Vomit the Lukewarm
A paradox is a species of contradiction in which one feels compelled to preserve the truth of both contradictories. This requires distinction- which should be a reflex action to any philosopher (never trust one if he doesn't habitually make distinctions.)
One of the more irritating qualities of the modern thinker is his coddling fascination with paradoxes, in the sense that he is indifferent to the possibility that he could explain and preserve both poles of the contradiction. The modern philosopher will boast
of his paradoxes- as though they were anything other than a proof of his incompetence. Good grief: paradox is something we should start
from, not something we should end
with. The philosophy that calls itself "modern" or "contemporary" (a distinction that they would probably be wiling to go to the mat for) has the maddening quality of taking offense at the idea that their paradoxes might admit of a ready answer- usually one that can be delivered in a paragraph.
And so the student of the modern teacher is lead to hold up Russel's paradoxes as though they were some term of thought; he is forced to consider Kant's sophistical "antinomies" as though they were the last word on the matter; he thinks (Quine's?) "barber paradox" is the silent refutation of logic; he thinks that though the paradoxes of modern science he has already seen the inevitable irrationality of understanding nature- and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
The problem is not with the paradox, but with the attitude towards it. We should view paradox as a thing to be explained, not a thing to be held up for some kind of vacuous admiration. We should see paradoxes as proving the truth of the distinction that they call for, not as contradictions that numb the root of reason.
As a recovering sophist, I've learned a few things about sophistical arguments. Here's a few species:
1.) The most common- continually changing the point. Bring up something vaguely related to the particular dispute, and shift the whole conversation that point. Any time the discussion appears to be reaching a term, change the topic again. Do not recognize anything your opponent is actually saying, do not attempt to articulate his position, do not attempt to seek out some common principle that both of you agree on.
2.) Require your opponent to prove something that is self evident. He will either try to do this, which requires him to try to found something more known on the less known, or he will refuse to do this, and you can call him a "dogmatist".
3.) Describe anything your opponent says as "a theory" or an "-ism" or a "system of belief". This will lead you to think that you are simply struggling with a set of obscure/ clear facts, whereas he is simply mouthing pre-fab answers that he has never thought about.
4.) One word: Pottymouth.
(Oftentimes, you can jump to this right away, but sometimes it helps to fire off a witty quip or two. Imply your opponent is hypocritical or silly.)
5.) Make liberal use of the phrases "well, we're never going to solve this problem" or variations on the theme of "moving on". In order to achive this state, employ tricks 1-3.
6.) Never concede anything, and make no qualifications. If you lose any part of the argument, you will loose everthing that makes you what you are. Besides, if you were to concede anything or qualify something, you must be stupid and not understand your position, right? Remember, every disputed argument is a personal critique of your own worth as a person. Don't you understand that truth is all about you?
7.) Continually give negative and critical arguments, and never give positive ones. The purpose of philosophy is to leave yourself with nothing, right? If we rip up all the weeds, the crop will just take care of itself, right?
8.) Whenever two philosophers describe anything, they are either saying the same thing, or different things. Assert whichever one helps your position. One of the said philosophers, of course, can be you.
Hedonism Hits a Dialectical Impossibility
If pleasure is the greatest good, then anyone experiencing pleasure is a good person.
the same, contrariwise:
If pain is the greatest human evil, then anyone who is in pain is a bad person.
Anyone prepared to defend those consequents is unfit to speak of moral matters- since the only way one could defend such consequents is if they had no understanding of things that must be given in a study of morality. They'd be like people trying to discuss calculus who couldn't add; or people trying to be statesmen who didn't see the need for compromise. More likely, they'd simply be arguing for the sake of ego- and they wouldn't believe a single syllable that was coming out of their mouths.
For another argument of the same, see Bill Vallicella
What Material Is.
Let's start with what we know. "Material" means "something that can make something". When my Mom goes to Jo Ann Fabrics to get material, she buys cloth so she can make into quilts. When I go to Home Depot to get material, I get boards so I can make crown molding.
When I'm at Home Depot, I might also buy a hammer, finishing nails, and a DeWalt compound mitre saw (someday...). but I call the saw or the hammer "tools" and not "materials"- but yet I do say that a hammer or a saw is "something that can make something", so have to make a qualification to my original account of "material". It seems enough for now to point out that "materials" become the thing that is made, whereas tools don't.
Materials become what is made, but not always in the same way. Cloth becomes clothing by being cut up and given a new shape, as do my moulding boards. Nails and paint and thread, however, aren't given a new shape so much as they are put in a certain place (give a nail a new shape when you pound it, and you're usually in trouble). Now the first kinds of things tend to be called "materials" more readily, even though the second kind are also so called. Again, the first kinds of things undergo a certain change in shape, and so the things that undergo this are most properly "material". What is common to both the first things and the second things is that some process or activity has to be put upon them, some process to which they are passive.
Materials become something else, and so considered as material they are indeterminate. The degree of this indetermination is not always the same. A crown moulding board is more or less only good to be turned into crown moulding, although it could become something else. An eight-foot two by four, however, can become a great many things. This determination must come from another (the carpenter, etc.)- and so we may say that in a certain sense material is wholly indeterminate, since it does not get determination to something from itself, but from another
Material is capable of being regarded in two ways: per se
and per accidens
. We have dealt with material per se
up until now. Per accidens
, however, we may look at material as having a certain determination. The two by four can be regarded not as an undetermined thing that becomes a something else, but rather simply as a two by four. It is a thing which we buy for X number of dollars and load into a truck. When we consider it in this way, however, we are not
considering it as material, but rather as a determinate thing with certain properties. In fact, the two by four might be viewed as the thing that came to be
from a certain kind of material, namely the tree, or simply from wood.
We can also distinguish among material something persistent and something non-persistent. A two by four might be said to come to be from either a tree, or from wood. The frame of the house might be said to come to be either from the a.) an eight foot two-by four, or b.) from wood, or c.) from the two by four as cut and/ or positioned and fastened or d.) from the tree.
a.) may remain or may not remain, depending on whether we identify it with c.)
b.) remains simply speaking.
c.) c remains simply, although in a way that can be distinguished from b.)
d.) does not remain.
