Metaphysical Pluralism. An Appendix to “The Principle of Metaphysical Realism”

0. In my immediately previous post, “The Principle of Metaphysical Realism,” I presented said principle, that

There is at least something.

or that

At least something exists.

as “the utterly basic, and thus absolutely first, principle of metaphysics,” prior even to the principles of non-contradiction and excluded middle standardly identified by the Aristotelian tradition in philosophy as the “first principles.” I further presented it as one basis for identifying the philosophical perspective motivating After Aristotle as Aristotelian or, at least, neo-Aristotelian in nature. In today’s postlette, I’d like to offer a bit of a precision of that identification before moving on, in the next post, to the discussion of the principles of non-contradiction and excluded middle I had promised to put forward.

1. An Aristotelian philosophical perspective, then, be it that of Aristotle, Aquinas, or a quibbler like yours truly, nipping at their heels, is not only to be classified as a metaphysical realism, in the very minimalist sense pointed to by the principle of metaphysical realism, but also, more specifically, as a pluralistic realism. That is, the principle of metaphysical realism, contrasting though it does with the thesis of metaphysical nihilism, that

Nothing exists.

is consistent with both of two very different metaphysical perspectives, that of metaphysical monism and that of metaphysical pluralism.

As a first step in towards the further precision I have in mind, let me restate the
principle of metaphysical realism as the principle that

At least one being is an existent.

A statement of the thesis of metaphysical monism is the conjunction according to which

At least one being is an existent and it is not the case that there is a being which is distinct from, or not identical with, that being.

or

At least one being is an existent and any being whatsoever is identical with that being.

or, again

At least one being is an existent and at most one being is an existent.

2. A statement of the thesis of metaphysical pluralism, on the other hand, will conjoin an affirmation of the first conjunct of the thesis of metaphysical monism with a denial of metaphysical monism’s second conjunct, thus

At least one being is an existent and it is not the case that at most one being is an existent.

or

At least one being is an existent and it is not the case that any being whatsoever is identical with that being.

3. That is

At least one being is an existent and at least one other being too is existent.

or, more briefly

There are at least two beings.

or, yet again, making use of a bit more of the apparatus of modern logic in its expression

There is a being x and there is a being y, and being x is not identical with being y.

Again, it is at least in principle possible for there to be the metaphysical theory that

There are at least two beings and there are at most two beings.

or

There is a being x, there is a being y, such that being x is not identical with being y and, for any being z, either z is identical with x or z is identical with y.

So, too, for three existents, the “at least” variety

There is a being x, there is a being y, and there is a being z such that being x is not identical with being y, being x is not identical with being z, and being y is not identical with being z.

and the “at most” variety

There is a being x, there is a being y, and there is a being z such that being x is not identical with being y, being x is not identical with being z, being y is not identical with being z, and, for any being w, w is identical with x, w is identical with y, or w is identical with z.

Etc. The answer to the question, central and difficult, of whether, for an Aristotelian philosophical perspective, there is not just a finite number but an infinite number of beings, is one that I am not yet prepared to claim that I know the answer to, though I am inclined in the direction of infinitism.

4. The foregoing is sufficient to demonstrate that the philosophical perspective animating this blog is, in that it is metaphysically pluralist as well as metaphysically realist, at least to that extent consistent with the philosophical perspectives of Aristotle and Aquinas. Not all philosophical perspectives are.

A yet more complete demonstration of the coincidence of the philosophical perspective animating this blog with that or those of Aristotle and Aquinas is ready to hand. That is, I need only point out that it, like they, is a philosophical dynamism, affirming the thesis that

At least one being is a changing being.

You will almost certainly have immediately seen where that thesis fits in the array of possibilities, contradicting as it does the thesis of philosophical staticism, according to which all beings are static and unchanging, or

No being is a changing being.

Etc. The answer to the question, central and difficult, of whether, for an Aristotelian philosophical perspective, it is the case that

All beings are changing beings.

or it is the case that

At least one being, i.e., God, is not a changing being.

is one that I am not yet prepared to claim that I know the answer to.

