What is the Public Philosophy Society?

I am one of the founding members of the Public Philosophy Society. It is a professional organization growing naturally out of the public lectures that have been held at PVCC and ASU West over the last two years. A group of like-minded philosophers in the Phoenix area wanted to keep the conversation going, so we created PPS. The society is for students, scholars, and the educated public.

Check out our Patreon page and a short video about what we do at the Public Philosophy Society. Patreon is where you can become a member of the Society.

Official meetings of the PPS take place live online using Zoom. A link to each meeting will be shared with members. Our first meeting of the Fall 2019 semester is Tuesday, August 13, 2019, at 5:00 pm Pacific time. Dr. Owen Anderson and Dr. Kelly Burton will discuss “What is Common Ground for Public Discourse?” Meetings will be video recorded for members of the society to view again later.

I would like to invite you and your friends to join the PPS and the conversation.

Reason and It’s Other

This is an outline of my talk for the Sixth Annual Aquinas Leadership International Congress on May 3, 2019.

Reason and It’s Other: The Cognitive and Non-Cognitive

  1. Introduction: The meaning of the title is inspired by a book I have been reading on post-Enlightenment German philosophy. Here is a quote from that book:

“The issues raised by the German receptions of the new French thought are complex, and the controversies continue. In far-ranging discussions, the status of reason, science, the Enlightenment, modernity, and progress have all been called into question. There have also been various attempts to rehabilitate the significance of the body, desire, nature, art, and religion as “Others” of reason.”[1] The truth is, post-modern thinking has called into question not only reason but the very foundations of the West, which is founded upon reason.

  • Why the topic is important
    1. Philosophy requires reason: Reason is the tool for understanding what is.
    2. Public philosophy requires reason as one component for common ground. We are all rational beings and have common recourse to the authority of reason.
  • Retrieving Reason: A book that I am writing inspired by a handout I received 25 years ago in Dr. Gangadean’s Introduction to Philosophy course. It has been the most valuable piece of learning in my whole career.
  • Reason in itself: The Laws of Thought /
    1. Human beings are rational animals (body/soul)
    2. It is self-evident that we think
    3. The laws of thought are self-evident first principles
      1. Identity
      2. Non-contradiction
      3. Excluded middle

Copi on the laws: Irving Copi, in his Introduction to Logic, says of these laws:

Those who have defined logic as a science of the laws of thought have often gone on to assert that there are exactly three fundamental or basic laws of thought necessary and sufficient for thinking to follow if it is to be “correct.” These have traditionally been called “the principle of identity,” “the principle of contradiction” (sometimes “the principle of noncontradiction”), and “the principle of excluded middle.’”[2]

 

  • The laws of thought are not fallible (Aristotle quote)

Let this, then, suffice to show that the most indisput­able of all beliefs is that contradictory statements are not at the same time true … But on the other hand, there cannot be an intermediate between contradicto­ries, but of one subject we must either affirm or deny any one predicate. This is clear, in the first place, if we define what the true and the false are. To say of what is that it is not, or of what is not that it is, is false….[3]

 