What comes to be from art must presuppose some given quality of a natural thing- wood is firm and keeps its shape, yet soft enough to take a nail. In other words, some quality of things occurring naturally is presupposed to all of the things we use as material. We encounter certain natural givens and use these givens to our advantage. Yet these things we take as givens could not be givens to the nature from which they come to be- otherwise they would have to exist before they came to be. What our art takes as a given is term from which
we work- but it is a term to which
the nature of the thing works. This terminal point is the dividing line between our art, and the work of nature. We are simply incapable by definition
of ever having our art pierce through to the other side of this term.
We are, therefore, incapable of making something that "has a nature" in the same sense as natural things have a nature. What we make will always carry with it certain natural givens- i.e. the nature of something that is not reachable by our art. What comes to be from us is incapable of being one in the same way that natural things are one- or of "having a nature" in the same exact way that natural things have a nature.
Solutions to Apparent Difficulties in the Philosophy of Parmenides
The primary objection to the Philosophy of Parmenides is that it denies distinction and coming to be in any way. If the thesis of this paper holds, however, and Parmenides is treating in his "way of truth" all things as one, or being as such, etc. the objection has a hard time finding a proof text in Parmenides. The closest thing to a proof text is 11.8, 23-35:Nor is it divided since it is all like...But unchanging in the limits of great bonds,is without start of finish, since coming to be and destructionwere banished far away, and true conviction drove them off...Thinking and the thought that it is are the same.
If we read the "it" as we have suggested it be read, as opposed to seeing "it" as being the same as this
being, or as a mere collection of this and that, taken diversely, then the objection vanishes.
The difficulty is with Parmeides' characterization of things that at least appear t come to be and pass away- for he treats of these things in "the way of mortal opinion" about which the narrating goddess says:listen to the deceitful ordering of my wordsfor [mortals] made up their minds to name two forms,of which it is not right to name one- in this they have gone astray-and they distinguished things opposite in body, and established signs-the one apart from the other
If one takes the above quotation as meaning "mortals confuse the sheerly many with being as such, and in this they err" or said another way, "mortals mistakenly think that 'IT' (being as such) is the same as this
being + this
being + this
etc, then the above quotation is both true and perfectly in keeping with the reading of Parmenides set down here. If the passage is read to say "there is no such thing as coming to be, or distinction in any way" then Parmenides' philosophy becomes problematic. It's clear as day that "being as such" is different from "this being"- otherwise the entire universe would disappear with the death of a sparrow. It seems hard to believe however, that Parmenides would have missed this objection, and since there is a coherent account of the passage that does not degenerate into monism, we will take it.
A similar non- absurd reading can be given to this passage:That which is there to be spoken and thought of must befor it is possible for it to be,but not possible for nothing to be.
If one reads this fragment in as following on and explaining the previous fragment, then there is a ready explanation of an apparent difficulty, for the previous fragment reads:For me, where I am to begin from is the same,for to there I will come back again.
Now we argue here that Parmenides sees the way of truth as beginning
in the principle of contradiction, and so it would make sense to see fragment 11.6 is a correct explanation of the principle of contradiction, not simply any old thing that is thought of. Even if one denied that fragment 11.6 was an explanation of the "first thing thought of" mentioned in 11.5, there is still reasonable reading of 11.6, simply as a part of the way of truth, for on our reading of "the way of truth", the way concerns "being as such", as opposed to "this being". It certainly seems inarguable that I can't make a dodo bird or a donut by simply thinking of them, but the objection is irrelevant since the way of truth doesn't concern itself with "this or that being" but rather being as such.
Neither is it unfitting for Parmenides to deny us knowledge of "the things distinguished as opposite in body". After all, if we mean by knowledge
the sort of knowledge that we have of the principle of contradiction, then it is true to say that we don't know particular things like "dense and heavy body" or "aetherial fire" or the embryology of male and female persons. Contradiction, after all, evinces truth by nature, but these other things do not. Compared to this higher knowledge, the things treated of in the second half of the poem deserve to be called "opinion". Even if we were to call our sciences of these things "knowledge" we would have to keep in mind that the word was not being used in the same way as we use it in the way of truth.Conclusion
Parmenides give a definitive answer to the problem of skepticism, i.e. the problem of whether the human mind knows truth. He does so by harnessing the power of contradiction as such, i.e. contradiction not as it is understood in any particular set of beings, but in being a such. In being the first to turn his mind to being as such, Parmenides deserves to be called the Founder of Metaphysics, and in showing the first truth he deserves to be called the founder of that part of metaphysics that deals with human knowledge: epistemology. All objections to the philosophy of Parmenides can be reduced to a failure to understand "being" as he accounts for it his way of truth- in other words, the objections confound the distinction between the 'it' as Parmenides understands it, and the many particular 'its' or the 'these'/'those' that we see around us. There is a certain reading of Parmenides that claims that he himself confounds this distinction, but this reading does not seem to be demanded by the text. The philosophy of Parmenides, therefore, still remains as a necessary foundation for metaphysics. Unlike other foundations-say, the foundation of a house- the philosophy of Parmenides is worthwhile to contemplate in itself; but similar to other foundations, his philosophy was meant to be built on
Parmenides as the Refutation of Skepticism
Parmenides is the first philosopher to take explicit notice of contradiction. His realization is at the same time breathtakingly simple and fundamental. The power of his realization is easy to miss. The argument will proceed in five parts:
A.) A general account of contradiction, and its reation to truth.
B.) How Parmenides uses contradiction in his philosophy.
C.) What "the principle of contradiction" is.
D.) Answers to some objections to the formulation given of the Principle of contradiction.
E.) Parmenides' response to the problems of skepticism.Part A.)
Contradiction is a species of contrariety. Contrary things are such that only one can be true, and in strict contraries, the truth of one will assure the falsity of the other; e.g. "I'm going to get either a tie or a shirt for our anniversary". It is possible, however, for neither one of the contraries to be true, because whenever one is confronted with contraries they can never be certain if they have exhausted all the possibilities. Since both possibilities can be false, one can never be certain from a given set of contraries alone
, that there is a truth to be discerned. Contradictories are more strict than this, and more powerful. In any set of contradictories, one is true, the other false; e.g. "I'm either going to get a tie for our anniversary, or I'm not". Here we know that one of the options is true.
Contradictories, then, evince truth by their nature
. Asking a question like "when do contradictories require truth?" is like asking "when do squares have four equal sides?" It can be helpful to look at the three possible answers that one might give to these questions.
