Thirty years ago, Bill Clinton gave his master class in how to take advantage of modernity's metaphysical muddle, when he'd used 'it depends on what the meaning of the word 'is', is' to untune America's strings still further, while also giving them an additional strum for good measure.
Clinton of course wasn't carefully pointing out an important nuance of detail that the court had somehow not noticed was true, he was utilizing a post-modernist blend of technicalities & equivocations to lie by omission while also using his own lawyer and others as proxies to spread the lie and conceal the fact that he'd engaged in inappropriately intimate behavior with a young intern under his power. His words expertly exploited the assumptions of 'those who know best' in his fellow college educated judge, lawyers, and media, not to mention similarly muddled thought throughout society on matters of politics, party, and justice itself, which left enough people unable or unwilling to apply the principle of non-contradiction to his actions, in either a court of law or in the court of public opinion.
The effect of our president legitimizing a sordid lie by blatantly misusing and distorting the common understanding of our words, spread the seeds of a disdainful metaphysical blindness into every aspect of our society. From that point on, it seems to me, that those who'd already been visibly flinching at the mere mention of objective or self-evident truths, were emboldened to come out of their post-modern closets and openly treat those concepts and those still using them, with laughter and derision, as everyone else seemed to (shamefully) sigh and turn away as from a battle not worth fighting. Ideas have consequences, and the consequences of either torturing or turning a blind eye to the meaning of our words, was that meaningful discussions were that much less possible to engage in, and so people began looking no further than tribe and party for where to stand in every conflict that has since followed.
Word games and obfuscations aside, behind the verbiage there is always a 'What' that is being referred to, and the truth is that that is either real and so true, or it's nothing more than words, and that goes for objects and actions, and concepts as well - at some point they must connect with reality in order to be seen to be objectively true, or... not. It is essential for each person to understand that all of the intricately complicated and abstract ideals which civilized life requires and depends upon, from civility to principles of law, are ultimately traceable down to their rock hard foundations in reality, and without which its loftiest structures sway perilously in every tremor and breeze that comes along.
Every person who has a concern for what is real and true should also recognize that those who attempt to obscure or sew unwarranted doubts about those foundations, or to deny them outright, or even the possibility of them, are making a vicious attack upon the ability of every person within that society to live a life worth living. Such people as those who want to get away with the unreal, need you to not notice the lack of substance that underlies the webs that their words are spinning, and that requires distraction and misdirection on their part, and the more popular modernist and post-modernist means of doing that, is to involve you in attempting to argue how best to 'go further' than what can be demonstrated as being self-evidently true.
There are two very good reasons for you to not engage with their project:
1) As with the Turtle Lady and Bill Clinton, the argument they propose isn't intended to widen your knowledge, or to reveal nuances, but only to rattle your foundations and separate you from what is real and true.
2) You can't - not if you have any regard for logic and the issue in question.
If you allow yourself to be drawn into attempting to 'justify' or 'prove' their doubts about what is self-evident in the three Acts of the Mind, you'll find yourself stumbling into contributing to some form of a '... it's turtles all the way down!' argument yourself. There is no truth to be found in obfuscation and no logic to be found in circularity, and no value gained from giving the impression that greater understanding can be had by demanding 'more' than what is easily observed and intelligible for all reasonably healthy humans to understand - it already is -- wait for it -- objectively true.
It's also worth noting that in our society today we are far more likely to be directed away from making that observation ('What is a woman? Sorry, I'm not a scientist...'), than towards it, because so much of what we're intended to assume and accept, depends upon our not noticing that an obvious lie has some convoluted verbiage that 'justifies' it is 'true' (hello antiracism, men can be women, etc.).
At root, a self-evident truth is recognizably true, because it either denotes a perceptible fact that is apprehendable to the First Act of the Mind, from,
, or an observation from facts to a judgment that is self-evident to the Second Act of the Mind,
- this is a chandelier;
- what is real and true is intelligible;
- actions produce reactions;
, or that as a result of a number of observations and judgments available to all, we engage in the Third Act of the Mind and reason from them to a conclusion which is also possible to be self-evidently true:
- a chandelier is intended to be hung
- what is true, is true, no matter who perceives it;
- ideas have consequences
Important Note: What is Self-Evidently True at the level of observation, judgment, or reasoning, is not a claim to infallibility, but a recognition of what is self-evident within the context of the observations that have been made. A challenge to that certainty may rightly come from further observations that reveal more information, not less, or none, which will bring still more certainty to what is self-evidently true. What is evidently three oranges, at 50 paces, becomes apparent at 5 paces to be 2 oranges and an orange tennis ball, but that is not a repudiation of the earlier judgment, or a denial of your ability to make any such judgments, it is a clarification of both observation and judgment as a result of having more information, which provides you the means of making a better judgement.
