," and the meat will be found in the work being done by "real." But I agree, we probably can't take up the whole Universalienstreit in comboxes, and I don't know enough about nominalism yet in any case.

            I'm pretty sure I understand as well as most others the reasons for the doctrine of analogical predication of names of God. Like Anthony Kenny, I think that that doctrine leads to agnosticism, and it problematizes the claim that arguments for or about God are proper demonstrations. In Aquinas himself, and even in those commentators I have read, it seems that the argument for the legitimacy of analogical predication of names of God is something like this, worded crudely for brevity's sake:

            1. if no analogical predication, no knowledge about God
            2. but we have some knowledge about God
            3. therefore it's not the case that there is no analogical predication

            That is explicitly the saint's argument in several places, and Wipple's pretty much cashes out as this. I think it will become viciously question begging if analogical predication needs to be exploited in an argument for God's existence.

            Well, we might need a whole thread on predication to do justice to these matters. Thank you for discussing them with me.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            "I thought what you said entailed that the essence in the mind is not identical to the essence in the thing."

            The only point I was making was that the mode of existence of the essence as a concept is different than the mode of existence of the essence as realized in the actually existing house. Hence, there is some difference which, if analogy is based on difference as well as likeness, would allow one to say that there is some application of analogy here. But i did not grant that this was central to the relation between creatures and God.

            "...there is some common reality in the cats upon which this likeness is based." DB

            My problem with nominalism, if I understand one of its central claims correctly, is that it denies that the likeness between, say two cats, is based on a real likeness in the cats. The mere fact that the cats really both have life and sensation powers suffices to say that they share a real likeness as I see it.

            You will not be surprised that I do not embrace agnosticism about our knowledge of God. Without getting into the controversy as to whether the predication is univocal or analogous, would it appear to you too simplistic to make the following argument?

            Because we have intellectual knowledge, God, as First Cause, must have intellectual knowledge. But, since we must remove all limitations in any of God's perfections, such as intellect, God's knowledge must be radically different in many ways -- but not so much so as to not know the natures of thing as we do.

            There IS an agnosticism here in that we do not know fully that which God's knowledge consists in, but it is still a positive grasp of some truth about God in that we know that he is not lacking in whatever perfection is found in our own intellectual acts. This is merely an application of the "way of remotion."

            As to whether we can avoid an equivocal middle term in the proofs for God's existence without presupposing the doctrine of analogy, that is another question. That may really be beyond the limits of this thread. Still, it is interesting that the mind really does not have much problem making such arguments about being without even alluding to the nature of the predication involved -- a procedure to which I am sure you would object.
            https://drbonnette.com/how-cosmic-existence-reveals-gods-reality/

          • Ficino

            As to whether we can avoid an equivocal middle term in the proofs for God's existence without presupposing the doctrine of analogy, that is another question... it is interesting that the mind really does not have much problem making such arguments about being without even alluding to the nature of the predication involved

            I haven't studied Scotus, but my understanding is that he argued that we must predicate univocally of creatures and God under conditions that I don't know enough to set out.

            I agree that we come to conclusions about things when the univocity of a middle term is not admitted by all, but I don't accept that on an A-T understanding we can call such arguments proper demonstrations, or that we can ascribe certitude to their conclusions. Aquinas' comment on the AnPo is instructive: "the middle term in demonstrations should be one and the same thing predicated not equivocally of many, but according to the same meaning/definition/account (rationem); which is the universal ratio," In I AnPo l. 19 n. 8.

            The usual reply is to say that analogical predication satisfies the above requirements and then to appeal to the analogy of being. As a matter of logic, I see no reason to accept that reply. Either a term in the middle premise has the same sense as it has in the major premise and the conclusion, or it doesn't.

            This is a sideline, but Thomas of Sutton seems to me to get into difficulties with (possibly) Scotists that reveal this very problem. Sutton argued that analogates can be so close that we can treat them as virtually univocal, as with "master of the house" and "master of students [teacher]". But Sutton also insists that the ontological gap between God and creature is greater than that between substance and accident. Seems inconsistent unless you make a clear distinction between ontology and logic - but that's just what I'm trying to make.

            the kind of analogy of extrinsic attribution which Aristotle describes about the use of the term, "healthy," does not even merit candidacy for any discussion.

            As to your above edit, I am gratified that you attribute knowledge of the above to me, but I confess I don't grasp your point! Ad unum predication as exemplified in "healthy urine" and "healthy drink" in their relation to health in the animal, as you know, is precisely one of the examples Aquinas gives to illustrate analogical predication of names of God: the primary analogate quoad nos being that in the creature, but the primary analogate per se being that in God. Can you explain what you mean about "extrinsic" that leads you to say that such attribution doesn't merit candidacy? A lot in the secondary literature has been written about Aquinas' and other scholastics' use of ad unum attribution in their doctrine of analogical predication.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Since I am short on time here, let us cut to the chase.

            Yes, the Five Ways are presented as demonstrations. And yes, you are right about Scotus demanding univocal middle terms.

            On the other hand, it might be incautious to allege that Thomists have not thought about this problem in the some seven centuries or so since Scotus raised his objections.

            This is how Benignus in Nature, Knowledge, and God (386) handles the matter:

            "Yet there is a concept of being which possesses true essential unity and which embraces both God and creature. Being is that whose act it is to exist: this concept is clearly verified both in regard to ens a se and ens ab alio. The actuality of God is "to be" and the actuality of a creature is "to be"; and herein lies the ratio or principle by which these two being can be grasped under the same concept. The ratio is real, and is the same in each case, and consequently the concept which signifies it possesses essential unity."

            So here we have argued for the reality of a concept which can serve as a middle term in a strict demonstration.

            But then, Benignus says something that will, doubtless, bother those who are perhaps overconcerned about how we use logical terminology: "But since this ratio is not a common generic nature, the concept has not univocal but analogical unity. Being, when predicated of God and creatures, is analogous, because while it expresses an identical relation to existence in both cases, both the subject of existence and the act by which this subject exists are essentially different in the two cases. ... In the two propositions, "God is," and The creature is," the two predicates are precisely as different as the two subjects, but the relation of predicate to subject is identical in both."

            This is what is called (if my memory is correct) an "intrinsic analogy of proper proportion," meaning that, while the essence in each case is diverse and the act of existence in each case is diverse, nonetheless the relation of existence to essence is the same in all cases. And it appears that it is this commonality of meaning of "that whose act it is to exist" that serves as the middle term in the demonstrations for God's existence.

            I suspect that a large part of the problem is that different authors have different nuances in their definitions of "analogical" and "univocal" as employed in logic about this unique matter.

            Further, these nuances are causing skepticism about the legitimacy of the mind reasoning from finite being to infinite being, despite the fact that there is an exact same meaning being used for "being" in every case.

            The important point to observe, though, is that, regardless of how you classify it logically, the meaning of "being" in ontology constitutes the exact same concept which can thereby serve as a legitimate middle term in demonstrations of God's existence -- even if some would prefer to consider it as univocal and others call it analogical.

          • Ficino

            Ok, thanks for this lucid expansion and for taking the time to discuss these topics.

            I suspect that a large part of the problem is that different authors have different nuances in their definitions of "analogical" and "univocal" as employed in logic about this unique matter.

            I agree, from what I've read, and I have only dipped my toe into the waters of secondary literature.

            This is what is called (if my memory is correct) an "intrinsic analogy of proper proportion," meaning that, while the essence in each case is diverse and the act of existence in each case is diverse, nonetheless the relation of existence to essence is the same in all cases.

            My understanding of analogy of proportion is A is to B as C is to D, as in Aristotle's "spine is to fish as pounce is to cuttlefish as bone is to land animal." The proportion is seen in the terms' relation in each case to a central structure that supports the rest of the animal's body. The proportional analogy helps biology because it allows comparisons across different genera of substance.

            But for essence and act of existence, would we get "creature's essence is to creature's act of existence as God's essence is to God's act of existence"? But that's not right! Or "creature is to creature's act of existence as God is to God's act of existence"? But that's not right! The relation is distinction in one case and identity in the other, so no commensurability of the one relation to the other.

            So I'm not ready to sign on to this, though I have read of intrinsic proportional analogy in other Thomist writers. E.g. Feser in Scholastic Metaphysics: "... the concept is applied to all the analogates in an indistinct and indeterminate way on the basis of a real likeness or similarity they bear to one another." As I said in the above paragraph, I'm not sold that we are certain the likeness is "real" when we are using indistinct and indeterminate predicates of the primary analogate.

            It might help if Thomists would allow that God is a member with creatures in a logical genus, though not in a real genus, but Aquinas himself explicitly denies that God is a member of any logical genus, let alone any real genus.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Your reply is spot on with respect to the comparison of God to creatures. Technically, I think it is called a relation of simple proportion in which it is true to say that as a creature exists in proportion to its essence, so does God exist in proportion to his essence. Those statements are the same in concept, even though in the first case there is a real relation between distinct principles, whereas in the second case there is no real relation between distinct principles because in God essence is identical with existence.

            What is conceptually the same between creatures and God, though, is that all beings exist in proportion to their essence, which, of course, is why God is infinite, since he has no limiting essence. Nonetheless, he does have an essence, which is "to be" itself.

            While it is not a case of A is to B as C is to D, it is a case of A is to B as C is to C. The fact that it is possible for a being's existence to be identical with its essence would not seem to forbid the common reality that each being is a being because it exists in proportion to its essence, which entails a limitation of existence in the case of all beings except God. Since his existence is unlimited, his existence becomes his essence in the form of unlimited being.

            How are we to come to understand the existence and nature of this primary analogate? By proving his existence through starting with beings in which existence is distinct from essence. Nothing forbids us hypothesizing such a "relation" of identity, once we begin to examine limited beings and realize that for them "to be" is distinct from their "whatness," which entails them being caused beings -- leading back to a first cause uncaused in which "to be" is not distinct from "whatness." "Whatness," of course, is the principle that determines which qualities or modalities of existence are found in a being.

            In other words, what I am saying is that we avoid begging the question by beginning with a description of being that applies to all possible beings, even though the only beings we can start with are limited beings in which there is a real relation between their existence and their essence.

            Since the same meaning of being applies to all being insofar as they are "that whose act it is to exist" in accord with their whatness or essence, this common concept can be used as a middle term for a proof for God.

            I do not see how this makes God a mere metaphor, but rather he is an hypothetical possibility whose reality is discovered through an analysis of finite beings -- themselves beings in which a real common likeness is already evident.

            Certainly, we do know the role played by essence in restricting the qualities of existence in finite things -- and God's essence plays the same role of determining the qualities of existence found in a being, only that in God's case we find that his essence entails that there are no limits on the qualities possessed.

            The validity of such a proof for a being in which existence is identical to essence entails a separate discussion.

            "Otherwise, if God's act is to exist as the creature's act is to exist, so God and creature are doing the same work insofar as each exists, then I can get with "exist" as predicated univocally."

            I really have no difficulty with your statement above either. It is just that for technical reasons, such as the fact that there is no common genus for God and creatures, many insist the predication is analogous. That is why I initially suggested that the real problem arises from nuances in the definitions of modes of predication.

          • Ficino

            I really have no difficulty with your statement above either. It is just that for technical reasons, such as the fact that there is no common genus for God and creatures, many insist the predication is analogous.

            It would work if God and creatures can be in a logical genus. Aquinas in some earlier works had said that God can be spoken of as in a genus "by reduction," but in the ST he denies that God is in even a logical genus, and God's being in a genus by reduction is dropped.

            An ancient philosophy guy who comes to the NY ancient philosophy reading group told me that a colleague of his, who works on medieval philosophy, thinks Scotus was right and thinks Aquinas pulled his punches on certain things. Oh well, I can't at this stage of my life start investigating Scotus!

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Why not? You would only need to live to be one hundred. :)

          • Dr. Bonnette,

            The following two quotes/excerpts overlap with the general topic here:

            Quote 1 of 2

            “In summary you said nothing about: the problem of the unity of consciousness, nothing about the epistemic incoherence of physicalism, & nothing about the fact that mental properties & physical properties are simply not the same things. Remember, that our evidence for the unity of consciousness & the difference between mental & physical properties is epistemically infallible, therefore it is impossible for them to be refuted from the epistemically fallible evidence that comes from science. Since I really do not see how you can escape these objections it seems to me that your ontology is simply doomed. Others here have had similar epistemic objections against your view, namely, that any view which undermines the existence of the self/ego is epistemically incoherent because the existence of the self/ego is known via infallible evidence while any argument against it is based on premises that are far from infallible.”

            End Quote 1 of 2.

            Quote 2 of 2

            “The 1st thing is that in the Quantum article, I was struck by how Dr. Hoffman concludes that introspective conscious experience is epistemically & ontologically basic! That is a move away from physicalism & towards idealism. Now if you want to be an idealist, then your view of the primacy of the physical realm is doomed. Furthermore, idealism fits far better on a theistic worldview than on a non-theistic one; for God just is a conscious mind in excelsis. In fact, the great puritan theologian Jonathan Edwards was an idealist, & so was Bishop Berkeley. So although it is not my view, it is one that has had defenders in the Christian tradition.

            Now in the articles that you sent, I saw contradictions out the wazzo!

            1st, saying that our conscious experiences are “kinds of controlled hallucinations that happen with, through & because of our living bodies”, is a self-defeating. Because the only way to know that this proposition is true is through the epistemic perceptual equipment in our bodies. So how can we know that we have bodies if our conscious experience is illusory? For if our conscious experience is illusory then this means that we have an undercutting defeater for everything that we know from conscious experience, which would include the very claim that conscious experience is illusory. So that one’s a slam dunk.

            2nd , This quote is also self-defeating: “And the idea of controlled hallucination is just that, well, this applies to everything. I mean, this applies to everything that we perceive, and not just perceptions of things out there in the world, but also, it applies to our perceptions of our self, of our body, of our memories, of our sense of agency, of our sense of volition - that everything that we perceive is a construction.” If everything is a construction then this very quote is also a construction. Yet his quote is presenting the world as it is, not as a construction. SO its incoherent.

            3rd saying that “it's easy to think that we open our eyes and objective reality is revealed to us through the windows of our eyes” presupposes that perception is the only source of epistemic justification. But this is false, since we also have introspection, intuition, & memory. Now Seth does say that secondary qualities are not objective features of the world because things like colors are really wavelengths. Well why, instead of thinking that secondary qualities do not exist, can’t we infer that secondary qualities like color are merely mediated by physical wavelengths of light? Both views would be empirically equivalent & Seth gives no reason except for saying that our Brains produce color. But why think that our brains produce color instead of merely mediating the color that is in the world to us? But 2nd, even if he is right, it does absolutely nothing to show that all of our perceptions are illusory.

            Finally, thinking that QM proves that there is no objective reality outside our consciousness is absurd. 1st the existence of consciousness presupposes the existence of a conscious subject that has it. So we know that there is an objective reality that is ontologically prior to our conscious experiences: us existing as conscious minds that have experiences. 2nd, this seems to presuppose the Copenhagen interpretation of QM, which hardly any physicist defends anymore (Both Sean Carroll & Lawrence Krauss think it is absurd). But even if this is correct, then it simply proves that God exists, because we know that reality was here when we found it (i.e. that solipsism is false), so if the universe requires a conscious observer to collapse the wavefunction, then it requires an observer of the entire universe, which is what God is.”

            End Second Quote/Excerpt.

            This comment is http://disq.us/p/27p01ew

          • Dr. Bonnette,

          • Chris Morris

            "...if you gave it serious thought, you WOULD have such certitude."
            "...If you set aside your more superficial social and evolutionary theory constructs and focus directly on the actual realities..."
            "That is to say, make yourself think about what it means to exist or to be, and then ask yourself whether it is really possible for the exact same being not to be at the same time."
            "...try thinking like... simply a human being who is being fully honest with himself about what is really possible."

            I'm not sure where the tactic of attempting to bludgeon someone with the opinion that the only possible reason for their failure to accept the foundations on which one's view rests is that they are refusing to think hard enough or honestly enough fits in the pedagogical protocols but I feel obliged to inform you that it's not particularly effective in this instance.

            You may remember that my original comment in this conversation was an observation on the problems of the ossification of radically polarised views and this seems to be an example of just such problems. I'm sorry that such an experienced teacher as yourself would prefer to indulge in 'win-at-all-costs' arguments rather than normal human conversation where you might come across ideas that you don't normally get a chance to explore. My continuing fascination with philosophy over the years has been driven by the endless variety of ways of experiencing reality that I encounter - people are much more interesting than mere metaphysics, I think.
            Anyway, it seems you're not interested in continuing the discussion and my daughter has just phoned to say she needs picked up from the train station - as you may well imagine she is rather more important to me than this so I'll finish with thanks for your indulgence.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            "...If you set aside your more superficial social and evolutionary theory constructs and focus directly on the actual realities..."

            My own comment above would perhaps have been more effective had I not chosen the less felicitous term, "superficial," since its connotation is that the interpersonal realm is somehow not fully real. The interpersonal realm of society is fully real, and indeed, is the one in which we live out our day to day lives.

            Perhaps a more correct and certainly more diplomatic term would have been "secondary" social and evolutionary constructs. Even the word "constructs" can be jarring, since it sounds like one is simply "making up" realities. And I neither mean to suggest that society a less real entity nor that it is somehow fabricated. It is both real and its explanations, as proposed by science, are abstracted from its reality.

            What I am trying to point to, though, is that there are deeper foundations on which all that reality rests. And that one cannot even pose or explain the more complex levels of reality without presupposing certain basic truths derived from its less complex, but more foundational building blocks, such as the PNC and the PSR.

            I do not intend to "bludgeon," although it may sound that way. When you ask someone to see a reality you think they are not seeing, it is sometimes necessary to try to bring them around to precisely the perspective from which you view it.

            Still, as the French existentialist, Gabriel Marcel (whom I have met) points out, one can never "prove to another" anything, even the absolute truth, in the sense of "making" them see what you propose. Nor is it necessarily "bad faith" on their part, should they fail to see your demonstration.

            I probably have given the impression that I am accusing you of simply not thinking hard enough or honestly enough and that is why you fail to agree with me. But, as Marcel points out, charity and truthfulness allows another explanation, namely, that the participants are coming at the discussion from radically different perspectives and methods.

            That is simply because the other person may be so diversely situated that he really cannot see what you are talking about. It would be like trying to explain the NY Stock Exchange to someone who tended sheep in Outer Mongolia and had never stepped foot elsewhere. This is not an example designed to denigrate the ignorance of anyone, but simply to show that failure to grasp, even a valid, proof of something may not be anyone's fault.

            But still, this does not prevent one from trying to make his case. And that is what I was trying to do above. But the only way I know to do it is to try to focus our minds unequivocally on the singular datum that speaks for itself, what is immediately given in sense experience, that is, the concept of being itself. And that is why I said, in all sincerity, that if we cannot agree on such a basic starting point, I am not sure further dialogue is fruitful.

            I think I understand where you are coming from regarding the complexity of social interactions and how the human person is the product of a million years of cultural evolution. The question I pose is whether there is a substantially unified common human nature on which all that evolution takes place, or is man merely the confluence of these social and biological sources without any ontological core with some sort of fixed nature being presupposed?

            Given the strong opposition to your position which I have presented, probably in much less diplomatic fashion than one would prefer, and given the politeness with which you have constantly presented your perspective, I can understand your disturbance at the directness of my explanations. All I can say is that my intention, though blunt, is not to offend, but rather to try to orient our focus on what I think to be the most basic questions and data we can face in seeking the truth.

            I regret if I appear to be using a heavy-handed pedagogical technique here, but I am trying to get to the root of our disagreements. Should you still be willing to engage this discussion, your most effective response would seem to me to be to point out why I am simply dead wrong about insisting on these basic starting points to all human knowledge.

          • Chris Morris

            Thank you for that gracious and reasoned response. A comprehensive reply will probably take me all day to write so it might need to be broken up into two posts if events get in the way. The first part, then, I think requires some analysis of why the conversation appears to founder on rocks which seem to be so far apart and the second part will perhaps be an actual attempt to take you up on your "...point out why I am simply dead wrong about insisting on these basic starting points to all human knowledge." We'll see how well the day goes.

            You write, in regard to the possibility that I have derived an impression from your comments that you may consider I have not thought sufficiently deeply about the subject, that "As Marcel points out, charity and truthfulness allows another explanation, namely, that the participants are coming at the discussion from radically different perspectives and methods."

            As with all of these conversations, I try very hard to be charitable in reading the comments but, as my explicit intention from my very first comment has been to make a general observation about the potential dangers of certainty rather than to present any specific challenge to anything that you may feel certain about, it should be reasonably clear that the subject of the conversation, for me, has been precisely the point that we are (and that it is even possible for us to be) coming at this from radically different perspectives. Further, your comment that "I am less concerned to challenge what he is saying than I am to affirm what I am saying" might suggest a slightly less than charitable lack of interest in engaging with the idea of alternative perspectives.

            The facility for having philosophical conversations with 'unknowable individuals' that the internet provides has been very useful over the past few years in forcing me to think carefully about how, as a relativist, it might be possible to have conversations with anyone who doesn't recognise relativism as any type of viable alternative perspective. Of course, most of the problem arises from the incompleteness of any representation of a worldview particularly on internet blogs. As I say, the rocks may appear to be far apart but they may well be connected by a continental shelf hidden by the water. While the relativist has a responsibility to demonstrate, in some fashion, that this is possible, the 'certaintist' (?) also has some part to play in at least considering the possibility. History should have given us sufficient warnings of how dangerously unstable is any philosophical view when taken to its illogical extremity.

            Part two will follow in a few hours.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I shall have to be brief and likely incomplete myself, since I have a class to teach shortly.

            "Further, your comment that "I am less concerned to challenge what he is saying than I am to affirm what I am saying" might suggest a slightly less than charitable lack of interest in engaging with the idea of alternative perspectives."

            My emphasis was not on ignoring you there. If it appeared so, I a sorry. But it was to simply set aside your point for the moment and emphasize the direct point I was making. I still have to give proper thought and value to any of the points you are making. If I seem to ignore any point, do not hesitate to put it directly before me again -- please.

            "As I say, the rocks may appear to be far apart but they may well be connected by a continental shelf hidden by the water."

            I love the imagery of that observation!

            "History should have given us sufficient warnings of how dangerously unstable is any philosophical view when taken to its illogical extremity."

            I guess my response is in your own choice of words here. "Illogical" extremity is by definition stepping into an error.
            I really do not think you can have "too much truth." But you can misapply a truth so as to entail a real error.

            I know we have about a six hour difference in our communications here, so by the time you get your second part off to me, I shall be occupied with teaching. And, by the time I may find time to reply, you will be safely asleep. So, your reply to mine will be received sometime tomorrow -- or perhaps my reply to you will be!!

          • Chris Morris

            You suggest that an "effective response" would be for me to show that you are "simply dead wrong about insisting on these basic starting points to all human knowledge."

            Several difficulties to understanding what this task might involve present themselves here. What could count as "simply dead wrong", what any of us mean by human knowledge, whether it makes sense to see that knowledge as having a "starting point", and the nature of the connection between logical principles and knowledge probably top the list. However, as I hope is clear by now, this is not something I would be interested in doing even if I thought it would be something I was able to accomplish. I would be inclined to consider the simple replacement of one set of starting conditions for another as not really offering a "radically different perspective".

            Rather, the purpose of a different perspective or, perhaps, the definition of a different perspective would be, in my view, a shift that illuminates concepts or areas that we may be taking for granted or passing over as not being important enough for full consideration. My concern with certainty here is that I frequently encounter a close connection between increasing levels of certainty and an inability to recognise that some of those assumptions or presuppositions may actually be inaccurate, misconstrued or just plain wrong. This is, I think, a common problem for humans simply due to cognition being something of a 'certainty magnet' and is apparent across the whole range of belief and non-belief systems.

            One element of this problem is what may be referred to as 'ultra-consistency' which is what I meant by the phrase "illogical extremity" - as you correctly surmise, it's a criticism of 'misapplied truth'. I'll look at this in the context of the question Rob Abney asked me elsewhere on this thread: "...how do you justify what seems like an inconsistency regarding your compassion and care for [dementia sufferers] vs your stated openness to abortion for persons [similarly in need of care] but still unborn? To apply an identical solution for compassionate care to cases in many different situations would, I think, count as an example of such misapplied consistency. This is not just a matter of a difference between the examples of dementia cases and abortion cases, but rather a recognition of the importance of looking at all cases as having a specific context which requires some adjustment of the analysis and making decisions based on fallible human judgment in the hope that one won't be wrong too often. All of this involves a balance between having sufficient confidence to actually make a decision and enough humility to not impose rigid and inappropriate solutions.

            This notion of the importance of social context is significant in responding to your "If you set aside your [secondary] social and evolutionary theory constructs... even the word "constructs" can be jarring since it sounds like one is simply "making up" realities. And I neither mean to suggest that society is a less real entity nor that it is somehow fabricated. It is both real and its explanations, as proposed by science, are abstracted from reality."

            I'd like to pick up on your use of the word "fabricated" here because it seems to me an excellent description of social reality. My view, as previously indicated, would be that social reality isn't something secondary that we can remove from our being like an overcoat. I see social reality as literally fabricated from our minds; that is, it's my mind and your mind and everyone else's mind that we see when we look at social reality rather than that social reality is something being produced by those minds. But, as you say, none of this makes it any less real than physical reality; It can generate nations, economies, wars, national health services, systems of justice, dictatorships, religions... With it I can use a worthless piece of plastic to buy real goods in a shop, I can be arrested and thrown in a real prison if I break the rules of my social reality, I can vote in elections as a way of feeling some sort of belonging and responsibility in my community and so on...the list is a very long one. The important point is that fabrication is a two-way process so our minds are made from social reality. Here I'm going to be a little less than charitable and anticipate that you're going to strawman this explication by assuming a deterministic interpretation but, as I've indicated previously, this is a process of three elements woven together to form an extremely intricate complex. It's also important to emphasise that it is a process - a river with currents flowing at very different speeds, some slow ones demonstrating remarkable persistence (the Catholic Church being a good example of extreme continuity).