1.) One could point out that the question was meaningless:squares and contradictories (hereafter, "s/c") don't lack the properties spoken of at one time, and then acquire them at another. To ask about "when" they pick up these properties is a meaningless question.
2.) One could say that the question should be answered "always". We need to make a distinction, however, in this answer. S/c do not have the said properties always
in the same sense that the earth is always
spinning. In the case of the Earth, its spinning is a contingent fact- it is quite possible for it to stop doing so, which is to say that this could always happen in fact. The said properties of S/c use a stronger sense of "always", it is not simply that they always are
, but also that they cannot not be
3.) One could say that the question should be answered "as soon as s/c exist". In this response, we are making a distinction between the nature of the thing and whether the nature exists. At this point, we must divide the question about square from the question about contradictories. In the case of the square, we prove that it exists by actually making one- as happens, or example, in Elements
1.46. We do not prove that contradictories exist, or at least not in the same way. If one were to try to "prove" that a square exists by simply pointing to various examples of it, they would be guilty in the eyes of the geometer of begging the question, but pointing out or thinking about a few examples of contradiction is sufficient to show that contradiction exists. Even if, per impossibile
, someone were to say "contradiction does not exist", this denial would still require that the contradiction of contradiction (whatever that is) is necessarily the case. This argument is not question begging, as though we are assuming something that is hypothetically denied- it is rather to simply notice what the impossible premise means
; for since the terms of the proposition are both used universally, the form
of the impossible premise is either "Every ______ is not ______." or "No _______ is _______" and the terms are convertable. It makes no difference how we choose to phrase it, for makes no difference to the truth of the matter whether we affirm the denial (is not) or deny the affirmation (is).
Contradiction, then, both is knownto be, and it requires that some known truth to be. The skeptic, however, has recourse to one last distinction that might save his skepticism, because even though for any set of contradictories there must be one option that is true, it does not follow from this that we are able to discern which
of the opposites is the true one. It may be true enough that I must either get a tie for my anniversary or not- but how does this noting this get me ay closer to knowing which of the opposites will happen?Part B.)
The genius of Parmenides was that he did not speak about this or that particular contradiction, but rather that he spoke of contradiction as such. When he lays out what he calls "the path of persuation" he says that we know "that it is, and that it is not possible for it not to be" and that it is opposed to "the path of mortal opinion" which "is not...and it is necessary for it not to be". Formally, then, these two ways are distinguished by contradiction, the one being wholly opposed to the other. But what sort
of thing does the first way deal with? We note at this point that the two ways Parmenides lays out are not wholly distinguished by the sort of things they treat of: for he says that the way of mortal opinions will be taught because "the things that appear must genuinely be, being always, indeed, all things." It seems then that Parmenides treats of "all things" in the path of persuation, not in the sense that he treats of a collection of particulars, but rather that he treats of all things as all, i.e. all things inasmuch as they are all "one, and continuous". Parmenides thus avoids the last objection of the skeptic, for he is not speaking about this or that contradiction, but rather contradiction as it is manifest in the all taken as all.
As my last argument is not only controversial, but also the heart of my argument about how one should read Parmenides, I'll sketch it out in detail:
1.) Parmenides desires to found a philosophy that is irrefutably true. He may do this because he is aware of the problem of skepticism, either from learning it from another, or by thinking it through for himself.
2.) Parmenides comes to understand that there is a peculiar power to contradiction- namely that by nature it requires the existence of a truth. This is to say that contradiction, taken generally, requires that we know something to be true, even though it does not require us to know the truth of this or that particular contradiction.
3.) Since Parmenides realizes that contradiction need not give us knowledge of a truth in any particular instance, he makes his philosophy treat of all things as all, as opposed to treating of any particular contradiction as such.
4.) Because he seeks to have a philosophy that treats of all things as all, but to give a name to this is to leave oneself open to the objection that they are really treating of some particular thing (like "being" or "whatever is" or "all corporeal things" etc..) Parmenides intentionally leaves the subject matter of his philosophy nameless. It makes no difference whether one describes the thing that Parmenides is speaking of as "being" or "whatever is, inasmuch as it is" or "all things as one" or "the cosmos taken as one thing" sapiens non curat de nominibus
. What matters is that we see him as speaking about things on a general enough level to be to admit of contradiction generally
, for contradiction in general requires the existence of some known truth.Part C.)
Again, even if we were ambivalent or skeptical about whether this or that being existed (say a man, a triangle, or even a cosmos), when we ascend to the level of being as such, we know that being is, and cannot not be. This statement, when taken as a principle (i.e. when taken as a thing from which something else proceeds), is called the principle of contradiction.
To call this the principle of contradiction may raise some hackles, as this principle "being is, and cannot not be" seems different from the more known formulation of the principle of contradiction, namely "Nothing can both be and not be at the same time and in the same respect", but these two formulations of the principle amount to the same thing. The most apparent difference is that the second formulation includes "at the same time and in the same respect". This addition, however, is not an addition that is necessary to the principle as such, but only for our first understanding of the principle. For if these additions were necessary to the principle as such, then it would follow that we necessarily knew that being as such
was both temporal and distinguishable in different respects. We clearly do not know this, and even if we knew it, it would not be known from the nature of contradiction as such. In other words, it does not matter to contradiction as such, or the articulation of contradiction as such, whether being is temporal or distinguishable in different respects. It is quite possible for being to be atemporal, and absolutely one without distinguishable parts. We add this addition "in the same time and in the same respect" not because it is necessary for the truth of the principle, but rather because it is necessary for our first understanding of the principle, which will be grounded in an understanding of particular temporal things with distinguishable parts.
Said another way, to say "being cannot both be and not be, at the same time and in the same respect" is the same as saying "being cannot both be and not be, unqualifiedly
". But the very reason why we are speaking of "being" (or its contradictory, nothing) is that we desire to speak of things unqualifiedly, that is, not as any separate modality of what is, or as something divided from all things as one, but rather as they are known to us prior to any particular qualification. When one unerstads what is meant by "being is and cannot not be", they see any addition made to it as superfluous and redundant to the principle itself.
All that remains of the more well known principle of contradiction is "Nothing can both be and not be", but this is the same as saying (broken up for easier following)
a.) "what is not nothing cannot both be and not be"
b.) but this is the same as saying "what is cannot both be and not be"
c.) but since what is
, obviously is
, then the principle amounts to "what is, is, and cannot not be"
d.) But "what is" is used as a synonym here for "being".
and so the principle ends up as "being is, and cannot not be."