- a chandelier is designed to bring light to a dark room;
- all men are mortal;
- each person is responsible for their chosen actions;
- what results from your choices, materials, and actions, establishes your claim upon it, AKA: Property;
Someone with an honest question or misunderstanding about a matter of observation, judgement, or reasoning, may have reasonable doubts or questions about those, which further explanations might enlighten them (or perhaps you) about, but that is a very different thing from the person who doubts or denies whether or not the chandelier in your hand is a chandelier, or that or that it is designed to be hung, or that having done so its purpose is to bring more light to the room than darkness. For the person that hurls comments such as 'you just think that, but you can't really know it, no one can know anything for certain!', what is there to argue with such a person about?
Any 'argument' that is focused only upon denying or pretending an unnatural and arbitrary doubt ('well it could be!'), can serve nothing other than the eradication of your ability to argue for what is true. To doubt or deny the self-evident truth that the chandelier in your hands is in fact a chandelier, or that it is to be hung to provide light, is no different than their doubting or denying the self-evident truth of mortality, or responsibility, or property, or anything else that is true. The doubts of such philosophical conmen are not meant to bring understanding, their purpose is to degrade your understanding and return you to the darkness they take cover in ('it depends on what the meaning of the word 'is', is' ).
But while you can't and shouldn't attempt to prove what actually is self-evidently true, you can, and should, demonstrate that their denials violate what is true. One means of doing so is through a method which was pioneered by Socrates, and perfected by Aristotle, and Aquinas, and has been employed down to our day by everyone from the Jesuits, to Ayn Rand, called 'Retortion', or sometimes 'Retorsion'. It derives its effectiveness through a metaphysical attention to the abstract defaults which hasty rhetoric tends to leave unexamined, empty, or even deliberately concealed, and by drawing attention to the fact that their claims depend upon what isn't actually there, or that they depend upon what is true in order to deny it, it uses the skeptic's and relativist's own words, to reveal what they'd left unsaid.
For instance, for the skeptic or relativist (same coin, different side) who claims (and I've actually had several people insist this to me) that:
"You can't prove that reality exists!", every word they used in saying that: 'You', 'can't', 'prove', 'that', 'reality', 'exists', presumes that reality does exist, and that something about it is communicated by those words within it, to someone else who exists in the same reality as they do, and such full-on self-contradiction invites the retort:
"Why would I need to prove what you just demonstrated?"And for those who'd say that, they might follow it up with another gem like:
"You can't know what's real and true for me!", which invites a retort of:
"How do you know what's true for me?"And if they retreat into:
"No one person can know that their judgment is true!", fully deserves a retort of:
"Is that true in your judgment?", and of course their replying with either a 'Yes' or a 'No', or simply glaring silently at you, is a use of their judgment, which again contradicts and invalidates their own claim. Call them on that, and they'll likely retreat again into non-sense (which is their ideal), claiming that:
"Truth is relative and your truth is not my truth!", which fully deserves a retort of:
"So you're saying that 'your truth is not my truth' is true for everyone?", which might bring out their big guns:
'No one can be certain of anything!', which is easily disarmed with:
"Are you certain of that?"It's like doing philosophy with Henny Youngman. And if they persist in attempting to confuse logic with reasoning by doing logic in an illogical manner, claiming that:
'Nothing can be proven!', as their own statement presumes the existence of logic and the high value which even they place on proof, which presumes and admits both, you need only ask:
"How certain are you that you can prove that?"How embarrassing. It's really not rocket science, it's barely philosophical, and requires no expertise in logic, only a smattering of ability to pay attention to the words and grammar being used for most people to do just fine (which is why both have been dropped from the curriculum).
Even attempting to deny your ability to know anything, is itself a claim to know something, reaffirming human nature once again with the opening line of Aristotle's metaphysics: 'All men by nature desire to know', and it brings the skeptic face to face with the self-refuting nature of their own positions. As Aristotle pointed out, for a skeptic to behave consistently with their 'ideals', they'd have to sit silently and motionlessly awaiting death to take them away, as taking such ideals seriously would permit nothing less, and that of course would be far too opposed to the nature of human nature, for anyone to do.
And for the skeptic and relativist who takes the bait and attempts to deny the reality of human nature, you can deliver the verbal beating they've been begging for by drawing their attention to the universal fact that everyone, everywhere, by nature, engages in the same three mental operations, all at once, in apprehending what exists, making judgments upon that, and reasoning what to do about it - even prior to the Three Acts of the Mind. Ask them to close their eyes, hold your hand up, and tell them to open their eyes and tell you what they see, and without going any further than that, they will have to admit that their mind engages in three inseparable operations, and by inseparable, I mean that you cannot even conceive of one of the three, without also engaging the other two, as with tweaking an observation of Ayn Rand's (as what she calls 'axiomatic concepts')
Note that these three points don't strike you in three sequential steps, all three - Reality, Identity, Awareness - are always simultaneously implicit in, and entangled with, every thought and observation we make. It is how we apprehend reality in any Act of the Mind, and outside of the biomechanical means of perception, which, though fascinating, add nothing to how we consciously understand what we do, there is nothing more that needs to be added to the matter, nothing further to analyze or demonstrate, and any attempt to do so, would involve an endless spiral of circular references, which would of course invalidate the effort of attempting to do so. If you doubt that, just try describing anything at all, without implicitly referencing all three.