Until next time.

Richard

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The Principle of Metaphysical Realism

0. This post is the third in a series dedicated to a sustained reading of and commentary upon Aquinas’s Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle. In the immediately previous post, I spelled out and then criticized one of the very first arguments Aquinas put forward in his “Prologue” to the work; in fact, he set forth a statement of one of the argument’s two premises in the prologue’s very first sentence. To here make the long story short, I there declared it evident that the argument is valid, on the one hand, but not evident that the argument is sound; I even went so far as to declare it to be evident that the argument is unsound. I further noted, however, however, that that, by itself, does not entail that its conclusion is false. For the long story, I refer you to the previous post.

Now, the initial impression one might have from a reading of the immediately previous post is that I am writing from a non-Thomistic and non-Aristotelian point of view, or even from an anti-Thomistic and anti-Aristotelian standpoint. In this post and the two immediately following it, then, I want to offer an at least partial response to that impression, before returning to the primary purpose of the series.

The response will first, in this post and the next one, point to some of the fundamental ways in which the philosophical perspective motivating this blog is in agreement with the Aristotelianism of Aristotle and Aquinas. These points of agreement are such, I believe, that the “Aristotelian” of the “neo-Aristotelian” of the tag, “Analyses and Essays from a Neo-Aristotelian Point of View,” at the top of this page is fully justified.

The response will then, in the succeeding post, point to some of the fundamental ways in which this blog’s philosophical perspective is in disagreement with that of Aristotle and Aquinas. These points of disagreement are such that the “neo” in “neo-Aristotelian” is justified. (I’ll note in passing that I adopted the “neo” for lack of a better prefix; “amended Aristotelianism” would have been a more fully descriptive tag, but I find it somehow lacking. I’m open to suggestions.)

1. In the Aristotelian tradition, much is made of the so-called “first principles,” specifically the principle of non-contradiction and the principle of excluded middle, sometimes identified as the principle of excluded third. I’ll take them up in the next post.

It turns out, however, that the principles the tradition has identified as the first principles are not absolutely first, for there is at least one prior to them. That is, the utterly basic, and thus absolutely first, principle of metaphysics is one that I like to identify as the “Principle of Metaphysical Realism.” It is the principle that:

There is at least something.

or that:

At least something exists.

2. There are those who deny it. Take, for one example from twentieth-century popular culture, the Beatles’ song, “Strawberry Fields Forever,” wherein we can hear:

Nothing is real.**

On a somewhat more serious note, there is the thought of the Greek sophist, one Gorgias of Leontini (ca. 483-376 B.C.E.). As reported by Sextus Empiricus (160-210 C. E.) in his Against the Schoolmasters, Gorgias squarely rejected the principle of metaphysical realism in the first of the three headings found in the following:

In what is entitled On the Nonexistent or On Nature he [Gorgias] proposes three successive headings: first and foremost, that nothing exists; second, that even if it exists, it is inapprehensible to man; third, that even if it is apprehensible; still it is without a doubt incapable of being expressed or expressed to the next man.**

Let us agree to call the Gorgias’s denial of the principle of metaphysical realism the thesis of metaphysical nihilism.

3. The falsity of the thesis of ontological nihilism will most likely seem as utterly obvious to you as the truth of the principle of ontological realism did. And you will have guessed, from the use of the words “principle” and “thesis,” which one I hold to be true and which one false. But we should not be quick to simply dismiss the thesis, for there are prominent thinkers today who hold to a doctrine closely akin to that of ontological nihilism. When, for example, we reflect upon the first four words in the title of physicist Lawrence Krauss’s bestselling A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing***, we can see that they announce or entail the following theses.

At one time, there was nothing.

At that time, therefore, there was no cause in existence which could bring things into existence.

At the present time, there are some things in existence and which have come into existence.

At or prior to the present time, therefore, there are or have been some things in existence which have come or came into existence both from nothing and caused by nothing.

