Today I had the privilege and opportunity to talk about the nature of Truth from a philosophical perspective at Paradise Valley Community College. We made an audio recording of the talk. I wish we had captured the question and answer period after the talk because of the quality of the student questions and the discussion it prompted. We really had a great conversation. You can hear the What is Truth? talk here.
My new book, published by Public Philosophy Press, Reason and Proper Function: A Response to Alvin Plantinga, has been released. The book may be ordered on Amazon or from any book retailer. Here is a blurb from the back of the book.
Philosopher, Edmund Gettier, famously challenged the sufficiency of the justified true belief (JTB) formulation of knowledge with his 1963 paper “Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?”. The “Gettier problem” has been a potential source of skepticism for many students of philosophy. Alvin Plantinga, seeking in part to address the fallout from the challenge Gettier poses to contemporary epistemology, proposes that there is an error with the way we have been envisioning what knowledge is.
Plantinga, in his three-volume set on Warrant, argues that justification is not necessary for knowledge. Instead, what he offers is warrant, where a true belief becomes knowledge by virtue of its being formed by cognitive faculties functioning properly in an appropriate environment and according to a good design plan. Plantinga’s new formulation of knowledge does not avoid skepticism.
Kelly Fitzsimmons Burton, in this small volume, provides critical analysis of the element of “proper function” in Plantinga’s reformulation of the definition of knowledge. She argues that reason in itself, as the laws of thought, cannot malfunction, nor can our cognitive faculties, or our use of reason. She argues that we should retain the original JTB account of knowledge with an added “carefulness criterion” to address some legitimate concerns raised by the Gettier problem.
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
- 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.” 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
- Philosophy requires reason: Reason is the tool for understanding what is.
- 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 /
- Human beings are rational animals (body/soul)
- It is self-evident that we think
- The laws of thought are self-evident first principles
- 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.’”
- 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….
- Reason in its use: Reasoning
- 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.
- Reason is used to form concepts, judgments, and arguments (the logos). Let us call this one aspect of the descriptive use of reason.
- 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.
- Logos and truth: Judgments are about what is/the logosin things (genus). But we may make false judgments.
- Logos and knowledge: Arguments tie down true belief with a logos. But an argument may be unsound. So, we need more.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- Reason in us: Rationality/ Rational
- 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.
- 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.
- Reason is transcendental. It is the highest authority, to which all other authorities are subordinate. It cannot be questioned, but it makes questioning possible.
- 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.
- 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?
- Problems with Reason: Misuse and Misconceptions
- 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.
- Rationalism: We may use reason constructively (system building) without using reason critically to examine the basic beliefs upon which we build.
- Logic (inductive/ deductive): We may divorce the laws of thought from being and create formal systems that do not touch reality.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Nature: Is reason opposed to nature? Or is reason fundamentally fitted to grasp the meaning of nature/ the logosin the world?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Skepticism is one aspect of anti-reason. It assumes (uncritically and without reason) that nobody can really know by reason.
- 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.
- Others: The body, miracles, chaos theory, etc.
- 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.
- Questions, comments, concerns and critique are welcome
- Future work
- Retrieving Reason: A Critical Analysis of the Sources of Skepticism
- A Syntopicon of Reason
- The Logos of History and the History of the Logos
Freundlieb, Dieter and Wayne Hudson. Reason and Its Other: Rationality in Modern German Philosophy and Culture. (Oxford: Berg Publishers; 1993).
Copi, Irving M. and Carl Cohen. Introduction to Logic, tenth edition. (New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1998), 389.
Jonathan Barnes. The Complete Works of Aristotle: The Revised Oxford Translation(Princeton: Princeton University, 1984) MetaphysicsIV.6.1011b 13-15 & 23-24, 1597.
The audio recording may be found here.
In my last episode, I spoke about reason in itself as the laws of thought. These laws are non-fallible first principles. They make thought possible. The next few episodes will describe how we use, fail to use, or misuse reason – the laws of thought. While the laws of thought are non-fallible, our application of those laws is highly fallible and is why we need to be educated in the science and art of right thinking.
Education in this area comes first by identifying what thinking is. It is self-evident that we think, and it is self-evident that there are laws of thought. But what counts as thought and what is not thought? We need to identify the nature of thinking and distinguish it from non-thinking, which, you can see, already involves us in the application of the law of identity. The first use of reason is to form concepts, judgments, and arguments, which are the forms of all thought.
Aristotle, in his logical works, describes the three acts of the understanding, what I call the three acts of the mind. The three acts of the understanding, or mind, will be one of four uses of reason that we will describe over the next few episodes.
The first act of the understanding Aristotle calls apprehension. Apprehension is conception, the first unit of thought. Our first use of reason is to form concepts. Concepts grasp the essential nature of a thing and express it with a word, term, or symbol. Concepts are in the mind and are expressed to others with a word. To “grasp” a concept is an activity of the mind whereby we strive to understand what a thing is. We can identify essential features of a thing and accidental features of a thing. Concepts are about being, properties, states, relations, or activities of being. Concepts do not exist outside the mind of a thinker.
