The Self Evident — A Reminder

It is now commonplace to go for months hearing nothing but insolent, outrageous, brain-warping lies and distortions all proclaimed in fervid choirs, with nary a note of dissent, many a sane man wonders if he be in Bedlam.

From time to time it is useful for sane men in an insane world to remind themselves of basic truths.

The first truth is that truth is true. A statement that there is no truth, if true, is false.

We know this truth is basic because without it, no question can be answered, not even the question of whether or not truth is true.

Truth is a subtle and complex topic, but what we mean by the word can be said in a short sentence using words of one syllable: Truth is when one says ‘it is’, and it is as one says.

The second conclusion springs immediately from the first. We know that truth is true because to say truth is untrue is illogical. A statement that truth is true is a self-evident statement, hence a true one. A statement that truth is untrue is a self-contradiction, hence false.

The second truth is that logic is valid. Nothing follows from a statement that logic is invalid.

By saying this, we are not attempting to convince any being who does not use reason to adopt the use of reason. The only point of the comment is to point out that whatever is undeniable is true.

Even to answer the question of whether or not reasoning is valid, we must use reason.

One is free to put aside reason, from time to time, I suppose: but when one does, nothing necessarily follows.

A third truth is that one ought to be honest. Honesty is a virtue one ought to practice. Anyone who says otherwise is dishonest.

Even to answer the question of whether or not honesty is a virtue one ought to practice, one ought to be honest. A dishonest answer to this question is not only untruthful and illogical, it is also vice.

In other cases, there may be an honest difference of judgment among rational men as to whether the particular dishonesty is expedient, justified, or mitigated, but not in this case.

This is the general cases that includes all others: if there is no rule against dishonesty at all, then there is no rule against dishonesty in the particular case.

The particular case, in other words, is this: if you ask yourself whether you ought to lie to yourself, ought you lie to yourself when answering?

If you answer, “I ought to lie to myself”, then either this is a lie, in which case you actually ought not; or it is not a lie, in which case you are telling the truth, and hence not lied as you ought. Either way, you do what you ought not. Which is absurd, as well as immoral.

A fourth truth is that nothing comes from nothing. If an event occurs, it has a cause sufficient to bring it about, and each cause has a prior, and so on back, as far as the mind of man can discover.

Now, this is a metaphysical proposition and an axiom of natural philosophy, what is now called physics. One would think it to be of academic interest only. Not true: the axiomatic idea that we live in a causeless, arbitrary, and incomprehensible universe, one where not just one things, but everything, happens for no reason, is the default metaphysical axiom of our age.

(The decrees of modern physics that, at a subatomic level, this is not so, is a separate question. For now, it is enough to say that even an expert physicist, when he ventures into metaphysical speculation, is an amateur. Metaphysical propositions, such as the ontology of unobserved entities, cannot be proved or disproved by any possible experiment of physics. One either believes the proposition on a priori philosophical grounds or not at all.)

A fifth truth is that man has free will. This is a legal, not a scientific category: it refers to men who are above the age of reason and in possession of their right wits, and who therefore no impediment of the mind or will sufficient to excuse their behavior from praise or blame, reward or punishment.

Denying that men are responsible for their actions is irresponsible.

The final truth is subtler. Now, in life, there are particular truths that are harsh and unpleasant, and vices that seem pleasing in the short term, but the two things which most allure us to truth and virtue is the sublime effect, producing not only awe and gratitude, but an aesthetic response.

To be sure, there are those who say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but after over a century of filling art museums with wicked and nauseating rubbish that disgusts of stomach, darkens the heart, and shocks the brain, it is enough to say this: those who claim beauty is arbitrary make an ugly claim. No testimony aside from their own is needed to see the aberrant, grotesque, misshapen nature of the conceit.

If man could change beauty by an act of will, or by orchestrating a consensus, to make what was once garbage now art and what was once art now garbage, in all that time, with all that effort, by now, he would have.

Were it true, the conceit that beauty is arbitrary, manmade and therefore subject to change at man’s will, would rob art and nature alike of beauty, and turn the shining world and all its wonder into something lukewarm, cacophonous, dank and drab.

In each of these cases, my words are not mean to prove to a skeptic that the things he doubts are indeed the case. I cannot because nothing can.

The ability to tell truth from fiction, and fiction from falsehood, is innate in a well formed intellect: those whose intellect is not yet formed, or whose intellect is malformed, cannot see that truth is true. They cannot distinguish true from false.

Likewise reason is innate in rational creatures. Those below the age of reason, or whose faculty of reason is malformed by neurosis or by habits of sin, cannot grasp the rationality of reason. They cannot distinguish valid from invalid reasoning.

Likewise for the conscience. Beasts, children, madmen, or devout sinners have a conscience either absent, unformed, or malformed. Such ones cannot distinguish right from wrong.

Likewise for the sense of cause and effect. Malformation occurs when coincidence is mistaken for cause, and cause is mistaken for coincidence, and the resulting behaviors form a type of superstition, or a wrong model of the world.

Likewise for the will. A malformed will is one where neurosis or psychosis renders a man unable to control his impulses. His wits are not under the command of his reason. When his appetites are not under the command of his reason, this is called excess, or intemperance, or vice.