Again, if one wanted to add to this principle "at the same time and in the same respect" we have no objection, we only ask that in this case they realize that they are adding to being the qualification of "being as temporal" and "being as distinguishable into parts". We may allow this addition to make clear a particular instance of being which is more known to us; but the principle of contradiction, which is also known, transcends any particular instance of what is.
Even though we can cut the temporal and distinguishable qualification of being from the principle of contradiction, we are not able to go futher and reduce the principle to "being is". The obvious reason for this is that to do so would be to loose contradiction as such, and it is though knowledge of contradiction that we come to know that we we must have knowledge of some truth. "Being is" is an affirmation, and an affirmation as such is not necessarily related to some truth, whereas cotradiction by nature is. It follows from this that our awareness of truth, of that thing that is and must be, is an awareness of what is, inasmuch as it is opposed to what is not and cannot be. Part D.)
If one were to say that this articulation of the principle could not be true, for any particular temporal being, say "Caesar" at one time was but at other time was not, we answer that Caesar is not the same as "being". This
being might pass away or come to be, but this or that being is not the same thing as being as such, and it is only on the level of being as such that the principle of contradiction yields a necessarily known
truth- hence it is the only level at which Parmenides becomes interested. As it happens, Parmenides does also
seem to think that the principle of contradiction proves that no particular being can either come to be or pass away, but we will deal with this particular argument in the next part of this essay.
While it is self evident that what is is
, the skeptic might object to saying that the principle of contradiction requires that being cannot not be. Is it not possible that all being is contingent, and thus able to be to not be? We resolve this by noting that every contingent thing can in one sense become another, and in another sense cannot. For whatever becomes another must, by definition, be other than what it is- if this
, then it must cease being this. This change either happens because something that is different from the this
has been added to it, or because something has been taken away (a tree becomes a bowling pin by ceasing to be a tree, while wood becomes a bowling pin by gaining a signification that was not present in wood as such). But "being as such" or "all things as one" does not admit of a difference, for nothing is different from being taken as such. Even if we were to note that "being" or "all things as one" have as their opposite the something called "nothing", how could this "nothing" be added to what we start with? To add or take away "nothing" would be to change nothing. Those who would say that being as such could be changeable, therefore, are confounding the distinction between "being as such (or, being taken generally)" and "this or that particular being". They are confouding "wha it is to be" with "this thing that is", which makes no more sense than confonding "what a man is" with "this guy, say, Joe" Again, Parmenides himself may confound this distinction, but it makes no difference to the general truth of his philosophy, as will be dealt with in the next part. The particular problems with Parmenides' philosophy do not affect his refutation of skepticism.Part E.)
Parmenides' philosophy, when seen as pertaining to being as such, provides an absolute refutation of skepticism. For it the claim of skepticism that knowledge of the truth is denied in principle human beings; but the principle of contradiction, rightly understood, proves that truth must be knowable to human beings- since we know contradiction (i.e. contradiction as it is in being as such), and so we must also know truth as such, for contradiction cannot be known apart from truth, any more than "triangle" can be known apart from "three" or "side".
We are now in possession of an account that can answer the particular claims of the skeptic. The skeptic, remember, said that belief goes over all things. But belief is the holding of something that can either be or not be. To hold such a thing, however, obviously requires a posterior awareness that "something can either be or not be" but this posterior awareness is founded on an awareness of contradiction, such that if contradiction were denied, then the very idea of belief must be denied, and if belief is affirmed, then contradiction must be affirmed as prior to it. Belief, then, far from being an alternative to truth as known, is actually founded on the truth given as known by contradiction.
There is also a fundamentl flaw in the skeptic's understanding of the distiction between subject and object. The skeptic takes the distiction between subject and object as primary, such that this distinction divides two classes of being in a way that cannot be transcended. Any distiction or qualification of what is, or the all, however, presupposes some awareness the distiction between what is and what is not, which are manfest to human knowledge through the principle of contradiction. The skeptic makes something primary which simply is not primary- he posits a non-transcendable distinction that can only be posited if it has already been transcended. This is not to say that skeptics do not continually appeal to the principle of contradiction- quite the opposite. Experience shows that skeptics invoke contradiction continually, and (in fact) they can do no other. The fault, however, is that the skeptic's understanding of the principle ofcontradiction is shallow and unreflective- and most often dismissive. The skeptic fails to appreciate the way in which the principle of contradiction establishes transcendental objectivity; for as far as the principle of contradiction is concerned, "subject" and "object" are one and undistinguished, since both are merely further determinations of all things as one, or all being, or the cosmos as one.
And what of the skeptic's claim that to seek knowledge is in some way impious to the gods? We may see Parmenides addressing this concern by presenting his philosophy itself as a revelation from a nameless goddess, but it ay be better to see him answering the skeptic's claim in this fragment:
First of all gods, she contrived love
The quotation might strike the modern ear as sacarine and hallmark-ish, but when taken seriously, the fragment does a great deal of work. Love is, after all, a desire to share ones life with another- at least when it is between two intelligent beings. A universe that has love contrived above all things is not one where the gods would deny to human beings the goods that the gods enjoy. In this quotation, Parmenides provides a fuller, more positive account of why the gods would not deny wisdom to man than Aristotle does, when he argues against the claims of Simonides:
But the divine power cannot be jealous.
This argument is a mere negation. Parmenides gives the reason.
A General Account of Skepticism
Skepticism involves a denial of knowledge, but not every denial of knowledge constitutes a skeptical act. It is even possible to deny knowledge of almost the whole universe, and still not be considered a skeptic. Plato, for example, would deny that anyone could have knowledge of the material world; and Aristotle would deny that we can have any direct* knowledge of the material world as material. These two men would further claim that even when we descend from the universal unintelligibility of the material world, we are confronted with innumerable examples of unintelligibility: we can understand no reason for the innumerable things that happen by chance; we do not understand the specific difference of any species; we define the first things of philosophy largely by negation; we have exponentially less intellectual certainty the further we get from universal predicates, and approach the thing itself in its concretion; we can grasp many fundamental things only by using proportionate analogies, etc. All these facts, and others, make our prospects of attaining knowledge at best bleak. Error, as Aristotle says, is the natural state of man.