  • Reason in its use: Reasoning
    1. Reasoning is fallible (“human” reason). It is why we take Logic and have to learn to think critically. We are inclined to neglect, avoid, resist, or deny reason in light of what is clear to reason.
    2. Reason is used to form concepts, judgments, and arguments (the logos). Let us call this one aspect of the descriptive use of reason.
      1. Logos and language: Concepts are expressed by words/ logos. Concepts grasp the essential nature of a thing. We can more or less grasp what is. We can grasp more or less meaning.
      2. Logos and truth: Judgments are about what is/the logosin things (genus). But we may make false judgments.
      3. Logos and knowledge: Arguments tie down true belief with a logos. But an argument may be unsound. So, we need more.
  1. Reason is a test for meaning. Meaning is more basic than truth. Let’s call this the normative aspect of the use of reason: we ought to think critically. We ought to be careful to be sure the words we use express meaning, the judgments we make are true, and the arguments we make are sound. There is a moral obligation in our use of reason. Have we tested the meaning of our basic beliefs?
  2. Reason is used to interpret our experiences in light of our basic belief. We have experiences of the external world, of our thought world, our emotional and volitional world. We must make sense of all of these experiences because they are not self-certifying. Reason is used to interpret or give meaning to our experiences. Dr. Redpath recently said in an interview “We reason with our senses and we sense with our reason.” What I think this means is that we are constantly having experiences and we are constantly interpreting them.
  3. Reason is used to construct our world and life view. This is where our use of reason is systematic, culturally, and is historically situated. There is something systematic to the use of reason. There is something cultural and historical to the use of reason. But it is not the whole story.
  4. Reason in us: Rationality/ Rational
    1. Reason in us as human beings is natural. It is not cultural, not conventional. Because it is natural it is universal and a source of common ground.
    2. Reason in us is ontological (the logos). It applies to being as well as to thinking. Aristotle discusses the laws of thought at the beginning of his Metaphysics because reason is about being. It is not mere abstraction or logic. Reason, the laws of thought, tells us what cannot be, such as a square circle, or uncaused event, or being from non-being. Reason applies to the highest being, including the being of God. God cannot be both eternal and non-eternal.
    3. Reason is transcendental. It is the highest authority, to which all other authorities are subordinate. It cannot be questioned, but it makes questioning possible.
    4. Reason is fundamental. It is basic to other aspects of the human soul. It is basic to the emotions and to the will. Its use is the source of our greatest good – meaning, truth and knowledge. Its denial is the source of our deepest misery – meaninglessness, falsehood, and ignorance.
    5. Humans not irrational but may be non-rational: We consistently neglect, avoid, resist, and deny the use of reason in light of what is clear to reason. Why is that?
  1. Problems with Reason: Misuse and Misconceptions
    1. We may make a split between theoretical and practical reason (Plato vs. Aristotle vs. Pragmatists). Plato and Aristotle disagreed over whether one can know the good but not do the good.
    2. Rationalism: We may use reason constructively (system building) without using reason critically to examine the basic beliefs upon which we build.
    3. Logic (inductive/ deductive): We may divorce the laws of thought from being and create formal systems that do not touch reality.
  2. The “Other” of Reason: Non-Cognitivism. When we neglect, avoid, resist, or deny reason we must turn to the non-cognitive, or the other of reason, since we are rational beings that must give an account of what we think, feel, and do. There are many ways we turn aside.
    1. Emotion/intuition/feeling: We may appeal to non-cognitive feelings as a claim to knowledge or to justify our actions or to motivate others to act.
    2. Poetry/ the spirit of the artist/Sophistry: Philosophy becomes the “play of language,” but what does language represent? Signs about other signs unendingly? Aristotle addresses this in Metaphysics There cannot be an infinite number of predicates.
    3. Nature: Is reason opposed to nature? Or is reason fundamentally fitted to grasp the meaning of nature/ the logosin the world?
    4. Mysticism: We may claim to “go beyond” reason in an internal mystical experience as a source of knowledge and fail to recognize that all experience must be interpreted in light of our basic beliefs. Similar mystical experiences may be interpreted differently based upon our beginning assumptions about the nature of reality.
    5. Will/pragmatism/instrumentalism: We may appeal to non-cognitive volition as a claim to knowledge or to justify our actions or motivate others to act.
    6. Empiricism/scientism/common sense: We may appeal to external experience as a source of knowledge and fail to recognize that we always interpret our experiences in light of our basic beliefs.
    7. Informal fallacies/ rationalizations: We may reason poorly and think that we have reasoned well or we may come up with poor excuses thinking that they are reasons. Reason is a test for meaning and can help us in this area.
    8. Critique/ Logocentrism/ The Patriarchy: Some may say that “reason” is a product of white male colonial privilege. Some may say that the West is caught in logocentrism (valuing the spoken word/ dialogue over the written word). Some may say that reason is only useful as a form of critique and rooting out our assumptions. But if reason is natural and universal it cannot possibly be restricted to the “Patriarchy,” or to a particular class, race, culture, or civilization. To suggest so is dehumanizing. Both the spoken word and written word are expressions of concepts, which are universal, so logocentrism is a misnomer. Reason used as critique is one aspect of the use of reason, and those using Critique are generally uninterested in the most interesting use of critique, that is the critical examination of metaphysical assumptions.
    9. Madness (Nietzsche and Derrida): Madness is the result of the failure to use reason to find meaning. Madness, at least as in Nietzsche’s case, is the result of the denial of the use of reason at the basic level and the use of reason at the constructive level to follow the implications of assumptions. Nietzsche both failed in the use of reason (critically) and excelled in the use of reason (constructively). One must use reason critically and constructively to find meaning and to continue to grow in meaning.
    10. Skepticism is one aspect of anti-reason. It assumes (uncritically and without reason) that nobody can really know by reason.
    11. Fideism is another aspect of anti-reason. It assumes (uncritically and without reason) that nobody can really know by reason, but one must believe (blindly) anyway.
    12. Others: The body, miracles, chaos theory, etc.
  • Conclusion
    1. We must retrieve reason for the sake of the individual seeking meaning, for the sake of the future of philosophy, for common ground, for the culture, for Western Civilization, and for the global future/ kingdom of God.
    2. Questions, comments, concerns and critique are welcome
  • Future work
    1. Retrieving Reason: A Critical Analysis of the Sources of Skepticism
    2. A Syntopicon of Reason
    3. The Logos of History and the History of the Logos