            I've been typing for four hours now so I think it's time to call it a day and perhaps add a part 3 tomorrow.

          • Rob Abney

            "This is not just a matter of a difference between the examples of dementia cases and abortion cases, but rather a recognition of the importance of looking at all cases as having a specific context which requires some adjustment of the analysis and making decisions based on fallible human judgment in the hope that one won't be wrong too often. All of this involves a balance between having sufficient confidence to actually make a decision and enough humility to not impose rigid and inappropriate solutions."

            Again, I am sure that you accept some simple universal truths, yet your explanations are attempts to say that there are too many variables for any universal truth to be applied.

            You accept the universal truth that humans are fallible, that some people are in position to make decisions for others, and that those decisions should be appropriate.

            I am sure that you accept as certain that dementia sufferers should not be abused much less killed to be put out of their misery. Yet you do not accept that certainty for the unborn. The only social context variable that would be applicable is that in the case of abortion the truth has been relativized so that a decision maker can conveniently hold the position that abusing and even killing an unborn child is acceptable.

            This is the universal truth that you are trying to avoid: it is always and everywhere wrong/unacceptable in all circumstances to kill an innocent human being. A lesser degree of this tenet is that it is also wrong to harm/abuse an innocent human being.
            If you are working hard, as you say you are, to make dementia sufferers safe from abuse, then you have to also hold the stronger tenet that they should be safe from being killed. And if you hold that tenet for them then you should hold it for all humans. If not then you are in favor of picking and choosing who has the right to be killed.

          • Chris Morris

            "Again, I am sure that you accept some simple universal truths..." Well, no, I'm very wary of accepting any simple universal truths other than, as I've said before, that we all share the baseline of being human, alive, here and now but that all four of those things (particularly the 'being human' bit) are extremely complex notions that don't fit conveniently in rigid categories of simple, universal, truths.

            "You accept the universal truth that humans are fallible." The fact that experience leads most of us to recognise that it is possible for humans to make mistakes, if it does stand as a universal truth, is not a very useful one as such; if it's a universal truth then it would seem to be unable to help us decide when we could be right. As for some people being in a position to make decisions for others, this is presumably simply a feature of the way our social structure is set up and "decisions should be appropriate" is a choice that current British culture has made, it may or may not apply in other cultures.

            Just to try and save wasting any time on a conversation that seems destined to sink in to the swamp of you getting more and more frustrated at my inability to recognise myself as the evil, hateful, murdering swine that my views prove me to be, can I just say that we have a somewhat imperfect reality where we do, unfortunately, kill innocent people all the time. As an elderly retired person of no significance, I do my best to help improve that reality, in part by trying to persuade people not to adopt extreme, rigid, or closed views of the world. Maybe I'm wrong but here I stand, I can do no other...

          • Rob Abney

            I just say that we have a somewhat imperfect reality where we do, unfortunately, kill innocent people all the time. As an elderly retired person of no significance, I do my best to help improve that reality, in part by trying to persuade people not to adopt extreme, rigid, or closed views of the world.

            This is an ironic summary since in our discussion you view the presence of universal truths as closed, rigid views of the world yet your relative views which you apparently regard as open and flexible are the ones that allow for killing of innocent humans.

            to recognise myself as the evil, hateful, murdering swine that my views prove me to be

            It is frustrating to confront these views but since you are just someone in an online philosophy discussion I don't expect that you are a murderous swine, however making the truth flexible is a key ingredient that can lead to widescale death when whole generations or those in authority convince themselves and others that that flexibility can excuse them from adhering to universal truth.

          • Chris Morris

            To be honest, your response is an excellent example of why I'm suspicious of the notion of universal truths; they tend to encourage just this way of seeing the world in terms of enemies, people who may disagree with you in some areas and must, therefore, be considered as utterly and completely opposing everything that you stand for and be mercilessly vanquished.

            As far as I'm aware, you and I live in more or less the same world, a world where innocent people suffer. My view is that most of the time most of us do not apply universal principles in an absolutely rigid manner such as you seem to be advocating and that this may (frequently, in my view, but I'm not going to quantify it here) actually reduce the amount of suffering. Clearly, in that sense, relativism does "allow for killing of innocent humans" but the problem you have with looking at it from that perspective is that you must, then, prove that the completely rigid enforcement of universal principles would prevent all of those innocents' deaths (and not just the people you personally choose to regard as innocent).

            "...making the truth flexible is a key ingredient that can lead to widescale death..." is a rather awkward way of phrasing it. I think people generally leave it up to philosophers to argue about what 'truth' is and whether it's possible to isolate universal truths but are happy to accept as an aspiration some widely held notions.

          • Rob Abney

            Is this your position: innocent people should not be killed unless it reduces suffering? If so, why do you want to prevent suffering at the cost of a human life? I agree that there are complex variables affecting every such decision but in the end that seems to be the difference between my position and your position. However, with dementia sufferers you are trying to prevent suffering but I don't believe you have yet advocated that in some of these cases the person should be killed?

          • Chris Morris

            My position is that cold-eyed bureaucrats who regard people as atomistic objects which can be sorted in to reductionist categories can, if they're given the opportunity to impose their one-size-fits-all 'universal' rules, do far more damage than our present arrangements.
            As I say, if you want to impose your rules across the board you need to show substantial evidence that they will, at least, completely eradicate all unnecessary deaths when implemented.

          • Rob Abney

            You deflected the issue to bureaucrats, and you mis-characterized my position on universal truths.
            But, am I correct in stating your position as: innocent people should not be killed unless it reduces suffering?

            I can't address your last point without clarification of your term "unnecessary death".

          • Chris Morris

            "You deflected the issue to bureaucrats..." No, that's how it works if you want to impose a universal rule on all people with no regard to circumstances context.

            "unnecessary deaths": I presume this what you mean by "innocent people" being killed.

          • Rob Abney

            Cold-eyed bureaucrats will impose the universal truth that innocent people should not be killed, along with nearly every other category of people because it is a widely accepted truth held by not only philosophers but also by nearly all people participating in everyday life even those with no authority over any other person. There are exceptions, such as people who blatantly disregard this truth as well as those who have some justification for exceptions to this truth. You seem to be arguing that there are circumstances that justify exceptions such as suffering, but I have yet to grasp the distinction you make to justify aborting the unborn versus not using similar intervention on those with dementia.
            But, I'm starting to repeat myself so if you want to end this discussion we can.

          • Chris Morris

            "There are exceptions..." And right there is your problem because your solution is, in reality, exactly what we have now. If you ever manage to work out in detail how to deal with those exceptions without the harm we experience now, I'll be happy to listen.

          • Rob Abney

            There are exceptions (to imposing the universal truth of not killing the innocent), such as people who blatantly disregard this truth as well as those who have some justification for exceptions to this truth

            I assumed that you are in the second group since the first group is made up of psychopaths and criminals. The first group's actions should not be a source of support for those like you to justify additional killing though.
            I'm not sure how you assess that my solution is exactly what we have now, my solution is that those who seek to justify killing the innocent will become a very small minority and especially a small minority of those who have the authority to legislate. The first group of psychopaths and criminals is a small but deadly minority that is best addressed with the criminal justice system.

          • Chris Morris

            "I'm not sure how you assess that my solution is exactly what we have now, my solution is that those who seek to justify killing the innocent will become a very small minority..."

            But if you accept that there are legitimate exceptions (the existence of which is how I assess that it's no different from the present situation), what is your mechanism for this process of reducing these exceptions?

          • Rob Abney

            I should have clarified this earlier, there are no "legitimate" exceptions, the attempted justifications are invalid; the ones who try to justify killing of innocents should be a very small minority of zero.

          • Chris Morris

            In which case, you're back to the problem of implementing absolutes in the real world. Not recognising that there will always be legitimate exceptions means that your opinion will remain impotent and, consequently, will fail to improve any lives or save any innocent from an unnecessary death.

          • Rob Abney

            This will be my last comment for this thread and strangely enough it will be about the same as my first; relativism always leads to despair due to rejection of any certainty other than the certainty of one’s own ability to decide for others.
            I cannot fathom how being universally opposed to killing of innocents, all innocents, leads to unnecessary death of an innocent, whereas the relativism that decides that some deaths are necessary has led to more than 60 million deaths directly.

          • Chris Morris

            "...it will be about the same as my first..." which, sadly, rather proves my point.

            "...relativism always leads to despair..." Clearly this is something you desperately want to be true but it is not.

            "I cannot fathom how being universally opposed to killing...all innocents leads to unnecessary death of an innocent..." If you actually read the conversations we've had you should be able to work it out. On the other hand, if you're only interested in promoting the view you've chosen, you probably won't. The fact that you can still be characterising this in terms of 'being universally opposed to' equals no deaths of innocents while relativism is, and must always be, unable to prevent any deaths seems to me rather like, for example, holding in contempt the heroism of Oskar Schindler, Irena Sendler, Chiune Sugihara, Feng-Shan Ho, Carlos Sampaio Garrido, Raoul Wallenberg, Nicholas Winterton, and all the others who pragmatically chose to rescue Jewish people from the Nazis, for 'failing' to make the case for universal truth and thereby preventing the Holocaust altogether.

          • Rob Abney

            Maybe I’ve misread history, can you explain how any of those people you named decided that some innocent people should be killed?

          • Chris Morris

            I'm just trying to follow the logic of your argument which seems to be that those who hold a view which privileges an abstract universal notion over any possibility of negotiating a compromise that could be implemented in real terms are not responsible for any harm whereas those who take a pragmatic view that enables them to prevent some harm but does not eradicate the situation in a way that prevents all of the harm are therefore responsible for the suffering that they haven't prevented.

          • Rob Abney

            You did follow my logic but with an additional conclusion.
            Always and everywhere opposing killing of innocents does no harm to the innocents though it may “seem” harmful to those who would benefit from extermination of a specific innocent.
            But a compromise that results in the killing of an innocent does specific harm to the innocent even if it provides relief of suffering to someone else.
            As far as being responsible for not preventing other suffering, I have not placed that blame on the relativist but have said there are other solutions besides killing an innocent.

          • Chris Morris

            If opposing killing of innocents does no harm then, presuming that "opposing" here means simply holding that opinion, this would be because it's not actually doing anything at all.

            The only point I'm trying to get across here is that social problems generally remain harmful while people hold extreme and rigid views that slow down the possibility of negotiating an implementable solution that reduces the harm.

          • Rob Abney

            Once again, social problems can be solved without the option of killing innocents. I have assumed that this is how you are addressing the problems you are encountering with the people with dementia, would your problem solving be easier if you did not have to keep the people alive?

          • David Nickol

            Apologies, since I haven't been following the back-and-forth closely enough to be sure this is a relevant question. But is your underlying point that everyone is obliged to take action to attempt to criminalize abortion? And if they don't, then any other "pro-life" stance they take makes them hypocrites? For example, if I work to end capital punishment, am I a hypocrite because I don't work to end abortion?

          • Mark

            People on death row are not innocents. Dementia patients and unborn are. I don't want to speak for Rob, but I would say we have a moral obligation to civically criminalize illicit behavior for the benefit or protection of (innocent) human beings in a society. They might be a hypocrite based on their underlying reasons for being for or against capital punishment. Since death row people are not innocents this is an apple to oranges comparison for Catholics. You may work to end capital punishment because the system is unjust even if capital punishment in theory can be justified as morally licit under other circumstances. But I can get behind the idea that it isn't uncommon for Christians to be hypocrites because being pro-life entails maintaining dignity of all human beings: unborn, zygotes, LGBQT, homeless, mentally handicapped, addicts, terminally ill, Muslims, incarcerated, or enemies of any sort. I'm probably, check that, I know I've been guilty of this to some degree.

          • Rob Abney

            If you are using this definition, Hypocrisy: affecting qualities for the purpose of pretending to an undeserved virtue; then those who defend life for one group of innocents but not another group fit that criteria. But defense of innocent life is an underlying or foundational principle, how it is applied is another issue.
            But I agree with Mark that abortion and capital punishment differ based on culpability.

          • Chris Morris

            "Once again, social problems can be solved without the option of killing innocents."
            And, once again, my point is that in some types of social problems this may well be the case but that attempting to impose a universal rule across every case of social problem regardless of the specific context is politically impossible in anything other than the most rigid of totalitarian regimes such as China and North Korea (and even there it seems there are limits) depending, as it does, on a vision of human individuals as mere manifestations of an ideal human essence.

            If you're talking specifically about abortion, I would repeat what I've said to you many times: I agree that many cases could be resolved without an abortion if we work to improve aspects of health and social care, education, the economy and so on but there will always be cases where abortion must be an option. As I say, the opinion you're presenting is only a problem in proportion to the distraction it provides to in working towards those improvements.

            As we've already been through this debate a couple of times in some depth and you've had ample opportunity there of laying out concrete proposals for how you would implement your view, there doesn't seem much point in revisiting it here. It appears that Dennis is still following the conversation so I remain open to carrying on the main conversation of which this has been an interesting digression.

          • Rob Abney

            "politically impossible"
            It depends upon whether your politics informs your philosophy or your philosophy informs your politics, I prefer the latter but I'm sure a relativist will prefer the former. The difficulty is that if politics is the driver then the powerful always determine the outcome and the powerless such as the unborn are sacrificed. I am curious to understand why those with dementia are not as powerless and occasionally need to be terminated, maybe they have some wealth so that they are not as powerless.

          • Chris Morris

            "The difficulty is that if politics is the driver then the powerful always determine the outcome..."

            I think that politics, rather than being the "driver", is actually the process of resolving or balancing social conflict. Here in the UK over the past 1000 years or so we've gradually modified the way conflict resolution works such that there may be some slight limitation on the influence which powerful individuals or self-interest groups may exert. We generally refer to this as 'democracy' but this is such a vague and undefined term that any debate about it is likely to be open-ended.

            However, it does act as an aspiration and, consequently, most government policy decisions need to be seen as having some form of popular consent. Even a referendum the result of which is not legally binding is regarded as an unquestionable determinant of government action (and a reminder that governments should never forget the old rule of 'never ask a question to which you don't already know the answer).

            This, I think, indicates something of the problem implicit in your view: the lack of a proper analysis of what "the powerful" can mean. Clearly, the unborn are not without power as the fact that Trump has altered his opinion from a libertarian stance opposing government interference in individual choice to an authoritarian one legislating against individual choice indicates. I take it from this there are people who hold a similar opinion to what you've expressed here that are actually producing sufficiently detailed proposals for a legislature to argue for their introduction. As for it being "politically impossible", my impression is that the US population is fairly evenly divided on this and in such cases where a resolution is extremely difficult or impossible to achieve what tends to happen is that the political process 'rearranges' itself, either peacefully or violently depending on how important people feel the problem to be. In this country I feel that the weight of opinion still rests with the status quo.

          • Chris Morris

            I was going to carry on here trying to present my view in more detail but instead I'll just offer a few references to other people who seem to be developing similar views.

            Shaun Gallagher, using evidence gathered from interdisciplinary studies in neuroscience, psychology and simulation technology, has proposed a pluralistic "pattern theory of self" as an alternative to more reductionist ideas:
            "What we call 'self' is a cluster concept which includes a sufficient number of characteristic features. Taken together, a certain pattern of characteristic features constitute an individual self."

            Dan Zahavi has suggested that, in contemplating human existence, we need to "elucidate those fundamental aspects that are so familiar to us, so taken for granted that we often fail to realize their true significance and even deny their existence", investigating the interrelationships of experience, self awareness, and selfhood and arguing that none of these three can be understood in isolation.

            Emotions seem to be crucial in this, not just from the traditional view of allowing the observer to share the feeling state of another individual but also in the way emotional responses are both a means of perceiving emotional states in others and of being engaged with others (mirroring) as a 'shorthand' that guides decision-making processes. Damasio, Frijda, Preston, de Waal, and Rietveld among others have contributions here.

            If I find time later I'll add another post.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I can see that you have an excellent grasp of many of the detailed interrelationships that describe our physical world as well as the complexity of the human body.

            But there is also such a thing as not seeing the forest for the trees!

            For example, we do not determine the function of a species or individual by looking at its misfunctions. If I find a bird with a broken wing, I do not conclude that the entire species of birds cannot fly. More importantly, neither ought I to conclude that it does not belong to the nature of this bird to be flightless. Rather, I should infer that it is the nature of the bird to fly, but it has a broken wing.

            So, too, the existence of dementia in many of us is no argument against the substantial individual identity of a human being. It merely shows that sometimes things go wrong and an individual may no longer be able to experience the normal functioning of his faculties, which, while still belonging to a single substantially unified organism, are now misfunctioning.

            As for my living a "sheltered life," because i referred to what common sense tells us about our substantial unity, I run into that sort of reaction frequently.

            There is nothing wrong with common sense, except that it gets a bad reputation because of the mistakes people have made in the past when misapplying it.

            In fact, I would happily call Thomism, "sophisticated common sense," rather than admit I hold a philosophy that violates common sense.

            Common sense tells me a lot about the world. It tells me that there actually is a physical world besides myself and that I somehow must directly experience it in order to make sense of things like scientific observations. It tells me that things cannot both be and not be at once, and that things need reasons for being and being what they are -- and that if they cannot explain themselves in some respect, they need something else (a cause) to finish explaining themselves.

            And it is common sense, supported by people in all cultures, that we are single complete beings that incorporate our entire bodies, not merely some part of our neural networks in the brain. In fact, it is common sense that tells me that things above the atomic level really exist as existential wholes -- rather than literally to deny the substantial existence of cabbages and kings and Dr. Dawkins.

            If you deny all these things, I suspect you would have one heck of a time justifying that important Boyle's Law you claim you find so convincingly universal.

            Sure, these things sometimes take a bit of explaining in the face of skeptics who whole scale reject common sense in order to justify their skepticism. That is the function of philosophical analysis.

            But that is also why, when someone punches you in the stomach, you do not usually say, "Why did you punch my stomach?," but rather, "Why did you hit me?" When we are not busy trying to defend a worldview that radically violates common sense, most of us are well aware that our "embodied cognition" is merely one aspect of the total being that we fully experience as we interact with the world around us, not merely mentally, but as a physical whole.

            Atomists, like Platonists, believe in their own "really real world," a world that is not what is actually given in lived experience.

            I deny nothing the atomists say about how physics and physiology function, except that they miss the forest for the trees.

          • Chris Morris

            I think we spend most of our time bouncing our focus between the trees and the forest but we get a much deeper view of reality when we look the way you do with those 3-D pictures that are just collections of coloured dots - if you stand close to it and focus past it you get to see the picture in 3-D - but this is very hard work and you can only do it for a short time.
            No, not everyone develops dementia but, in the same way that seeing a bird with a broken wing not being able to fly tells you something about how birds' wings work and the function they fulfil, so also seeing what happens when the brain malfunctions can reveal many things about how it works as the story of Phineas Gage shows us.

            "In fact, I would happily call Thomism, "sophisticated common sense," rather than admit I hold a philosophy that violates common sense." Yes, I like "sophisticated common sense" if, by that, you mean common sense that adjusts to fit further evidence. As always, I make a case for knowledge being a continuum of reliability, so there have been many times when something I held as common sense turned out, on further investigation, to be inaccurate. I would rather hold to a philosophy that abandoned things that appeared to be common sense when evidence showed them to be untrue. This would be my definition of scepticism.

            "And it is common sense, supported by people in all cultures, that we are single complete beings that incorporate our entire bodies, not merely some part of our neural networks in the brain." I'm not sure about "all cultures", I have a feeling that there may be cultures that have regarded the individual very differently. However, I don't think anywhere have I claimed that we are entirely contained in our brain circuitry; quite the contrary, I have consistently maintained the extended cognition view that our minds are extended throughout our social and physical environment.

            None of this causes any problem for the knowledge we derive from modern scientific methods. Boyle's Law has been shown to work regardless of whether I feel any need to justify my views.

            I'm not sure about your stomach punching example; When my dentist took out one of my teeth recently I didn't exclaim "why are you taking me apart?"

          • Dennis Bonnette

            First, your dentist did not punch you in your stomach. Just your wallet.

            Second, my reference to Boyle's Law was really because natural science presupposes in its observational and experimental methodology a realist epistemology. Still, in the name of science, many naturalists claim that all we know are material representations inside our brain of physical objects outside our bodies. These two radically diverse claims that (1) we can make direct physical observations, and (2) that we never know objects directly, gives us one of those inconvenient contradictions that you seem to claim does not matter.

            Done correctly, the sophisticated common sense of Thomism does not require further correction when it defends such things as a realist epistemology, the PNC, the PSR, and even the reality of such things as God and the spiritual human soul. These are not like the early observational beliefs of many that the sun went around the earth that needed correction because they were merely observational hypotheses that were wrong. Oddly enough, one of the truths that Aristotle grasped was that observation of motion does not assure one as to what is in motion. It just might be the Earth, not the Sun!

            " I don't think anywhere have I claimed that we are entirely contained in our brain circuitry; quite the contrary, I have consistently maintained the extended cognition view that our minds are extended throughout our social and physical environment."

            It is not a question of whether we are "entirely contained in our brain circuitry," but whether the entire human organism constitutes one being. This means that every part of what is really me is human by nature. It logically means that the nature of my foot is not "foot," but human. Many parts of us are not really us, e.g., the acid in our stomach or the urine in our bladder. But if all of us has its own nature and that nature is not human, then we do not exist.

            That is the inherent problem with atomism. If all we really are is the atoms that compose us, it turns out that there really isn't any "human us" at all, just trillions of individual atoms.

            Common sense says we are one being that is human throughout. Your view reduces man to part of his body (mostly in the brain), while confusing us with other things that clearly are not part of our being through "the extended cognition view that our minds are extended throughout our social and physical environment."

            Thomistic realism insists that we are really a single being that is human throughout and is really distinct from all other beings in the world. I fear your view is so atomistic that it loses the substantial reality of the living whole person in favor of some accidental unities of partial subsystems of the whole. That is why you even say that the person ceases to be when dementia destroys psychological unity of experience sufficiently.

            The problem remains: Do things above the atomic level really exist? Or are not you and I and Dr. Dawkins real?

          • Rob Abney

            "We do not say Joe has ceased to exist because he now has dementia" - only because we need to respect the identity that once belonged to that name. In reality (and I'm sorry to be so brutally frank about this) in late-stage dementia that individual identity no longer exists.

            I think Joe continues to have the identity of human even when he no longer acts like he did before. I'm sure that the other humans who are responsible for him still identify him as human, which is why he has care being provided for him. He is not being cared for because he used to be a human. The principle of identity is nearly the same as the PNC, Joe can't be both a human and not a human.

          • Chris Morris

            I'm glad that you've given me the opportunity of expanding on this point as it is an extremely difficult, sensitive, and controversial area that really deserves more serious consideration than just being used as an example here.

            I accept that you have your opinion on this as I have mine and, in fact, as I type I have several medical and philosophical academic papers open on my computer, some of which support the type of view you're suggesting and others which provide evidence for views which make more sense to me. I think this current lack of consensus leaves space for personal experience to play some part in forming an opinion.

            As a carer, I was forced to confront the problem of why it is so common for dementia sufferers to be abused by their carers. One popular (that is, not very deeply examined) view is that media representations of dementia as a "living death" leading to an empty shell make it possible for carers to see the sufferer as a non-person and consequently ignore the normal practice guidelines. However, in reality this doesn't seem to apply; carers who abuse are at least as likely to hold the opposite view to that popular representation as non-abusing carers. This suggests to me that the problem may actually be the expectation that dementia sufferers will always still retain some recognisable integral identity and any 'failure' on their part to demonstrate that leads to a sense of conflict which a poorly-trained or overworked or just plain bad carer may react to with violence.

            I think that this remains an area which could benefit from a much wider examination; being both so controversial and so personal it makes it very easy for it to become just another of those problems to which people attach easy slogans and descend in to trench warfare where no solutions are agreed and no one gets helped.

          • Rob Abney

            Your concern for your fellow human beings is correct and right, they are innocent due to not being culpable for their actions. And although they have relatively short life expectancy and poor quality of life, it is a matter of justice for them to be protected, that is, they deserve protection.
            Those who would harm and abuse them probably do not consider the philosophical and just implications but rather only take advantage of the inability of the person with dementia to hold them accountable.
            I agree that this is a sensitive issue, I don't understand how it could be a controversial issue. Please explain what the controversy is?

          • Chris Morris

            I forgot for a moment that I wasn't addressing a local social services audience - 'controversy' here just refers to the argument within social service departments about how best to allocate reduced budgets between providing dementia-friendly care homes and relying on charities offering home-supported care - not really a controversy for anyone that isn't working in the care sector.

          • Rob Abney

            I have to ask you how you justify what seems like an inconsistency regarding your compassion and care for these innocent persons with poor quality of life vs your stated openness to abortion for persons with similar circumstances but still unborn? I’m sure you don’t consider termination of life as an option for those with severe dementia even though they have many of the same social and financial hardships.

          • Chris Morris

            Yes, this is a good point and very relevant to the overall conversation here. I hope to respond fully to it in the answers I'm currently writing to Dennis's post.

          • Tom More

            Sorry to butt in here, but surely a significant part of the questions here is exactly what it is that is at the root of our human rational, free willed being, hence the loss of the organic vehicle of the expression of our human identity does not imply total loss of identity at all. One could state that loss of a foot is loss of identity as well. This view , naturally implies that our rational free will is the soul of our notion of human being, and this is appropriate, but there is no good reason to posit the intellect and will as merely material. And that is the only basis for claiming a total loss of identity. Earthen vessels.

          • David Nickol

            How would you propose proving that an individual with severe, late-stage dementia (as in severe Alzheimer's disease) has "intellect and will"?

          • Chris Morris

            I agree with you that we should be questioning the roots of our autonomous identity and my reason for participating in the conversation was to make the point that it seems to me Dennis's certainty makes it less likely that he will seriously question the view that Thomist metaphysics has provided. Certainty, therefore, seems to me the antithesis of what useful philosophy should be.