These extreme denials of knowledge, however, do not make people call Aristotle and Plato "skeptics". Even though both men place a great deal of things outside the grasp of certainty, and both set a very high bar for what counts as knowledge, both of them allow for knowledge fundamentally,
both in fact
and in principle
. A skeptic, then, is one who denies knowledge fundamentally in fact, and/or in principle. But since anyone who fundamentally denied that we in fact had any knowledge would naturally seek to give a reason for this, we are left with the skeptic as the one who ends up as denying the possibility of knowledge in principle. The first such man seems to be Xenophanes.
Xenophanes was, by ancient opinion, the father of skepticism. His most telling skeptical fragment is this:
No man has seen nor will anyone know
the truth about god and the things I speak of.
For even if a man were to say something that was absolutely true,
still, he does not know,
But belief is fashioned over all things
The first sentence states the fact of "the truth about...the things I speak of", and the second sentence gives the principle of the fact. Note first that the fact is stronger than a statement that no one has
attained knowledge yet, it goes further to state that no one ever ever will
attain this knowledge. The reason for this, as Xenophanes sees it, is that there is a sort of impassable wall between what we claim is true, and what is in fact true. Now in one way or another, everyone has to agree that there is a difference between what we think is the case, and what is the case (things do not, for example, become true because we think they are) but Xenophanes' claim is stronger than this. On his account, the distinction between our thoughts
and the things themselves
must be insurmountable, for this is the only way to account for why no one ever will
know the truths he speaks of.
Skepticism, therefore, seems rooted in the distinction between what is now called subject
But since not everyone who believes that there is a subject and an object is a skeptic, we are forced to make a few distinctions:
1.) The skeptic holds that the subject is capable only of belief, while truth is something said exclusively of the object. One argument for this would be as follows: Truth belongs to objects alone, but no subject is an object, therefore there can be no truth belonging to a subject.
2.) Skeptics are disposed to see the distinction between subject and object as leading to an infinite regress of belief. This happens because it is rational to see certain beliefs as better than others, as Xenophanes does when he says: "in time, by searching, [mortals] discover better". The regress occurs when we try to justify this position- for how do we judge one belief as better than another? What can we appeal to that is not ex hypothesi
simply another belief? Xenophanes leaves open the possiblity of this infinite regress when he says "by no means did the gods reveal all things to man from the beginning" for since Xenophanes can be read in other places as denying the existence of the gods, this fragment might be read as leaving open the possibility that there are no gods, and no beginning, i.e. there was no moment at which we were given some sort of divine principle of knowledge.
3.) Skeptics tend to view the primary goal of what is now called "epistemology" as verifying
the beliefs of the subject. Since only belief belongs to the subject, but no belief is capable of evincing its own truth, then it must always be judged by another. Since beliefs admit of an infinite regress, the attempts to verify them will likewise be infinite. What we now call "epistemology" never reaches some fixed point, according to the skeptic.
4.) The Skeptic may or may not set a certain "fixed belief" for the subject, but if he sets one, he will have to do so by an act if the will. Xenophanes seems to do this when he says- in what was taken to be the conclusion of his work- "Let these things be believed as resembling the truth".
If we put together all that has been said so far, a skeptical philosophy is one that denies a subject's access to truth/ knowledge, for the truth belongs to the object (if it even exists at all). The subject is then left with only beliefs, and since beliefs as such are things that cannot evince their own truth (by "truth" we mean "it must be", but a belief by its very nature is something we hold that can either be or not be) then beliefs admit of a certain infinite regress, perhaps continually getting closer to the truth by means of an infinite verification process. Any fixed point in a skeptical philosophy (say, for example, the beginning or the end of a book) is not set by the mind
fixing itself on something that "must be", but rather on the will
asserting "let this be".
Skeptical philosophy can be rooted not only in a certain undertanding of the distinction between the subject and the object, but also in a certain undertanding of the distinction between the divine mind and the human mind. The skeptic often says that the very difference between the divine mind and the human one is that the one knows truth, while the other does not. In light of this distinction, the skeptic sees skepticism as pious,
and the denial of skepticism as impious and promethean. A position similar to this was taught by the poet Simonides, who Aristotle speaks of in the Metaphysics:
...According to Simonides "God alone can have this privelege [of knowing first philosophy]" and it is unfitting that man should not be content to seek the knowledge suited to him. If then there is something in what the poets say, and jealousy is natural to the divine power, it would probably occur in this case above all...
This justification of skepticism as pious is not opposed to the justification of septicism that is grounded in the distinction between subject and object, and in fact this latter distinction is necessary to explain the former one. For to say that the gods have access to the truth, whereas we do not, is simply to say that the gods have access to the things in themselves (objects) whereas we (human subjects) do not. Skeptics may or may not take the jealosy of the gods as a principle, but at some point they must posit an insurmountable wall betwen subject and object, a wall which leaves only belief on the human subject's side.
* I use the modifier "direct" as opposed to "analogous"
Parmenides as The Refutation of Skepticism.
We can trace back the fragments we have of Parmeides to the preservation efforts of Plato and Aristotle, but these two men disagreed about quality of the philosophy they were preserving. To hear Plato describe him, Parmenides seems like a god. He was "venerable and awful..a man of distinguished appearance... with hair almost white." The proofs of Parmenides also command respect: "You (Parmenides) assert in your poem that all is one, and for this you advance many admirable proofs." Aristotle's estimation of these same proofs is- to say the least- different:
... Melissus and Parmenides both argue sophistically. Their premises are false and their conclusions do not follow.
Neither does Aristotle seem to think that it takes much to refute Parmenides: e.g. he seems to regard this refutation as complete:
His assumption that "one" is used only in one sense is wrong, because it is used in several.
This deep division of opinion about Parmenides cannot be explained away. To Plato, his proofs are the admirable and respectable products of venerable genius; to Aristotle, they are the patently absurd and easily dissmissable products of sophistical reasoning. What are we to do with such profound disagreement?
When confronted with so any divergent opinions, it helps to look for any common note of agreement among those who diverge from each other, and to compare that common note of agreement to its opposite. Now it can be generally admitted- with certain limitations and qualifications- that Aristotle, Plato, a Parmenides can all be called "philosophers". All these men, moreover, are sharply distinguished from another sort of philosopher, sc. the skeptic
*. It will be helpful, therefore, to look at Parmenides inasmuch as his philosophy is opposed to skeptical philosophy. The argument will proceed in three parts:
1.) A general account of skepticism
2.) Parmendes' refutation of the problem of skepticism
3.) The resolution of certain apparent problems in the philosophy of Parmenides.