Being has a nature, concepts abstract from being its essential features. Concepts identify, words name what we identify. For example, scientists discover aspects of the world that were previously unknown and name them as when Madam Curie discovered a new element and named it “Polonium.” The word used is conventional, she named the element after her homeland. But the reality she discovered is objective and the concept which the word “Polonium” grasps is the element Polonium that exists outside our minds in reality. We can understand the same reality by understanding what Polonium is – by grasping its nature.
We evaluate concepts in terms of meaning. Concepts are either meaningful or, they may lack meaning (for us). That is to say, we can grasp concepts more or less. Our understanding of a thing can always grow. We can continually deepen in understanding a concept.
We have attempted to identify what concepts are. When we identify something, we can also show what it is not. Concepts are logically paired. For example, concept and non-concept is a pair. Being and non-being. Dog and non-dog. God and non-God. Non-Concept would be all that is not a concept. We use the law of identity to identify and distinguish.
Concepts are often confused with other human activities. Concepts are not: percepts, images, feelings, or orderly behavior. Much more could be said about concepts, but perhaps we can leave it for a logic class to pick up?
Once we understand concepts, the most fundamental unit of thought, the second and third acts of the mind make sense. The second act of the understanding Aristotle calls judging. In forming judgments two concepts are joined together by “is” or “is not” (what is called affirmation or negation). For example, “the marker is on the table,” “the argument is sound,” and “the good is knowledge,” are all examples of judgments. Judgments are either true or false because they are making claims about reality. True or false is an application of the law of excluded middle. Something cannot be both true and non-true (false) in the same respect and at the same time. Truth is how the world is, it grasps reality.
What are judgments not? Judgments are not statements about our feelings, sensations, or personal preference, what we might call matters of taste. For example: “Chocolate is better than vanilla” is a matter of taste, it is not a claim that is either true or false. And yet, it looks like a judgment. Even a claim such as “the wall is blue” could be a matter of perception. Perhaps I am color blind. Philosophical claims are judgments about reality, something that all minds could potentially grasp if they wanted to. Often, they are highly contested judgments. Statements such as “matter is eternal” or “God is good” are claims that require further support. This takes us to the third and most complex unit of thought.
The third act of the understanding Aristotle calls demonstration. The third act of the mind is performed through argument. Arguments are meant to give rational justification for our judgments. Where judgments are meant to be truth claims, arguments are meant to deliver knowledge. Knowledge is objective and permanent. Arguments “tie down” a true belief.
Arguments use premises (judgments) to support a conclusion (also a judgment). For example, Premise: All men are mortal; Premise: Socrates is a man; Conclusion: Socrates is mortal. There is a force to arguments. They are compelling, though they may not persuade people. We have to respond to an argument. In addition, if we do not rely upon the force of reason, through argument, then we will resort to using emotion as a force, or we will resort to physical force to get our way. Force is a reality. As rational beings we must consider whether we want to use the force of reason or non-reason. Here is where the ethics of belief come in. As W.K. Clifford has said: “It is wrong always and everywhere for anyone to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.” The evidence needed is by means of reason.
Arguments are evaluated in terms of validity (which has to do with the form of an argument) and, soundness (which has to do with the form and content of an argument). Logic is the discipline for testing arguments. Since we have been contrasting what something iswith what it is not, we can ask, what isan argument not? Arguments are not mere disagreements with others. Arguments are not verbal battles. Arguments are not about tone of voice.
I have been talking about the formative use of reason, forming concepts, judgments, and arguments, the forms of all thought. This is what thinking is. What is thinking not? Thinking is not the same as intelligence, communication, orderly activity, feelings, or perception. We can say that concepts, judgments, and arguments are activities of a thinker, they are reasoning. Anything other than this is something other than reasoning.
We can reason badly. We can fail to form a concept well and we and use words without understanding fully. To correct this, we can ask one another “you used this word, what do you mean?” You used this word “freedom” what do you mean by “freedom?” And we can strive together to find its essential nature much like what Socrates spent his life doing. We can make false judgments, we can rationalize. To correct this, we can ask one another for evidence or proof for our judgment claims. Perhaps someone says to me “freedom is the highest good.” I can ask them to show me why I should believe this. I am asking for proof through an argument. We can also give each other pseudo-arguments, or informal fallacies. We can give invalid or unsound arguments. The possibility of error stresses our need to learn to identify what thinking is and the science and art of right thinking. We all use reason to form concepts, make judgments, and present arguments. We cannot help but do so. But we do so more or less well. We can become more conscious of how well we are thinking, and more consistent in thinking well.
To conclude: Concepts, judgments, and arguments are one way that we use reason, the laws of thought. There are a few other ways that humans use reason. We will explore the second way: “Reason is used to give meaning” in the next episode.