            I think it's probably useful to consider the whole conversation in order to understand the context that makes sense of these comments. However, one thing I would emphasise is that, in my view, human identity is extremely complex so, while it's clearly superficial to argue that 'loss of a foot equals loss of identity', it is true to say that bodily changes of any sort modify the identity to a greater or lesser extent.

            Thomist metaphysics, as Dennis has argued, maintains that there is a core identity, presumably the soul, which persists no matter what happens to the body with our physical and social reality being contingent or secondary and he's shown strong logical arguments to support that view. I think that our identity is made up of several 'core components' which play with and against each other in a continual creative dance and I think that there is some reasonable empirical evidence to support this view.

            My main point in this conversation is that it should be possible to have some sort of debate comparing and contrasting these two views but that certainty, on either side, tends to create two echo chambers that never meet.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            What is really lacking here is an understanding of what it is that substantially unifies a thing above the atomic level. That is why, on his own atomic philosophical stance, Richard Dawkins does not really exist. Nothing really exists but the atoms (or whatever one takes to be the basic physical building block of nature). On this false view, Dr. Dawkins is no more a real single being than is a pile of sand a single thing because you insert a sign at the top, reading "sand."

            This view would have horses and men be merely aggregates of atomic or subatomic particles, not the real things of the world which science begins with. On this view, the scientists themselves do not really exist as single beings.

            But that is why sane people universally speak of things as wholes, even if they do not take the time to notice that this requires some unifying principle (the sort of principle that Aristotle called "substantial form."

            But if things really do exist as wholes above the atomic level, then one's "personal identity" is constituted of being one whole thing of a given nature: horse or human being.

            Redefining "personal identity" in terms of certain specifically human cognitive behaviors, and then alleging that the personal identity is gone when the ability of the brain to sustain those behaviors fails, is simply a new and different way of defining what it is to be a human being ... or horse ... or fish ... and so forth.

            But it does not address the deeper understanding that to be a human being is to be a certain type of whole being from the beginning to natural end of its life.

            Needless to say, this confusion over what really constitutes what it means to be a human being has ethical consequences in areas such as abortion and euthanasia.

          • Chris Morris

            "What is really lacking here is an understanding of what it is that substantially unifies a thing above the atomic level."

            Yes, I would agree which is why I regard your certainty as stopping you from considering any possibility other than that we have to choose to either believe a transcendental agency supplies unity or we have nothing but "whatever one takes to be the basic physical building block of nature."

            I have no idea whether it is true that "sane people universally speak of things as wholes, even if they do not take the time to notice that this requires some unifying principle..." but, even if it is true, this presumably tells us more about the importance of metaphor in language than some actual physical fact about our being.

            I don't consider that I'm 'redefining' personal identity in terms of certain specifically human cognitive behaviours, rather I'm looking at those cognitive behaviours under different conditions and wondering what that may tell us about how our identity works. You consider that this fails to address an underlying sense of unity whereas I consider that your view fails to properly account for the changes, creativity and problems which I see as being inherent in individual identity.

            The ethical consequences should, I think, be a separate but clearly related discussion. For example, we're aware that there are ethical problems with the use of nuclear weapons but this would be marginal to a scientific account of how they work.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            While there are, indeed, deeper causes for why there are whole, substantially unified, beings above the atomic level, it does not take a scientific poll to discern that people have always considered themselves one whole being. Nor that they consider the world filled with real whole things above the atomic level.

            And, just as all horses are considered rightly to be animals that can trot and gallop, so, too, all men are rightly considered as persons with the rights and dignity proper to that existential title.

            Moreover, just as when we find a horse that for some reason cannot trot or gallop, we still recognize that it is a horse, so, too, when we find a human person that for some reason cannot express his personhood as one would expect, he ought still to be recognized as a human person.

            Or, should we stop treating all horses as horses? Oh, I admit that we frequently have shot lame horses. But that does not mean that we suddenly did not see them as being horses. It is just that horses do not have an unalienable right to life.

          • Chris Morris

            The problem is that your common sense is telling you that you don't need a "scientific poll to discern that people have always considered themselves one whole being" and your certainty is telling you that there's no need for you to actually check whether it's true or not. We all tend to make assumptions based on our 'common sense' but a little bit of uncertainty or humility may incline us to some research which perhaps reveals the assumption to be inaccurate (as I think would've been the case with your assertion of the old 'humans physically replaced ever 7 years' myth from earlier in the conversation).

            "...so, too, when we find a human person that for some reason cannot express his personhood as one would expect, he ought still to be recognized as a human person." Yes, if you go back and read the conversation carefully you will see that address this point.

            "Or, should we stop treating all horses as horses?" Again, if you go back and read the conversation carefully you will see that I don't regard the treatment of humans and horses as belonging to the same context and that, therefore, it would be ultra-consistent to assume the same inalienable rights for both. I've met plenty of animal rights activists and others who do argue for those contexts being identical but I'm not sure that I've ever come across anyone who achieves total consistency in this by, for example, never using anti-biotics.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Frankly, it is a bit hard to even get Disqus to give me the latest comment to which to reply, say nothing of taking the time to search all the prior comments in the thread.

            I met a woman last night whose mother recognized neither her own daughters as her granddaughters nor herself as her daughter. But to make the problem of dementia as strong as possible, let us consider a continuum going all the way to unconsciousness -- a state in which personhood can hardly be manifested.

            The problem with your denying the wholeness of things above the atomic level is that it is not merely common sense as universally historically experienced, but also the presupposition of scientists before they started coming up with atomic theory. Moreover atomic theory itself does not deny the substantial unity of anything, since it is merely a scientific chemical theory that says we are composed of tiny particles, but does not tell us how those particles function within an entire organism as part of the whole.

            This theory takes on significance for our discussion solely when we turn it into a philosophical theory, which is what your judgments are now being based upon.

            But, as a philosophical theory, your judgments are not actually scientifically based, and therefore, carry no more weight than the common experience of mankind.

            Moreover, there are sound philosophical arguments in favor of the substantial unity of things above the atomic level, for example, (1) the fact that all the parts act for the good of the whole, and (2) we are immediately aware of all the subjective unity of our integrated sensory experiences and our coordinated execution of motor responses to thos experiences.

            While you may not accept at face value the arguments for substantial unity, they constitute at least a serious doubt about your claims that there is no such unity, and hence, such substantial personal "whole" existence in humans.

            Thus, in the practical ethical order, since one cannot deliberately risk taking the life of an innocent human being, if your philosophical perspective would result in such possible decisions, it cannot be accepted as a societal norm.

          • Chris Morris

            I'll respond point by point:

            Prior comments. I must admit that I've taken the conversation seriously enough that I tend to remember the points you've made and I've noted that you wrote "I still have to give proper thought and value to any of the points you are making. If I seem to ignore any point, do not hesitate to put it directly before me again - please." If you find it difficult to re-read the conversation, I'll reconstruct some points.

            Dementia as unconsciousness. My response to this repeats one to your earlier "it is little different than a person under deep anesthesia. His mind is essentially inoperative, but he is still a single...being." My experience suggests to me that you're very mistaken in this assertion. The cognitive faculties remain entirely operative but the memory and filters which meaningfully extend cognition no longer work to 'orchestrate' those faculties.

            "The problem with your denying the wholeness of things above the atomic level..." I'm not even sure that I am actually denying that. All I'm claiming is that it appears to me that our sense of identity seems to be a reflexive process driven by the interplay of physical, social, and psychological realities. If there is some transcendent essential being beyond that I haven't seen it yet. Once again I confess my ignorance of the connection between those particles and the non-physical elements of our reality.

            Philosophical theory, scientifically-based or otherwise. I entirely agree that my views carry no more weight than the common experience of mankind. I am just another human being and we all have individual experience that makes us 'experts' in some area or subject. I believe that Dawkins is an expert on snails (not having ever bothered reading any of his books I'm unsure whether this is true), one of my areas of expertise is in the experience of being a very good runner, which I was 40 years ago, giving me an insight into the pack-hunting instinct of early humans.

            "...serious doubt about your claims..." Yes, doubt is what I'm talking about. There are a few small details that I claim to be reasonably sure about but there are much bigger areas where I either have considerable doubts or can't claim to know anything. Given this uncertainty in my philosophical perspective, I'm not in a position to impose any universal truths or ethical systems which is why, in all my conversations with Rob Abney, I've advocated for negotiating practical strategies for limiting harm within the context of current political processes.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            "I'll reconstruct some points." Appreciated. Thank you.

            "The cognitive faculties remain entirely operative but the memory and filters which meaningfully extend cognition no longer work to 'orchestrate' those faculties."

            But you see I am conceding total loss of whatever behavior abilities you are counting as signs of identity. My point is that while there likely are such times in human life, this in no way removes the underlying substantial unity and nature of the human person.

            "... it appears to me that our sense of identity seems to be a reflexive process driven by the interplay of physical, social, and psychological realities."

            This is at the center of our dispute. You are defining personal identity as a process taking place at a level which is entirely secondary to what I am talking about.

            I am talking about an underlying substrate of being that unifies the whole person. What you are challenging or ignoring is the entire classical history of substance, whose primary opponent is the doctrine of atomism, which itself must embrace some sort of ultimate basic particle upon whose substantial existence the entire edifice of atomism rests!

            We are talking about two entirely different things. While I am well aware of and grant the existence of higher levels of cognitive function that may be physically dependent on brain function, I am also admitting the existence of the underlying organism as a single thing whose nature perdures the transient presence or loss of human cognitive abilities.

            "Yes, doubt is what I'm talking about. There are a few small details that I claim to be reasonably sure about but there are much bigger areas where I either have considerable doubts or can't claim to know anything."

            I do appreciate the philosophical humility of your position, but the last point I made my prior comment had to do with that very doubt regarding the presence or absence of human personal life. You are making the not-so-doubted claim that the human personal identity is lost during radical dementia. But that is precisely what the alternative position contradicts. Namely, what I am saying is that if the human substance at a primary level is present from conception to death -- regardless of its ability or inability to be fully manifested in action, then we have no right to terminate human life at any point, since, even in the case of doubt, the benefit of the doubt must be given to the presence of the human person.

            Again, to underline this point with the classical example, you cannot shoot into a thicket unless you are absolutely certain that what is there is a deer and not a human.

            Your very epistemology precludes you being certain that the person is not there -- in which case you must act as if he were there for the purpose of all societal lawmaking.

          • Chris Morris

            "But you see I am conceding total loss of whatever behaviour abilities you are counting as signs of identity." I understand how difficult it is to get this point particularly if one hasn't witnessed it or has only seen it happen to a close acquaintance as I'm also struggling to describe it clearly. If, by "this in no way removes the underlying substantial unity...", you mean that involuntary bodily functions continue to occur then, yes, but the person's ability to make sense of what's going on around them, which I think is what allows us to recognise and understand ourselves as having an individual identity, gradually diminishes to nothing.

            Thus, when you say that I'm "defining personal identity as a process taking place at a level which is entirely secondary to what I'm talking about" I would agree. My problem is that I can't see through that "secondary" level to know whether there is anything behind, below, or beyond it and if that means challenging the entire classical history of substance, well, I'm not alone in that (and I'm sure it can cope manfully with a bit of a challenge).

            While you're still struggling to fit me in to the substance/atomism dichotomy, presumably on the basis that you're certain of the correctness of A-T metaphysics and showing me that I'm really an atomist means another one of those dastardly unbelievers can be put in his place, I have just the same disagreement with 'atomists', 'materialists', 'scientismists', or whatever label you might want to give them. Their view of human being fails to account for so much of the human experience in the same way that the 'classical substance' view does and, in a way, for much the same reasons.

            "...if the human substance at a primary level is present from conception to death... then we have no right to terminate human life at any point..."
            Well, to be honest I'm shocked that you require some metaphysical position or universal rule to tell you why you shouldn't kill people. I think most people generally try to avoid killing other people mainly because it's been a widely held belief for a considerable part of human history that it's not a good thing to do, something which seems eminently reasonable to me.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            "... but the person's ability to make sense of what's going on around them, which I think is what allows us to recognise and understand ourselves as having an individual identity, gradually diminishes to nothing."

            I thought that I made clear that when I said " total loss of whatever behavior abilities you are counting as signs of identity," I was including precisely such catastrophic loss of function as you describe here.

            Well, I see you are not comfortable with either a substance or an atomistic metaphysics. I guess I will just have to defend the notion that we are one being from beginning to end and that any attempt to define our humanity or personhood that fails to take that into account is radically incomplete in my book. You are defining your views into a different context, but I think you still need to address the basic truth value of the claims of a classic substance ontology, even if you don't like what it says.

            "Well, to be honest I'm shocked that you require some metaphysical position or universal rule to tell you why you shouldn't kill people."

            Does this mean that you universally oppose all forms of direct abortion and euthanasia? I suspect it does not. That would be precisely why there is a need to clarify the ontology of what essentially constitutes a human being and why your apparent definition of personhood appears to leave open the possibility of abortion and euthanasia in instances where my metaphysics and ethics would demand that they be universally forbidden.

            Relativism is not very comfortable with absolutes, such as "thou shalt not kill" --- ever.

          • Chris Morris

            I was beginning to think that there are limits to how many times I can reasonably be expected to repeat the same comments but then you write "Well, I see you are not comfortable with either a substance or an atomic metaphysics", finally acknowledging the essential point I've been repeating in virtually every comment since my very first post. So perhaps repetition is the key.

            You recognise two major issues in your response: defining what it means to be human and the ethical consequences of such definitions. As I said a few posts ago, I think these are best dealt with as separate but related debates but, as usual, I'll just carry on reacting to each of your points as you make them.

            "I guess I will just have to defend the notion that we are one being from beginning to end..."
            As far as I can see, you've already presented a comprehensive defence of that view in the many essays and comments on this site and, in a way, I agree with you that any view which fails to take account of that notion is "radically incomplete" but I also think that any view which fails to take account of the very real complexity of that notion is also radically incomplete.

            Some time back in the conversation, when you were still trying to 'fit me up' as an 'atomist', I commented that your view seemed nearer to atomism than mine, a comment which you presumably passed over because it didn't make sense to you. I'd like to come back to it here in the hope that it can clarify this point. Atomism is a notion with different meanings or, rather, it's a metaphor used in different contexts. In the sense you've been using it, it simply seems to indicate a materialist view but I'd like to present it in the context of the post-17th century development of positivist social studies and analytic philosophy where it indicates the reductive notion that all analysis must necessarily begin with the autonomous individual.
            There is now a well-established, but very broad and diverse, spectrum of views providing strong criticism of that stance, much of it concentrating on the analytic project of stripping away contingent or secondary features to reveal the true essence of human being, showing how this stripping away actually reveals that these things are not simply contingencies which we can do without and still be human. The criticism also centres on the difficulty that reductionism enables an attitude toward the individual as a mere statistic, that all individuals have an identical essence and, therefore, simplistic universal rules or truths can be applied without any problem.
            I understand your answer to this is probably that they would've found Aristotle's substantial form if only they hadn't abandoned Aristotle's hylemorphism but, no matter how many defences I read of that view, I still can't feel that it's convincing.

            "Does this mean that you universally oppose all forms of direct abortion and euthanasia?" I know you've followed all the conversations I've had with Rob that cover this ground quite thoroughly so I shouldn't need to repeat any of it here. I think a blanket ban on abortions creates the potential for other forms of serious harm in a several specific situations which I've listed previously. Yes, as a relativist I'm not comfortable with absolutes for reasons which I hope are clear from my other comments.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            "I understand your answer to this is probably that they would've found Aristotle's substantial form if only they hadn't abandoned Aristotle's hylemorphism but, no matter how many defences I read of that view, I still can't feel that it's convincing."

            You do seem to realize that the reason our positions are incommensurable is because of ontological differences.

            It isn't simply the specifics of Aristotle's hylemorphism that appear at stake here, but a more basic common understanding of what it means to be a being. If we cannot agree on the notion that there are real things in the world and that they have constant natures throughout their existence, then we have no common coin of communication, it seems to me.

            The direction taken by many moderns is not merely away from Aristotle, but also away from any realistic view that we live in a world of real and basically constant things, including human beings with a human nature that perdures underneath all the changing societal and psychological aspects that appear to so overwhelm the modern mind.

            If all this sounds archaic to you, then I guess I have to plead guilty. All I can do is plead once again to you to try to understand that all you refer to as defining human existence is secondary to and dependent on a deeper and more constant meaning to human nature and what it is to be a human being. I do not deny the importance of the aspects you describe. I do deny that they are the most basic aspects of human existence.

            "Yes, as a relativist I'm not comfortable with absolutes for reasons which I hope are clear from my other comments."

            First, does not being "comfortable" mean that you deny the existence of absolutes? Or, does it just mean they make you feel a bit queasy, like a spoiled meal?

            If the former, then I must ask, whether your rejection of absolutes is itself absolute or merely relative? If merely relative, then you do accept absolutes in some cases. If absolute, then you do hold an absolute in your absolute rejection of absolutes. Either way, you are not actually a relativist.

            Doubtless, at this point, you likely think I am just playing with words. But the words have real meanings and the logic of them is definitive if you follow them.

            Now I understand why you are so "uncomfortable" with the principle of non-contradiction.

          • Chris Morris

            Just time for a quick immediate reaction to this.

            "The direction taken by many moderns is not merely away from Aristotle, but also away from any realistic view that we live in a world of real and basically constant things..."

            "All I can do is plead once again to you to try to understand that all you refer to as defining human existence is secondary..."

            Let me just refer you back to my reason for entering the conversation three weeks ago: that certainty such as you're asserting here has the potential to blind you to the possibility of further analysis or evidence providing the basis for a modification or reassessment of that original position. Your "pleading" rather puts me in mind of the cliched line in TV detective shows where the 'usual suspect' exclaims "ya gotta believe me, Loo-tenant, I ain't guilty." I 'don't gotta' believe you, I need to look at the evidence which, by all means, includes your "archaic" logic but must also take into account the results of neuroscience and other social and philosophical analysis plus any other relevant information.

            So my plea to you would be, as it has been since my first comment and as it has generally been in all the comments I've made on Disqus threads, try to imagine the possibility that things aren't quite how your certainty asserts them to be - not that either I'm right and you're wrong or you're right and I'm wrong but that it may be worthwhile considering that there is more to this than we're recognising and to be open to thinking about other ways of looking at it.

            Relativism: Oh dear! The old "if you absolutely reject absolutes then you aren't a relativist" strawman. When I agreed with your use of the phrase "not very comfortable with", I meant precisely that. What you regard as absolutes seem to me mostly views which have been widely held for long enough to have the appearance of absolute values. Whether that makes them absolutes or whether there may be other values which are actually absolute is, other than their usefulness as vague aspirations, of less concern to me than looking at practical strategies for improving our present political realities.

            A note on the use of labels: my use of the term 'relativist' in reference to myself is generally casual and ironic. If the views I've expressed make you feel that another label is more appropriate then please feel free to use one. My feeling is that people can call me any names they want and I'll carry on not worrying about it.

          • Rob Abney

            I'm curious, does your denial of all certainties include your denial of the existence of God or is it because you deny God's existence that you are not comfortable with any certainties?

          • Chris Morris

            "...your denial of all certainties..." as I've said before, I don't have that level of certainty.

            God: I don't know, I'm never really sure what to make of the idea. I was brought up in a non-religious family and have never had any religious faith of any sort. Personally, I've never felt any need for it and generally regard other people's faith as none of my business.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            You know, ironically, should I somehow manage to lose my Catholic religious faith, I would still be confronted with what is to me -- after more than half a century of examining the matter -- the overwhelming purely rational evidence for the existence of God, which I would still be "stuck" with.

          • Rob Abney

            That's fine that you regard other people's faith as none of your business, but at a site for Catholics and atheists to dialogue I think it is safe for me to assume that you are on the atheist side without risking being told that it is none of my business.
            Besides, I specifically asked about your understanding of the existence of God, not about your faith or lack of, since the existence of God can be known through reasoning.

          • Chris Morris

            I'll make one more comment before departing for reasons given elsewhere.

            I rarely take much notice of where I'm having conversations. I tend to just see people making assertions which interest me and which I feel may be open to challenging in a way that might help me make more sense of my lived experience.

            The one thing that should be glaringly obvious from my comments is that I feel 'taking sides' is a problem which humankind really needs to progress beyond. At the same time as I was having this conversation with Dennis, I attempted to open a similar dialogue with Jonathon Pearce when he wrote an article ("I am Certain of My Atheism...") on A Tippling Philosopher. It didn't go anywhere presumably because he wasn't interested in discussing it so, if you're looking to see this as a competition, Dennis wins hands down on this occasion.

            "I specifically asked you about your understanding of the existence of God..." I can only repeat that I have no real understanding because I haven't, so far, managed to make any sense of all the different things people say and reality isn't transparent to me - I can't see through it to know whether there's anything beyond it.

            As for the view that logic provides a window through which we can perceive transcendental reality, my feeling is that logical arguments require some sort of empirical input to substantiate them so that reasoning may be correct but insufficient. I present these remarks with the proviso that they are simply my opinion and make no claim to them having any value as objective arguments.

          • David Nickol

            . . . since the existence of God can be known through reasoning.

            That is Catholic dogma, not a philosophical "fact."

          • Rob Abney

            Do you consider Aristotle to be a catholic?

          • BTS

            since the existence of God can be known through reasoning.

            If that were true (and I mean really, demonstrably true and evident to all) then this website would not need to exist.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            We can give very powerful demonstrations that the earth goes around the sun. But there are still avid defenders of geocentrism.

            https://sharperiron.org/article/critique-of-dr-thomas-m-strouses-geocentric-cosmology-of-genesis-11-19

            According to your exact same reasoning, then, heliocentrism cannot be known through reasoning, since it is not "evident to all."

          • BTS

            Geocentrism is not supported by experimental data. Heliocentrism cannot be supported merely by reason. Experimental data is also required.

            You are claiming god's existence can be proven by reason alone. I disagree. Experimental data is required. Or unequivocal personal revelation. But reason alone cannot get you there.

            I would have been there a long time ago if it could.

          • Rob Abney

            If I recall correctly, you were there a long time ago, only recently have you become irrational?

          • David Nickol

            Even Aquinas, in the confusingly worded quote you reproduced earlier, does not go so far as to insult people who don't accept his teachings by calling them irrational. Evangelization is not about asserting your sense of superiority over people who do not share your beliefs. It is speaking and behaving in such a way as to draw people toward your beliefs.

          • Rob Abney

            Good point, I edited out the word irrational.

          • BTS

            Only recently have I come into the full power of my reasoning ability. Only recently have I had the time and the inkling to delve into these issues. Only recently has the internet made such discussions possible and research so easy. Only recently have I learned how many others have the same questions and doubts. Only recently have I been confident enough to trust my intuition and intellect on such matters.

          • Rob Abney

            One way for me to fit in better Is to agree with many of my friends that to be religious is good for those who have not developed their intellect and for those who fail to recognize the highest virtue of tolerance. I could also find a large number of popular internet sites to help me combat the brainwashed religious friends and family.
            Or, I could realize that many of my friends and most of the popular internet authors are simply repeating old objections that have been refuted by deep thinkers such as Aquinas and others. And in that case I would try to understand his reasoning not complain that it’s too hard to understand.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            "You are claiming god's existence can be proven by reason alone."

            In my comment, I made no claims at all -- except to point out that your own words requiring "evident to all" would make even heliocentrism not knowable by reasoning.

            Now you wish to add the notion of "experimental data" to the concept of "demonstrably." But you did not say that originally, and, even with it added, it appears that heliocentrism cannot be known by reasoning, since it is still not "evident to all."

          • BTS

            I will scratch "evident to all" from the record. I was being hyperbolic. Better?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Better. But, you are still making the scientistic assumption that no demonstration can be valid unless it can be somehow experimentally verified.

            Just as a side note, the classical proofs for God's existence are never a matter of mere a priori reasoning, but valid ones always are a posteriori in nature, starting with some empirical fact that is evident to the senses, such as motion.

            The modern preoccupation with "experimental verification" is perfectly valid for natural science. But, natural science is not philosophy, even though its methodology has multiple philosophical presuppositions underlying it.

          • BTS

            Better. But, you are still making the scientistic assumption that no demonstration can be valid unless it can be somehow experimentally verified.

            I could turn that around and say you should not rely solely on philosophy.

            What toolkit I use to vet an idea/product/choice depends on what is at stake.

            For the big questions, I think multiple toolkits should be used.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            My own background was initially in chemistry, so I am not adverse to the scientific method.

            But one must use the proper method for the proper discipline. And, while there is a philosophy of science proper to natural science, there are also properly philosophical questions that must be addressed the philosophical method, which need not entail physical experiments for verification.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            We do not rely solely on philosophy -- except for purely philosophical problems. Where the universal philosophical principles touch on concrete scientific facts, as in bioethics, we incorporate the needed scientific data. But the data never violates the basic metaphysical or ethical universal principles.

            It is all a matter of knowing which discipline you are in and which are the appropriate methodologies to apply. But in proving God's existence, while you start with sensio-intellective data, the arguments themselves do not rely on natural science, or else, they could never produce certitude -- only probabilities.

          • David Nickol

            "Evident to all" may not have been the exact best choice of words, but those who still defend geocentrism are basically crackpots.

            As I said before in response to Rob Abney, the idea that God can be known by reason alone is not a philosophical "fact." It is a religious dogma, and a rather curious one at that. Also, I think what the Church teaches about knowing God by human reason is not so much an affirmation that Aquinas's "proofs" are airtight, but includes such contentions as the following (from CCC 32):

            As St. Paul says of the Gentiles: For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made.

            And St. Augustine issues this challenge: Question the beauty of the earth, question the beauty of the sea, question the beauty of the air distending and diffusing itself, question the beauty of the sky. . . question all these realities. All respond: "See, we are beautiful." Their beauty is a profession [confessio]. These beauties are subject to change. Who made them if not the Beautiful One [Pulcher] who is not subject to change?

