Convince me Logic is Useful

Only since departing from the august ranks of the “brights” have I noticed a breach in their wings. Some atheists are skeptics for logical reasons: the evidence available does not support a belief in God; He is not a necessary entity to explain the world; and the tales told of Him are mutually contradictory and self-contradictory. Those are the atheists I understand and admire.

I was unaware of a second wing. These atheists are skeptics for illogical reasons: evidence is not to be consulted in any case, since all things are merely relativistic social constructs; there is no explanation of the world possible; tales told of God are repellant because they are moralistic, and the bent of the modern intellectual, the point to which he drives all his powers, is to escape the judgments of morality.

Atheists of the right wing tend to be scientifically minded; atheists of the left wing tend to be anti-scientific, emotive: they are lovers of unreason.  They read Sartre and Wittgenstein and Skinner and other modern frauds who besmirch the name of philosopher with childish word-games. The game consists of using philosophy to disprove the possibility of philosophy, such as by showing words have no meaning, or abstractions no truth-value. The whole effort was exploded by one pithy comment by Epictetus back in the 2nd Century:

When one of his audience said, `Convince me that logic is useful,’ he said, Would you have me demonstrate it?
Well, then, must I not use a demonstrative argument?
And, when the other agreed, he said, How then shall you know if I impose upon you? And when the man had no answer, he said, You see how you yourself admit that logic is necessary, if without it you are not even able to learn this much – whether it is necessary or not.

Discourses BkII, Chap XXV

The whole point of his discourse is usually lost on the audience.

The skeptic about reason, he himself, admits that logic is necessary. Epictetus does not provide any proof beyond this: You admit it, O skeptic. Why ask me to prove something to you that you already have proved to yourself?

The difficulty the postmodernist have with the discussions of the role of reason, is that they accept the categorical fallacy that no categories exists aside from science (which is objective) and faith or opinion (which is arbitrary).

They reason in this fashion: Science, either empirical or rational, assumes a verification principle. Whatever is not open to verification is not science; and whatever is not science is arbitrary. Ergo whatever is not open to verification is arbitrary. Again, the laws of logic (such as modes ponens) are not open to verification; ergo, by modes ponens, they are arbitrary.

When Epictetus points out that this argument itself employs the very rule it attempts to critique, the postmodernists just simper, suck their thumbs, and look coy, like Carmen Sternwood making eyes at Philip Marlowe.

The problem is that another category of thought does exist: wisdom. A thing can be wise without being scientific. There is reasoning that exists larger than and including scientific reasoning: this is called natural reason or common sense. Scientific reasoning includes empiricism and axiomatic logic. Empiricism has won such high regard that modern intellectuals dismiss axiomatic logic as unscientific (in other words, they take the axiom that axiomatic logic is not empirical; they take whatever is nonempirical to be mere opinion; and they conclude by Barbara that ergo axiomatic logic is mere opinion. The irony that they themselves use axiomatic logic to reach this conclusion, is, of course, lost on them).

With logic gone, natural reason is dismissed from academic discussion, and, with it, serious ethical reasoning. Common sense is banished from the discussion, and, with it, common sense. Wisdom is banished from the discussion, and, when it flies, all that is left is nonsense, either angry (Nietzsche) or despairing (Sartre).

I confess I have heard, offered in perfect seriousness, the faith that empiricism will one day explain all human mental and spirituals facts and aspirations, define the rules of morality, and explain all other non-material non-phenomenal realities—and I have further heard this article of faith defended as if it were a conclusion of a scientific experiment.

A schoolboy could see the paradox involved. One cannot prove empiricism by means of empirical test. The idea that empirical ideas have truth-value is itself a metaphysical idea, not an empirical idea. Truth-value cannot be measured in veritons, little particles of truth that have mass, vector, duration and extension. Empirical ideas, like any other ideas, exist as ideas, imbued with meaning to the mind that contemplates them; otherwise nuomenal, having no physical properties.

To weasel out of this obvious paradox, I have heard the proposition that the coherence of the whole body of learning, empiricism and its axioms and conclusions, is proof of its pragmatic utility, which is, in turn, a warrant for its truth. This merely substitutes big words and gassy ideas for short words and simple ideas. We are now calling “coherence” the yardstick of truth-value. A coherent system is true and an incoherent on is not.

