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 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; 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 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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