Recently, I’ve had a few dust-ups with folks that don’t understand how VERY basic logic can be used to test for rhetoric and other bullshit. I’ve also had a number of very kind emails from readers who are interested in learning more about how we might do that. I’ve read a great deal on the subject, but it’s been a while so writing a quick primer on the subject for ya’ll would help me a great deal as well. Here it is.
Firstly, I’m mostly Aristotelian. People that aren’t mostly Aristotelian are bed-wetters. Lots of clownery has been introduced in the world of logic since him, and some little good has been done too. We’ll get to some of that as well. But, I’ll be drawing mostly on Aristotle, the father of reason. Aristotle believed that his senses plus his rationality could be trusted to get at The Truth. Not everyone believes this. I do. I also believe all instrumentation is a rational way to increase the resolution and/or sensitivity of our own senses. I don’t think Aristotle would reject the thermometer, the microscope, the electron microscope, or the Large Hadron Collider as means of gathering sense data. I don’t either.
Aristotle believed that his senses and his rationality were enough for him to undertake a deep study and to develop a better understanding of the world around him. As such, he starts with his senses and his mind. That’s where we’ll start.
In thought, as in all things, there must be a beginning. This is an axiom. It’s a self-evident assumption that requires no additional proof. Stuff has to have a beginning. If there is no beginning there is always another pre-condition, another input, another argument, something lower down, earlier, more primary. We never get to bedrock. This is the problem of Infinite Regress. This violates our axiom. If we assume there is no beginning we get the Infinite Regress paradox. That can’t be, reality can’t be paradoxical, it must not contradict itself. IF there is a beginning, there’s no Infinite Regress paradox. That lets us know we are on the right track. Where do we start then? Where do we begin when we think?
Aristotle tells us in his book IV of “Metaphysics” that we must start with the fact that stuff “is.” The fact that things exists tells us something. We need to start with the stuff that is true of everything that is. It’s the stuff that is true of all things that are. It’s Being qua Being. (“Qua” means “In so far as” or “as it is”.) These things that are true of everything are the primary principles that everything follows from. They are at the beginning. Everything else follows. That’s what the beginning is, it’s the thing everything follows from. Aristotle tells us that these laws are “Prior” to everything, and all that follows is “Posterior.” If we start with anything more complex or “posterior” to this stuff, we’ll be in trouble. I repeat myself here, but I wanted to say it all several ways.
Aristotle goes to great lengths to show us that being exists. He even says in Book IV, part two of Metaphysics that even “non-being is non-being.” Being is the thing common to all things, and the study of this is the study of the attributes of the state of being qua being. This is Metaphysics. Metaphysics is the study of what we can know from the very fact that something exists. If your Metaphysics is wrong everything else posterior to that will be wrong.
Because everything has being, insofar as they “be,” they are the same. This makes the study of this stuff universal and primary.
Uncle Ari says, “…..the attempts of some who discuss the terms on which truth should be accepted, are due to a want of training in logic; for they should know these things already when they come to a special study, and not be inquiring into them while they are pursuing it. — Evidently then the philosopher, who is studying the nature of all substance, must inquire also in the principles of deduction.” Further, “he whose subject is being qua being must be able to state most certain principles of all things.” (Metaphysics Book IV part 2)
In other words, when it’s time to evaluate the truth of something we need to already know the “most certain principles of all things” and be able to build arguments from them.
Luckily these most certain of principles are self-evident. They are axiomatic. Bertrand Russell named these laws before World War I, but Aristotle told us what they were in the 360’s BC. Russell named them:
- The law of Identity (LOID)
- The law of Non-Contradiction (LONCON)
- The law of the excluded middle (LOTEM)
I’ll cover these in turn, very, very soon.