4. More than seven centuries ago, however, Aquinas had already offered a reply to Krauss’s thesis. This he does in his statement of the famous third way, i.e., argument for, or (at least attempted) proof of, the existence of God. In the course of the argument, he takes up the supposition that “at some time nothing existed in the world” and its implication.

But if this [that “at some time nothing existed in the world”] were true, then nothing would exist even now. For what does not exist begins to exist only through something that does exist; therefore, if there were no beings, then it was impossible that anything should have begun to exist, and so nothing would exist now—which is obviously false.#

The argument is complex and difficult. Because, however, I am bringing it up simply to document Aquinas’s upholding of the principle of metaphysical realism, I will defer any substantive discussion of the doctrines of causality and of time at work in it to subsequent posts.

5. I trust, then, that any impression that one might have from a reading of the post immediately previous to this one that I am writing from a non-Thomistic and non-Aristotelian point of view, or even from an anti-Thomistic and anti-Aristotelian standpoint, has been at least partially allayed, if only partially; I share with them the affirmation of the principle of metaphysical realism.

Until next time.

Richard

* http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/beatles/strawberryfieldsforever.html.

** Sextus Empiricus, Against the Schoolmasters, vii, 65-87. https://users.wfu.edu/zulick/300/gorgias/negative.html. Accessed July 22, 2017.

*** Lawrence Krauss, A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing (New York: Free Press, 2012).

# I like the ongoing translation of the Summa Theologiae by Alfred J. Freddoso, subject to ongoing revision though it may be. It can be found at https://www3.nd.edu/~afreddos/summa-translation/TOC.htm. The passage quoted above is at https://www3.nd.edu/~afreddos/summa-translation/Part%201/st1-ques02.pdf.

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Aquinas’s Argument That One Science Must “Rule” the Others. A Critical Assessment.

0. This post is the second in a series dedicated to a sustained reading of and commentary upon Aquinas’s Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle. In my immediately previous post, I stated that this post would be focused upon the one of the several arguments present in the opening paragraph of Aquinas’s “Prologue” to his Commentary that I find to be the most explicitly expressed and easily understood. In this post, then, I will set out and assess the argument, offering my treatment of it as an at least partial illustration of the approach that I will be taking in the course of the series.

So, the first paragraph of Aquinas’s “Prologue” to the Commentary reads as follows:

When several things are ordained to a single thing, one of them must rule or govern and the rest be ruled or governed, as the Philosopher [i.e., Aristotle] teaches in the Politics. This is evident in the union of soul and body, for the soul naturally commands and the body obeys. The same thing is also true of the soul’s powers, for the concupiscible and irascible appetites are ruled in the natural order by reason. Now all the sciences and arts are ordained to a single thing, namely, to man’s perfection, which is happiness. Hence one of these sciences and arts must be the mistress of all the others, and this one rightly lays claim to the name of wisdom; for it is the office of the wise man to direct others.*

1. One premise of the argument at hand, the major premise, finds its expression in the paragraph’s first sentence:

When several things are ordained to a single thing, one of them must rule or govern and the rest be ruled or governed, as the Philosopher [i.e., Aristotle] teaches in the Politics.

As “regimented,” i.e., so rephrased as to make more fully evident its logical essentials, this premise reads as follows:

All sets of several things ordained to some one thing are sets of things one of which must rule the others.

2. His statement of this argument’s minor premise appears in the paragraph’s fourth sentence:

Now all the sciences and arts are ordained to a single thing, namely, to man’s perfection, which is happiness.

Now, the perfection of man [sic] and the happiness which Aquinas points to are both of the utmost importance in his philosophy taken as a whole. But they are beside the immediate point of the present argument and paragraph. Setting them aside, then, the premise, as regimented, reads as follows:

The set of the sciences and arts is a set of several things ordained to a single thing.