          • Rob Abney

            I think that St Thomas explains why your premise is faulty: "We have considered that students in this doctrine have not seldom been hampered by what they have found written by other authors, partly on account of the multiplication of useless questions, articles, and arguments, partly also because those things that are needful for them to know are not taught according to the order of the subject matter, but according as the plan of the book might require, or the occasion of the argument offer, partly, too,
            because frequent repetition brought weariness and confusion to the minds of readers."

          • BTS

            Plain english, please!

          • Rob Abney

            Thanks for proving my point! Are you experiencing weariness or confusion?!

          • Johannes

            I think “evident to all” is not a needed criteria. Only deductively valid and sound is needed for a reasoning’s conclusion to be necessarily true (or for that conclusion to be impossible to be false).

          • BTS

            When I said evident to all I was speaking colloquially and using a bit of hyperbole.

            Regardless of whether or not an argument is logically sound, said argument it is not sufficient to surpass the bar of belief for many. Parlor tricks only get you so far.

          • Johannes Hui

            Hi BTS,

            I am trying to understand your thinking with this question:

            If we look at books and online materials teaching deductive reasoning, we learn that the nature of deductive argument is such that if it is valid and sound, then its conclusion is always necessarily true (ie impossible to be false). Are you saying that a sound deductive argument’s conclusion can be necessarily true, and yet not true?

            (only inductive arguments and abductive arguments or inference to the best explanation can give a false conclusion even when premises are true; in contrast, in deductive arguments, once every premise is true/sound and the reasoning structure is valid, the conclusion would be impossible to be false)

          • BTS

            I'm not looking for an argument about the process of using logic. Not my bag. I'm saying using logic alone to find god is not using the appropriate toolset. You can sit there all day long and think up nice arguments, but that doesn't get you anywhere on the question of whether there is a god.

          • Johannes Hui

            Hi BTS,

            Instead of discussing in the abstract, how about looking at a concrete example. I designed the following simple 3-step proof. What is wrong with it? It started off with the empirical fact that your physical existence depends continuously on various conditions.

            Premise 1: Your physical existence CONTINUOUSLY depends on the fulfillment of various series of conditions such as this series:

            you > cells > molecules > ...

            (every entity in the series is a condition for your existence; your existence depends on the continuous fulfillment of every condition in the series)

            Premise 2: Such a series is either a never-ending series or a series with an ending. If it is a never-ending series, then it is a never-ending task to fulfill all the conditions and hence fulfillment is impossible. Since you exist now, that means fulfillment has been achieved, and that in turn entails the series can only be a series with an ending. So a last entity/condition exists in the series now, concurrently with you and every entity in the series:

            you > cells > molecules > ... > last entity

            Premise 3: The last entity’s existence is either conditional or not conditional on something else. If it is conditional on something else, it won’t exist now because nothing exists after it in the series for it to be conditional on. Since it exists now, the only possibility is that its existence is unconditional on anything.

            Conclusion:
            The EMPIRICAL fact that you physically exist now ENTAILS (ie necesarily means) that a last entity having unconditional existence exists now. In other words, your existence now as a conditioned entity is continuously enabled by an unconditioned entity.

            Anything wrong with any of the three premises above? Anything wrong with the reasoning-structure? Is there any reason why the conclusion is not true?

            To prove that there is one and only one unconditioned entity that is responsible for the existence of all other entities will require the next stage. The end of next stage lies the conclusion that God exists.

          • Mark

            My only problem with any of this is that it is indeed abstract even if it is offered at the level of a materialist's convictions. Any particular thing's being and it's causal relationships and mathematical representations are abstract beliefs. It seems a theists is being required to apply a belief tool from an abstract toolset to prove an abstraction exists. An insistence on an abstract tool to prove abstractions that the tool is not designed for in order to prove it exists seems silly. But maybe I'm missing his point. Thanks for you contributions. I do like your comment.

          • Ficino

            Anything wrong with any of the three premises above? Anything wrong with the reasoning-structure?

            I think there is, but I shall await BTS's reply.

          • Johannes Hui

            Thanks Ficino. Looking forward to discovering which of my premises is false, or which part of the reasoning-structure is invalid, in my simple 3-step deductive proof demonstrating “the empirical fact that a person is physically existing now entails the concurrent existence of an entity whose existence is unconditional on anything”.

            Cheers! :)

          • Ficino

            I should have kept my mouth shut and just waited for BTS to reply.

          • Johannes Hui

            I think “evident to all” is not a needed criteria. Only deductively valid and sound is needed for a reasoning’s conclusion to be necessarily true (or for that conclusion to be impossible to be false).

          • Johannes Hui

            I think “evident to all” is not a needed criteria. Only deductively valid and sound is needed for a reasoning’s conclusion to be necessarily true (or for that conclusion to be impossible to be false).

          • Ficino

            Dr. Bonnette and I have discussed the following. With people like Anthony Kenny I consider analogical predication of names of God to lead to agnosticism. But Thomism relies on analogical predication of names of God.

            Proofs of God's existence, as you say above, must be valid deductive syllogisms. Aquinas accepts from Aristotle the dicta that for a syllogism to be demonstrative, and thus to yield knowledge (scientia), it must, among other features, employ terms that are predicated univocally throughout and that are predicated per se. Predication is per se: 1) when the predicate is put in the definition of the subject, as ‘multitude’ or ‘divisible’ is predicated of number because ‘multitude’ or ‘divisible’ is in the definition of number; 2) when the subject is put in the definition of the predicate, as ‘odd’ is predicated of number because ‘number’ is in the definition of ‘odd’ (Commentary on the Posterior Analytics, l. 35 n. 4). But since God is held to be in no genus, while a thing defined is defined by genus and specific differentia, and a univocal term must be in a genus, it is at best problematic that syllogisms in which God is a term can be valid demonstrations.

            Dr. Bonnette seemed willing to jettison this element of Thomism and to allow that predication must be univocal in the logic of proofs about God. We didn't really hash the question out completely, and I'm not sure whether we can, since as I understand him, Dr. Bonnette is committed to allowing full-bore Aristotelian syllogistic, which has not been generally accepted for the last century or more.

            It is also a problem that the logic adopted by Aquinas, and required for his system, treats existence as a first-order predicate. That too goes against modern logic. To give up modern logic and return to the logic admitted by Aquinas is too high a price for many to pay.

            There might be a way to dispense with the syllogistic of Aristotle as modified by Porphyry and inherited by Aquinas and still make the Ways work. Otherwise, I think the theist is left with arguing that certain fundamental principles like the PSR already entail the existence of God. But such an argument, by what you say above, needs to be rigidly standardized as a deductive system so we can analyze it.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            We can be endlessly engaged in the values of modern logic vs. classical logic, but I suspect that modern logic has its own baggage which entails certain metaphysical assumptions.

            Rather, I would again draw attention to the words of Benignus Gerrity which supply the needed common concept leading the mind from creatures to Creator:

            "The actuality of God is "to be" and the actuality of a creaturee is "to be"; and herein lies the ratio or principle by which these two beings can be grasped under the same concept. The ratio is real, and is the same in each case, and consequently the concept which signifies it possesses essential unity."
            Benignus, Nature, Knowledge, and God, 368.

            Thomists and others can debate whether this entails analogical or univocal predication, but the point is that we have a common concept to use in arguments to God's existence.

            Moreover, I see that the concept of being (regardless of logicians disputes about angels dancing on heads of pins) is sufficiently clear to the human mind to work when when we talk about creatures as beings and God as a being -- and when we consider arguments starting with the properties of finite beings in motion or as contingent, which lead the mind to the existence of an Unmoved First Mover or Necessary Being. I am not debating the arguments themselves here, but merely pointing out that our reasoning power is clearly comfortable dealing with the notion of "being" as somehow predicable both of creatures and of God.

            If you look at my own articles on Strange Notions offering arguments to God's existence, I suspect that its use of the term, "being," is sufficiently clear to most readers.
            https://strangenotions.com/how-cosmic-existence-reveals-gods-reality/
            https://strangenotions.com/how-new-existence-implies-god/

            Please note also that neither of these arguments is an explicit exposition of one of St. Thomas's Five Ways.

          • Ficino

            Yes, I don't think we're going to reach agreement. We can talk about "creatures" as "being," but when the ontological gulf between the being of God and the being of creatures is claimed, as Thomas of Sutton said, to be greater even than that between substance and accident, then it's not at all clear that from creatures' "being" we can know what the being of God is. And if we do know this, it's not at all clear that we know it by scientia, which is the product of a sound demonstrative syllogism. You want to have certitude about that which you acknowledge as "somehow" [my bolding] predicable in common. I am thinking, "easy to vary."

            I'll go back to reread your above articles later on, though.

            We have also talked about existence as a first-order predicate. Sentences like this from the Fourth Way make existence a perfection and a matter of degrees: "But more and less are said about different things according to their different modes of approaching that which is maximally existing (quod maxime est), just as something is more hot, to the degree to which it approaches the maximally hot. There is therefore something that is ... as a consequence, maximally existing (maxime ens), for what are maximally true are maximally existing." To say that esse admits of degrees introduces a huge amount of confusion, even when one tries to explain "existing" as though it cashes out as "being real."

          • Dennis Bonnette

            The not so easy to vary "somehow" is that each being has actuality or existence in proportion to its essence. We have the same problem with the universality of the metaphysical first principles, such as the PNC and PSR, since they apply both to creatures and to God in light of having application to any being at all. Short of truncating our knowledge of being in a universal way, which would allow God even to violate the PNC, the concept of being must be transcendentally valid.

            It is hardly surprising that what we know of God entails a measure of non-knowing, since we know that the positive perfections found in creatures must exist in God with a certain sameness, such as that God certainly understands the essences of creatures as well as we do, but it also contains a certain radical difference in that God's understanding of the being of a given creature totally exceeds any measure of cognition that mere abstraction by our limited intellects could achieve.

            The Fourth Way seems to me, at least to entail that beyond the mere fact of existence of all things, the mode of existence again is proportioned to the qualities permitted or enabled by the variety of essences found in creatures -- so that some exhibit more perfect such qualities than others.

            I am trying to respond to the key points here, but this is not a properly researched reply. Doubtless, it could be better expressed had I time to check the sources better.

          • Ficino

            @@dennisbonnette:disqus: I reread the first of the articles that you linked above. I didn't reread the second because you say in it that the analogy of being and the validity of a middle term predicated analogously are presupposed in it. In the first, you argue that something cannot begin to exist, nor can it continue to exist once generated, unless God gives it an act of existence at every moment - otherwise we are trying to "get something out of nothing."

            As I've said more than once, I can't prove that there is no Ground of Being out there. If that Ground of Being is utterly simple, though, then we have no explanation of multiplicity. Aristotle and Theophrastus report Plato's "unwritten doctrine" of principles, the One and the Indefinite Dyad. The supposedly simple first principle of Thomism doesn't explain why there is multiplicity. The question, "why is there something rather than nothing," can be rephrased and posed to the theist, "Why does/did God create at all, given God's aseity"? In the end, the questioner is met with answers that seem to devolve into "it is a mystery." So we're either in the same boat or in very similar boats.

            Back when I was in seminary, our dogmatics prof said that the doctrine of the Trinity solved the ancient problem of The One and the Many. He was not a Thomist, and I don't know how he would have described the relations among the persons of the Trinity. I find the Thomistic doctrines of real distinctions in God AND of God's radical simplicity incoherent, since Thomism requires a non-standard sense of "distinction."

            Anyway, as to your first article, you cite one of many places where Thomas repeats the dictum, "causa cessante cessat effectus" (when the cause ceases, the effect ceases). This dictum isn't true for efficient causes that we observe. A father can die after propagating a child, and the child does not cease. For efficient causes, the dictum only works if the cause in question is the first, universal cause. But then we get into question-begging borderlands too obvious to spell out.

            As to proportional analogy, the standard example in Aristotle is "spine is to fish as pounce is to cuttlefish as bone is to land animal." The proportion between the analogates is constant. But that's not true when our analogates include God, as you make clear yourself. As you say, a created thing's being is distinct from its essence and is totally dependent on a cause external to it. God's being is identical with His essence, and nothing in God is dependent on anything external. For an analogy of proportion, we have to be able to say, "as the being of the creature is to the creature, so God's being is to God." But the analogy is false. God's being is identical with God, but the creature's being is not identical with the creature. So no analogy of proportion. This is the problem that Thomas of Sutton failed to notice: his "analogy of proportion" glosses over the ontological abyss between God's being and creature's being. When we say, A is to B as C is to D, but A = B and C ≠ D, we have disanalogy not analogy.

            So people engage in what some wag, I forget who, dubbed "God talk," but they have trouble convincing skeptics that their arguments are founded upon valid demonstrative syllogisms that yield certitude.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I am concerned about too much length here. May break this into two comments. I will address only your objections.

            "If that Ground of Being is utterly simple, though, then we have no explanation of multiplicity." "The supposedly simple first principle of Thomism doesn't explain why there is multiplicity."

            I suspect the answer is not to apply rules drawn from material things to immaterial entities. In one of my articles, I point out that the simplicity of sense perception somehow manages to unify in a simple act objects that are extended in space. Whether it appears possible or not, the fact is that we do it. Similarly, it appears that a simple spiritual substance can produce effects that entail multiplicity.
            See comment on wholeness in sense perception here: https://drbonnette.com/how-we-know-the-human-soul-is-immortal/

            " "Why does/did God create at all, given God's aseity"?"
            Because he has free choice regarding goods less than himself -- and he wants to.

            "I find the Thomistic doctrines of real distinctions in God AND of God's radical simplicity incoherent, since Thomism requires a non-standard sense of "distinction.""

            Part of the problem, I suspect, is that you have abandoned all spiritual explanations of reality. To me, there is nothing incoherent at all about there being distinct relational terms in God -- for the same reason that there are distinct relational terms in my own consciousness of myself. That is, myself as knower is distinct from myself as object known, although I am a single spiritual being. But if you think you are yourself merely a material entity, then none of this makes sense either for yourself or for God.

            As for the problem with the analogy of being, recall I did not insist above that what is similar in God and creatures necessarily be called univocal or analogous, just as long as there is something that is the same in each, and that is, as Benignus says, as long as the actuality of both God and creatures is "to be," the concept which signifies this common principle possesses an essential unity which is what we need to predicate being of creatures and God.

            Perhaps all this is why Thomists have no problem at all talking about the being of God and creatures in such terms as God being absolutely simple but creating nearly infinite creatures, while himself being both a Trinity of persons while absolutely simple.

            What is easily imaginable to the metaphysical dualist may seem incomprehensible to the metaphysical materialist.

          • Ficino

            To me, there is nothing incoherent at all about there being distinct relational terms in God -- for the same reason that there are distinct relational terms in my own consciousness of myself.

            I think here the problems we've been discussing come back in another guise. I have seen Thomists argue to God from a posited necessity that an exterior cause ground the existence of entities in which we find real distinctions. But then they do not apply that principle to God.

            I'll leave the Trinity aside now, though.

            I did not insist above that what is similar in God and creatures necessarily be called univocal or analogous, just as long as there is something that is the same in each,

            But is precisely the issue that must be pressed to the man who maintains that he has offered a demonstrative syllogism proving with certitude that God exists. If terms in this syllogism are NOT predicated even analogically, as you seem to allow above, let alone univocally, then in what mode are they predicated? Metaphorically? But that's just what Anthony Kenny says of terms predicated of God and creatures, that they're predicated of God metaphorically. Ergo agnosticism. If the terms are not predicated univocally or analogically, how are they predicated?

            Arguments for God might be dialectical syllogisms, but then they won't yield certitude. Or, perhaps with Plantinga one might say that belief in God is properly basic, as though humans cognize God not by scientia but by intellectus, as though God's existence is simply self-evident. I think such a claim if adopted would destroy Thomism.

            Further.

            1. In a demonstrative syllogism, the medium must be in the same genus as the extreme terms. When God is one of the extreme terms, what is the middle term in the same genus as God? If the answer is, "none, because God is not in a genus," then our syllogism isn't demonstrative.

            2. Demonstrations are not about singulars, since there is not scientia of singulars. Demonstrations are of universals or species of universals (like isosceles under triangle). But God is not a universal nor a species of a universal. If God is a singular, there is no demonstration of Him.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Regarding the Trinity:

            " I have seen Thomists argue to God from a posited necessity that an exterior cause ground the existence of entities in which we find real distinctions. But then they do not apply that principle to God."

            The real distinction from which they argue is between distinct metaphysical principles: essence and existence. But the dogma of the Trinity says that while there can be no real distinction between parts, principles, or beings in God, yet there can be a real distinction between the terms of a relation, which is the only distinction allowed in God. (The Persons are the terms of the relations.)

            "If the terms might not be predicated univocally or analogically, how would they predicated?"

            I did not intend to suggest that analogy or univocal predication was not involved. I cited Benignus' expression of a common concept, but then said that it need not "necessarily be called univocal or analogous, just as long as there is something that is the same in each."

            I can now see that my wording was a bit Delphic, since I did not mean to say that it might be neither analogous nor univocal, but rather that which term properly describes such a common concept might be read by some as analogous, but by others as univocal.

            I do not agree with Plantinga and proofs for God obviously cannot be merely dialectical. I would be a bit cautious about automatically applying rules of logic to arguments for God, since some elements of them may be sui generis to the context.

            For example, while one may define that there can be no demonstration about God, since he is a singular, this does not necessarily mean that a valid inference cannot be drawn. It might merely mean that the argument does not follow the technical form demanded.

            Surely it is a valid inference to argue: If every cow is a mammal, and if Elsie is a cow, then Elsie is a mammal.
            And yet, "Elsie" is a singular term.

            The singular in such cases plays the role of a universal, since "Elsie" is also "every possible Elsie." So, too, since God is the one and only possible God, valid inferences about him can be drawn.

            While it may not be immediately evident that the Uncaused First Cause can only be a single thing, this does not rule out the possibility of validly inferring such a being exists, and then, later on showing that only one such being is possible. Hence, the inference that there is an Uncaused First Cause might be valid, even though it is actually a singular term.

          • Johannes Hui

            Various sets of reasonings for God’s existence seems to be deductively valid and sound, and thus the existence of God can be known via reasoning.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            "...certainty such as you're asserting here has the potential to blind you to the possibility of further analysis or evidence providing the basis for a modification or reassessment of that original position."

            You may think I am attempting to bludgeon you with what I must now say, but it is clear to me that you do not grasp the real meaning of certitude.

            I say this because you are now asking me to suspend my judgment of certitude so as to reinvestigate it somehow to see if I really should be so certain. Now, if that reinvestigation concludes again that certitude is warranted, will you not ask me again to suspend judgment and engage in this investigation as to whether certitude is warranted again? I am sure you can see the potential for infinite regress here and the (if you forgive my saying it) certitude that certitude will never be reached.

            The problem is that objective certitude is had only in the mind possessing it. If you do not have it, or do not notice that you do, there is no way of imposing it upon you.

            But to ask that one suspend judgment of certitude in the face of certitude is really epistemologically absurd.

            Imagine that you are sitting on a red hot stove. Would you really have any doubt about it? Yes, you might doubt a lot of things about it, such as whether it really is a stove you are sitting on. But, I submit you could not doubt the reality of the searing pain you would be experiencing. You might even doubt whether it is reality or just an horrid hallucination. But none of that could make you doubt the reality of the agonizing experience itself. Nor could you simply "suspend judgment" about that experience.

            Now the person not having the experience might doubt the person who claims to be having it. But the person in the midst of the agony cannot doubt its objective reality -- even if it is only a subjective experience.

            The problem with philosophical certitudes is that they are had only by the person having them. If I tell you about mine, and you do not have the same one yourself, then your knowledge of my certitude is like knowing the history of philosophy, which is not itself the act of philosophizing.

            You have no philosophy except that which you yourself understand. You can accurately relate the philosophy of others until the cows come home, but have no philosophy yourself. All you would know is the history of others' thoughts, not actual philosophy.

            So, I am sorry. I cannot give you my certitudes. But neither can you expect me to deny or suspend judgment on them if I have some. That is why the PNC is self-evident to me, whether you accept it as universally true or not. If, for some reason, you do not see its truth, I really cannot help you except to try to say things that might help bring your own mind to see what I see.

            And that is why all your descriptions of secondary modes of existence of persons founder on my basic certitude that nothing really exists unless they are first of all substances, or else, dependent on a substance.

            That is to say, unless something exists in itself and separately from everything else, it is not a real being -- unless, of course, it is somehow a part of or dependent on something such as I just described. That is to say, substance is the primary meaning of being. Anything else that has existence must have it in and through some substance.

            And that is why I keep trying to bring your mind back to the substantial existence of personhood as the foundation for all you describe as recent discoveries about the societal and psychological nature of the person.

            You appear to me to be defining personhood in terms of what Aristotle would call accidental being -- a reality that exists only in special kinds of interaction between a human "thing" and the world. I think I understand that.

            But I am arguing that beneath any such accidental realities there must exist a substantially real existent person, since there are signs of rationality in existence which must be grounded in some substance having a rational nature.

            That is why Boethius defines a person as a substance (supposit) of a rational nature. And unless such a substance exists to underlie the rational activities we see in human interactivity, the secondary manifestations of rational activities would have no reality, just like in the case of what I described above as there being what Aristotle calls accidents without substance.

            That is why I am certain that secondary rational properties presuppose the primary existence of a rational substance or person. And, as I said above, I cannot make anyone else have the same certitude about this as I do, but that does not require that I suspend my objectively certain judgment about this basic truth in order to reinvestigate whether I should really be certain about it.

          • Chris Morris

            Thank you for taking the time to write such a full response. It's fascinating to me that you take me to be misunderstanding the "real meaning of certitude" on the basis that I hold a view in which it's possible to be slightly less than absolutely certain about something without completely abandoning all hope of ever being sure of anything at all.

            It does seem as though you feel that, unless you maintain an impervious certainty at all times whatever the possibility of new information or evidence may suggest, your entire metaphysical foundation will be in danger disintegration, an 'all-or-nothing' attitude that is demonstrated in most of your posts. As I say, it's an incredibly interesting experience for me to engage with a view which is so alien to that which I'm accustomed and it's also been a useful one as it has given me slightly more confidence that my view has some utility.

            The illness that I assumed was a virus turned out to be kidney problems which will need hospital investigation so I'll take break from these conversations for now. Thank you for indulging my thought processes.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            "...unless you maintain an impervious certainty at all times whatever the possibility of new information or evidence may suggest, your entire metaphysical foundation will be in danger disintegration...."

            Actually, there is a hierarchy of knowledge as I see it in which some foundational truths are clearly certain and universally so, such as the PNC and PSR. In fact, if you look at the history of Thomism, there were published early in the last century, not by St. Thomas himself of course!, but by others, a list of 24 theses that were held to be central to Thomistic philosophy. At any rate, I would also hold a number of other truths to be certain, including God's existence.

            That said, there is room for a lot of speculation in secondary and tertiary matters, which are not held by faith, but rational explanations of general philosophical truths and even rational explanation of truths presented as revealed by God.

            What I am trying to say is that the number of absolutely certain general truths claimed is somewhat limited. Yet, since every immediate experience has the certitude of its experienced content given as true, one might say the number of certitudes is near infinite! (But one does not count them this way.)

            In any case, I appreciate the time and effort you have put into discussing with me these last weeks and trust we have both learned some new things thereby.

            More to the point, though, I am sincerely sorry to hear you must enter hospital for this problem and, dare I say that I pray it will be resolved quickly so that you will be back and well again soon? I guess our most basic difference is that I am sure I have someone to pray to and you are clearly not sure at all. So, I guess I might be able to help you, but you don't even know whether to try to use that form of "help" for yourself since you don't seem to know or, perhaps even care, if it does exist. I don't mean this in a denigrating way, but simply as an interesting observation about our different perspectives.

            Get well soon.

          • Ficino

            reductionism enables an attitude toward the individual as a mere statistic, that all individuals have an identical essence and, therefore, simplistic universal rules or truths can be applied without any problem.

            Good observation.

          • Ficino

            Dennis, you are saying that what makes an individual not a heap is its substantial form? P.V. Spade says it's "the one act of esse that ties the whole thing together." ???

            https://scholarworks.iu.edu/dspace/bitstream/handle/2022/18961/P401-P515%20Lecture%20Notes%20Fall%202009%20Universals.pdf?sequence=1

          • Dennis Bonnette

            But the reason you have that type of esse is because you have the type of form that determines the type of esse you have.

          • Ficino

            As you know, I don't maintain that there are formal or final causes in re. But what you say above is genuine A-T, so thanks. I thought Spade's explanation was incomplete from an A-T perspective, so glad to see the citation you quoted.

          • Tom More

            Excellent succinct review of the madness of mindless materialism where atheists should stop using words to be consistent with their arrational rationalizations.

          • VicqRuiz

            in an existential sense of living one's life, it is possible to allow contradictories to stand in suspended opposition

            In much the same way, most Christians accept the doctrine of the trinity, when in any other context they would find the assertion that

            A=D and B=D and C=D and ABC

            to violate the rules of logic.

            So they call it a "mystery" and allow it to stand while living their lives.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            How to put this gently?

            You simply do not know the actual explanation of why the Trinity does not only not defy the rules of logic, but more importantly, the laws of being.

            No real distinction is possible in God between beings, parts, or principles -- since all these would violate the divine simplicity.

            The only real distinction possible in God is a distinction of relation involving distinct terms of the relation. I am not going to try to explain it all to you here, since St. Thomas Aquinas takes many, many pages in his Summa Theologiae to do it.

            But essentially, just as there is a distinction between you knowing yourself and you as the cognitive object of that reflexive act -- without you thereby becoming two people, so too is it possible for there to be distinctions between the terms of God's cognitive and volitive single act such as to constitute really distinct Persons without destroying, thereby, the absolute unity of the divine substance.

            If you don't understand this, I suggest respectfully that you immerse yourself in St. Thomas's extensive explanation.

          • VicqRuiz

            Indeed, things look very different from inside the room than they do from outside. Although there are some exceptions, particularly the biblical unitarian Christians (not to be confused with the UU's) who reject the trinity as unscriptural.