* the obvious objection to this is to say that Plato is a skeptic. This is in some sense true, but on the face of it, there are far too many claims to knowledge in Platonic philosophy to make him a skeptic in the fullest sense of the term. His most well known claims: that forms exist, that we learn by recollection, and that virtue is knowledge, are all claims that are grounded in the possibility (or necessity) of human knowledge,
as opposed to opinion
Our favored method for compiling social trends is the statistic. This method ensures that we have little direct ability to make comparisons beyond the last 100 years, or in many cases beyond the last 50. This is particularly true of statistics that concern moral issues, particularly sexual morality. Most of the shocking statistics that show a sharp decline in sexual morals have no data before 1958. The same is true for statistics on religious fervor, or in general any aspect of what is today called "social conservatism" or "traditional morality". If one wants to chart
the trend of adherence to traditional morality, they are left with the ability to do little more than show a graph that starts in 1960, or '65, or '68, and then show its (most likely) precipitous crash down to 1999, or 2002.
These charts are usually fine in themselves, but they usually cause an unwarranted inference to form in the imaginations of those who hear them. The inference is that before our base year things were approximately the same as they were in the base year.
No one reacts to these shocking statistics by saying "wow, traditional morality had an impossibly high acceptance rate in 1960, and now it finally got back to where one would expect it to be." No one can say this because of the obvious fact that we have very little data before 1960 that can be neatly graphed and dispensed in sound bites. The unspoken assumption of many who are of a traditionalist bent is that the way things were in 1958 was the way we should traditionally expect them to be. This assumption, rarely vocalized (since to speak it is to notice its absurdity), is the cause of much of the fear on the part of traditionalists that our present culture is in a state of unusual decline from the way it has always been, as opposed to being in a state of returning to its usual and predictable state of existing.
The effect of this unwarranted assumption is that those of a traditional bent are inclined to see the present decline in morals as unusually bad and insurmountable. Secular traditionalists are inclined to think that the human race has never encountered problems like this, and that there is no hope to overcome them. Religious traditionalists think the same thing, but they often assume that God is simply going to come again soon, since the world has never been this bad. Perhaps all of these conclusions are true, but statistics- that mode of thinking that is so inseparable from our modern mind- doesn't decide the issue one way or another.
Statistics are incapable of deciding whether our present state is normal or abnormal. This is not necessarily
because of some inherent limitation in the nature of statistics, but rather because of the brute fact that statistics have not existed until relatively recently. If we want to figure out what to expect out of the human race, we need something other than percentages and numbers. We can wish for the statistics that could show us what we really are, but we won't get them. We cannot discern the state of our modern predicament by that tool that is so fit for sound biting, and that is so clear to us.
We add to ens
* not by adding a difference, which is impossible, but by noting a modus entis
does not express. One such way is to note the fittingness of ens
as such to another. This happens if some ens
has a fittingness to ens
as such, as is the case with intellect and will, which alone have an openness to being as such. Through intellect and will, therefore, ens
has order to another**. The order to the intellect is called truth
, the order to the will is called good
. Intellect and will, therefore, are necessary principles of truth and goodness as transcendentals
, which make truth and goodness convertable with ens
, though they add to it the account of order to another.
present active participle of the verb "to be".
**again, this "other" is not other from ens. In a certain sense, it is also true to say that "through intellect and will, all being is com
present to itself". We certainly don't mean to imply that intellect and will are not beings.
The First Certain Thing, or
Why Certainty Requires the Divine Mind.
Any proposition that we are certain of must be either certain in itself, or certain from another. Said another way, whenever we are certain of some proposition, this is either because it is the first proposition of its kind that we are certain of, or because it is necessarily tied to some proposition that we are certain of.
Certainty, therefore, requires some first certainty. Philosophers have given three accounts of where this first certainty comes from:
1.) Plato said that it is from ourselves, remembered from the time when we existed in another state.
2.) Augustine said that it is from another, given to us from God.
3.) Aquinas said that it is from another, given to us by our nature.
I take these three accounts as exhaustive. For the first certainty must be either from the self or from the other, but the other can mean two things: either the other is another self from us, or it is not. If it is another self, then this being must be a knower, and either this knower receives certainty from himself or from another. If from another, then this knower is not first, therefore if the knower is first, then not from another. But the first knower absolutely is what all call God, for he is the absolute principle of all knowledge from another. This is the opinion of Augustine. But if the "other" which is the first principle of certainty is not another self from us, then it must be unified to us as different from ourselves, and yet a part. But the only such principle is our nature, for the self is an individual of a certain nature, and yet distinct from it. If the other were any more universal in predication, then knowledge would be given to more in the cosmos than man (if it were from "existence" then al things would have knowledge, if from "animality" than worms would have knowledge, if from our "corporeality" then all things with bodies would have knowledge, etc. It must be therefore from our human/ rational nature as such.)
If it is from the self, however, it must be from a self that exists in a different state than it exists now. For what results from the self properly speaking
is under the dominion of the self. But whether something is certain or not is not under the dominion of the self, at least as it exists now. It must only exist from the self if the self was at one point God. This I do not take to be Plato's opinion. Therefore his position reduces to one of the two above.
The argument then resolves itself into a dispute between Augustine and Aquinas. Both agree that the first certainty comes from another, but they disagree about whether this other is a self, or not. But Aquinas proves that a nature only exists as nature because of the divine action, and a nature is nothing other than a certain openness to be moved by the divine mind. There can be no account of certainty, therefore, that does not require the existence of a Divine mind.
Person as an Analogous Term
Over at Siris, Brandon
has been arguing that every human is a person. He has received a swarm of objections ranging from the very intelligent to the positively ghoulish. The most intelligent one was from Mixing Memory
, which argued that since personhood implied dignity, but not all humans have dignity*, then not all humans are persons.
Now Brandon is one of the better philosophers on the net, and Chris understands a very difficult discipline thoroughly, and so I don't suspect that my argument here will be one that they haven't thought of. In fact, the first premise of my response to all this is positively dull: "person" and "human" have many meanings.