One more step in the regimentation of this premise: because, as it will turn out in the course of our reading of the commentary, Aquinas and Aristotle understand the wisdom which our paragraph mentions to be a science, the “and arts” of the “sciences and arts” is superfluous, the premise can be a bit more more simply expressed as:

The set of the sciences is a set of several things ordained to a single thing.

3. Given, then, those two premises, what the argument and its conclusion have to be is immediately evident.

All sets of several things ordained to some one thing are sets of things one of which must rule the others.
The set of the sciences is a set of several things ordained to a single thing.
Therefore, the set of the sciences is a set of things one of which must rule the others.

I will take it to be sufficiently evident for our purposes that this argument is valid, that is, it is such that, if the two premises are true, the conclusion too has to be true; were it necessary, one could easily set the argument forth in full set-theoretical dress.

4. It is not, however, quite so evident that the argument is also sound. That is, though it is evident that the argument is valid, it is not evident that, in addition, both of its premises, and therefore also its conclusion, are true. In particular, it is not evident that the first premise is true; in fact, I think it evident that it is false.

Let us first dispose of what one might take to be an argument on behalf of the first premise, as represented by the paragraph’s second and third sentences,

This is evident in the union of soul and body, for the soul naturally commands and the body obeys. The same thing is also true of the soul’s powers, for the concupiscible and irascible appetites are ruled in the natural order by reason.

I do not here question the truth of either of the two sentences; in fact, I am inclined to think that, properly understood, they are true. But let us assume, for the sake of argument, that they are true. We are then licensed to assume the truth of the following particular affirmative proposition:

At least some sets of several things ordained to some one thing are sets of things one of which must rule the others.

But clearly this does not license an assumption that the corresponding universal affirmative proposition, our

All sets of several things ordained to some one thing are sets of things one of which must rule the others.

is also true, for while it is consistent with the universal affirmative proposition, it is also consistent with the particular negative proposition that

At least some sets of several things ordained to some one thing are not sets of things one of which must rule the others.

Aquinas’s observations present us, not with compelling evidence of the truth of the universal affirmative proposition, but with instantiations of the particular affirmative proposition.

5. I am claiming, however, not just that Aquinas has not made his major premise evident, but that it is false. So let us observe first that if

All sets of several things ordained to some one thing are sets of things one of which must rule the others.

is true, then

All sets of two things ordained to some one thing are sets of things one of which must rule the others.

has to be true.

6. One such set would be:

The set of two parents, William and Ruth, both of whom are, in their very being, committed to, ordered to, and, in other words, ordained to the health and happiness of some one child, their favorite child, Richard.

Aristotle’s principle would have it, then, that, pruning and regimenting things a bit,

The set of two parents, William and Ruth, ordained to the health and happiness of Richard, is a set of parents one of which must rule the other.

or

The set of two parents, William and Ruth, ordained to the health and happiness of Richard, is a set of parents for whom it must be the case that either William rules Ruth or Ruth rules William.

But, given the two propositions “William rules Ruth” and “Ruth rules William,” there are in fact four logical possibilities at hand here.

1. William rules Ruth and Ruth rules William.
2. William rules Ruth and Ruth does not rule William.
3. William does not rule Ruth and Ruth rules William.
4. William does not rule Ruth and Ruth does not rule William.

Now the propositions “William rules Ruth” and “Ruth rules William” are logical contraries. That is, they cannot both be true. This eliminates the first of the four logical possibilities. Here, I assume, Aristotle, Aquinas, and I are, and have to be, in agreement. It has further to be granted that the second and third possibilities are real possibilities; we all know marriages similar to the one and others similar to the other. And the second and third possibilities are the possibilities that Aristotle’s principle admits. Here again Aristotle, Aquinas, and I are, and have to be, in agreement.

But, though the two contrary propositions cannot both be true, they can both be false. It is at least logically possible, then, for it to be false that William rules Ruth and false that Ruth rules William. In other words, it is at least logically possible that William does not rule Ruth and Ruth does not rule William, that theirs is a marriage of equals, if only in their devotion to Richard. This Aristotle’s principle implies the opposite of. And so Aristotle’s principle must be false.