            I could start with asking you to define "being" and "person" as used in your post, but I've been there a few times with Christians already, and I imaging you've been there with skeptics quite a few more.

            You may have had an experience of the divine in which these things were revealed to you. More power to you if that's the case. I won't deny the possibility - all I can honestly say is that such an experience has never happened to me.

    • What human minds "demand" doesn't imply what is true about reality.

      Why can't say, the universe exists for no reason in such a way that humans develop minds that demand reasons for everything?

      I don't completely trust my mind in everyday experience. Nor do I completely trust science. Both are subject to pretty big assumptions.

      One reason we have science is because we don't trust ourselves. We know we are subject to cognitive biases like confirmation bias, we know our minds will fill in blanks and assume answers even when there is no reasonable to conclude these conclusions.

      Basing an epistemology on what humans feel compelled to believe is a bad idea.

      • But

      • Dennis Bonnette

        Yes, you are perfectly free to admit that your mind is not trustworthy.

        And everyone else is free not to believe a word you are saying, since they need no reason to reject your claims about anything.

        • I didn't say that. I said I don't completely trust it. Do you? Do you never make errors?

          Of course people are free to do so. Of course I don't expect people to believe every word I say. I expect them to be critical.

          That isn't the question. The question is why would the fact that sound arguments require justified premises entail that all facts have explanations?

          Or why would there being at least one unexplained fact make reason useless?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            "The question is why would the fact that sound arguments require justified premises entail that all facts have explanations?"

            Why should "sound arguments require justified premises" at all unless claims require real reasons that are based in extramental realities?

            "I didn't say that. I said I don't completely trust it. Do you? Do you never make errors?"

            I already explained in my immediately-above comment how you are confusing two entirely different orders of explanation here.

          • You're not answering the question. Sound means true premises. It's granted that reasonable discourse required soundness AND validity.

            I'm not asking about claims but about facts. If all you're saying is claims need to be justified in debate, I think that's right.

            I'm not confusing them. I'm relying on the distinction.

            You're saying that because claims need justifcation all facts have explanations. Why? Or is the PSR limited to claims?

            C

          • Dennis Bonnette

            That the world exists is a fact, since it is a reality that can be directly observed. But a fact is so-called merely because it is something that we can observe and then make a judgment affirming that we encounter it as something real. No further judgments about the fact can be made without making a claim. The fact is the scio aliquid esse of the article. It is just the judgment that "I know something to be."

            To say anything about the fact, such as why it exists or why it needs no explanation for existing, is a claim about the fact. And claims need sound reasons based in reality to make them credible.

            The problem is that the human mind always sees the need for such claims to be explained. If it is wrong about that, then no claim, however absurd, needs any explanation. Moreover, even the process of reasoning would be implicated since there would be no need for any premise to support any inference.

            The PSR says that every being needs a sufficient reason. It is itself a claim, and therefore needs a reason to support it. The reason supporting the PSR is that the human mind universally demands such reasons for claims, including the one that says anything about why a thing exists or even why it does not need a why!

            It is an indirect argument, but if the human mind is wrong about such judgments needing a reason, then it cannot be trusted about anything. Since we do, de facto, trust it, the PSR must be accepted as true, not only in the mind, but as applying also to reality. Yes, there is an alternative. Just deny that human reason can be trusted in its basic process of reasoning about reality. But then, out goes both common sense and science as well!

          • Whether minds need claims explained or claims justified has no bearing on whether all facts do indeed have explanations.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Then you are willing to admit that you cannot trust the power of reason? Then there is no further reason to rationally contest the matter. Nor should you make any further reference to the findings of natural science, since science uses reasoning as well.

            Besides, facts do have explanations. They are explained at the epistemic level by direct experience entailing the judgment that "I know something to be."

            What is not explained by the fact alone is whether there is a reason for the ontological existence of the fact or not. And the moment you make a judgment about that question, you have made a claim that reason demands a reason for.

          • You're dodging. The issue isn't whether I trust my reasoning or science. I do think my epistemology is not terribly reliable. Science too is based on major assumptions.

            The issue is why you are saying needing reasons for claims entails all facts have explanations.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Let me try to explain this to you once more.

            The world exists. That is a fact. When we naturally ask why it exists, which is the immediate natural demand of the mind, you reply, "Well, it is just a brute fact, meaning that there is no explanation why it exists."

            But, the moment you make that claim, since it goes beyond what is evident in the mere fact that the world exists, you are now required by reason to explain in terms of reality why your claim is true. In a word, you must give a reason for your claim or no one will believe you.

            So, we have two possibilities, either (1) the world exists and the mind demands to know why, or (2) the world exists and you deny a reason for it, in which case the mind demands to know why you make that claim.

            In a word, the mind naturally demands to know the reasons for everything. Indeed, that is the whole basis of reasoning from premises to conclusions, whereby the premises are the reasons for the conclusions. No reasons means no reasoning process.

            All this means that the very nature of human reason is such that it demands reasons for everything. Now, if something does exist for which there is no reason, then the human mind is inherently defective and cannot be trusted.

            Worse yet, this also means that there is no way to know when a reason is needed or not, present or not. This would also entail, as I said before, that the process of reasoning from premises to conclusions would be inherently flawed, since conclusions might need no premises at all or there might be no logical connection between a premise and a conclusion.

            So, denying the PSR entails denying that human reason can be trusted, which pretty much puts us human beings out of the business of reasoning about anything -- whether it be the practical details of daily living or the entire structure of natural science or philosophy about the nature of the world.

            If you accept all those results, there really isn't any point in our continuing this dialogue, since it is essentially irrational.

          • Jim the Scott

            @briangreenadams:disqus

            Doc,

            I think you guys are equivocating on the term "facts".

            Brian Green Adams in my estimation is muddying the waters (I don't say he is doing it intentionally or with the desire to mislead mind you or with malice but it is still tedious) by confusing the Rationalist view of the PSR with the Scholastic One. It is obvious by his own words QUOTE "The issue is why you are saying needing reasons for claims entails all facts have explanations."

            Yeh the Neo Scholastic view of the PSR is "there is a sufficient reason or adequate necessary objective explanation for the being of whatever is and for all attributes of any being”.

            The Rationalist version (which Skeptics and Atheists and the Rabble are most familiar) presuppose that propositions are among the things PSR says require an explanation, and that for an explanans to be a sufficient reason for an explanandum involves its logically entailing the explanandum. But while rationalist versions of PSR might endorse these assumptions, the Thomist understanding of PSR does not.

            As we can see from Brian Green Adams own words he seems to be presupposing the later while we are presupposing the former.

            Till he acknowledges this and argues against our view & not the questionable Rationalist view then yes dialog with him on the subject will be futile.

            I hope this helps.

          • VicqRuiz

            All this means that the very nature of human reason is such that it demands reasons for everything. Now, if something does exist for which there is no reason, then the human mind is inherently defective and cannot be trusted.

            I'm entirely comfortable with there being some things about the universe which have reasons that no human knows, and that I will never know. This is not of course the same thing as saying nothing is truly knowable.

            My wife loves me. This I know beyond any doubt. Why? I haven't the faintest idea.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            "I'm entirely comfortable with there being some things about the universe which have reasons that no human knows, and that I will never know."

            You are not even contradicting what I have presented!

            You admit that there are things with reasons -- even though you note that no human knows them.

            I never said we have to know all the reasons for things. Nor that we will always be right about the reasons.

            My thesis was simply that all things must have reasons, or else, the human mind is badly defective in expecting them to have reasons.

            You don't even disagree with me. So, what was your point?

          • VicqRuiz

            I think that the difference is that I'm content with not knowing how the universe began, or why there is something rather than nothing, or whether I have a purpose that transcends what I do during my lifetime.

            I am content because I have to be. I find neither the theist nor the purely materialist explanations for these things to be convincing enough to move me from my agnostic position.

            I take it that you would not be content with not knowing these things, although I'll certainly stand corrected if you are.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            To your admission that your are "content with not knowing ... whether [you] have a purpose that transcends what [you} do during your lifetime, I can only respond with the famous observation of Socrates:

            "The unexamined life is not worth living."

          • VicqRuiz

            It's precisely the examination of my life that has led me to bump up against the boundaries of that examination, and to accept that any thought about what happens outside those boundaries is only speculative.

          • George

            Content with not knowing does not mean no examination is done. You can investigate, and if you don't find the answer and have some humility, you can admit you didn't find the answer. This doesn't preclude a continuous searching and questioning throughout life.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Your point is well taken. One might look and fail to succeed. I think Socrates is simply urging a sincere look. And I don't think he would be happy giving up as long as life was in him.

          • Mark

            I can like that, even though it's epistemology is entirely antithetical to it's pedagogy. My life love me too for reasons I can't comprehend.

      • Dennis Bonnette

        In addition to my legitimate response immediately below, you are, once again, confusing two entirely different orders of explanation:

        "...we know our minds will fill in blanks and assume answers even when there is no reasonable to conclude these conclusions."

        The reason you don't trust your "mind in everyday experience" nor "completely trust science" is because you have often found that your own explanations or even those of science for various phenomena have been dead wrong. We all know that can often be true.

        But that does not mean that your mind or science was wrong in expecting an explanation must exist!

        Assuming possibly wrong answers is not the same thing as assuming that there are real answers, even if we get it wrong or never find the true answer for something.

        Even when you say we "assume answers"... "when there is no reasonable [ground] to conclude these conclusions" itself recognizes that conclusions demand explanations that are reasonable.

        The fact that we often make the mistake of positing the wrong explanation must not be confused with the universal demand of the human mind for some explanation for unsupported claims.

        • Sure, whether or not I'm right or wrong in my claims or science bis has no bearing on whether there is or is not an explanation for all facts.

          Again you're on about claims, but the PSR applies to facts not claims of facts.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Your confusing your terms again -- at least as the article employs them.

            That the world exists is a fact which can be experienced directly. But the moment you make a claim either that there is a reason for it existing or that there is no reason for it existing, you are making a claim which goes beyond what is directly experienced.

            That is where the mind demands a reason for the claim and will ignore any such claim for which the claimant can provide no reason or evidence.

          • I get all that. Again I'm not disagreeing about claims needing reasons to be effective in rational discourse.

            The question is you claim that the need to justify claims in discourse means that it is a fact that all facts have explanations.

            You seem to suggest this is an obvious inference, but it isn't.

            You suggest if it were the case that not all facts have reasons, we couldn't reason. But if course we could, since this doesn't affect the laws of logic, which are all that is required for minds to reason.

            If the PSR is true humans will make all kinds of claims some will be correct, many will be wrong. People will generally feel they have reasons even when claims contradict. But ultimately there will be reasons for a facts.

            If the PSR is false, nothing changes, except for at least one claim, no reasons humans come up with will be correct. But here's the most important part, we might never know.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            "You suggest if it were the case that not all facts have reasons, we couldn't reason."

            Nope.

            I did not say we could not reason.

            What I said in my conclusion was that "... if the above given inferences are not true, there is no reason to reason about anything, since the rational order would have absolutely no direct correlation to the real order of existing things.

            You could reason, but there would be no reason to trust your reasoning, since you could never be certain that any inference required a reason for it being true.

            I made this point even more clearly in my comment later added to the top of the thread: "This means that reality itself is bound by the need for reasons for all its aspects of being, or else, we must reject the most basic compulsion of the human mind. This last point would mean we can no longer trust our own minds to be reliable in either science or everyday experience."

            I did not say you couldn't reason.

            I said you could not trust your reason.

  • Ficino

    Out of left field: Thomism holds that we can know the fact that something exists but that our judgment has no direct access to something else's distinct, intrinsic act of being. "No proper concept of esse is naturally available to the human mind" (Fr. Joseph Owens). "Our intellect, he says, directly comprehends only essence; it does not reach the existence that enters into an essence. Existence cannot be defined by us, not only because of its maximum generality logical transcendence, but also because, of its nature, it has no distinctive way (modo proprio) of presenting itself to our intellect outside of the essence of which it is act." ~ Kevin White summarizing Fr. Cornelio Fabro.

    But then, the certitude of our affirmation of the fact seems called into question, since whatever 'reductio' or 'resolutio' we perform to try to gain cognition of the thing's being is performed without our grasping the thing's intrinisic act of being. Therefore our operation of 'reductio' lacks certitude; we can only say that "if the thing makes an intrinsic act of being, then it's a fact that the thing exists," but we affirm the consequent if we take what we think is the fact of existing, affirm it as fact, and then say we've made a reductio that gets us the thing's intrinsic act of being. I.e. w/o access to the act of being, we don't have grounds to say we have the fact of its being. And if we acknowledge that our cognitive capacities can be deceived, then we have no certitude that we have reached the Sufficient Reason in a particular case.

    So everyone is in the same boat, it would seem.

    • Dennis Bonnette

      Perhaps, I misunderstand the point you are making. Are you saying that we do not know with certitude what is the sufficient reason in a particular case? I would certainly agree with that. The Thomistic principle of sufficient reason merely affirms that there must be a reason, not that we must know what it is.

      As for my article, it really is not made in terms of Thomistic philosophy as such, but merely is an observation about how the human mind's natural demand for explanations necessarily implies that such reasons would have to apply to all things.

      Thomistic philosophy does affirm that being is known in a judgment and that the essence can be known through the intellectual act of abstraction. No, we don't have a proper concept of existence (esse). But that does not mean that we do not make judgments that something exists, that is, that something has an act of existence.

      This means that while we do not grasp "the thing's intrinsic act of being," we still, through sensio-intellective experience, can make the judgment that something exists, that is, that it possesses an act of existence, even though we do not have a proper concept of existence as such.

      Indeed, existence "cannot be defined by us," since it is not the product of an abstraction and since the intellect does not abstract the esse from the presenting being. But the intellect can and does judge that something exists.

      That is why Jacques Maritain says that what we first know is "Scio aliquid esse," "We know something to be." He is not saying that we directly know the esse of something, but simply that something has one, that is, that it exists.

      As my essay says, "Scio aliquid esse" is not itself any form of inference, but rather, an immediate and absolutely certain judgment based upon direct sensio-intellective experience of something existing.

      • Ficino

        I don't know enough yet - and maybe I never will - about what I am told is a controversy within contemporary Thomism over the senses of esse. If Fabro (I'm reading his Partecipazione... now, don't know whether I'll finish it) and, from a different angle, Owens are right, then we don't have direct access to something else's act of being. We can know essences but we can't know immediately some X's act of being.

        This seems to me to pose a problem, as I tried to outline above. If our predication of being to some X is analogical, then our inferences seem not to amount to certitudes, since an argument in which the terms are not univocal is not a valid demonstration.

        As to the PSR, yes, I think it's a problem if we all agree that in particular cases, we don't know the SR with certitude. That seems to me to put us in the same boat, as I said above, in that we go with what seems to be true, as far as our thesis proves its mettle. We may get what Vlastos called elenctic knowledge, but we don't get certitude. So the claim that Thomism yields certitude is otiose if we can't be certain in a particular case that we have certitude. Keith Parsons outlined an argument like this against Feser some years ago, and I don't recall that Feser really refuted it - he just set it aside with a claim that we have to affirm the PSR or else we're plunged into radical skepticism and nihilism.

        I'll also add that so far it's seeming to me that you want to hold that sensory presentations are immediately grasped truths. I figure I must be misinterpreting you, since there is a history since the 5th century BCE of criticizing the conclusions we make about external objects from our sensory presentations. And what about Boltzmann brain thought experiments?

        • Dennis Bonnette

          It is getting a bit late tonight, so before we get too deep in the weeds here, let me point out a couple "defusing" observations.

          First, I never claimed to find all certitudes or to show how all of them could be obtained.

          I merely argued for the existence of some certitudes, and then gave several examples. Initially, I gave the immediate contents of sense perception. But if you read me carefully, I deliberately avoided deciding whether these certitudes were external physical objects, or merely representations in the brain. What IS certain in either case is that some real content is experienced. That is all I said.

          Despite the fact that the intellect cannot define the esse of encountered being, this does not prevent "Scio aliquid esse" from being true, as I explained above.

          Second, I offered an indirect argument in my essay for the application of the PNC and PSR to all things extramental, based merely on the inference that the denial of same would imply that reason itself was not trustworthy.

          So the article delivers what it claims: some absolute certitudes. Period. It really isn't quite kosher to object that I failed to deliver what I failed to promise!

          "As to the PSR, yes, I think it's a problem if we all agree that in particular cases, we don't know the SR with certitude."

          No, I don't see it as so great a problem -- as long as you do not infer from this claim that in such cases, not only do we not know the SR (with or without certitude!), but that there is no SR at all. I concur that the latter would be a problem, since the PSR affirms that is always a reason (whether knowable or not).

          Of course, still, based on how I framed the argument for the PNC and PSR in my essay, you always have the option of committing intellectual suicide and admitting that reason is not trustworthy. I think we can make a more direct argument for them, but I did not attempt to present it in this essay.

          • Ficino

            So the article delivers what it claims: some absolute certitudes. Period. It really isn't quite kosher to object that I failed to deliver what I failed to promise!

            One of the limitations of the format of SN is that there is no obvious place to post new questions. I posted stuff about our access, or lack of access, to something's existence because this thread seemed closest to that topic! I don't think I objected explicitly that you failed to deliver what you promised, though maybe what I said implied that.

            I didn't think you meant that we have certitude about an external object of a sensory presentation, so I'm glad you clarified that. I am reminded of Gregory Vlastos' comment about the kind of knowledge that is called 'infallible' or 'unshakable' in Plato: "This is strong language, but it is Plato's. It conveys the sense of complete security he gets from statements which come up to his standards for knowledge--those whose truth-claims owe nothing to sensory observation and everything to logical inference and analysis." ~ "Degrees of Reality in Plato," in Platonic Studies 2nd ed. p. 69

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Well, one way to post a new issue would be to write an OP yourself. I have seen some that Brandon put up from the "other side" back in the archives. I should have realized that your comment might not have been in reaction to my essay.

            What I think I did do in the OP was to present both sides of the issue of what is directly known in sense perception. And then, I simply side-stepped the question by pointing out that all should agree that some content was given. It is a curiously complex question, more suited to formal treatment in epistemology than, perhaps, on this site.

  • Tom More

    Wonderful. How does anyone even know what sanity is if they haven't some inkling or experience of Thomism, Aquinas , Aristotle. Exactly the exposition I was looking for today, because I .. like most of us intuitively... have always caught the implicit and unavoidable fallacy in statements denying our ability to know with absolute certainty. Simply because the denial .e.g. that of a Humean, Kantian or postmodern all must implicitly state that we know the absolute truth with certainty and it shows that we cannot know the absolute truth with certainty. A Bugs Bunny word game. Thank you professor.

  • Ficino

    @@dennisbonnette:disqus After three attempts, I still cannot gain access to your most recent reply. Maybe someday.

    I hope the Niagara area is or remains unscathed by corona virus.

    • Dennis Bonnette

      Disqus is a work of the devil, which we all know by now. But maybe the simplest solution is for me just to append here my comment you are searching for, since I cannot find it form the comment list to the right myself. I don't think it is too long and hope you can see it all here:

      Regarding the Trinity:

      " I have seen Thomists argue to God from a posited necessity that an exterior cause ground the existence of entities in which we find real distinctions. But then they do not apply that principle to God."

      The real distinction from which they argue is between distinct metaphysical principles: essence and existence. But the dogma of the Trinity says that while there can be no real distinction between parts, principles, or beings in God, yet there can be a real distinction between the terms of a relation, which is the only distinction allowed in God. (The Persons are the terms of the relations.)

      "If the terms might not be predicated univocally or analogically, how would they predicated?"

      I did not intend to suggest that analogy or univocal predication was not involved. I cited Benignus' expression of a common concept, but then said that it need not "necessarily be called univocal or analogous, just as long as there is something that is the same in each."

      I can now see that my wording was a bit Delphic, since I did not mean to say that it might be neither analogous nor univocal, but rather that which term properly describes such a common concept might be read by some as analogous, but by others as univocal.

      I do not agree with Plantinga and proofs for God obviously cannot be merely dialectical. I would be a bit cautious about automatically applying rules of logic to arguments for God, since some elements of them may be sui generis to the context.

      For example, while one may define that there can be no demonstration about God, since he is a singular, this does not necessarily mean that a valid inference cannot be drawn. It might merely mean that the argument does not follow the technical form demanded.

      Surely it is a valid inference to argue: If every cow is a mammal, and if Elsie is a cow, then Elsie is a mammal.
      And yet, "Elsie" is a singular term.

      The singular in such cases plays the role of a universal, since "Elsie" is also "every possible Elsie." So, too, since God is the one and only possible God, valid inferences about him can be drawn.

      While it may not be immediately evident that the Uncaused First Cause can only be a single thing, this does not rule out the possibility of validly inferring such a being exists, and then, later on showing that only one such being is possible. Hence, the inference that there is an Uncaused First Cause might be valid, even though it is actually a singular term.

      • Ficino

        Thank you for re-posting and and thank you for explaining yours about predication's not being nailed down as either univocal or analogical. As you know by now, I don't admit that a syllogism in which terms are predicated analogically is a valid demonstrative syllogism yielding scientia, but I have no new things to say on that score.

        I am glad that you do not follow Plantinga's views about belief in God as simply "properly basic" (I knew that you could not).

        As to what I said above about existence's not being a constituent of a thing, cf. this by Edward Feser:

        "Or, in a more distinctively Thomistic vein, one might hold that any natural substance S must be a composite of an essence and an act of existence, and that since an essence is of itself purely potential, S cannot exist unless some actualizer A conjoins (and keeps conjoined) to its essence S’s act of existence" ("Existential Inertia and the Five Ways," ACPQ 85 [2011] 242).

        To say that an act of existence is a constituent of anything is inadmissible except at the cost of abandoning post-Fregean logic. That's not a price I am willing to pay.

        I would be a bit cautious about automatically applying rules of logic to arguments for God, since some elements of them may be sui generis to the context.

        As I think I said earlier, warning lights are flashing and warning bells ringing at the above. You are not entitled to posit that the context demands a logic that is sui generis when you are setting out to construct a demonstration that God exists. That starting point is already either begging the question or teetering on the edge of begging.

        If every cow is a mammal, and if Elsie is a cow, then Elsie is a mammal.
        And yet, "Elsie" is a singular term.

        On the above, I'm sure you're well acquainted with Aquinas' Commentary on the Posterior Analytics. The saint accepts Aristotle's account of the demonstrative syllogism, but he adds his own explanation, not in Aristotle's text, to note that demonstrative syllogisms yield necessary truths only about universals not singulars: "Ex singularibus autem quae sunt in sensu, non sunt demonstrationes, sed ex universalibus tantum, quae sunt in intellectu," [From singulars that are in sensation, however, there are not demonstrations, but only from universals, which are in the intellect] In I AnPo l. 4 n. 16; "demonstrationes non sunt de singularibus, cum eorum non sit scientia," [demonstrations are not about singulars, since there is not scientia of them] l. 36 n. 7. A conclusion like "Socrates is mortal," or "Elsie is a mammal" is true accidentally and contingently, of conditional necessity like "if Socrates is sitting, then he is sitting" - it's not necessary that he be sitting. We don't know as a necessary truth that every man is mortal, and we don't know that Socrates is not a special sort of man. Therefore singulars are not a matter of speculative science, although they are so for practical science. But proofs for God belong to speculative not practical science.

        I think I have shown that arguments for God that we find in Thomism do not satisfy the requirements of the Aristotelian demonstrative syllogism. And they are not admissible under modern logic because existence keeps slipping in as a perfection, among other reasons. So we are left with a huge matter being "begged," i.e. that we should allow a sort of special God-logic at the get-go, the rules of which do not govern all inferences, but can be made to fit the needs of the argumentative context. I am left thinking here that you might just as well claim that God's existence is a matter not of scientia but of intellectus, that it's self-evident, and leave it at that.

        • Dennis Bonnette

          "To say that an act of existence is a constituent of anything is inadmissible except at the cost of abandoning post-Fregean logic."

          While I am not exactly sure what baggage you include in the notion of being a "constituent" of being, it seems to me this is the question of whether existence can be a co-principle of finite beings. This would entail the debate over whether the real distinction between essence and existence can be demonstrated, which might be a bit extensive for this thread. Needless to say, I defend the real distinction.

          I am a bit embarrassed by your attack on the scientific nature of the philosophical proofs for God's existence, since I cannot offer a direct critique of the proper texts of the Commentary on the Posterior Analytics, having retired some seventeen years ago and not being able to find my copy of the work, even though I recall its cover clearly!

          But I can hardly imagine that St. Thomas, whom you cite, would have failed to notice that his demonstration quia for the existence of God violates his own understanding of the nature of the scientific syllogism. Nor would this have escaped eight centuries of Thomists who follow him.

          In fact, Jonathan Bieler in "What Kind of ‘Proofs’ are Aquinas’s Demonstrations of God’s Existence?", Analecta Hermeneutica (Volume 2 (2010), 5, makes the following observation regarding St. Thomas's demonstratio quia for God's existence, "The formal kind of demonstration we have here is clearly situated in Aquinas‟s concept of scientia."

          Note that it appears possible for the actual steps of at least some proofs for God, like that from motion, can be expressed in terms of judgments that are universal in nature.

          As in the case of the First Way, the sensio-intellective judgment that motion exists is not itself from a demonstration, but an immediate apprehension.

          The abstracted universal of motion is then the subject of the universal principle that whatever is in motion must here and now be being moved by another. Then we have the universal judgment that no infinite regress of intermediate movers is possible, leading to the universal conclusion that the nature of a first mover unmoved must exist in act.

          From this conclusion, the intellect can draw the further inference that the nature of such first mover unmoved can be instanced in one and only one being. Or, do you insist that such reasoning is impossible because the universal judgment reveals that the nature discovered can exist only in a singular instance?

          I notice that many who reject the proofs for God attack them, like Kant, with a priori arguments against their very possibility, rather than dealing with each step in the proofs themselves as they come up. I am not saying that your concerns about making sure the middle term in any demonstration has a common meaning. But the debate over whether that meaning should be called analogical or univocal shows how we can sometimes get sidetracked over what may be merely diverse interpretations of principles that play essentially the same role, that is, what one writer calls analogical, another would call univocal.