Likewise for tastes. Those whose aesthetic faculties are unformed and malformed cannot distinguish ugly from beautiful, or vulgar from sublime.

In order to prove anything about anything, one must use three of these faculties: intellect to tell true from false, reason to tell valid from invalid, conscience to tell right from wrong.

One must, if only tacitly, appeal to the will, that is, ask the audience to volunteer to judge the case. Without this, there is nothing. One can program a robot, but one cannot persuade a robot.

I suppose one needs good taste to tell a rhetorically well-ornamented and logically elegant argument from a merely awkward and useful one, but this seems to be a matter of decoration and persuasive craft, rather than anything else. Like Occam’s Razor, which prefers an theory of fewer assumed entities than otherwise, it is an aesthetic preference or judgement call, used only when everything else is equal.

A statement that is tacitly affirmed even when denying it, can safely be called self evident.

Of truths that are not self evident, we must turn to the intellect and the reason to glean what we can from the world around us, and our place in it.

A commonplace error of the modern age is to adopt the metaphysical proposition that metaphysics does not exist.

Another is to say that while truth is an absolute, our knowledge can only evolve toward truth by the dialectic process of creative destruction when an idea clashes with its contradiction — an idea itself that, if true, cannot be true until after it clashes with its own contradiction.

Another is to say that all knowledge is empirical, that is, all knowledge rests solely on that which is perceived through the sense impressions. But this itself is a non-empirical statement. No possible sense impression, such as a measurement of the boiling point of lead or the speed of light or anything of the kind, brings one iota of conviction or doubt for or against the proposition. It is believed on a priori, that is, non-empirical and purely philosophical grounds, or not at all.

Another is to say that material circumstances form the whole and sole cause of the content of one’s character, down to the details of what one knows and believes. It is a sufficient dismissal of this proposition to say that, if it is true, then those who recite it, would not do so, had they been exposed to different material circumstances.

Another is to say that a man’s racial, cultural, and ethnic background not only provide his sole interests that benefit and concern him, they also so condition his thought processes that empathy with another in another identity group is neither desirable nor possible. This, in effect, is to say that two men of different groups have nothing in common, not even common sense or a common faculty of reason, therefore nothing is left to them except a Darwinian struggle for power without quarter and without remorse, one group against another, and every man’s skin color is his uniform.

This philosophy, of course, assumes such an innate ill will and conflict of interest exist between all men as to render communication or common understanding between them impossible. But this philosophy is itself held up to men of all groups as an objective truth that applies equally to all, and to be understood equally by all.

If it were true that all human interactions were a conflict of irreconcilable factions competing for power over each other, then, by its own logic, the attempt to teach this philosophy to others cannot be a disinterested result of the pursuit of truth. By its own terms, it announces itself to be a rhetorical narrative meant only to hearten allies and weaken the resolve of foes: a lie meant to undermine morale.

Which brings us full circle: for a statement, or a worldview, or a culture, which holds that there is no truth, is false.

Now, since these propositions are, upon examination, shown to be self evidence, and since the denial of these propositions are obvious and insolent self contradictions, the natural next question is to ask why they are so prevalent and widespread? Why does even one person over age 14 ponder them soberly preach them earnestly, much less the whole establishment of modernity?

Here, in brief, is the origin of all the self contradictory nonsense that informs the modern age. Man, in relation to flora and fauna and to inanimate resources, is a superior being, and can analyze their nature from the point of view of his superior nature.

The dog has no passions a man does not share, and particularly a noble man of loyal sentiment, such as hunger and lust and fear and wrath. Hence a biologist who studies the life of other living things akin to man can study man in the same way, and reach proper conclusions.

An inanimate object likewise has the same material properties as a human body, such as mass, length, duration, temperature, candlepower, current, and moles of substance, or some combination or derivation thereof.  Hence a physicist can study the physical properties of a dead body of a man, in the same way other dead things are studied, and reach proper conclusions.

But man is more than body, and more than beast. Those who disagree can drop to all fours and bark madly at this conclusion, but cannot, without paradox, offer a rational argument to that effect.

The source of the folly of modernity, then, is simple: all spring from an attempt to analyze man as if from the point of view not including the philosopher doing the analysis.

It is certainly possible to discover some lower creatures without free will, for example, or madmen or children who ought not be held responsible for their actions: but the philosopher claiming that no men are responsible simply never applies the teaching to himself and his own teaching.

Likewise for all these self-refuting teachings. If an angel, or some other theoretical higher being than Man, could know and teach these things, their truth could be affirmed. But if a man says men cannot know the truth, cannot reason, cannot follow any moral code, arise from nothing without cause, cannot exercise their wills, and so on, he confessed himself, and his own words in so saying, to be untruthful, unreasonable, immoral, arbitrary or involuntary, and so on.

If the point at which the modern world abandoned itself to folly is the point at which man attempted to step into the position of a being higher than man, the next natural question is, what did our fathers known which allowed them to avoid this folly?

Obviously, something or someone else was in that godlike position as the superior being to man, whose knowledge of man, if revealed to man, was wisdom to man.

All men know who this is, or, rather, Who.

But that is not self evident, and so should be addressed in a sequel to this column, under its own topic.