But so what?  The idea that coherent empirical bodies of ideas have truth-value is itself a metaphysical idea, not an empirical idea. Coherence is not more open to scientific measurement than veracity. We cannot measure the spin-values of the gluons that cohere ideas one to the other. We cannot say ’empiricism is true because it works, not because of an metaphysical theory’ unless we say ‘truth is what works’ which is itself a metaphysical proposition, namely: “the truth-value of an idea is positively correlated with the realities of the universe around us when and only when actions based on that idea result in expected outcomes according to the laws of cause and effect”. That is a theory of epistemology and ontology.

I have once heard the partisans of the ‘coherence’ theory of empiricism bring up “Bayesian probability” as an alternate type of reasoning to salvage this mess. This is merely a more elevated form of the same basic mistake. The Reverend Thomas Bayes correctly defined that the assessment of the probability of an event is and should be affected by the record of successful predictions: if you see someone flip a coin fifty times, and it comes up heads each time, the longer he goes on flipping heads only, the less weight you give to the assumption that the chance of it coming up tails is fifty-fifty.  After a certain point, you should believe the coin is weighted.

Unfortunately, once again, this is merely a method of analysis which applies to empirical observations that can be reduced to a measurement, i.e. scientific empiricism. No Bayesian analysis will tell us what the chances are that Bayesian analysis itself is true, probable, or false, since the categories “true”, “probably true” and “false” are categories of epistemology, not of empiricism.

To sum up: empiricism has categories for statements of “disproved” and “not disproved” and also for “parsimonious” and “not parsimonious.” By means of a faculty other than empirical thought, a scientist invents an account, myth, or model to predict the behavior of matter. If his model contains no more entities than needed, it is “parsimonious.”  If the model does not accurately predict the attempted behavior, it is “disproved”. If not, it is “not disproved.” Karl Popper adds the refinement that if there is no possible predicted behavior exists which can register a “disproved” statement, then the model is not science at all. This is empiricism.

Epistemology is the study of knowledge. Science holds as an axiom, neither to be proved nor disproven in science, the following statement of the empirical axiom: “a parsimonious non-disproved model is true, provisionally.” This is a metaphysical statement, not open to disproof by any empirical means. This is epistemology.

Unrelated to all this is secularism, a political posture. Secularism promotes indifference to religion, or, at least, that neutrality toward religion is the proper stance for civic and political affairs. It runs in harness with Materialism, which states that nothing outside or above the material world exists, or, if it does exist, no statements about it are open to proof or disproof, or, if they are open to proof, the proofs are of no particular objective value or subjective interest. The first is a political opinion, the second a philosophical statement of ontology: neither one can either be proved or disproved by empirical investigation. They are unrelated to science, even though they pretend to bask in the reputation science radiates.

Because the claims of what constitutes science are often conflated with secularism, which is a philosophical stance about a metaphysical postulate outside the realm of science, let us take a moment to define the bounds of science:

Eratosthenes proved scientifically that the Earth was round, and had a circumference of 250 000 stadia. He compared the shadows cast by two upright yardsticks in Syrene and Alexandria, at the hour when the southern stick cast no shadow. The distance between the two cities, and the degree of inclination of the northern yardstick (as measured by its shadow) had the same ratio to each other that 360 degrees has to the circumference of the Earth. To dispute his findings, you need to question the accuracy of his instruments, his assumptions (he treats incoming solar rays as parallel; he treats the earth as a perfect sphere), or the distances measured.

This is an empirical conclusion: If you doubt him, you can do the experiment yourself, and open your eyes and see for yourself. No evidence since the days of Eratosthenes has done other than refine his conclusion with greater accuracy.

Likewise Euclid proves that vertical angles are equal. Assume the line AB crosses line CD at point E. By definition, the straight line composed of angles AEC and CEB equal two right angles. Likewise for angles CEB and BED. Subtract the common angle BEC. By common notion, two things equal to a third thing are equal to each other, the remaining vertical angles are equal. To dispute this proof, one needs either reject the definition or dispute the common notion.

This is a rational conclusion: If you doubt him, close your eyes and think it through for yourself. You can come to no other answer.

Science consists of empirical and rational conclusions: physics and mathematics.

Moses and Confucius and Christ, and every other sage and thinker in antiquity have voiced the moral axiom of the Golden Rule: Do as you would be Done by.