7. What, other than that the argument at hand is unsound, can we conclude from the foregoing? One thing we cannot conclude is that the fact that the argument is not sound means that its conclusion, that

The set of the sciences is a set of things one of which must rule the others.

is not true. It is perfectly possible for an argument that is not sound to yet have a conclusion that is perfectly true; indeed, an argument that is not even valid may yet have a conclusion that is perfectly true. The conclusion at hand, then, may well be true. And in fact I am inclined to believe that, properly understood, it is.

7. But we can conclude that Aquinas is capable of imperfection in his argumentation and that therefore, when we find ourselves reading any of his arguments, we should subject it to as rigorous an examination as possible.

Until next time.

Richard

* Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle. Translated and introduced by John P. Rowan (Revised edition; Notre Dame, Indiana: Dumb Ox Books, 1995 [1961]), p. xxix. The text of Aristotle to which Aquinas makes reference is the Politics, I, 5 (1254a20).

This edition of Aquinas’s text will serve as the text at hand in the present series of readings and comments. It is available online, at:

http://dhspriory.org/thomas/Metaphysics.htm

If you prefer to do your reading in hard copy, you may easily purchase a copy of the work through Amazon.com., by simply clicking on the following:

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Reading Aquinas’s Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle. Introduction

One of the greatest works in the history of metaphysics is the Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle of Thomas Aquinas. It is a work that I have longed for decades to read in the sustained and systematic way that a reading appropriate to such a work requires. Though, however, I have had a few false starts, I have never, for reasons compelling and others not so compelling, definitively set aside the time needed for that kind of reading. But I am now determined to set aside that time and undertake that reading. Not alone, however. I am establishing as one of the core threads of After Aristotle a series of posts setting forth some of the reflections that my readings of Aquinas’s commentary give rise to.

I say “my readings, in the plural,” of the commentary for two reasons. The first is that I of all people should understand that no one reading of a major work in philosophy, and perhaps more so this one than others, is enough for its full understanding. So the reading plan I have in mind includes, first, an initial reading and then one or more rereadings that will follow. Whatever will be the nature of any end result of any subsequent rereadings, the first reading will not be one in which I read and comment upon the text of Thomas in the way he does upon that of Aristotle, beginning at the beginning and proceeding line by line, passage by passage, and argument by argument, through the work until its end.

Rather, I foresee myself often understanding a line, a passage, or an argument but partially, if at all, and having to return to it later on. Thus, for example, the very first paragraph of Thomas’s “Prologue” contains several arguments; I count five. As of this writing, I on the one hand can understand and spell out and assess one of them quite to my satisfaction; this will serve as the focus of the next post. One of them, on the other hand, leaves me fairly baffled and incapable of any fully intelligible commentary on it; I think, and you might well say, “Of course you do,” that the problem lies in the argument and not in my understanding, but I do not claim to know that. And then there are the others, between the two hands. It is my hope that by the time I complete the first reading of Aquinas’s commentary, assuming that such a time ever arrives, I will be able to return to that first paragraph and offer something of a full commentary upon it. Before then, however, in this first reading, there will be much that I will have to pass over.

The second reason I spoke above of “my readings,” in the plural, of the commentary is that, even in, or especially in, my first reading, I will be reading and rereading the text and going back and forth between earlier passages, already subjected to one or more readings, and later passages that may shed light on them. I may well have to modify, add to, or delete from what I may have said in an earlier post.

One more note should be enough at this point. It is that I will also be reading and rereading the commentary in conjunction with other works, works by Aristotle, Aquinas and others, even others whose thinking is widely at variance with the Aristotelianisms of Aristotle and Aquinas; Ockham, Frege, Russell, and Quine come readily to mind. I will feel free to engage in occasional forays departing from immediate contact with the texts of Aristotle or Aquinas.