Take any analogous term, for example, "single". Focus for a second on all the analogous uses of the word, even in that narrow group of meanings that speak of human relationships. A person might be called "single" because they a.) are not married, b.) are not seriously dating someone, or c.) simply because they are eligible to date. I ran into this ambiguity straight on a few years ago when I had to give a speech at my brother's wedding. I come from family of four, and at the time of the speech my older sister had been married for years, I wasn't involved with anyone, and my other brother (Ben) had been dating someone for many years. The opening of my speech was a dull quip about how it "was kind of a joke that the only single guy left had to praise marriage". My mother objected right then, calling out "Ben is single too".
Assume for a moment that we had to take this "dispute" between me and my mother seriously. The obvious response to the dispute is to point out that there is an equivocation in terms, and in effect everyone is right. My mother understood "single" to mean "unmarried", and I took it to mean either "not seriously dating" or "eligible". The problem is solved. But there is a related consideration to all this. Not all equivocations are the same. Some equivocations happen by mere chance, like "junk" meaning "trash", and "junk" meaning "a Chinese merchant ship"; but other equivocations occur intentionally, like "programmed" when said of a computer, and "programmed" when it is said of, say, the instinct of an animal. When we say it of a computer, we are talking about the process by which we make a tool, a device we use for amusement or mere use. When said of an animal's instinct, it is certainly not a process by which we make a tool. The first kind of "programming" is a sort of art, the second kind of programming is not an art, except, perhaps, analogously. The terms are equivocal, but it is clear enough why we use the equivocation, because it helps us to explain something we are less clear about in terms of something we are more clear about. Examples of this occur all the time between art and nature, where we use the more known thing we make to understand he less known thing that we did not make. We argue by a sort of proportion: as programming is to a computer, so instinct is to an animal. If we lost this first idea of programming a computer, we would lose also the power it gives us to explain the "programming" of instinct. The extended meanings of programming don't make any sense except in reference to the primary meanings.
And there, I think, is the rub. The root meaning of "person" is simply "an individual human being". This is not a metaphysical statement, but simply a logical one that has to do with the imposition of words. The primary sense of the word person is not a technical one that has to do with technical terms like "consciousness" or "higher brain activity" or even "a being with a history or personal responsibility". I don't discourage the use of technical language, nor do I think a definition of a term is more true because it was imposed first, and is used unreflectively by most of the speakers of a language. It still remains, however, that in the first imposition of the word "person" it makes no more sense to say "not all individual humans are persons" than it does to say "not all single men are unmarried". In this primary sense of person, it makes no difference if we speak of "a human being with brain damage" or "a person with brain damage".
The problem with the opinion of Mixing Memory is that he starts halfway. He begins with what isn't primary as though it were, as when he first enunciates his position:An individual human person is differentiated from other human individuals, as well as nonhuman individuals, by a collection of memories, beliefs, knowledge, skills, and tendencies. In other words, what defines an individual person is a history.
This account of "person" is fine, but the primary definition of person does just as much to differentiate one human from another, and at the same time from all nonhuman animals. What could be more self -evident than "an individual human being" is both "this individual and not that one" and that they are "a human being" as opposed to being a nonhuman animal? Mixing Memory is using an analogous sense of the word person, and seeking to distinguish it from the first sense of the term. His first principle assumes that some human individuals are not persons. This happens because he has already defined a person as something like "a being with a history" or "a being with an awareness of history". He later goes on to say:From an empirical standpoint, both ways (Brandon's and mine) of delineating personhood are arbitrary. Both place the line between life and death at empirically verifiable boundaries. What criteria, then, can we use to decide between them?
"arbitrary" here is a key term, which is itself used analogously. The primary meaning is "chosen" while a secondary meaning is "chosen randomly".
Mixing Memory seems to have in mind the second sense: in other words, it doesn't matter from the empirical givens which definition of personhood one chooses. Perhaps not, but it makes all the difference from a logical standpoint (that is, from the analogous uses of a word). Analogous words do not come to be imposed "randomly" or "arbitrarily", they grow out of certain more known meanings and are applied to less known meanings. We no more choose them "randomly" than we "randomly" choose to say of instinct that it is "programmed". The criteria that we use to decide between analogous words is to try to relate the less known back he more known.
Even then, I fail to see why Mixing Memory's analogous use of the word "person" is necessary. He says that unless we see personal history as being the definition of "person" than we render all that makes us persons "superfluous". This is true enough in his secondary and analogous sense of person, but it is not true of the primary one. This definition is not arbitrary, it is the one we, or any good lexicon, would place first, before positing definitions like Mixing Memory's.
And I don't want to be to quick to dismiss this primary definition, "an individual human being". How are we so sure that we cannot derive dignity from merely being human? I admit that to loose "personhood" as MM defines it would be a great loss, but it would not follow from this that we lose everything that truly deserves to be called "a person". There is no contradiction in losing personhood in MM's sense, and yet truly retaining it in another. Still less would there be a contradiction between loosing "dignity" in the sense that MM understands it, and yet retaining dignity in another sense. In fact, as far as MM's definition is concerned, we could still lose all dignity as he defines it, and yet retain a dignity that was both uniquely our own, and superior to anything else in the cosmos.
*His proof for this premise was that dignity proceeded from awareness of ones own history, but not every human has awareness of their own history.
The word "patriarchy" is, to the contemporary mind, a sort of slur. This goes for its cognate "patriarchal" too. In my experience, this opinion of the word is common to everyone, regardless of how conservative, liberal, feminist or sexist that they are. I can imagine a contemporary speaker using a word like "monarchy" in a way that didn't necessarily connote the depravity of that system of rule, or even a word like "aristocracy", but I can't imagine anyone
using the word "patriarchy" in a way that didn't connote some kind of abuse.
It goes without saying that this was not always the case. To a Roman, "the patriarchy", that is, the rule of fathers, was unquestionably good. No Roman, male or female, would ask a question like "Why should a father be a primary ruler?" any more than we would ask "Why should we have elections?" There are other striking manifestations of this difference, for example, our opinions about abortion. Both we and the Romans declare that we have a right to it, but the Romans- if they were pressed to describe it as a right- would have called it "A Father's Right to Choose". The decision to accept a child or to expose it was made immediately by the father after birth, and the father could kill any of his offspring at any time subsequent to this, and for any reason. We must be careful not to form an impossible caricature of this image- like some Roman father standing stone faced at the end of a birthing table and coldly saying "I accept it" or "Let it be exposed". Many Roman fathers no doubt agonized over this decision, or were persuaded one way or another by their wives, etc. Many others were no doubt simply selfish jerks who didn't want a baby, or at least they didn't want this
baby. Whatever the case, the rule of the father was unquestioned. The patriarchy was, to their mind, the best way to do things.