This is a wise conclusion. If you doubt it, try living your life with a moral and mental rule that the laws that apply to others apply to others only and not to you. Live in a land where everyone adopts the rule that they live with rules that apply only to others, never to themselves. Puzzle over the logic of how a dispute would be solved between two moral actors who both agree the rules only applies to the other: or how any dispute could be solved at all, in the absence of a universal rule equally applied. You will soon become confused and foolish.

The inability to see wisdom as a valid category of thought—for it is neither arbitrary, nor unreasonable, but neither is it empiricism nor rationalism—has led modern philosophy into blatant folly and paradox.

Consider this: if the only two categories of reason are empirical reasoning and rational reasoning, how do we answer a solipsist? The solipsist says that, on an empirical ground, he is not and can never be aware of the souls, minds, personalities, or moral nature of other human beings. They look like thinking beings, but they might be robots, or manikins, or the solipsist might be asleep or trapped in the Matrix without a Red Pill. On rationalistic ground there is no logical reason to prefer the one theory over the other: no self-contradiction is involved in the solipsist believing he is the sole creature known to possess a mind. The belief that other people have minds is merely opinion. On empirical grounds, the proof is both parsimonious and predicative. Indeed, by the principle of parsimony the solipsist correctly refuses to postulate the existence of unneeded entities, i.e. other souls.

But what the solipsist says is so obviously foolish that no man of common sense would give it one second further thought. If the solipsist is surrounded by nothing but robots or manikins, who taught him the concept “solipsism”? To whom does he preach his doctrine and why? For it is foolish to go around telling a manikin it is a manikin. If it is a manikin, the knowledge can never reach him. There is no him to reach. And what point is there in telling a real human being with a soul like yours that logic demands he treat you as if you are a manikin?

The problem is that wisdom, unlike logic, cannot be analyzed to simple principles. For example, it might be wise for a man, or a polity, to believe that Man is made in the image of God, and that therefore human life is sacred. If nothing else, spreading this belief might serve a man’s self-interest, as it might decrease the chances that his life will be held to be of no particular worth when balanced against other exigencies.

It might difficult for me to convince his neighbors that my natural rights are sacred, if I cannot convince them my life is sacred. If my neighbor is religious, and believes me to be the image of God, my argument is fairly simple. If my neighbor is secular, the argument is more complex, and must eventually be grounded in some principle my neighbor treats as inalienable. In other words, my secular neighbor must have something which is the secular equivalent of sacred, i.e. something too awe-inspiring to be touched. Once I convince him human life is sacred, the ability to defend from arbitrary death my own life, the life of my unborn child, the life of my autistic child, the life of my helpless elderly mother, the life of my comatose wife, are all markedly increased. Neither axiomatic logic nor empirical observation has any bearing on these issues: it is a question for common sense and wisdom.

In closing, let me introduce a thought by Pope Benedict XVI. “If modern reason cannot concern itself with the question of God, then it cannot argue that a God who commands jihad is better or worse than a God who commands us not to use violence to impose our religious views on others. To the modern atheist, both Gods are equally figments of the imagination, in which case it would be ludicrous to discuss their relative merits. The proponent of modern reason, therefore, could not possibly think of participating in a dialogue on whether Christianity or Islam is the more reasonable religion, since, for him, the very notion of a “reasonable religion” is a contradiction in terms.”

If the secularist says he might rather live with Christian neighbors as Islamic ones, just on the grounds that his self-interest is served by a religion that condemns conversion by the sword over one that commands it, then he is again making a statement not of axiomatic logic or empiricism but of common sense and natural wisdom.


Unfortunately, modern philosophy and modern secularism leave no room in their view of the world to support wisdom and common sense as being anything other than an ideological superstructure, a cultural construct, an opinion, a prejudice, a lie.

When the modern lawmakers tell a new father that neither law nor morality allows him any recourse to save the unborn child in his wife’s womb from her arbitrary decision to kill it, a child he is obligated by natural law to raise and protect, he is left with nothing he can say back. How can he claim human life is sacred, when nothing is sacred?

Every visible thing depends on an invisible root, as empiricism depends on metaphysics, as logic depends on common sense, as legal rights depend on truths we hold to be self-evident. Every rational principle depends on a deeper sacred principle not open to reason to discuss. Even the deep magic from the dawn of time depends on a deeper magic from before the dawn of time.

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