This is a project which will, should fortune smile upon me, keep me happily engaged for some years, certainly more years than it took Aquinas to write his original. It is my deepest hope that others will accept the invitation I hereby extend to enjoy it with me and to offer to me any comments, questions, suggestions, or critiques that they think what I have said might call for.

I will be using as my text St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, translated and introduced by John P. Rowan and with a preface by Ralph McInerny (Notre Dame, Indiana: Dumb Ox Books, 1995). It includes a translation of the version (or versions) of Aristotle’s text that Thomas commented upon, differing here and there and in varying degrees from the Metaphysics we know today.

The same Rowan translation of Thomas’s commentary is available online, along with and facing the original Latin, at:

http://dhspriory.org/thomas/Metaphysics.htm

If you prefer to do your reading in hard copy, you may easily purchase a copy of the work through Amazon.com., by simply clicking on the following:

Until next time.

Richard

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Matthew Wright on Intelligent Aliens

One of my favorite blogs is Matthew Wright’s Matthew Wright. A post illustrating nicely why I enjoy what he writes is the “Are we so arrogant to suppose [intelligent] aliens will be like us?” appearing yesterday.

In the present post I respond (1) positively to what Wright says before answering the question his title poses and (2) negatively to his negative answer.

1. First, what Wright says before answering the question his title poses: He observes, then, that at the time, decades ago, when Winston Churchill, Arthur C. Clarke, and the British Interplanetary Society were thinking about the question of intelligent alien life,

[T]he question was whether there were actually extra-solar planets at all. And if there were, did they host life? But it had a twist – one we don’t often realise. The questions were also posed around the unspoken assumption of ‘one planet, one intelligent alien species’.

A bit further on we find him observing and then ruminating as follows.

[W]e have a sample size of precisely one [that of evolution on the earth], so it’s risky to generalise. Who says that a planet will produce just one intelligent species? Maybe every species on a planet emerges with human-scale intelligence. Or maybe none evolve.

We can see therein that Wright knows how to use logic to free us from the limits of our unspoken and unexamined assumptions and bring all of the available theoretical possibilities out into the open. He has, for example, set before us, as one logical possibility deserving consideration, the universal affirmative proposition (lightly revised) that:

All species emerging on a particular planet are species having human-scale intelligence.

Now, elementary logic teaches us, let us take note, and Wright is evidently aware that alongside any universal affirmative proposition there are to be found universal negative, particular affirmative, and particular negative propositions having the same subjects and predicates. Thus he also sets before us, as another logical possibility deserving consideration, the universal negative proposition (also revised, albeit not so lightly) that:

No species emerging on a particular planet are species having human-scale intelligence.

Granted, he did not spell out the particular negative proposition contradicting his universal affirmative proposition, but we can do that for him quite easily.

At least one species emerging on a particular planet is not a species having human-scale intelligence.

Nor did he spell out the particular affirmative proposition contradicting his negative affirmative proposition, but we can, once again, do that for him quite easily.

At least one species emerging on a particular planet is a species having human-scale intelligence.

We can further advance his cause by taking note of the conjunction, in reverse order, of the last two propositions:

At least one species emerging on a particular planet is a species having human-scale intelligence and at least one species emerging on a particular planet is not a species having human-scale intelligence.

In asking, however, who it is who says that a planet will produce just one intelligent species, he himself is the one who brings to light yet another possibility, the conjunction

At least one species emerging on a particular planet is a species having human-scale intelligence and at most one species emerging on a particular planet is a species having human-scale intelligence.

So far, so good.

2. But only so far, for I think that, when he goes further and answers his question negatively, he goes too far. I part ways with him when he tells us that

I figure that once we do find alien life, it’ll be like nothing we imagined. And that includes the nature of any intelligence. Just as we’ve often imagined ‘aliens’ as being, in effect, mirror images of ourselves, we usually also suppose that ‘their’ intelligence will express itself like ours – inquisitive, actively seeking to expand the boundaries of knowledge and exploration – but will it? Who says ‘their’ intelligence will be like ‘ours’ at all? It might be so different we don’t even recognise it as such, or view the products of their intellect as a ‘civilisation’.

for, in setting forth what he takes to be the possibility that alien intelligence will be unlike human intelligence at all, he has actually set forth an impossibility. To make that evident, I will first ask that you recall the following, necessarily true principles of the theory of identity:

The Principle of Reflexivity: For any existent, x, x is identical to x.