          • Ficino

            While I am not exactly sure what baggage you include in the notion of being a "constituent" of being, it seems to me this is the question of whether existence can be a co-principle of finite beings.

            Baggage is important if there are valuables in there! Heh heh.
            I am working from Feser's description of a created entity as a composite of essence and an act of being. If some word other than "constituent" better names those of which something is composed, I'm fine with some other word, but I think constituent should be serviceable.

            I've just started a new, invited project, so I do not know when I shall be able to read Bieler's article. But thank you for citing, looks interesting.

            do you insist that such reasoning is impossible ...

            I haven't been trying to prove that conclusions of various Thomistic args for God are false. In this thread I've been arguing that the arguments of which they are conclusions are not demonstrative syllogisms yielding scientia on an A-T understanding of the syllogistic. And therefore, the conclusions are not known to be true with certitude.

            But I can hardly imagine that St. Thomas, whom you cite, would have failed to notice that his demonstration quia for the existence of God violates his own understanding of the nature of the scientific syllogism. Nor would this have escaped eight centuries of Thomists who follow him.

            Yes, seems hard to get one's head around, but I can only call the shots as I see them, and it looks to me as though Aquinas and some followers didn't pay proper heed to some difficulties within their system. We both know that during the saint's lifetime and in the generation/s after him, other Catholic philosophers pointed to some of the issues I've pointed to. I haven't delved into the generation after Thomas, but I have done a bit on Thomas of Sutton, who tried to defend an analogy of proportion along lines that you've followed. I don't think Sutton's version of proportional analogy is successful, for reasons I've stated.

          • Johannes Hui

            Hi Ficino,

            Sorry for interrupting the conversations here.

            How about ILLUSTRATING the concerns you have raised in your discussions with Dennis here to the following short and simple 3-step proof which I designed? In a sense this proof is in the spirit of Aquinas’ cosmological proofs even though it does not use the usual Thomist terms and expressions such as “Pure Act, Actualiser, Potency, Efficient Cause, Per Se Causal Series, Being and Essence, etc”. This proof starts from the empirical observation/fact that your physical existence depends CONTINUOUSLY on various conditions.

            Premise 1: Your physical existence CONTINUOUSLY depends on the fulfillment of various series of conditions such as this series:

            you > cells > molecules > ...

            (every entity in the series is a condition for your existence; your existence depends on the CONTINUOUS fulfillment/presence of every condition in the series)

            Premise 2: Such a series is either a never-ending series or a series with an ending. If it is a never-ending series, then it is a never-ending task to fulfill all the conditions and hence fulfillment is impossible. Since you exist now, that means fulfillment has been achieved, and that in turn entails the series can only be a series with an ending. So a last entity/condition exists in the series now, concurrently with you and every entity in the series:

            you > cells > molecules > ... > last entity

            Premise 3: The last entity’s existence is either conditional or not conditional on something else. If it is conditional on something else, it won’t exist now because nothing exists after it in the series for it to be conditional on. Since it exists now, the only possibility is that its existence is unconditional on anything.

            Conclusion:
            The EMPIRICAL fact that you physically exists now ENTAILS (ie necesarily means) that a last entity having unconditional existence exists now. In other words, your existence now as a conditioned entity is CONTINUOUSLY enabled by an unconditioned entity.

            Anything wrong with any of the three premises above? Anything wrong with the reasoning-structure? If the premises are true and the reasoning-structure is valid, then the conclusion is impossible to be false (ie necessarily true).

            (To prove that there is one and only one unconditioned entity that is the Ultimate One enabling, at every moment, the existence of all other entities will require the next stage. The end of next stage lies the conclusion that God exists.)

          • Johannes Hui

            Hi Ficino,

            Sorry for interrupting the conversations here.

            How about ILLUSTRATING the concerns you have raised in your discussions with Dennis here to the following short and simple 3-step proof which I designed? In a sense this proof is in the spirit of Aquinas’ cosmological proofs even though it does not use the usual Thomist terms and expressions such as “Pure Act, Actualiser, Potency, Efficient Cause, Causation, Per Se Causal Series, Being and Essence, etc”.

            This proof starts from the empirical observation/fact that your physical existence depends CONTINUOUSLY on various conditions.

            Premise 1: Your physical existence CONTINUOUSLY depends on the fulfillment of various series of conditions such as this series:

            you > cells > molecules > ...

            (every entity in the series is a condition for your existence; your existence depends on the CONTINUOUS fulfillment/presence of every condition in the series)

            Premise 2: Such a series is either a never-ending series or a series with an ending. If it is a never-ending series, then it is a never-ending task to fulfill all the conditions and hence fulfillment is impossible. Since you exist now, that means fulfillment has been achieved, and that in turn entails the series can only be a series with an ending. So a last entity/condition exists in the series now, concurrently with you and every entity in the series:

            you > cells > molecules > ... > last entity

            Premise 3: The last entity’s existence is either conditional or not conditional on something else. If its existence is conditional on something else, it won’t exist now because nothing exists after it in the series for its existence to be conditioned on (ie nothing exists after it in the series to enable it to exist). Since it exists now, the only possibility is that its existence is unconditional on anything.

            Conclusion:
            The EMPIRICAL fact that you physically exists now ENTAILS (ie necesarily means) that a last entity having unconditional existence exists now. In other words, your existence now as a conditioned entity is CONTINUOUSLY enabled by an unconditioned entity.

            Anything wrong with any of the three premises above? Anything wrong with the reasoning-structure? If the premises are true and the reasoning-structure is valid, then the conclusion is impossible to be false (ie necessarily true).

            (To prove that there is one and only one unconditioned entity that is the Ultimate One enabling, at every moment, the existence of all other entities will require the next stage. The end of next stage lies the conclusion that God exists.)

          • Ficino

            Anything wrong with any of the three premises above?

            Yes, you start by stipulating that you are not using notions such as efficient cause, etc. Instead you begin by observing that our physical existence depends on fulfillment of various series of conditions. So a condition seems not to be a cause, or need not be a cause, as you have set out your argument, even when I take it that your conditions are necessary conditions. But those aren't identical to efficient causes.

            I then think you get into trouble when you deny that you're using the notion of a hierarchical series of causes ordered per se but then deny that an infinite number of conditions can produce any given effect, since there won't be a first condition. You are trying to argue Thomism but changing the words.

            There isn't any impediment I can see to an infinite series of causes ordered accidentally. How is your infinite number of conditions not that? If it's not that, then it's ordered hierarchically, so I think you might as well just argue Thomism!

            The root of disagreement as I see it is in the notion that there is a real distinction between essence and (an act of) existence. In my view, all the Ways depend on that prior commitment.

          • Johannes Hui

            Hi Ficino,

            I put your comments inside these brackets and respond accordingly. :)

            (I)

            I did not say I would not be using “notions/ideas”. What I said was I would not use “terms and expressions” such as “causation, efficient cause, etc” That means I may or may not be using expressions/words that are different from Aquinas/Thomists to express some of the same ideas, use some of the same ideas, such as by using the expression “conditions”.

            (II)

            Yes indeed. I use “conditions” and “dependency” because these terms is more general that “efficient causes” and also these terms does not carry the baggages of “causation”. (eg, the use of “causation” may invite Hume’s objection and then extra text would be needed to point out the problem with his type of objection)

            (III)

            What u are referring to is my Premise 2. Because I used the words “CONTINUOUSLY depends on”, the series is not a temporal/linear series.

            However, I did not use the nature of hierarchical series to argue for an ending to the series. Those who argued base on the nature of hierarchical series would say something along this line: “every entity lacking in inherent existence derives its existence moment by moment from its previous entity and hence EVERY such entity is merely instrumental and merely transmit moment by moment what it received to the next entity; every such instrument could not cause anything without deriving existence from a prior entity at every moment. Every such entity is inherently without existence is therefore is intrinsically nothing without an ontological-prior source giving it existence at every moment. If the whole series comprises only such instrumental entities then nothing would exist at all, since even an infinite quantity of nothingness equals to nothingness. Zero x Infinity equals zero. Hence if any of such entities exist in a hierarchical series, then there must ultimately be a source whose existence is underived from another entity.”

            I did not argue this way.

            A careful reading of my Premise 2 shows that my argument in Premise 2 is instead base on the following ideas in this logical sequence:

            a) the series is either an endless series or a series with an ending

            b) if the series is an endless series, the task to fulfill an endless series of conditions would be an endless task

            c) that means it is impossible to fulfill an endless series of conditions

            d) that entails you cannot and do not exist physically now, because you can exist physically only if all those conditions have been fulfilled

            e) since you do in fact physically exist now, that entails all those conditions have been fulfilled

            f) that means that series is not an endless series but a series with an ending
            [note that (a) to (f) is an instance of Modus Tollens]

            g) that means it ends with a last condition/entity

            h) therefore a last entity exists

            Question: Given what I just said, is my Premise 2 false?

            (IV)

            My proof does not require readers to have prior-belief in the real distinction between essence and existence in order to see its conclusion to be a necessarily outcome from the three premises. Hence any disagreement regarding the alleged real distinction between existence and essence is irrelevant to this proof.

          • Ficino

            My bad for not focusing enough on "continuously."

            it seems to me that your argument can be boiled down to the claims that something must exist necessarily in order for anything to exist, and that everything else, which doesn't exist necessarily, derives its existence from that which exists necessarily.

            Is this summary accurate?

          • Johannes Hui

            Hi Ficino,

            (A) You asked: “Is this summary accurate?”

            Your summary of my reasoning is not accurate because your summary turns my argument into an argument leading from contingent beings to a necessary being, which is not my argument.

            An accurate summary would instead be:

            You physically exist now entails that every series of conditions your existence continuously depends on has achieved fulfillment, and therefore every such series cannot be a never-ending series (of which fulfillment is impossible) but a series ending with a last entity existing concurrently with you now. By virtue that this existing last entity is the very last entity in such a series, there is nothing after it for its existence to be conditioned on. So the only possibility the last entity can exists now is that its existence is unconditional on anything. Hence an unconditioned entity exists now.

            Note:
            A key reasoning I used is this:
            It is a never-ending task, and hence it is impossible, to fulfill a never-ending series of concurrent conditions.

            (B) You wrote: “My opinion is that substituting "condition" for "cause" and "depends on" for "is caused by" or "is brought to actuality by" winds up replacing terms that had fairly clear meaning within a tradition with terms that are merely more vague.”

            A human being’s physical existence depends on the presence of conditions such as oxygen and water. Oxygen and water are two of the conditions a human being’s physical existence depends on. Such use of the words “conditions” and “depends on” are clear and not controversial in both non-philosophical and philosophical context.

            In contrast, the words “cause” and “caused by” are problematic. While it is accurate to say “Oxygen and water are two of the conditions a human being’s physical existence depends on”, it is problematic to say “Oxygen and water are two of the factors causing a human being to exist” or “A human being’s existence is caused by oxygen, water and other factors”. In addition, the concept of causation is controversial in the history of philosophy and needs much more nuanced explanation than the word “conditions”. The statement “A human being’s physical existence depends on various conditions” is accurate and uncontroversial whereas if we say “A human being’s existence is caused by factors A, B, and C etc” is less obvious and controversial. To complicate matters, causes can refer to efficient causes, material causes, formal causes and final causes.

            (C) You wrote: “Your sequence of continuous physical dependency, modeled on you -> cells -> molecules etc. makes one think on a micro and a macro level.”

            As explicitly stated in my Premise 1, the key idea is “Your physical existence continuously depends on VARIOUS SERIES of conditions.” And then Premise 1 went on to give “you > cells > molecules > ... “ as merely one example of such kind of series involving CONTINUOUS dependency. Premise 1 explicitly mentioned “... various series of conditions SUCH AS this series” before listing “you > cells > molecules > ... “ as one example of SUCH kind of series where there is CONTINUOUS dependency.

            So you should think of
            you > cells > molecules > ...
            as merely one example of the following kind of series of continuous dependency:

            you > condition 1 > condition 2 > ...

            So the key idea is not about, and also not restricted, to micro or macro level entities/conditions.

            The key idea in Premise 1 is that the existence of an existing conditioned entity (such as you) continuously depends on various series of conditions, in which one condition’s existence continuously depends on another condition’s existence which in turn depends continuously on some further condition’s existence, and so on.


            Premise 2 then proceeds to analyse whether or not such a series of concurrent conditions can be a never-ending series. The analysis in Premise 2 proves that such a series, by the fact that it has achieved fulfillment, must have an ending, and hence a last condition/entity exists in every such kind of series. So the key idea established by Premise 2 is:

            you > condition 1 > condition 2 > ... > last condition/entity

            (D) You wrote: “So on a physical level, what you describe as a series of conditions could stop at the Urstoff.”

            In the context of my 3-step Proof, it is not logical/justified to say that the last entity is some physical Urstoff nor is it justified/logical to say that the last entity is transcendental/non-physical.

            The logical/justified conclusion from this 3-step Proof is only this:
            A last entity, whose existence is unconditional on anything and whose unconditional existence enables you to continue existing physically, exists now. The proof only justifies us to make such a conclusion at this stage. It does not justify us to claim anything more than this about the last entity/condition.

            As mentioned in the very last bracketed paragraph in my Proof, only in the next stage (Stage 2 Proof) then it is about proving that there is one and only one such unconditional entity, and proving it is God.

            So what we should focus on at this Stage is whether any of the 3 Premises is false.

            (E) You wrote: “The rest of your argument requires a proof that the Urstoff itself must depend for its existence on something transcendent and simple, but I don't know that non-theists will accept the premises I think you'd need to get there.”

            As mentioned above, this Stage 1 Proof does not justify us to claim this unconditioned entity is a physical Urstoff or a non-physical transcendent entity.

            That would be the issue in the next Proof (2nd Stage). What is important is to focus to discover whether any of the 3 Premises in this Stage 1 Proof is false.

            (F) You wrote: “That's because they wouldn't accept a real distinction between essence and existence, which is what I think you need for an argument that there is a transcendent and simple necessary being, and only one such.”

            Even in the next stage (Stage 2 Proof), I won’t require readers to accept a real distinction between essence and existence. But what seems clear at least for the current Stage 1 Proof is this:
            It is not relevant whether or not one believes in a real distinction between essence and existence. The 3 Premises do not involve anything about any alleged real distinction between existence and essence.

          • Johannes Hui

            Hi Ficino,

            My original reply disappeared after appearing for a while so I need to repost now.

            (A) You asked: “Is this summary accurate?”

            Your summary of my reasoning is not accurate because your summary turns my argument into an argument leading from contingent beings to a necessary being, which is not my argument.

            An accurate summary would instead be:

            You physically exist now entails that every series of conditions your existence continuously depends on has achieved fulfillment, and therefore every such series cannot be a never-ending series (of which fulfillment is impossible) but a series ending with a last entity existing concurrently with you now. By virtue that this existing last entity is the very last entity in such a series, there is nothing after it for its existence to be conditioned on. So the only possibility the last entity can exists now is that its existence is unconditional on anything. Hence an unconditioned entity exists now.

            Note:
            A key reasoning I used is this:
            It is a never-ending task, and hence it is impossible, to fulfill a never-ending series of concurrent conditions.

            (B) You wrote: “My opinion is that substituting "condition" for "cause" and "depends on" for "is caused by" or "is brought to actuality by" winds up replacing terms that had fairly clear meaning within a tradition with terms that are merely more vague.”

            A human being’s physical existence depends on the presence of conditions such as oxygen and water. Oxygen and water are two of the conditions a human being’s physical existence depends on. Such use of the words “conditions” and “depends on” are clear and not controversial in both non-philosophical and philosophical context.

            In contrast, the words “cause” and “caused by” are problematic. While it is accurate to say “Oxygen and water are two of the conditions a human being’s physical existence depends on”, it is problematic to say “Oxygen and water are two of the factors causing a human being to exist” or “A human being’s existence is caused by oxygen, water and other factors”. In addition, the concept of causation is controversial in the history of philosophy and needs much more nuanced explanation than the word “conditions”. The statement “A human being’s physical existence depends on various conditions” is accurate and uncontroversial whereas the statement “A human being’s existence is caused by factors A, B, and C etc” is less obvious and controversial. To complicate matters, causes can refer to efficient causes, material causes, formal causes and final causes.

            (C) You wrote: “Your sequence of continuous physical dependency, modeled on you -> cells -> molecules etc. makes one think on a micro and a macro level.”

            As explicitly stated in my Premise 1, the key idea is “Your physical existence continuously depends on VARIOUS SERIES of conditions.” And then Premise 1 went on to give “you > cells > molecules > ... “ as merely one example of such kind of series involving CONTINUOUS dependency. Premise 1 explicitly mentioned “... various series of conditions SUCH AS this series” before listing “you > cells > molecules > ... “ as one example of SUCH kind of series where there is CONTINUOUS dependency.

            So you should think of
            you > cells > molecules > ...
            as merely one example of the following kind of series of continuous dependency:

            you > condition 1 > condition 2 > ...

            So the key idea is not about, and also not restricted, to micro or macro level entities/conditions.

            The key idea in Premise 1 is that the existence of an existing conditioned entity (such as you) continuously depends on various series of conditions, in which one condition’s existence continuously depends on another condition’s existence which in turn depends continuously on some further condition’s existence, and so on.

            Premise 2 then proceeds to analyse whether or not such a series of concurrent conditions can be a never-ending series. The analysis in Premise 2 proves that such a series, by the fact that it has achieved fulfillment, must have an ending, and hence a last condition/entity exists in every such kind of series. So the key idea established by Premise 2 is:

            you > condition 1 > condition 2 > ... > last condition/entity

            (D) You wrote: “So on a physical level, what you describe as a series of conditions could stop at the Urstoff.”

            In the context of my 3-step Proof, it is not logical/justified to say that the last entity is some physical Urstoff nor is it justified/logical to say that the last entity is transcendental/non-physical.

            The logical/justified conclusion from this 3-step Proof is only this:
            A last entity, whose existence is unconditional on anything and whose unconditional existence enables you to continue existing physically, exists now. The proof only justifies us to make such a conclusion at this stage. It does not justify us to claim anything more than this about the last entity/condition.

            As mentioned in the very last bracketed paragraph in my Proof, only in the next stage (Stage 2 Proof) then it is about proving that there is one and only one such unconditional entity, and proving it is God.

            So what we should focus on at this Stage is whether any of the 3 Premises is false.

            (E) You wrote: “The rest of your argument requires a proof that the Urstoff itself must depend for its existence on something transcendent and simple, but I don't know that non-theists will accept the premises I think you'd need to get there.”

            As mentioned above, this Stage 1 Proof does not justify us to claim this unconditioned entity is a physical Urstoff or a non-physical transcendent entity.

            That would be the issue in the next Proof (2nd Stage). What is important is to focus to discover whether any of the 3 Premises in this Stage 1 Proof is false.

            (F) You wrote: “That's because they wouldn't accept a real distinction between essence and existence, which is what I think you need for an argument that there is a transcendent and simple necessary being, and only one such.”

            Even in the next stage (Stage 2 Proof), I won’t require readers to accept a real distinction between essence and existence. But what seems clear at least for the current Stage 1 Proof is this:
            It is not relevant whether or not one believes in a real distinction between essence and existence. The 3 Premises do not involve anything about any alleged real distinction between existence and essence.

          • Ficino

            Johannes, thank you for taking the time to restate. I should not have jumped in when BTS began to engage with you. I can't unpack what you write in a short period of time because I don't grasp enough of your formulations: e.g. how is an entity that is "unconditional on anything" different from an entity that exists necessarily? Is the "I" different from the molecules that compose me? It seems to me that you are trying to formulate your argument without the "baggage" of theoretical commitments, but the result leaves me unclear about the precise meaning of terms and the work they are doing. So I must bow out. Perhaps someone with technical training in physics AND a range of modern metaphysical theories could serve as a better touchstone for your argument.

          • Johannes Hui

            Hi Ficino,

            1) You asked: “Is the "I" different from the molecules that compose me?”

            Your living physical body is different from its molecules this way:

            If you body ceased to exist (eg if you are dead and your body is decomposed in a coffin), the molecules (or the atoms at the next lower level) can still continue to exist.

            So your physical body is not identical to the molecules or the atoms (or the protons etc).

            2) Another question you mentioned: “how is an entity that is "unconditional on anything" different from an entity that exists necessarily?”

            An entity whose existence is unconditional on anything would result in that entity existing necessarily. The end result is the same, but the concept of “being unconditional on anything” is different from the concept “existing necessarily”. In a sense, if a person asks “why entity X can exist necessarily?”, one answer would be: “because that entity’s existence is not conditional on anything at all”.

            3) You said: “It seems to me that you are trying to to formulate your argument without the "baggage" of theoretical commitments, but the result leaves me unclear about the precise meaning of terms and the work they are doing.”

            I guess you are referring to only one term: “conditions”.

            A “condition” is a factor which is needed before something else can exist/happen.

            Key Example:

            Oxygen is a factor needed for you to remain alive physically. Without oxygen, you would be dead physically. Therefore oxygen is one “condition” required for your existence.

            Additional examples:

            Passing your examinations is a “condition” that needs to be fulfilled in order for you to graduate from the university.

            Your existence right in front of a mirror is a “condition” required for the existence of your image/reflection in that mirror.

            The existence of cells is a “condition” for you to exist physically (or to be alive physically).

            The existence of molecules is a “condition” for biological cells to exist.

            The existence of atoms is a “condition” for molecules to exist.

          • Ficino

            But the debate over whether that meaning should be called analogical or univocal shows how we can sometimes get sidetracked over what may be merely diverse interpretations of principles that play essentially the same role, that is, what one writer calls analogical, another would call univocal.

            Dennis, it occurred to me later that your approach above and in other recent posts does not seem open to you if you will at the same time affirm other key tenets of Thomism. I don't think you can consistently say that predication of names of God is univocal AND deny, as the Thomist must, that existence is commune to God and creatures.

            Suppose names of God are predicated univocally. A necessary condition for univocal predication is membership in the same genus with respect to the category of the predicate. "Fierce" can be predicated univocally of lion and tiger because they are in the same genus of substance. "To the left of the column" can be predicated univocally of a tiger and a statue of a tiger because both bodies have the same predicate in the category of Where. And so on.

            But God is in no genus, not even, according to the ST, by reduction. Therefore no predicate can be predicated univocally of God and a creature.

            If you want to insist that univocal predication is legitimate, then it will follow that God is in a genus. And if God is in a genus, then the whole doctrine of De Ente et Essentia and the rest of St. Thomas' work goes down the tubes, because if God is in a genus, then God's essence will not be identical with God's existence.

            So I think the costs are too great for you to allow that predication can be univocal. Smartmouth me of course thinks that a faithful Catholic need not be a Thomist. Ockham was a nominalist and a Catholic; Scotus I don't know where to put, but he did maintain univocity.

            If you are serious about allowing univocal predication of names of God, then I think that entails that you must be serious about dropping the Thomistic doctrine of the analogy of being. I suspect you won't want to do that. And if so, then you have to face the consequences of analogy: proofs of God won't yield certitude, though their conclusions might after all not be false.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            While dealing with the exigencies imposed by the coronavirus, I have not checked this thread for a while.

            Okay. I was trying to shorten my citation of Benignus just to save typing. But, here is the more complete text I cited earlier, which shows that, while God is not in a genus, and while being is genuinely predicated analogously of God and creatures, still there is a common concept which applies both to God and creatures. I will italicize some parts of this text which are not italicized in the original:

            "Yet there is a concept of being which possesses true essential unity and which embraces both God and creature. Being is that whose act it is to exist: this concept is clearly verified both in regard to ens a se and ens ab alio. The actuality of God is "to be" and the actuality of a creature is "to be", and herein lies the ratio or principle by which these two beings can be grasped under the same concept. The ratio is real, and is the same in each case, and consequently the concept which signifies it possesses essential unity. But since this ratio is not a common generic nature, the concept has not univocal but analogical unity. Being, when predicated of God and creatures, is analogous, because while it expresses an identical relation to existence in both cases, both the subject of existence and the act by which this subject exists are essentially different in the two cases. To be, for God, is to be of Himself (a se) and to be God; to be, for a creature, is to be caused (ab alio) and to be a creature. In the two propositions, "God is," and "The creature is," the two predicates are precisely as different as the two subjects, but the relation of predicate to subject is identical in both.
            Nature, Knowledge, and God, 366.

            Thus "being" is genuinely analogous between God and creatures. And being is not a genus. But something IS essentially the same between God and creatures, namely, the relation of the subject to the predicate in each case.

            Predication is called univocal because there is something in common in the essence of the things involved. That is precisely why one cannot predicate univocally of God and Creatures, since they have nothing common in their essences.

            But this does not mean that one cannot have a concept of being which possesses an essential unity. The essential unity lies, not in the essence, but in the relation of the predicate to the subject in each case.

            That is why the analogy of being allows proofs for God's existence -- not because God and creature have something in common in their essences, but because the intrinsic relation of existence to essence in every being is the same.

            Thus when we say being is analogous, this refers to what is actually a rather complex structure in beings, one in which beings do not belong in the same genus -- but also one in which there is a "ratio or principle by which ... beings can be grasped under the same concept."

            This common concept is the basis for the mind legitimately finding something that can be predicated with identically the same meaning both of God and creature, while not either placing God into a genus nor making either being or existence itself a univocal term.

            This same meaning is what enables the mind to say that God and creature are the same in that they both have existence, even though their mode of existence in infinitely different.

            In other words, the concept of being is based on a real sameness in all beings -- God and creatures alike. It is just that that sameness is not located in the essence.

          • Johannes Hui

            Hi Dennis,

            Since every entity either exists non-abstractly or does not exist non-abstractly (Principles of Non-Contradiction and Excluded-Middle), regardless of how each exists (ie regardless of the differences in the mode/manner/mechanism of existence between entities), can we treat the word “exists” in statements “this conditioned entity exists” and “God, The Unconditioned, exists”AS IF they are univocal for the sake of the arguments used in Deductive Proofs for God?