- Reality exists. - You perceive that the hand before you exists (and yes Neo, even if it's only a computer simulation, the simulation, or a dream, in that context, it exists)
- Identity - What reality exists as, entails its identity - They don't see the reality of your hand as an undistinguished whole, they identify it - from non-contradiction this isn't that, runs from a silhouette to a molecular scan - through perceiving the elements of your palm, fingers, thumb, etc.
- Awareness - observing what Reality exists as, engages our awareness of our conscious selves - we become aware that there is a self that's observing the hand before them, and that they too exist within reality.
Luckily... wait, what's that? Oh, ok, I hear a couple of you out there, so you think you can affirm or deny one of those points without utilizing and confirming them all together? Ok, go for it, I'll wait... on second thought, long-form blogging isn't so interactive. I tell you what, I'll just go ahead and argue the matter for you. So, here we go: You'd argue that:
"You..",Ok, hold on, sorry, but I've gotta stop you right there - what or who do you mean by 'you'? "Well.. [you point at me]...". Ok, so you're pointing in my directions as if I'm really here?, [you nod in agreement], So... you're pointing at something "Here" that exists? [you reluctantly nod again], Meaning that you are identifying me, as a person who exists, and you are doing so because you are consciously aware that I am aware of you, just as you are aware of me? [you nervously clear your throat, nod again].
Ok, so summing up your tightly argued refutation against the fact that the three - Reality, Identity, Awareness - are implicit in the nature of every human being's observation, necessitated your pointing into the reality which exists and contains yourself and who you are pointing at, to identify me, as someone who you are consciously aware of, and who is aware of you.
Is that about right? [... you nod again]. And all of that was implied in your very first word? [c'mon man, nod again]. Nice... soOo... we're done here, right? Alrighty then. Moving on.
Luckily enough you don't need a formal grasp of logic for any of this, only need a rudimentary grasp of grammar - even my feeble grammatical skills will do just fine - and a willingness to pay attention to what is (and isn't) being said. Elaborate arguments and proofs aren't the point of, or a necessity for, anyone to be albe to live their life well, the point is only to not allow what 'is not', to appear to aquire substance and consequence in your life, and all that's truly needed for guarding against that, is to notice and point out contradictions where they exist. And that is afterall, the very first rule of logic - that if the premises are not true - meaning that they contradict reality - there is no logical method that can be performed with or upon them!
By deriving self-evident truths from observations, to judgments, to a reasoned understanding of matters, an observant and informed person who's also willing to further develop their understanding against those thoughts as might be found "...in the elementary books of public right, as Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sidney, &c...", is very likely to find themselves reasonably connecting the conceptual dots to reveal that higher understanding which forms the basis of Individual Rights,
, and other such thoughts as the West was formed from and upon, and which was more eloquently formulated at America's founding, with:
- "as the nature of being human comes by virtue of being human, rather than from circumstance of birth, it justifiably follows that living life well, requires respecting every other persons need to do so as well;"
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness..."For those who do honestly balk at what you can see is self-evidently true, the posing and pursuing of a few questions may eventually reveal their error to them (and yes, many honest people adhere to and peddle lies, because they once believed a liar who taught them that they were true), and while they may hesitate to acknowledge it, if they're asking and considering the questions, they're half way there. It might be worth reminding them - especially if they paid attention in our modern schools - that finding what is meaningful requires going beyond merely scanning for information, you must involve your active attention with the words you are reading, and consider them, to gain an understanding of them, in order for them, and you, to fully inhabit your life.
But, for those others who merely and obnoxiously deride and deny that '...Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness...' is self-evident, scoffing at everything from our ability to choose our own actions, to denying that anyone can know that anything is true, and for those who have no reply to those retortions that reveal the errors and dishonesty within such positions, who reply primarily with anger and/or deliberate defitional evasions - there truly is no reasoning with them. Such folk will likely soon resort to asserting that 'what everybody knows' as 'a people', is a more significant 'standpoint' than what any one individual can know is real and true (which is where 'systemic power' enters into the picture, but that's for the upcoming posts on Epistemology), and you're better off just letting them know that you've seen the emptiness behind their mask, and then simply move along.