The Principle of Symmetry: For any existent, x, and any existent, y, if x is identical to y, then y is identical to x.

The Principle of Transitivity: For any existent, x, any existent, y, and any existent, z, if x is identical to y and y is identical to z, then x is identical to z.

To instantiate:

The Principle of Reflexivity: Matthew Wright is identical to Matthew Wright.

The Principle of Symmetry: If Matthew Wright is identical to the blogger blogging at the Matthew Wright blog, then the blogger blogging at the Matthew Wright blog is identical to Matthew Wright.

The Principle of Transitivity: If Matthew Wright is identical to the blogger blogging at the Matthew Wright blog and the blogger blogging at the Matthew Wright blog is identical to the author of the sci-fi novella, Missionary, then Matthew Wright is identical to the author of the sci-fi novella, Missionary.

Now, I will declare without hesitation, that if a purportedly intelligent being, alien or indeed non-alien, is incapable in principle of grasping the truth of those three principles and of their instantiations, then it is impossible for that purportedly intelligent being to be a genuine intelligent being. (I say, “in principle,” because life presents many de facto circumstances, such as variously caused cases of unconsciousness, that may prevent an intelligent being from grasping such truths.) Any and all intelligent beings will be beings that will be capable in principle of recognizing the truth of our three principles and of untold many others.

Until next time.

Richard

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Some Basic Observations about Two True Propositions, Two False Propositions, and the President of the United States

There has been some talk lately about truth, more specifically truth in a time dubbed the “post-truth” era. The point of the present post is to set forth what I think can be taken to be some basic data, basic givens, about truth. Students of the history of philosophy will recognize what I say as reflective of the Aristotelian theory of true and false propositions. Others, not suffering from my unbearable pretentiousness, will recognize what I say as nothing but common sense, albeit unbearably drawn out. Still, I will illustrate the point I want to make using just two sets of propositions about the President of the United States of America.

1. The First Set. The belief which some have that Donald Trump is the President of the United States of America is true if and only if he is the President of the United States of America.

That is, if Donald Trump is the President of the United States of America, then the belief which some have that he is the President of the United States of America is true. And, if the belief which some have that Donald Trump is the President of the United States of America is true, then he is the President of the United States of America.

Moreover, the belief which some have that Donald Trump is the President of the United States of America is false if and only if he is not the President of the United States of America.

That is, if Donald Trump is not the President of the United States of America, then the belief which some have that he is the President of the United States of America is false. And, if the belief which some have that Donald Trump is the President of the United States of America is false, then he is not the President of the United States of America.

(I could, but need not, continue with corresponding comments about the belief, which someone somewhere might entertain, that, say, Hillary Rodham Clinton is the President of the United States of America and corresponding comments about the opposite belief; interest in impartiality alone leads me to direct the reader’s attention to them.)

But there is a fact of the matter: Either it is a fact that Donald Trump is the President of the United States of America or it is not a fact that he is the President of the United States of America. There are not two opposed facts, one fact which renders someone’s belief that he is the President true and another, “alternative fact,” which renders someone else’s belief that he is not the President true. And vice versa.

I’ll finish with this set of propositions with the observation that there is evidence that that Donald Trump is the President of the United States of America.

2. The Second Set. The belief which some have that Donald Trump has a relationship with Vladimir Putin is true if and only if he has a relationship with Vladimir Putin.

That is, if Donald Trump has a relationship with Vladimir Putin, then the belief which some have that he has a relationship with Vladimir Putin is true. And, if the belief which some have that Donald Trump has a relationship with Vladimir Putin is true, then he has a relationship with Vladimir Putin.