            And then, in a separate discussion dealing with the nature of existence of God, we highlight the difference between how God’s EXISTENCE (eg how God EXISTS) and a conditioned entity’sexistence (eg how a conditioned entity exists). This would avoid the issue of difference in mode of existence becoming a distraction away from the substance of those deductive proofs.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Having written a book on the proofs for God's existence, I am sympathetic to your purpose in defending them.

            Still, the problem with using words in the proofs "as if" they were univocal terms is that, unless they actually represent things in nature which have something common in their essences, the proofs you describe would not actually be using univocal terms in reality, but only in pretense. Such arguments would not be real arguments at all.

            Moreover, the proofs as employed by St. Thomas Aquinas are not deductive, but inductive in nature. Specifically, they are a posteriori arguments, beginning with sensio-intellective experience of things existing in the world.

          • Johannes Hui

            Hi Dennis,

            Thanks for your reply. :) What if we think along this line:

            1. Since “that lion exists” and “God exists” are expressions using the analogy of proper proportionality, that means that lion has existence in a much smaller proportion than in the way God has existence. This difference in proportion means that “existence” really exists in, or is true of, both that existing lion and God.

            2. The comparison in Point 1 above is in contrast with analogy of attribution used in the comparison between the statements “Cooked cereal is healthy food” and “Jane is healthy”. In this second comparison, “health” does not exist in the cooked cereal; ”health”, which exists in in Jane, is being attributed to cooked cereal. ”Health” does not exist in the cooked cereal but only in Jane, whereas “existence” exists in both that existing lion and God, though in different proportions.

            3. So God has AT LEAST that proportion of existence which that existing lion has, though God has much greater degree of existence than what that lion has. (God has maximum existence since he is the full, complete, perfect or pure actuality of existence itself, in contrast to the impure actuality of Whiteness in a white elephant, or the impure actuality of existence in that existing lion. God is existence per se, as Thomists say.)

            3. So in designing proofs for God’s existence, can we not do it to prove God exists in the sense that God has AT LEAST the existence which a conditioned entity such as an existing lion has?

            4. In other words, can our proofs not be seen to prove that it is AT LEAST true that God exists in the sense that “that lion over there exists”?

            On the other issue of deductive proofs:

            A. Am I correct that even though a proof made used of “a posteriori arguments, beginning with sensio-intellective experience of things existing in the world”, it can be designed as a deductive proof?

            B. For example, in my 3-step proof presented to Ficino just now, my first premise is base on the sensio-intellective experience that a human being’s physical existence continuously depends on the fulfillment of conditions. Would that set of 3-premises be a deductive proof? If not, why not?

            Thank you

          • Johannes Hui

            Post did not appear. Hence re-posting now:

            Thanks Dennis for your reply. :)

            What if we think along this line:

            1. Since “that lion exists” and “God exists” are expressions using the analogy of proper proportionality, that means that lion has existence in a much smaller proportion than in the way God has existence. This difference in proportion means that “existence” really exists in, or is true of, both that existing lion and God.

            2. The comparison in Point 1 above is in contrast with the analogy of attribution used in the comparison between the statements “Cooked cereal is healthy food” and “Jane is healthy”. In this second comparison, “health” does not exist in the cooked cereal; ”health”, which exists in in Jane, is being attributed to cooked cereal. ”Health” does not exist in the cooked cereal but only in Jane, whereas “existence” exists in both that existing lion and God, though in different proportions.

            3. So God has AT LEAST the proportion of existence which that existing lion has, though God has much greater degree of existence than what that lion has. (God has maximum existence since he is the full, complete, perfect or pure actuality of existence itself, in contrast to the impure actuality of Whiteness in a white elephant, or the impure actuality of existence in that existing lion. God is existence per se, as Thomists say.)

            4. So in designing proofs for God’s existence, can we not do it to prove God exists in the sense that God has AT LEAST the existence which a conditioned entity such as an existing lion has?

            5. In other words, can our proofs not be seen to prove that it is AT LEAST true that God exists in the sense that “that lion over there exists”?

            On the other issue of deductive proofs:

            A. Am I correct that even though a proof made used of “a posteriori arguments, beginning with sensio-intellective experience of things existing in the world”, it can be designed as a deductive proof?

            B. For example, in my 3-step proof presented to Ficino just now, my first premise is base on the sensio-intellective experience that a human being’s physical existence continuously depends on the fulfillment of conditions. Would that set of 3-premises be a deductive proof? If not, why not?

            I am reminded of this quote:
            It is wrong to say God does not exist. It is wrong to say God exists. But it is more wrong to say God does not exist
            - St. Dionysius the Areopagite

          • Johannes Hui

            Hi Dennis,

            This post continues from previous questions A & B I have for you. I reproduced the questions and also the proof below for your easier reference:

            A. Am I correct that even though a proof made used of “a posteriori arguments, beginning with sensio-intellective experience of things existing in the world”, it can be designed as a deductive proof?

            B. For example, in my 3-step proof below, my first premise is base on the sensio-intellective experience that a human being’s physical existence continuously depends on the fulfillment of conditions. Would that set of 3-premises be a deductive proof? If not, why not?
            (For other readers: A deductive proof would be one in which if all the premises are true and if the reasoning structure/form is deductively valid, the conclusion will be impossible to be false (necessarily true), while a non-deductive proof is one such that even if all premises are true, the conclusion is still possible to be false).

            •••••••

            This proof starts from the empirical observation/fact that your physical existence depends CONTINUOUSLY on various conditions.

            Premise 1: Your physical existence CONTINUOUSLY depends on the fulfillment of various series of conditions such as this series:

            you > cells > molecules > ...

            (every entity in the series is a condition for your existence; your existence depends on the CONTINUOUS fulfillment/presence of every condition in the series)

            Premise 2: Such a series is either a never-ending series or a series with an ending. If it is a never-ending series, then it is a never-ending task to fulfill all the conditions and hence fulfillment is impossible. Since you exist now, that means fulfillment has been achieved, and that in turn entails the series can only be a series with an ending. So a last entity/condition exists in the series now, concurrently with you and every entity in the series:

            you > cells > molecules > ... > last entity

            Premise 3: The last entity’s existence is either conditional or not conditional on something else. If its existence is conditional on something else, it won’t exist now because nothing exists after it in the series for its existence to be conditioned on (ie nothing exists after it in the series to enable it to exist). Since it exists now, the only possibility is that its existence is unconditional on anything.

            Conclusion:
            The EMPIRICAL fact that you physically exists now ENTAILS (ie necesarily means) that a last entity having unconditional existence exists now. In other words, your existence now as a conditioned entity is CONTINUOUSLY enabled by an unconditioned entity.

            I have asked Ficino whether there is anything wrong with any of the three premises above or anything wrong with the reasoning-structure? If the premises are true and the reasoning-structure is valid, then the conclusion is impossible to be false (ie necessarily true) as I see this as a deductive proof.

            (To prove that there is one and only one unconditioned entity that is the Ultimate One enabling, at every moment, the existence of all other entities will require the next stage. The end of next stage lies the conclusion that God exists.)

          • Ficino

            hello Dennis, thanks, but I think yours above simply restates things you have said earlier, and as I recall, the longer quotation you offer from Benignus is one that you posted before.

            In other words, the concept of being is based on a real sameness in all beings -- God and creatures alike.

            I addressed the above earlier. There is no sameness between identity and non-identity, so there is not a proportion.

            from Benignus:

            but the relation of predicate to subject is identical in both.

            Not so. The relation of predicate to subject is the same in the syntax of a sentence but not "in both" nor is the sameness "real" as you say above. The relation of predicate to subject in a creature is not identity; in God it is identity. "3 is to 4 as 4 is to 4" is not a proportion nor a ratio.

            Obviously, we can string together words so that we can utter "God exists" and we can utter "creature exists". Otherwise, we couldn't argue about whether God exists. Analogy of proportion doesn't hold, as I've just said. Predication ad unum is a non-starter for reasons I've discussed previously. What our minds grasp is not "existence" as it is in God. We are only guessing about that.

            In any case, we may be at cross purposes to try to discuss analogical predication of names of God when the predicate in question is "being/exists." It may appear that arguments about "being" escape Aristotle's strictures on the demonstrative syllogism because over such arguments is spread a cloud of murkiness emanating from the treatment of "being" as a perfection/predicate. You'll recall that I don't admit that existence is a first order predicate. So I can't endorse talk about "Being is that whose act is to exist" etc.
            It is incoherent to speak as though there are some things that have an essence but not an act of existence and other things that have both an essence and an act of existence.

            If we take some other predicate, like "just," and follow the drift of thought in the Fourth Way, we are to think of God as maximally just, by whom all creatures are measured as just to some deficient degree and in a derivative relation. But we can't have a proper conception of God's justice when the primary analogate quoad nos is human justice, which is in Thomas' words (from Aristotle) like "healthy" urine or a "healthy" drink. So an argument about God's justice can convey some ideas but it won't be a demonstration yielding certitude. We've been over that ground. Fr. Brian Davies can't expound on God's not being a moral agent if it turns out that "just" means the same thing of God as it does of humans.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I think we are getting down to some of our more fundamental disagreements -- disagreements which are based more in metaphysics and epistemology than in logic and language.

            "Obviously, we can string together words so that we can utter "God exists" and we can utter "creature exists". Otherwise, we couldn't argue about whether God exists."

            What you hint at here is precisely my point. Language is not ultimately determinative of truth, since it is the conformity of the mind to reality that matters more than how we "string together words."

            More fundamentally, first we know things, and then we invent words to describe them.

            "You'll recall that I don't admit that existence is a first order predicate."

            Here we come to the nub of the matter. Does the mind actually know being .... or not? It seems that a post-Fregean analytic philosophy, which is what I suspect you actually espouse, does not allow that the human mind can actually know being or existence as commonly understood by Thomistic realism and the realism of many other classical philosophers.

            There is not room here to explore this can of worms exhaustively, but may I just share a few thoughts based on points I have made in previous Strange Notions articles.

            First, the principle of non-contradiction is not a mere mathematical axiom, but rather an immediate certitude of the human mind based on our immediate grasp of the being or existence of reality as encountered in lived experience. The mind "sees" being just as the eye sees color. We not only know being, but we know that we know it. That is, we know our minds are made to conform to being in a self-reflexive act which renders transparent that conformity.

            There is no "deeper" explanation you can resort to, such as an analysis of how we use language, precisely because language is a secondary human activity that presupposes the real and our knowledge of it.

            That is why we know that absolutely everything (even in the explication of paraconsistent logical systems) ultimately must avoid actual contradictions in reality, thought, or speech.

            This is why also Thomists and most all human beings readily apply the concept of being not only to creatures, but also to God -- which is why most people argue about the existence of God without getting into lengthy discussions about whether our notion of being can properly extend that far.

            I hesitated to open this discussion, since I can see it would probably lead down avenues that none of us have time to fully explore on these threads. So there is much more I could address, but will deliberately cut short.

            One final point, though. Thomists are well aware that the analogy of proper proportionality does not apply to God as well as creatures, precisely for the reason you have cited. That is, in God existence and essence are one, so no real proportion exists between intrinsic principles.

            Once again, this does not prevent the mind from conceiving the case of a being in which, just as all finite beings exist in the determinate manner they uniquely manifest, so too, were there a being lacking such determinate limits, it would still exist in the fullness that lacking all limits would permit, namely, infinitely.

            While an analogy of extrinsic attribution, such as you mention regarding "justice" and "healthy" would never tell us about God's actual nature, that is not how we know that God has being or is just. We do it by causality, whereby what is in the creature must first be in some manner in the Creator who causes it. It is based on the same insight that tells us that non-being cannot become being.

            I know there are other issues here, but I am trying to show that what we attribute to God is not based on some extrinsic analogy, but directly on nothing being able to give a quality it does not possess.

            Enough for now. I have a paper which I am peer reviewing for a journal and must attend to it.

          • Ficino

            I think we are getting down to some of our more fundamental disagreements ...

            Agreed. I allow that "Socrates sits" and "Socrates exists" have the same syntactic form, but I don't allow that they have the same logical form such that the second, "Socrates exists," has the same subject-predicate structure as the first. Give an exhaustive description of Socrates, and you've given a probably uncountable list of predicates. That's the description of Socrates. Then add "exists," as though the Socrates that doesn't exist but has all the other predicates can be put next to the Socrates that has all the other predicates plus the predicate of existence. But the Socrates that doesn't exist isn't anything in reality at all.

            Well, all best for assessing the submission you were asked to review!

            F

          • Dennis Bonnette

            If the above is what you mean when you say existence is not a predicate, I could not agree more. This was precisely Kant's critique of the ontological argument and it is correct.

            Of course, the Socrates that does not exist has not existence at all. Still, one can intellectually know the concepts that a description of a possible being contains. Moreover, from the perspective of classical theism, the Platonic Forms are simply the possible kinds of things that could exist as known by God and as virtually contained in his being so as to be potentially able to be created. But, I fully agree. Nothing is still nothing.

            Regardless of what St. Thomas sounds like he is saying to modern ears, I cannot believe that he ever thought of non-existents as having some shadowy form of existence, such as some people think a quantum vacuum to be "nothing" when it is really something.

            I can see how things can have "non-existence" with reference to qualities of existence they do not possess, even though they are real beings with other actually existent qualities. That was an insight central to one of my own proofs for God, wherein I contrasted "new-existence" with the non-existence of qualities lacking in anything:

            "... even trivial change, be it submicroscopic or merely imaginary, entails “new existence.” “New existence” is any existential perfection or reality at all which comes into being and was not there before. “Potential existence” is not “new existence,” since potency is only what is able to be, not what actually is. For example, saying one appears to be “potentially” intelligent is rightly not taken as a complement."
            https://strangenotions.com/how-new-existence-implies-god/

            I did not mean to suggest there that there is some magical entity unto itself, called "existence." Rather this simply referred to any real qualities in a being that had actual existence, that is, were actually present in reality.

            I worry about terms, such as "instantiated," for the simple reason that ultimately they merely mean that something was actually real or had existence. I doubt they really add anything to the discussion, except for the appearance of greater precision. Ultimately, one either knows what existence means, or he does not.

            When one sits on a roofing nail, he immediately grasps in a confused and primitive manner what we technically call essence and existence. That is, he is aware that he has encountered something existing or real -- and he has some idea or conception of what it is, say, as differentiated from a soft pillow.

            In sum, I think I basically agree with most of what you just commented.

            As for the journal article I was reviewing, I was just pleased to be able to submit my approval. Unfortunately, the concept of "blind review" prohibits my telling anyone what it was!

          • Ficino

            Can you tell us what journal? I have always appreciated and learned from the opportunities to be an external reviewer.

            Will come back to yours above tomorrow. I think, FWIW, that theory selection is a very tricky business. Adopt a theory, and it confers various heuristic benefits, but not seldom it also comes with an intellectual cost. "Baggage" is hard to leave behind!

            ETA: your nail analogy doesn't establish that the distinction between essence and existence is a real distinction! (:

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I am hesitant to name the journal in a public forum, since I don't think the author is supposed to know who the reviewer is -- and naming the journal might do that somehow.

            I agree that establishing the real distinction between essence and existence is not as simple as the example stated. I am saying the mind grasps the distinction in the sense that it apprehends the object from these two different perspectives. I would say it does so because the real distinction lends itself to such apprehension. But to actually prove the distinction lies in the object known itself is further project.

          • Johannes Hui

            Somehow my two post made here (in between Ficino’s conversation with Dennis) around 17 hours ago and a re-post around 12 min ago simply disappeared!

          • Ficino

            I did make time for Bieler's article. I tip my hat to him for publishing it so early in his graduate school career. He says many useful things about the structure of different sorts of syllogisms and illuminates important distinctions.

            His article doesn't go into modes of predication, though. In addition, Bieler draws heavily on In I AnPo l. 4 while omitting other lectiones in which more is said about what must be true of it if a demonstrative syllogism is to yield scientia. Bieler's list of requirements for premises in a scientific demonstration (p. 2) therefore is incomplete, leaving out requirements that I mentioned earlier.

            Bieler does say that God is the cause of esse/ens commune in every creature, that esse/ens commune is an effect of God. So in line with what we've discussed in other comboxes, it would seem to follow that things in A-T have being but God is 'being.' Proportionality between subject and predicate is purely grammatical not referential.

            He also says some strange things w/o sufficient clarification, e.g. "true definitions are hard to find."

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I agree that his defense of the scientific character of the quia demonstration omits the very point you were making.

            I have replied to you more completely in another comment.

      • Ficino

        The singular in such cases plays the role of a universal, since "Elsie" is also "every possible Elsie." So, too, since God is the one and only possible God, valid inferences about him can be drawn.

        Hello Dennis, I have been thinking over yours above. Perhaps if you have time, you could expand on the justification for converting the singular, Elsie, into a universal via what sounds like a modal logic move. If something is true of every possible Elsie, Elsie is starting to sound like a necessary being. But the universal is cowness, and on up to broader genera and their necessary attributes. And if we have to do with the universal, cow, then your contention won't stand, that you've offered an example of a valid syllogistic inference about a singular.

        I don't see any figure and mode in the classical syllogistic into which your example argument falls, because you use a name, "Elsie," in place of a particular term. Your example is like Darii, i.e.
        every b is a
        some c is b
        therefore some c is a

        But you can't say that Elise is an instance (non-platonically) of Elsieness, and if we substitute a definite description for the name, then we don't know that "Elsie" will fall into the required subset of "cow." In fact, Elsie can be conceived as an artifact of advertisement and thus, not in fact as a cow. Or Elsie might be vouchsafed the property of immortality, i.e. if she's a cow, she might be a special cow. We don't know from the syllogism that such a wonder is ruled out.

        So I am not yet convinced that the minor term in a demonstrative syllogism can be a singular, though, if true, that restriction wouldn't preclude our knowing about singulars via other modes of cognition.

        • Dennis Bonnette

          First, as to Elsie herself, it must be granted that the predicate, "animal," adds nothing that was not already contained in the subject. But one might not have known that Elsie was a cow before the argument was presented. Hence, upon discovering that Elsie was a cow (someone told me?), and knowing that every cow is a mammal, I would then discover that being a mammal belonged to the nature of Elsie. While this may not fulfill the posited requirements of a scientific demonstration, it still shows that a truth about a singular can be discovered through reasoning from universal principles.

          Far more relevant is the question as to whether God can be the object of scientific demonstration. I would defend the force of each step in at least some of the proofs for God's existence. But, it is interesting to note that one can construct such a proof using universals as I have shown previously.

          Consider that we can, through sensio-intellective cognition, become aware that motion exists in the world. To this datum, we can then apply the universal principle that whatever is in motion must be being moved here and now by another. Since an infinite regress among proper causes is impossible, there must exist something having the nature of a first mover unmoved.

          I am not, of course, arguing the actual argument here, but merely showing that universality can be maintained in such premises and even in the conclusion. But does this line of reasoning conclude to a singular?

          Interestingly enough, St. Thomas actually takes the further step of offering proof that the first mover unmoved is a singular being in his Summa Theologiae, I, q, 11, a. 3, c.

          Could it be that he is securing his reasoning against the very point you are raising?

          • Ficino

            I would then discover that being a mammal belonged to the nature of Elsie. While this may not fulfill the posited requirements of a scientific demonstration, it still shows that a truth about a singular can be discovered through reasoning from universal principles.

            No, the above doesn't fulfill what Aristotle says, and Aquinas accepts, are the requirements of a scientific demonstration, as far as I can see at this point, for reasons we've discussed. It's true that if Elsie is a standard cow, then Elsie is a mammal, but it's not known with certitude that Elsie is a standard cow (you allowed that we might only have hearsay about Elsie...).

            universality can be maintained in such premises and even in the conclusion. But does this line of reasoning conclude to a singular?

            Yes, one of the tricky spots.

            Interestingly enough, St. Thomas actually takes the further step of offering proof that the first mover unmoved is a singular being in his Summa Theologiae, I, q, 11, a. 3, c.
            Could it be that he is securing his reasoning against the very point you are raising?

            He may be trying to. I would urge caution about yours above, though:
            1. since Thomas does not include the term, unmoved/first mover in the argument of 11.3--he argues about God not the UM-- one should not be guilty of what Richard Robinson called "misinterpretation by inference" in immediately substituting First Unmoved Mover for "God" in that article. You have to get over the hurdle of Aristotle's multiple unmoved movers. Perhaps ad 2 does that sufficiently, I haven't worked through it recently.
            2. It's a problem to get from "first mover unmoved" (cf. yours above) to God if God can't be in any genus. A demonstration that works from movers in our world up to a principle from which the first unmoved mover is deduced will run into just the problems we've been discussing if "mover" isn't predicated univocally throughout. But if "mover" is predicated univocally of the UM, then the UM won't be God, since not all that is true of one (e.g. God not in a genus) will be true of the other (UM in a genus).

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I think I have made clear that not all Thomists necessarily follow the texts of St. Thomas in slavish fashion. So, whether St. Thomas meant to refer to a first mover unmoved or not, since a first mover unmoved must be pure act, I think St. Thomas does address the objection of multiple first movers in the body of the article.

            There he points out that multiple gods would have to differ from each other, meaning one would have perfections another would lack. From this he infers that even the ancient philosophers realized that there could be only on infinite principle. Since the unmoved first mover would be pure act, the argument quickly leads to exclusion of more than one.

            As to your objection to the term "mover" being predicated univocally when God is not in a genus, I can again see the a priori application of logical restrictions intended to prevent any proof for God's existence.

            As I said in another comment, "Thomists and most all human beings readily apply the concept of being not only to creatures, but also to God -- which is why most people argue about the existence of God without getting into lengthy discussions about whether our notion of being can properly extend that far." The fact that we can apply the PNC with certitude both to creatures and to God argues in favor of the position that the concept of being is transcendent.

            I don't think you need to presume the real distinction between existence and essence in order to form a concept of being that extends to all things. It is sufficient to grasp that existence can manifest in limited instantiations and, possibly, in an unlimited instantiation. I know Frege has a problem with that language, but Thomists do not and still, I think, can make themselves understood to others.

            Since motion can be understood in terms of potency and act, and since potency and act can be understood in terms of being and non-being, then the concept of being can serve as the bridge in the argument from motion from created motion to the Unmoved First Mover that is God.

            I am well aware that there are many contentious points involved in what I write above, which is why I hesitated to open that can of worms in an earlier comment. This is probably not the proper forum for such extensive and intensive discussion of such basic disagreements.

          • Ficino

            As to your objection to the term "mover" being predicated univocally when God is not in a genus, I can again see the a priori application of logical restrictions intended to prevent any proof for God's existence.

            I am the one applying the a apriori, but you are not? No univocity, no deductive system. End of story. It won't do to argue for analogical predication by claiming that without it, we could not predicate names of God.

            The fact that we can apply the PNC with certitude both to creatures and to God argues in favor of the position that the concept of being is transcendent.

            Around we go again. The PNC is a principle of logic. It becomes incoherent when you try to make it a principle of ontology, because existence cannot be a first order predicate under any robust system of logic.

            I am glad to have learned things from this exchange, but I have not seen you establish that the Ways are demonstrations that yield scientia on either Aristotle's or Aquinas' descriptions of demonstrative syllogisms. If modern Thomists have some new system of logic that is not based on Aristotle nor on Frege/Russell, then it is on you to expound that system. Meanwhile, in A-T, Scientia is not of singulars, except in two ways, neither of which apply to God.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I doubt we can find a more fundamental disagreement than that of what one deems the PNC to be -- a principle of logic or of metaphysics. My problem with your analytical approach is that it appears to make logic the ultimate science, whereas classical philosophers make it an instrument of philosophy with metaphysics being the ultimate science. If it were merely an axiom of logic, we could never be absolutely certain in fact and in truth even that a proposition was actually posited, since it would always be possible that it was not in terms of actual reality -- but only because we assumed the axiom.

            That is why I would argue that our most primary certitude is the principle of non-contradiction -- precisely not a concept about existence, but an immediate apprehension of being known in a judgment. I guess this does make it what you call a first order predicate, but that is not my terminology.

            The mind knows being and knows that it knows it and that the resultant PNC must apply to all beings, including an infinite one if such exists. We appear to be at an impasse. One can enunciate the words that exhibit doubt about its truth, but the mind cannot reject it in actual exercise while attending to some real entity. That is why we put qualifiers around the principle, such as "at the same time and in the same way," so as to make sure the mind attends to the exact same "piece" of being.

            To me, the steps in what I consider to be the valid proofs for God's existence are logically sound -- step by step. I see no point at which the necessity of a conclusion can be disproven by merely saying some logical rule has been violated. But this would require going through them in detail. I suppose you don't like Dr. Edward Feser's new book either.

            As I said in a previous comment, first we know things, and then we invent words to describe them. I suspect analytic philosophy has the tail wagging the dog.

          • Ficino

            I see no point at which the necessity of a conclusion can be disproven by merely saying some logical rule has been violated.

            Dennis, listen to yourself! If indeed a logical rule has been violated -- as opposed to the case where someone mistakenly asserts a logical violation -- then the argument in question is either not valid, if the violation is a formal fallacy, or at the least it is not cogent, if the violation is a pragamtic fallacy. So while the conclusion might chance to be true, the conclusion of an argument in which a rule of logic has been violated does not follow by necessity from the premises.

            I know you know this. But you are continuing to make metaphysical claims, which you say constitute scientia and thus to which you attribute certitude, while you sidestep the failures of the Ways etc to satisfy the requirements of a demonstrative syllogism according to A-T or, in another way, on Frege/Russell logic. Aquinas himself says that induction, though it provides knowledge, does not provide scientia, is not demonstrative, and is not from necessary truths. Arguments that rely on induction and analogical predication just don't deliver the certitude the Thomist system claims for them. I invited you to supply a third system of logic, if modern Thomists have formulated one, and to make a case for it, but you seem to prefer to say, "Well, we know with certitude that our metaphysical conclusions are true, so we don't need to consider the system of logic we use to argue to those conclusions."