In our time, of course, the situation is the exact contrary. Even the most die hard pro-lifer/ anti- abortion rights advocate sees the issue of abortion as revolving around a woman's right to choose it. The logic of this position has not yet wholly worked itself out: while fathers have been stripped of any authority to determine whether their child will live or die in utero, they can still be held responsible for the child by being forced to support it. One of these beliefs must sooner or later destroy the other- and the people who celebrated one will eventually celebrate the other. The decision to end child support (the most likely looking outcome) will offend sensibilities for a while, as it does now, but common sensibilities will eventually declare that denying child support is empowering, and that expecting a father to support children is sexist. It will be viewed as yet another rejection of "the patriarchy".
But there's more to come in the destruction of the patriarchy. The very way we use the word now suggests that we don't want to reform
the rule of fathers, we want to destroy
it. The very word father will be eventually neutered of any cultural significance. Just think of how quaint it already sounds to talk about a child having "a mother and a father
" (No no no! say a parent
). Also, notice that condoms, for example, have never been touted as "a way to have responsible fatherhood
." Clearly, if men were thinking very powerfully about fatherhood, the marketing guys at Trojan Inc. would have addressed their concerns. Come to think of it, is their anything
that is marketed to fathers, not to men, but to fathers
? We may find good reasons for why there is not, but this won't change the reality that advertising is in some way both responsive to, and formative of the popular consciousness, and there is nothing in advertising that speaks of fathers as such. We are destroying, and seeking to destroy, not only the fact of a patriarchy, but the very possibility of it. There will no doubt be fathers in the future, just as there will be those who come "from noble bloodlines and high birth", but the fact
of something is no assurance of the popular consciousness
of the fact. It is this popular consciousness, or in Plato's words, this common opinion
that determines political life and culture, and this opinion has seen fit to wash itself of the significance of fatherhood, and celebrate it as the death of the hated patriarchy.
The killing of the patriarchy, however, must eventually meet one last opponent on the field: Christianity*. I don't mean by this the Christianity of everyone who calls themselves Christian, but that inveterate Christianity that insists on retaining a certain kind of dogma, sc. The dogma of God the Father. For these Christians, the idea of God the Father is simply unreformable- it is the name both of the first person of the Trinity, and of the divine nature as such (as in the prayer "the our father"). In fact, the first person is called father, the third person conceived a child with a woman, and the second person set up a system for making fathers. Fatherhood is intractably a part of these christens' liturgies, devotions, catechism, and priests. Traditional Christianity cannot get away from its glorification of patriarchy, for it places the rule of a father as absolute, as both its opponents and partisans have to admit. We can rightly qualify this, or on the other hand choose to explain it away, but at the end of the day, these inveterate Christians still end up putting the fathers in charge, and they will insist that this is so also in the highest part of heaven. Not just a patriarchy here on earth, but a transcendent patriarchy! It is with this
patriarchy that the opponent of patriarchy will meet their last opponent- or perhaps the opponent that they have been fighting all along.
* I don't write this last paragraph as polemical, but simply descriptive. My goal is to say nothing that would be denied by either by those who fight against traditional Christianity, or those who believe in it. And yes, though I use the phrase "traditional Christianity" I do have in mind primarily the Catholics, although this is also true of other sects, and was once common to almost all of them.
The Tao That is Tao Is Not Tao.
By this point in our lives, all of us have felt the peculiar discomfort of being labeled. I am not thinking of the times when the label was simply a slander, nor of the times when we were given a label we didn't mind accepting, but rather of those discomforting times when we hear another person describe our way of life, our political beliefs, or something else we value in a single word.
At the base of this reaction is the anger or confusion at someone not understanding the intentions of our thought. We don't, at least in the circumstances spoken of here, feel that the label is false
, but rather that there's something wrong with the label itself
. To clarify this, I need to point out something about our intentions.
We love what we love because it is good, seek to know what we do because its true, and admire what we do because it is admirable etc. Whether what we love is in fact
good is beside the point. We cannot seek something inasmuch as it is apparently good, nor intend towards knowledge except as truth. Abuses and mistakes of judgment do not change the nature of intention. If I get lost on the way to the store and end up in Pomona, I don't say that I really sought
Pomona. In the same way, we can't say of someone who seeks what is in fact
an apparent good that he really sought
an apparent good. An apparent good is never sought as such, only a real one. The intention of the lost man was not to an apparent store.
The label chaffes us when it fails to appreciate our intentions toward things. The liberal doesn't believe what he believes because he is a liberal, nor does the conservative believe what he believes because he is a conservative. The Platonist does not love what he loves because it is Platonism, nor does the Marxist because he is a Marxist, nor the disciple of Aristotle because he is an Aristotelian. Again, whether any or all of these above ways of life are in fact
true or false is beside the point, what matters is an intention, namely, the intention in a person that we label "Marxist" or "Aristotelian" or "Liberal", which is not to some system of thought or belief as such, but to a certain good
. They seek the good in the same way that a hungry man seeks the grocery store- even if he happens to be too drunk, blind, absent minded, or victimized by bad directions to find it. The label, when it bothers us, does so because it views us separately from this relation to a good, and it confounds the per se
good with the per accidens
system. We are no longer seers of goods and knowers of a world, but rather a certain kind of person among many. What used to be all about the good we were seeking becomes all about us, or all about some system. The Tao becomes "Tao" (or, as we would say, it becomes "Taoism" or "Tao Theory" or "Eastern Studies" or "_______ Century Chinese Thought" etc.) But The Tao that is Tao is not Tao.
This sort of labeling is not content to simply label the "theory", since for obvious reasons it will want to label all the parts of the theory, and cut all of them off from their intentionality toward some good. Hence Aristotle becomes a teacher of some bizarre monster called "virtue ethics"- just another "theory" among many. Inside this ethics we meet his "teleology", an odd string of words in a book that sit on the page and refer to nothing. Sometimes, these unreferential strings of words are called upon to battle with other words, like the ones written by "Utilitarianism" or "feminist social ethics". At other times, people complain that the media is too "liberal" or that certain people are of "the religious right"- this is all fine, I guess, but at some time could we get around to discussing what is true and false, good and evil, or beautiful and ugly, which are the only things sought in the intention of the one we label?