Reality - what exists - is the fundamental Object of our thoughts, and our thoughts indicate our relation to it, as the subject which knows the object. It's not an issue of Objective vs. Subjective, it's more like the Objective and Subjective operating in concert, that enables our minds to work. Our judgments about reality can be true, and our perceiving that there's a relation between one judgment and another, can lead us to yet another judgment between that and another thing we've judged to be true, and so on, building up to the reasoning that is the Third Act of the Mind, and doing so should bring two very important points to mind - one obvious, and one that's soOooo obvious that it usually escapes our attention altogether:
1) The merely obvious point, is that the reasoning that we build our judgments upon can be impressive, can be eloquent, persuasive, and even stirring, and yet, even the most persuasive and stirring reasoning can be utterly and completely false. And conversely, as Socrates demonstrated to the point of being put to death for doing so, a thoroughly true and well-reasoned argument can be misunderstood, ignored, or flat out denied.
Obviously, that's a problem.
However impressively reasoned and logical an argument seems to be, if its premises are not true, and/or if those you're reasoning with do not realize (or care) that they are true, then all is for naught. Aristotle's first rule of logic - the one that is usually ignored today - is that we must first ensure that our premises are true, and then and only then, can you begin to say something logically worthwhile about it.
What Retortion is effective at doing, is dealing with the perceptible aspects of the abstractions in those too often unexamined premises, which are what both the honest error and the deliberate lie are built upon, and that's why the importance of being familiar with metaphysical concepts is so important. For as the abstract nature of 'chandelier' encompasses the various differences in style and materials of hundreds or even thousands of very physically different chandeliers, a concept such as 'is', which potentially encompasses all of existence and being in itself, it's vital that the appropriate levels of abstraction that could otherwise be smuggled past your awareness, be identified, within the context of the moment, because carelessly leaving those in the abstract, which is the habit that our schools have helped to instill in us, is the very thing that the unscrupulous count upon using to exploit us.
Those who persist in claims that minimize or ignore metaphysics, are not engaging in philosophy - the love of wisdom - but only a deliberate sham of avoiding and attacking it, aka: Sophistry [see the 'nothing new under the sun' nature of the pre-modern state of post-modernism's 'i. Nothing exists, ii. Even if existence exists, it cannot be known, iii. Even if it could be known, it cannot be communicated', as the IEP notes was being taught by the sophist who was confronted by Socrates in 'The Gorgias']. It should also be no surprise that those who exist in continual conflict with reality, and the continuous need to fake it, while attempting to hide it behind those words they fake it with, tend to be rather bitter and hostile - their own thoughts are actively alienating them from the real world that they actually do live in, no matter how much they might want to deny it. Having rejected Truth, they have only the illusion of power to appeal to, which endlessly depends upon your not noticing the ever-present reality that they must endlessly obscure and deny, through the force of their words alone. That has got to be exhausting.
Don't consent. Don't submit. Don't enable those who desire the power to play God with their own lives, to unleash chaos amongst ours.
Do recognize that to devalue or deny Knowledge and wisdom, is an attack upon every aspect of your ability to live a life worth living. Take the time to think through the placeholders to what is true. To identify and respect the nature of what is, enables your mind to integrate with what is real and true, and conversely, to ignore or deny what is, is to alienate your mind from existence, and from truth, and from yourself, imprisoning you in the same faked world as theirs. Truly, when we carelessly and negligently misuse metaphysical abstractions, we're heading into a whole world of trouble, stepping into a jail cell and locking the door behind us. Fortunately for us, the Truth will set you free - if you engage with it.
2) The too obvious point that I mentioned, is one that's rarely given the attention it deserves, is that we all place a value upon what we know is true - even Marxists listen to who knows the truth about how best to sell a lie - and we do so because it's an accurate reflection of some aspect of reality as it is. People are judged to be fools or wise, based upon how well their thoughts and actions corollate with and conform to what is objectively real and true. The wisdom of that bit of obviousness was apparent even in Aristotle's day, as he noted in his Metaphysics, book 1, chp 1,
"...that all men suppose what is called Wisdom to deal with the first causes and the principles of things; so that, as has been said before, the man of experience is thought to be wiser than the possessors of any sense-perception whatever, the artist wiser than the men of experience, the masterworker than the mechanic, and the theoretical kinds of knowledge to be more of the nature of Wisdom than the productive. Clearly then Wisdom is knowledge about certain principles and causes...", and the man with more experience in what they know to be true, is thought wiser than the one who knows nothing, or knows it only 2nd hand. IOW, we all know that Truth is objective, and that it's true because it conforms to what is; to existence, to being, which Is intelligible to all of us. We all routinely act upon that; it's only when we put ideology over wisdom, that we profess to doubt, deny, or devalue, what is objectively true, and for those who'd deny it, the truth of it burns... as it turns out that not only do ideas have consequences, they have causes.
How the causes of those ideas go about producing consequences in our lives, is what we'll look at next.