 

[1]Freundlieb, Dieter and Wayne Hudson. Reason and Its Other: Rationality in Modern German Philosophy and Culture. (Oxford: Berg Publishers; 1993).

[2]Copi, Irving M. and Carl Cohen. Introduction to Logic, tenth edition. (New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1998), 389.

[3]Jonathan Barnes. The Complete Works of Aristotle: The Revised Ox­ford Translation(Princeton: Princeton University, 1984) MetaphysicsIV.6.1011b 13-15 & 23-24, 1597.

Announcing the Public Philosophy Society

As an undergraduate philosophy student, one of my favorite things to do was to discuss difficult topics with likeminded people, whether it be fellow students, my professors, or random people at Starbucks. I can remember attending a conference at Arizona State University with Owen Anderson where Alvin Plantinga and Earnest Sosa were speaking. Owen and I, along with some other friends, discussed that conference for weeks afterward. The combination of friendship and philosophy was an early experience for us and continues today. We just thought attending lectures and conferences was normal, now we call them “co-curricular” events. Since our undergraduate days, I have been involved with numerous conferences and professional organizations.

As a graduate student and adjunct professor, I became the Philosophical Society faculty advisor for our campus club. I have been the advisor for about 15 years. We have had some really great discussions together. I wondered, why do these discussions only happen within the context of the campus? How can we take these discussions outside the walls of the academy?

I have been involved in thinking about public discourse of difficult topics for many years and wrote my dissertation intending to outline a model for how to discuss difficult topics such as metaphysical assumptions, ethics, religion, and politics. I spent a year revising the dissertation and shopping for a publisher. I didn’t find a publisher that I thought would be fitting for the kind of writing I wanted to do. I want to engage the public in philosophical topics, but what I found were academic publishers interested in marketing my book to other academics. After a lot of thinking and research, I started Public Philosophy Press, LLC. I didn’t want to merely self-publish, I wanted to create an opportunity for others with a desire to engage the broader educated public with philosophical topics to also publish. PPP has been up and running since July 2018, and we just released our third book and a fourth is soon to be published. We have several manuscripts that are being worked on in various stages of the process and hope to release more soon. I love books, and I love bringing books to life. So, keep an eye out for more.