I have started a podcast series on the topic of reason. Below is a transcript of the episode “Reason in Itself: A Definition.”
You can listen to the series here.
Listen to this episode here.
Welcome to my series on Reason. Today I will be talking about reason in itself or a definition of reason. I’d like to read a quote to you from Aristotle’s Metaphysics book four:
“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 …”
In this quote, Aristotle is reflecting upon the most certain of all beliefs – that contradictory statements cannot both be true. Here he is reflecting upon the nature of reason itself.
As a student and teacher of philosophy, I have been thinking about the nature and definition of reason for about 25 years. I am in the process of writing a paper for a conference in May on the topic of “Reason and its Other,” or what reason is and what it is not. I have a longer-term book project in the works on the subject as well. I think the topic is important because of the loss of reason in our day as is evidenced in contemporary political clashes, which I call public discourse disasters. Public discourse is a shared exchange of reasons. When we lack an understanding of what reason is, we will necessarily be lacking in our exchanges with one another. When we cannot or do not use reason to persuade, we will resort to emotional appeals and or the use of force to get what we want.
Discourse assumes the exchange of reasons. Reasons assume Reason. But what is reason? It is one of those things that we know what it is until we are asked that question. What is reason in itself? How would you define reason? What is its essential nature?
Reason in itself is the laws of thought as first described by Aristotle in Book IV of his Metaphysics. There are three laws of thought. The first law is the law of identity, which states: ais a. “A” stands for any a being or state, relation, property, or activity of a being. This includes imaginary being. Rock is rock, red is red, cold is cold, unicorn is unicorn, human is human. Or, as my Mom always says: “it is what it is.”
The second law of thought is the law of non-contradiction, which states: not both aand non-ain the same respect and at the same time. Rock is not non-rock. Red is not non-red. Cold is not non-cold. Unicorn is not non-unicorn, and human is not non-human. Some people object to the law of non-contradiction on the basis of some things being in a state of processes such as a caterpillar changing into a butterfly, or a man going through the process of balding. But at any moment in the process of change, that being is what it is at that given moment. That is why we add “at the same time.” A man is not both balding and non-balding at the same time. He is “balding-1” at time-1 and “balding-2” at time-2.
The third law is the law of excluded middle, which states: either aor non-a. Rock or non-rock, red or non-red, cold or non-cold, unicorn or non-unicorn, human or non-human. Some have resisted the law of excluded middle with the objection that this is “binary” thinking. Things are not so clear cut. Things are not black or white. We have to consider the many shades of grey. There may be legitimate questions to raise with binary thinking, but this is not where binary thinking is located. Instead, the laws of thought are “unitary” thinking – identifying one thing and distinguishing it from all else. The law of excluded middle does not state that things are either black or white. Instead, they are black or non-black, white or non-white, any shade of grey or non-shade of grey.
The laws of thought are not a human invention just as any other law is not a human invention. Aristotle may have written these laws down, but they are laws – an aspect of reality – that are discovered. These laws are first principles and are assumed any time we think. We automatically use them and cannot not use them. But don’t take it from me, try it out yourself. Try to think without identifying any object of your thought.
The laws cannot be proven but are the basis for any further proof. Do we prove the laws of physics? Or are they assumed in all that is physical? In MetaphysicsIV, Aristotle attempts a negative proof for the law of non-contradiction. I wrote about it in my book Retrieving Knowledgeif you want to read more on the negative proof. The laws of thought are not fallible, but our application of them is highly fallible. Our use of reason is fallible. This is why we must be taught to think well.
The laws of thought are foundational for logic, which is the science (or knowledge) and art (or technique) of right thinking. So, there is a knowledge of how to think and a technique for thinking right, and we must be taught. Are we being taught how to think right? Logic is the foundation for critical thinking, our use of reason.
Reason in itself (the laws of thought) is not the same as reasoning or the use of reason. In addition, the laws of thought must be distinguished from the faculty of rationality, or reason in us. I hope to explain more about how we use reason and how reason is a part of human nature in future episodes.
My theory is that if we can understand what reason is and what it is not, we will become more conscious of our loose use of the word “reason” and we will become more consistent in defining reason aright. Here is a challenge for the week: note the many ways people use the word “reason” but mean something other than the laws of thought. Drop me a line if you find examples, and I will incorporate them in future epis0des.
I put the question to my Facebook community “what are your questions about reason?” Some of the responses I got were: “What is reason’s relationship to faith?”; “Is reason affected by the fall of humankind?”; “How is “reason” related to reasons, rationalizations, and human reason?”; and “How is reason related to metaphysics and one’s worldview?” These are all good questions. I hope that this episode clarifies one of these questions: “How is “reason” related to reasons, rationalizations, and human reason?” I have begun to distinguish between reason in itself and our use of reason, which includes reasons and rationalizations. Additionally, I have distinguished between reason in itself and our faculty of rationality (or human reason). I will attempt to address the remaining questions in the future and incorporate them into my paper for the conference in May.