Moreover, the belief which some have that Donald Trump has a relationship with Vladimir Putin is false if and only if he does not have a relationship with Vladimir Putin.

That is, if Donald Trump does not have a relationship with Vladimir Putin, then the belief which some have that he has a relationship with Vladimir Putin is false. And, if the belief which some have that Donald Trump has a relationship with Vladimir Putin is false, then he does not have a relationship with Vladimir Putin.

(I could, but need not, continue with corresponding comments about the belief, which someone somewhere might entertain, that, say, Barak Hussein Obama has a relationship with Vladimir Putin and corresponding comments about the opposite belief; interest in impartiality alone leads me to direct the reader’s attention to them.)

But there is a fact of the matter: Either it is a fact that Donald Trump has a relationship with Vladimir Putin or it is not a fact that he has a relationship with Vladimir Putin. There are not two opposed facts, one fact which renders the belief which some have that Donald Trump has a relationship with Vladimir Putin true and another, “alternative fact,” which renders the belief which some have that he does not have a relationship with Vladimir Putin true. And vice versa.

I’ll finish with this second set of propositions with the observations that (1) there is evidence that that Donald Trump has a relationship with Vladimir Putin, if we can accept as evidence the fact that he himself has said he has, and (2) there is evidence that that he has no relationship with Vladimir Putin, if we can accept as evidence the fact that he himself has said he hasn’t.

Another observation: It cannot be the case that Donald Trump both has and does not have a relationship with Vladimir Putin.

I could go on.

An Addendum: An off-blog comment by a good friend leads me to believe me that I should I have cited the source for my claim that Donald Trump both has said he has a relationship with Vladimir Putin and has said that does not have one. See:

http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2016/aug/01/donald-trump/donald-trump-gets-full-flop-whether-hes-had-relati/

Until next time.

Richard

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Two Questions Inspired by Edmund Burke’s Reflections on Whether One Should Recuse Himself

I have noticed, and you may have, too, that there has been some talk in Washington about investigating some possible improprieties in the behavior of some officials in the Trump administration. Inevitably, there has also been talk about who should conduct the investigations, and accompanying this talk there has been the suggestion that some should recuse themselves from any such investigations.

Now, my interest in better understanding ethical, social, and political conservatism has been stimulated by the coming into power of a new administration many, if not most, of the members of whom have been identified as conservatives. A previous post, the “Ayn Rand, Trump and the Conservatives, and Abortion”* of January 3, 2017, marked a first step in my efforts at attaining that better understanding, but I have also taken the more serious step of undertaking, not just a reading, but a systematic and sustained study, of one of the classics in the literature of American conservative thought, Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind from Burke to Eliot (7th edition; Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing Company, 1986 [1953]).

I am not yet ready to offer up any dramatically significant theoretical results, even in my own estimation, of my study of Kirk. But I would like to put forward two questions that I see as having immediate practical importance. They arise from the reading of a passage, quoted by Kirk (The Conservative Mind, p. 53) written by Edmund Burke, whom Kirk describes (Ibid., p. 1) as “the greatest of modern conservative thinkers.” The passage, taken from Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France, reads:

One of the first motives to civil society, and which becomes one of its fundamental rules, is that no man should be judge in his own cause. By this each person has at once divested himself of the first fundamental right of uncovenanted man, that is, to judge for himself, and to assert his own cause. He abdicates all right to be his own governor. [The emphasis is, I take it, Burke’s.]

The first question, then, is: Would those in the administration or in government who identify themselves as conservatives accept Burke’s “fundamental rule” that “no man should be judge in his own cause” as a fundamental rule or even just a rule?

The second question is: Would those in the administration who identify themselves as conservatives not just accept Burke’s “fundamental rule” as a rule, but apply it to themselves?

Until next time.

Richard

*https://afteraristotle.net/2017/01/03/ayn-rand-trump-and-the-conservatives-and-abortion/

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