Last year, in collaboration with other local philosophy professors, such as Dr. Anderson, we started hosting public philosophy lectures. I started a lecture series at my college. We have had eight talks so far, and they have all been well attended and of high quality. We built public-philosophy.com to advertise local events and to host video and audio recordings of those events. We have had excellent feedback. Out of the talks that have been given we have invited each speaker to submit a formal paper to be published this summer in the first annual Journal of Public Philosophy. The first edition of JPP will be released in Summer 2019 with a fine collection of essays.

The journal, publishing company, public lecture series, and involvement in campus clubs were the catalysts for a group of philosophy professors in the Phoenix area to create the Public Philosophy Society (PPS). The PPS is a professional organization that invites students, scholars, and members of the educated community to join in an ongoing philosophical dialogue. Details about membership dues and qualifications can be found at our Patreon page.

The PPS will host a monthly live virtual meeting using Zoom meeting technology open to all members. There will be a host for each meeting and a philosopher who will discuss a particular topic for the evening. The philosopher will present on a theme for about 20 minutes, and then those in attendance of the virtual meeting will have an opportunity to ask questions and discuss the topic at hand. Members will have access to a private Facebook page where they may continue the discussion. In addition to the regular meetings and private Facebook page, the Scholar level membership will receive a digital copy of the Journal of Public Philosophy, and the Patron level will receive a print version of the journal. As we learn the ropes, we plan to also host special topic meetings, seminar discussions, and smaller group discussions open to select membership levels. We hope to host a conference in the future.

PPS membership is on a month to month basis rather than the yearly dues expected of other professional organizations. Monies collected from dues will be used for website hosting, audio and video production and equipment, stipends for guest speakers, the print version of the Journal of Public Philosophy, and in the future a conference.

If you love philosophy and enjoy public philosophical discourse, if you are committed to common ground, then we invite you to join us on this new and exciting adventure. Please help us to get the word out about the Public Philosophy Society. We can be found at public-philosophy.com; on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! 2018 was a big year for local philosophy. The PVCC Public Philosophy lecture series hosted nine public lectures. In addition to the PVCC lecture series, I participated in the ASU Philosophy Out West lecture series and the GCC God and Truth panel discussion. Audio recordings of lectures from 2018 may be found here. Public Philosophy in the Phoenix area will continue in 2019. Stay up to date by visiting the public-philosophy.com site for more information on upcoming events.

In the summer of 2018, I started an independent niche philosophy publishing company, Public Philosophy Press. Our first publication was my book, Retrieving Knowledge: A Socratic Response to Skepticism. The book went to #1 in Amazon’s New Releases for Epistemology in the ebook category and #2 for paperbacks. We hope to reach #1 in paperback new releases in January. Public Philosophy Press has several new publications to be released in 2019. Stay tuned for more details.

The “Principle” of Clarity

The Principle of Clarity begins with the statement that “some things are clear.” What is clear is clear to reason. Reason in itself is the laws of thought. Can one prove that some things are clear? Can one prove the laws of thought? Or are these first principles that allow for thought and proof?

The laws of thought are self-attesting, self-evident, and are what make thought possible. As such, the laws of thought cannot be proven, but are the necessary conditions for all proof. Aristotle says these laws are first principles and the most basic of all. He could not prove the laws but considered that a person might attempt to raise objections to the laws. I wrote about Aristotle’s negative proof for the laws of thought in my upcoming book Retrieving Knowledge. An excerpt of the negative proof may be found here. Self-evident first principles cannot be proven. However, to deny the laws of thought is to deny the possibility of significant speech since speech communicates thought. Are the laws of thought clear? If anything is clear, then ‘a’ is ‘a’ is clear.

Similar to Aristotle’s negative proof for the laws of thought, one can offer a negative proof for the Principle of Clarity. The contradiction of “some things are clear” is “nothing is clear.” Both statements cannot be true, and both cannot be false, by the law of non-contradiction. It is clear that either one or the other statement must be true. What are the implications of saying “nothing is clear”?

If nothing is clear, then no distinction is clear. The distinctions between a and non-a, being and non-Being, God and non-God, Good and non-good are not clear. If basic distinctions are not clear, then no distinctions are clear. If we cannot make distinctions then thought becomes impossible, and we lose significant speech. Loss of significant speech is a result of the loss of logical meaning. Loss of meaning at the most basic level is nihilism. Nihilism cannot be consistently held, nor can it be lived. One must affirm that some things are clear or they must give up integrity.