            I've pointed out particular problems with steps in various of the Ways over the last year or more, so I won't repeat here.

            Stepping beyond logic to metaphysics: talk of our having an immediate apprehension of being, and then talk of particular beings as if they are things that "have" being, itself amounts to enunciating words, to borrow your phrase, without adding anything but words about the thing that the mind attends to. No one attends to something, investigates its properties, etc., and then as a further step discovers that it has existence, as though that is a new piece of knowledge about the thing already attended to.

            I say this because Thomism needs a real and radical distinction between essence and existence. At this point we're at a foundational level, and I think we are grappling with theory choice. I don't know that there are principles even more fundamental, accepted by all philosophers, from which to demonstrate that one theory is true and others, false. Theoretical frameworks entail heuristic costs and benefits. The intellectual costs of Thomism outweigh its benefits in my book, though I understand that you say the same about what's loosely called naturalism.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            You are right about not violating rules of logic, of course. What i should have stated more clearly was that I find no particular step in the proofs that I can see really violates a legitimate application of the rules of correct reasoning.

            While you may not have accepted the steps of my argument, I did try to show how a proof can be constructed that is both inductive insofar as it starts with something certain and evident to the senses, and also, meets the criteria of arguing using universal terms.

            I find it hard to imagine that St. Thomas thought his proofs for God failed to meet the logical form needed for conclusions having certitude. We both know he wrote commentaries on Aristotle's logical works.

            The form of the argument I proposed as a possible example was one that proceeds from sense experience of the reality of motion to the need for a first mover unmoved using steps whose premises remain universal in nature.

            That the conclusion comes to a singular is not because the form of the argument itself must produce a singular, but because the nature of what is concluded, namely, a first mover unmoved, turns out, through further reasoning, to be found solely in a singular being. I cannot conceive any nature except that of God that would meet this condition, since all other forms of beings can be multiplied either by species or by quantified matter.

            I am sure you would want to challenge various steps in the proofs, but I am merely trying to show that the entire process can be demonstrative and need not even violate the rule of universality in premises you require.

            As to the problem of analogical terms, I think you still must deal with the natural certitude that the PNC applies to any being whatever. The fact we struggle to explain how being can be grasped as such a universal does not disprove the immediate certitude that it is such. Perhaps, something along these lines. We know both that something is there and that it has existence in the same judgment: Scio aliquid esse, as Maritain puts it. We don't add existence as some afterthought. It is not a predicate as some added property, such as Anselm's perfect island that also happens to have "existence" as a property.

            But the mind immediately knows something to be, which means that it is, it exists. Quantifying it in modern logic really adds nothing to the basic notion that it is, except to avoid certain possible misinterpretations where the "is" is merely a copula and so forth. But the metaphysician is addressing existence as an act that thrusts the being outside the realm of non-being. Language (not metaphysical insight) falters here, and that is why analytic dissection tends to reject the metaphysical insight.

            How to describe what is common in being between finite and infinite beings? This is a different matter of great contention between Thomists and others.

            Perhaps, this may help. The act of existence is experienced by us with specific qualities that limit it as opposed to other things having other qualities. Do you forbid the mind this experience as primal? I do not see that one must assume the real distinction just because we notice that finite things both exist and do so in specific, limited ways. The mind has no problem whatever in grasping the difference between things existing and not existing. I know that when you try to describe some of this, the analytic philosopher is poised to pounce on every term. But this does not prevent the mind from knowing that things exist and do so with different limited expressions of that existence. And it is not all that difficult to realize the possibility of something existing with no limiting factors -- and this especially when we can reason to the reality of such a being.

            And yes, I do find some insurmountable difficulties with naturalism which convince me that it is untrue.

          • Ficino

            We know both that something is there and that it has existence in the same judgment

            I don't grant this. "...that it has existence" is a theory-embedded statement. I am looking at a pencil and at a pen in front of me. I know that they exist. I do not know that they "have existence." They have extension, mass, etc. To say they "have existence" is once again to slip in the language of existence as a first-order predicate.

            In line with what I just wrote, I don't grant that anyone experiences or encounters "acts of existence."

            Language (not metaphysical insight) falters here, and that is why analytic dissection tends to reject the metaphysical insight.

            I agree that analytic types reject talk about the dynamism of acts of being and so forth. I don't grant that what they are rejecting amounts to an insight. That is precisely the rub. I don't grant credence to the notion of "acts of existence" any more than I do to Meinong's "subsistence."

          • Dennis Bonnette

            "In line with what I just wrote, I don't grant that anyone experiences or encounters "acts of existence.""

            One does not encounter "acts of existence." But one does encounter beings, which have both essential qualities and do exist. We do know that things exist and that to exist means to have whatever it takes to be not nothingness. Our language, as Maritain notes, stumbles in trying to describe this most basic intuition of being.

            I am not saying that we encounter existence as a distinct metaphysical principle immediately known as distinct in the beings we experience. The mind may grasp that the essential nature of a being is distinct in thought from the fact of existence, but that is not necessarily a proof that they are really distinct in the thing itself.

            But the fact remains that once we encounter being enough to know it is not nothing, the mind forms that nasty PNC which we all know applies to absolutely everything, including God.

            Now it could not apply to both creatures and to God unless there is some common unity to the concept of being. As Maritain puts it in his Preface to Metaphysics, "Thus the idea of being, however imperfect its unity may be, from the very fact of its higher degree of abstraction, possesses, like every idea, though its unity is imperfect and relative, more unity than the reality it signifies. Not only does this identical notion [italics added], when it signifies one analogous being, continue to be valid of another totally different." (p. 65)

            This "identical notion" of being is what has "more unity than the reality it signifies."

            You may not like an analogous term functioning in a demonstrative argument, but Thomists do. William A. Wallace in The Thomist Vol. 61 (1997): 455-468, writes: "Here I rely on a teaching that is distinctive of Thomism, in contrast to other Scholastic systems of thought, namely, that analogical middle terms are sufficient for a valid demonstration..."
            https://www.thomist.org/jourl/1997/973AWall.htm

            Again, the simple fact that the principle of non-contradiction, which states that a being cannot both be and not be in the same respect, applies equally to both creatures and to God suffices to demonstrate that the term, "being" has transcendental validity, even if it is understood analogically.

            We may yet be forced to agree to disagree.

          • Ficino

            One does not encounter "acts of existence."

            I am glad for this specification. Somehow I thought I remembered the above phrase in something you wrote. Happy to know I was mistaken about your writing it.

            once we encounter being enough to know it is not nothing,

            But here again is a formulation I do not accept, for reasons previously stated.

            the mind forms that nasty PNC which we all know applies to absolutely everything, including God.

            I think we both know that interpreters of Aristotle usually say he expresses the PNC in three ways: ontological (F and ~F can't belong to the same thing under the same etc etc, or a thing can't be F and ~F); logical (P and ~P are not simultaneously true); psychological (someone can't believe that the same thing is and is not vel sim.). There is a lot of controversy, of course. I have always thought that Aristotle considers the logical and psychological to depend on the ontological, as though the rules of inference etc are what they are because reality is what it is, and discourse seeks to describe reality. But for myself, I am chary about saying that non-contradiction goes beyond regulating discourse, since truth and falsity are properties of propositions, and when you and I say that e.g. something cannot be gold and not-gold under the same set of relations, we are stating truths about it - so the PNC regulates statements. Truth makers in the world are a different matter, as I understand it, from the issue of the PNC. The PNC regulates how I talk about the world. It's nonsensical to say that properties of the gold might contradict themselves.

            I don't think this matters for our discussion except to the extent that you, as I understand you, make existence a predicate, while I deny that existence is a predicate.

            I appreciate the rest of yours, and I shall take a look at Wallace (again? I vaguely think maybe I did a while back). I anticipate that his article will restate things we've already covered.

            Last night I reread the famous Copleston-Russell debate. I think we are at an impasse like the first of the impasses reached by those two luminaries, though my remarks of course don't deserve to be put on the same shelf as those of Russell. I did find it interesting to be reminded that Russell held that "necessary" can only be applied significantly to (analytic) propositions, not to things/beings.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Of course, I maintain that the ontological version is the basis for all the others of the PNC you describe. I am sure you are right about it regulating speech, but would insist that our certitude of it is based in the mind's grasp of being itself. I can only try to direct your attention to an instance of being itself and ask whether you can really conceive its ontological violation.

            As for Wallace's article, save yourself the effort. It is merely a comment he makes that is entirely an aside from the rest of the article. It merely shows that a well respected Thomist affirms this point with respect to other Thomists.

            I know it is redundant, but I really do think it highlights out different viewpoints when I say that first we know things and then we invent words to describe them.

          • Ficino

            I can only try to direct your attention to an instance of being itself

            I accept non-platonic instances of heaps of predicates quantified over things, but I don't accept instances of "being itself." So I agree that these topics we've been discussing highlight our different viewpoints.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Just to clarify, I am not sure what you mean by "being itself." I don't mean that your have direct knowledge of being in the same sense that you would know "existence," like a thing in itself or distinct metaphysical principle. I admit that it is easy to misunderstand what someone else means here.

            All I mean by knowing being is that we know multiple beings and know them as "not nothingness" in diverse ways. That is why I think Maritain says we both know "something" and we know it "to be" in the same act.

            I am really not trying to argue with you here, but just trying to make sure we are not misunderstanding each other. In knowing "beings," I am simply knowing both that they exist and that they do so in uniquely different ways. This may not really clarify anything, but I thought I should at least try to see if something is being missed by one of us. :)

          • Ficino

            I have been assuming, perhaps wrongly, that you are using the terms "a being" and "an entity" as synonyms, and "being" and "existence" as synonyms, i.e. as renderings of esse. Please let me know if you attach different senses to these terms.

            I see in the secondary literature that sometimes ens is translated as "entity" and sometimes as "being," so things get tricky.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I fear usage is hopelessly inconsistent. I have not seen "entity" used that much among Thomists. But "being," yes.

            The major Dominican translation of the Summa Theologiae many years ago caused near chaos by translating ens as "being" and actus essendi and existentia or even esse as "being!" You could figure it out from the context, but it was a diabolic thing to do, nonetheless. The Dominican translators were viewed with some suspicion thereafter!

            Ens should always be translated as "being," while the other two Latin terms should always be translated as "existence" or "act of existence."

            I try to usually reserve the term "being" for the whole thing: essence and existence united. I prefer to reserve "existence" for esse or the other two Latin terms.

            Still, I confess that I probably do use "being" for existence at times, but probably only in less formal discussions as on these threads. Is all this sufficiently confusing?

            You are so right: On Being and Essence is a prime example of how to confuse the terminology!

            And, oh yes, sometimes we talk about the "act of being," just to make sure non-Thomists have no idea what we are talking about! :-)

          • Ficino

            I try to usually reserve the term "being" for the whole thing: essence and existence united. I prefer to reserve "existence" for esse or the other two Latin terms.

            So you would apply the term "being" to the composite of essence and existence of a substance, as e.g. the being of Socrates, and also to accidents, e.g. the being of Socrates' paleness? Or would you say that only Socrates has being, and that the paleness is an accident of Socrates' being?

          • Johannes Hui

            On the issue of whether a deductive reasoning is invalid merely because some logical rule has been violated:

            If that deductive reasoning has violated one specific logical rule but is valid on a different specific logical rule, then that deductive reasoning is still valid, and hence the conclusion would still be sound if every premise is sound.

            Deductively reasoning is like climbing a hill. If one fails to get to the hilltop via the western pathway (violated logical rule A) but reaches the hilltop via the eastern pathway (conformed to logical rule B), then it is still a successful deductive argument, if the content of every premise is sound.

          • Johannes Hui

            One more point on the statement “ I see no point at which the necessity of a conclusion can be disproven by merely saying some logical rule has been violated.” which you quoted from Dennis’ comment:

            The key words are “merely saying”. Dennis was not saying that those proofs have actually violated any rule of logic. He was implying that by “merely saying” there is a violation of some logical rule does not mean there exists any real violation of the said logical rule.

  • Mike17

    "The concept of certitude itself is not very popular today. Most skeptics, agnostics, and atheists view natural science as providing the surest available rational knowledge, and yet, because of this very fact, view all knowledge, at best, to be a matter of very high degrees of probability – never of absolute certitude."
    This may well be true but woe be tide anybody who dares to suggest that there may be any kind of errors in the so-called 'consenus' version of climate science. One person to fall foul of the latest version of the Inquisition is Dr Susan Crockford. Take a look at:
    A world-renowned expert in animal bone identification has lost her position at the University of Victoria (UVic), she believes for telling school kids politically incorrect facts about polar bears.

  • Joseph Noonan

    Almost everyone agrees that there are some things we can know for certain. Even most skeptics (and I am using "skeptics" here to refer the philosophical position that much of our common sense knowledge is not really known, not to atheists, the majority of whom are not this type of skeptic) will agree that we know the laws of logic and the cogito with certainty - they only dispute our knowledge of the external world. I disagree with the skeptics who say we cannot know the external world - however, they are correct in saying that we can't know the external world with absolute certainty. However, you seem to be defending the position that we can know the external world with absolute certainty, which makes no sense.

    Your first claim is that, when we perceive something, "what is first and primarily known is something presented to the knower as an extramental sense object." This is false. What is immediately known is not the extramental object itself, but our mental perception of the extramental object. This distinction is extremely important - to ignore it is to commit the map-territory fallacy. We cannot directly know an extramental object because, by definition, such an object is not part of our mind, and thus not part of our experience. However, we can infer from experience that our perceptions likely are caused by real, external objects. Thus, we come to know these objects by indirect experience. We experience them not directly, but indirectly through our senses (and thus we experience them as qualia, or sense data).

    Next, you say, "to know that some internal image constitutes a representation of an external object would require somehow knowing both terms of that relationship." This is true, of course. However, you follow this up by leaping to an unjustified conclusion: "That logically requires directly knowing the external object at some point." No, it doesn't. This argument is simply logically invalid. You need to know that the external object exists in order to know that it exists (obviously, that's a tautology), but there is no reason that you have to know this DIRECTLY. You can know it indirectly instead.

    After this point in the article, you seem to backtrack on this, and for the rest of the section you no longer claim that we directly know the extramental objects of our senses, so I will not dispute it further - I obviously agree that we can know that our own experiences exist with certainty - we just can't know with absolute certainty whether these experiences correspond to external reality or not. It is possible that our senses are fooling us (I have seen mirages and illusions plenty of times, and I have had plenty of dreams, so I know that what I see isn't always really there).

    Now, on to the principle of sufficient reason (I agree that logical rules are certain and that they apply to reality, so there is no need for me to dispute those sections). You say, "Every truth claim that goes beyond what is immediately evident in sense experience itself requires some rational justification," and this is, of course, true. However, you immediately conflate requiring a rational justification for a claim with there needing to be a sufficient reason for the claim to be true. These are not the same thing, and you seem to be equivocating between two meanings of the word "reason". I can justify the claim that the Earth goes around the Sun by showing you stellar parallax, but clearly stellar parallax is not a sufficient reason for the Earth going around the Sun. It is the Earth's orbit around the Sun that is the reason for stellar parallax, not the other way around. So we see that a justification for a claim is not the same thing as a sufficient reason for the claim's truth. In fact, the example I just gave is by no means special - the reasons we have for believing in a claim are almost never the same reasons for that claim being true (if the claim has any reason at all for being true). If I roll a die, and it lands on a six, I will believe that I rolled a six because I saw the die land on six, but clearly, my seeing the die land on six did not cause the die to land on six - it is the other way around. 

    You also say that, "Claims of 'brute facts' are simply not accepted in the realm of reasoning." If, by "brute fact", you mean something that is asserted without evidence or argument, you are correct, but if you mean something that has no reason to be true, yet is true nonetheless, you are wrong. If I have a detector connected to a uranium atom, the atom will eventually decay, and, seeing the measurement, I can tell you that the atom has decayed. I have evidence for this claim - the reading on the detector. However, I don't have any reason for why the uranium atom decayed - all I know is that it did. It would be irrational to refuse to accept that the uranium atom had decayed just because I don't know why it decayed - all I need to accept this claim is evidence that it did indeed decay.

    Next you say, "Moreover, if such a need applies solely to reason itself, then reason becomes irrelevant to the search for ontological meaningfulness." But at this point, the analogy you are trying to draw between human reason and reality itself breaks down because reality itself is not a reasoning agent (unless pantheism is true, but there is no reason to believe it is), and because justifications for claims are not analogous to sufficient reasons for facts, as I explained above. Reason requires justification in order to accept a claim because, if we accept claims without justification, we have no way of distinguishing the true from the false, so our beliefs will not be reliable. Reality doesn't have the same problem. If reality "accepts" a claim, i.e. if that claim is true of reality, then that claim is automatically true, so there is no need for reality to have some analogue of justification the way reason needs to. Reality is tautologically "reliable" in the sense that it only tends to "accept" true claims (in fact, it is a tautology that all claims "accepted" by reality are true), so there's no need for reality to have a "justification" for the things that are true of reality. So this argument is simply a false analogy.

    It should also be pointed out here that not accepting a claim doesn't mean we accept its negation. If there is no reason to believe either a claim or its negation, a reasonable person withholds judgement. Thus, we see another way in which reason and reality are not analogous. Any proposition must either be true or false, so reality cannot suspend judgement on whether something is real or not. Reason can, however, and in the cases where we reject a claim only because it has no justification (as opposed to rejecting a claim because you accept its negation), this is exactly what we are doing. So what we would really have to accept, if we were to buy into your argument for the PSR, is that every fact has a sufficient reason, but that things that don't have sufficient reasons are not true or false, which is a violation of the rules of logic.

    You later make the same mistake of equivocation again, when you say, "As said earlier, such claims demand actual proof – or else, no sane person would simply accept one of these mutually-exclusive claims without adequate evidence of its truth. In a word, such claims demand a sufficient reason for belief beyond the mere statement itself." Of course, claims require reasons to believe in them in order for it to be rational, but that obviously doesn't that claims without proof are false (notice again the difference between "rationally justified" and "true" and how the equivalence you are trying to draw between human reason and the nature of reality breaks down due to this difference). It is equally obvious that rational justification for a claim is not what makes the claim true, and indeed, even an absolute proof of a claim is not what makes that claim true. Thus, the type of "sufficient reason" you are talking about here is completely different from the type that the PSR demands. It demands a sufficient reason for the truth of any true proposition, not a justification sufficient to make us believe in it.

    Because of your equivocation, the final conclusion you draw, that there can be no brute facts because every fact must either be self-evident, true for some intrinsic reason, or true for some extrinsic reason, is invalid. And so is the final statement you make at the end: "Moreover, if the above given inferences are not true, there is no reason to reason about anything, since the rational order would have absolutely no direct correlation to the real order of existing things." There is indeed reason to reason about things because our reason does have a correlation to reality - you have simply misunderstood how the correlation works. You have also assumed that it is a perfect correlation when it is not - while rational thinkers will (almost always) only accept true statements, the converse is not true. True statements are not almost always accepted by rational thinkers - indeed, they almost never are. A rational thinker accepts the true statements (s)he has reason to believe but doesn't accept any of the innumerably many true statements that (s)he has no reason to believe. Reality, on the other hand, "accepts", that is, includes, all true states of affairs (that is, all those states of affairs which actually are the case), regardless of whether or not there is a sufficient reason for "accepting" them.

    What I have just said shows why your reasoning in favor of the PSR is flawed, but I aim to go further than that. I think I can show conclusively that the PSR (in both propositional and ontological terms) is false.

    First, the propositional form: 

    Assume the PSR (that is, assume that every true proposition has a sufficient reason for its truth). Let C be a proposition containing all information about the contingent world (that is, every contingent fact follows from C). In other words, C is the "Big Conjunctive Contingent Fact". No contingent fact can be a sufficient reason for C's truth because all contingent facts are contained in C, so any such reasoning would be circular (C is true because P, which is a part of C, so C is true because of itself). No necessary truth can be a sufficient reason for C because, if a necessary truth were a sufficient reason for C, then C would be necessary (by definition, if N is a sufficient reason for C, then □(N→C), but if □N, and □(N→C), then □C), but C must be contingent since it is a conjunction of contingent truths (if it were necessary, all the contingent truths that C entails would in fact be necessary, which is a contradiction). Thus, there can be no sufficient reason for C.

    Similarly for the ontological form:

    Let C be the mereological sum of all contingent beings. By the same reasoning as above, C cannot have a contingent being or a necessary being as a sufficient reason for its existence. If a contingent was a sufficient reason for C's existence, then a C would be the reason for its own existence, which cannot be if C is contingent. But C is not necessary, so a necessary being can't be the explanation of its existence either.

    Finally, you are not correct to say, "it is not the rules of reason that dictate the rules of being, but it is the rules of being that dictate the rules of reason." If I were to ask you why being cannot be non being, the only coherent answer is "because that would be a logical contradiction". It is not some concrete rule about the world that requires that being cannot be non-being (otherwise, the statement that being cannot be non-being wouldn't be metaphysically necessary, since there are possible worlds in which any concrete rule of being is false). Rather, it is the very meaning of the word "not" that makes it such that being cannot be non-being. It is impossible for a competent speaker of the English language to even sincerely assert a logical contradiction because, in doing so, (s)he would show that (s)he doesn't understand what the word "not" means. This entails the rule that being cannot be non-being as a special case. Note that the converse is not true: "Being cannot be non-being" wouldn't be enough to get us to the full law of non-contradiction because it doesn't say anything about statements that aren't about being. Thus, it is the laws of logic that explain this particular rule of being, not the other way around, and a rule of being can never be the explanation for a law of logic (since laws of logic are true simply by virtue of the meanings of the terms involved, not because of any fact about the world).

    This last bit is a side note not relevant to the rest of the argument, but I must point it out because I know exactly what conclusion you're going to try to draw from it in the future, and that conclusion is erroneous. You say, "if the nature of a real being requires a certain property, it is self-evident that it possesses that property." Wrong. If the nature of a being requires a certain property, it is self evident that it possesses that property if it exists. It is, however, not self-evident that it exists (even if it is in fact a real being, it is not self-evident that it is a real being - we find out that it is real through observation). What you are doing here is committing the modal fallacy. It is correct to say □(("o is a real object"&"o's nature requires property P")→"o has property P"), but you are conflating this with, ("o is a real object"&"o's nature requires property P")→□"o has property P", which is wrong. Thus, the conclusion you draw that "if a thing’s essential nature included its existence, such a being would necessarily exist," is invalid. In fact, existence is a part of all things' essential natures, since a thing's essential nature is just the properties that that thing must have if it exists, and it is a tautology that all things that exist have the property of existence. Yet, despite this, there are plenty of things that don't necessarily exist.

  • God Hates Faith

    Absolute certainty or "certitude" is the enemy of knowledge. Falsifiability is key to knowledge, because without knowing whether you can be wrong, you can't know if you are right.

    One must hold some presuppositions, but not with certitude.

    Axioms are simply tools, not knowledge. Reason/logic are tools, not knowledge.

    • Dennis Bonnette

      Are you absolutely sure of all of that?

      • Jim the Scott

        Good one Dr. B. :D. If you can't have any certainty than how can you be absolutely certain that you can't have certainty?

      • God Hates Faith

        No. I am willing to consider other options.

        Are you willing to consider that all certitudes are not knowledge, but instead they are tools?

        • Dennis Bonnette

          Are you not telling me that you are absolutely certain that you are "willing to consider other options?" or, don't you really mean what you are saying?

          What you fail to grasp is that the nature of every judgment and proposition is absolute, since it must be either absolutely affirmative or absolutely negative.

          Even to say, "Well, maybe it is so," is to say absolutely that it may be so.

          To say that something is only probably so is to absolutely affirm that it is only probably so.

          To say a rocket launch has a 70% chance of success is to absolutely affirm the probability of the launch succeeding.

          Even to say you are not certain of something is to say with certitude that you are not certain.

          • God Hates Faith

            "What you fail to grasp is that the nature of every judgment and proposition is absolute, since it must be either absolutely affirmative or absolutely negative."

            You are conflating certitudes/axioms/presuppositions about ontological reality, with simply making a statement about one's state of mind.

            A statement that "I love pie" is revealing my subjective thoughts/feelings. Not an ontological axiom (certitude) about objective (or inter-subjective) reality. So, you are comparing apples pie with oranges. ; )

            If you want to discuss my state of mind on how I approach questions of ontology, then that is a discussion of my epistemology.

            If I were to say, "I think X might be true, but X might not be true", then my epistemology is open-minded about X. You have yet to reveal your epistemology since you did not answer my question--"(a)re you willing to consider that all certitudes are not knowledge, but instead they are tools?"

      • Jim the Scott

        Dr. B I think GHF still has me blocked so if you would rely this to him/her?

        >Are you willing to consider that all certitudes are not knowledge, but instead they are tools?

        Where are yer carefully reasoned philosophical arguments to this end?
        Also how do you solve the problem of yer own incoherence?

        If "Axioms are simply tools, not knowledge." & " Reason/logic are tools, not knowledge then how can you use Reason/logic and Axioms to come to the knowledge they are not knowledge and that you cannot have certainty?

        Also there is a bit of a red herring here. If hypothetically you can't have Absolute certainty you can still have Reasonable certainty.

        Anyway yer personal philosophy such as it is is clearly incoherent.

      • Dennis Bonnette

        Jim the Scott Dennis Bonnette • 3 hours ago
        Dr. B I think GHF still has me blocked so if you would relay this to him/her?

        >Are you willing to consider that all certitudes are not knowledge, but instead they are tools?

        Where are yer carefully reasoned philosophical arguments to this end?
        Also how do you solve the problem of yer own incoherence?

        If "Axioms are simply tools, not knowledge." & " Reason/logic are tools, not knowledge then how can you use Reason/logic and Axioms to come to the knowledge they are not knowledge and that you cannot have certainty?

        Also there is a bit of a red herring here. If hypothetically you can't have Absolute certainty you can still have Reasonable certainty.

        Anyway yer personal philosophy such as it is is clearly incoherent.

        • God Hates Faith

          Dr. Bonnette, I hope you can respect that I blocked him for a reason.