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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

          • 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.

          • 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/

    • 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.

      • 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.