 

The Principle of Clarity

Audio Recording of this talk may be found here.

The Principle of Clarity states that some things are clear to reason. To demonstrate the principle, consider the contradiction – nothing is clear. If nothing is clear, then no distinction is clear. The distinctions between a and non-a, being and non-Being, God and non-God, Good and non-good are not clear. If we cannot make distinctions then thought and talk becomes impossible, and we lose significant speech. This is the heart of nihilism – no meaning. But thought and talk are possible, meaningful distinctions are made; thus some things are clear.

By reason is meant the laws of thought. It is self-evident that we think, and it is self-evident that there are laws of thought. Reason in itself is the laws of thought. These laws include Identity: a is a; Non-contradiction: not both a and non-a; and Excluded middle: either a or non-a.  We use reason to form concepts, judgments, and arguments. We use it to test for meaning. We use it to interpret all of our experiences. And we use it to construct a coherent world and life view.

Reason is a part of human nature and is universal among all humans. It is ontological – the laws of thought are the laws of being – and this is why we can know that there are no square circles, no uncaused events, and no being from non-being. Reason is transcendental – it is self-attesting, cannot be questioned, but makes questioning possible. As such, it is the highest authority and our shared authority. And finally, reason is fundamental – it is basic to our emotions and will. When we use reason at the basic level, we find meaning, when we deny reason at the basic level we experience the misery of meaninglessness.

The Principle of Clarity affirms that the basic things are clear. If the more basic things are not clear, then the less basic things cannot be clear. The Principle affirms that the basic things are foundational philosophical truths about God and human nature and what is good and evil for human beings. The Principle affirms that the following are clear:

  1. Either God exists or God does not exist (a or non-a).
  2. That something is eternal,
  3. that matter exists,
  4. and that matter is not eternal,
  5. that the human soul exists,
  6. and the human soul is not eternal.
  7. Therefore, it is clear that some other spirit is eternal. This eternal spirit is God the Creator. God is eternal, and all else is created and temporal.

Human nature is created by God in the image of God. The good for human beings is based on human nature as created by God. Human beings are fundamentally rational. It is good for humans to use reason to the fullest. Reason used to the fullest brings knowledge of the nature of reality, it brings the knowledge of God through the things that are made.

Evil for humans is what is contrary to human nature. It is to neglect, avoid, resist, and deny what is clear to reason about God. Moral evil is the failure to see what is clear. Moral culpability is on the basis of what is clear and easily knowable about God and man, and good and evil. Use of reason to see what is clear brings meaning, knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. Neglecting, avoiding, resisting and denial of reason leads to less and less meaning, skepticism and fideism, nihilism, foolishness, and stupor.

Objections to the Principle of Clarity may include any of the following alternatives: denial of the laws of thought; denial that the basic things are clear; denial that something must be eternal; denial that God’s existence is clear; denial that human nature is clear; denial that the good for human beings is clear; denial that moral culpability is based on clarity; denial that the consequences of moral evil are inherent.

Those who raise objections to the Principle of Clarity assume the laws of thought, which are the most basic and are most clear. To deny the Principle of Clarity is to assume clarity. If one denies the Principle of Clarity, that person should live consistently with the implications of denying clarity. They should give up significant speech and the expectation that they will be heard. To give up the Principle of Clarity is to give up on the possibility of conversation. We ought to hold one another capable of and responsible to the Principle of Clarity. To do so is to affirm human dignity. We are rational human beings, if we were acting rationally, we would affirm that some things are clear.

*The Principle of Clarity is a concept that is identified and developed by Surrendra Gangadean. See Gangadean, Surrendra. Philosophical Foundation: A Critical Analysis of Basic Belief (Lanham: University Press of America, 2008). Arguments for the assumptions stated in this post may be found in PF. 

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