The following is a slightly expanded version of my comments under the thread “The Empire of Lies”, an essay from John C. Wright (February 13, 2016).

“Either there is truth or there is not.”

After this opening line, Mr. Wright proceeds to demonstrate that the statement “there is no truth” is impossible and self-destroying, an absurdity even if only for the sake of argument. Such an argument is sustained solely for expediency, for moral reasons, in order to pass vice for virtue, virtue for vice, and evildoing for good works. In short, nihilism.

The origin of such extreme moral outlook is sin unacknowledged, unrepented, and conscience stifled accordingly. As Jacques Maritain explained, when we sin, the will (or the “reason of the heart” as Blaise Pascal would put it) listens to emotions and sentiments and averts its inner eye from the sound principles of the practical intellect, that is, the truth as seen by the conscience. By blurring objective truth about the objective good, the will is generally able to trick a poorly formed conscience into taking an evil for a good, or a lesser good for a greater good, or evil means as expedient to attain some good.

But the guilt remains. To evade the guilt efficiently, there is no other way than to attack the principles, the axioms themselves (identity, reason for being, finality, causality, etc.), and ultimately the transcendentals above the principles: no objective beauty, goodness or truth, thus no moral obligation.

Now, what is truth? The shortest and simplest definition is: Truth is the conformity of the mind to things. An honest search for truth makes licit almost any question. For example, the question “Either there is a God (or gods), or there is not” implies that the human mind might be able to discover the truth, or accept the revelation of truth.

If there are things, there is a God, because nothing contingent can exist if there is no necessary being which is the first cause and reason for being of everything else. Hence the same reasoning applies to truth: if there is something, there is truth in the same measure that things do exist and are good and beautiful, and at least partly knowable.

Being, truth and reasoning

Someone commented on the above classical definitions of being and truth with two fallacies:

  1. “A fact is what is.”

This vocabulary is faulty. A being is what is. “Being” is one form of the verb “to be”. The alternate word for a being is “thing”, “res” in Latin. “Fact” comes from the Latin “facere (facio)”, to do, or to make, which has a very different meaning, or meanings, from the verb to be.

  1. “Truth is when your mind perceives [the fact] as a fact, for what it is. Falsehood is when your mind perceives it for what it is not, or denies it.”

This definition of truth is faulty. If truth is objective, it cannot be what the mind perceives, for in that case it would be subjective and relative. Truth is not in the mind, it is in the being, in the thing, including our own being, which we need to “objectify” in some way to know the truth about ourselves.

 

Another commenter, Mr. Joseph Moore, ably summarized Hegel’s exposition of propositional reasoning and his dismissal of the classical definition of speculative reason. I added the following:

If I understand correctly (from Maritain’s works) the classical meaning of speculative reasoning, it is exactly what real and good philosophers have been doing from ancient Greece onwards. Speculative reason is used as opposed to practical, or moral, reason. Speculative reasoning must be as purely intellectual as possible, even when it studies the tenets of practical reasoning, that is, moral philosophy. The intellect (and the truth) is still king in moral philosophy, in moral debate, but in moral action it is superseded by the will (and the good), which is absolutely sovereign in the practical domain. This is where guilt comes in: when there is a difference between the judgment of the intellect (conscience) and the will when we commit evil. This is so because the natural sense of moral obligation remains powerful even when the breach is only faintly conscious.

If Hegel pretended that speculative reasoning could do away with the law of non-contradiction (not by coincidence the logical counterpart of the identity principle), this is because he took dialectics and NOT the metaphysical axioms as the basis of his philosophy.

Dialectics is, as Maritain explained, the logical tool to form an opinion on disputed matters. It has no bearing whatsoever on matters of principle, and this was Hegel’s main error. Because of this error, his system is the quintessential house of mirrors. Maritain said that Hegel made philosophy waltz on its head. This is why Karl Marx could look to every bad philosopher on this earth as a man of good sense when he put Hegel’s philosophy back on its feet, only it was still the head of Hegel’s system, it was only dialectics.

 

Mr. Moore continues:

[…] In his introduction to Phenomenology of Spirit and his Logic, [Hegel] specifically describes ‘Propositional Reasoning’ which depends on stated propositions and valid logical inference, as inadequate to the purposes of the true philosopher. He uses ‘Speculative Reason’ to specifically refer to an activity that is beyond and outside propositional reasoning, although one can say that logical conclusions are suspended or upheld within the dialectic. At any rate, logical contradiction is possible only within propositional reasoning, and cannot be used to overturn or invalidate the conclusions (however arrived at!) of Speculative Reason as Hegel uses the term.

By necessity, all of this is poorly defined, since definitions are themselves propositions par excellence within propositional reasoning. If you get the feeling that common sense and logic as any sane person would understand it have been driven from the field here, I think that’s correct. I don’t think Hegel’s ideas can or ever have survived any sort of direct logical challenge, which is why he banished such thinking to, I suppose, the dustbin of History. [End of quote]

 

Gnosis and fallacies

Like Mr. Moore says about Hegel, and like Chesterton said about the bulk of modern philosophers (cf. “Philosophy for the Schoolroom”), any sane mind gets the distinct impression that common sense and logic have been driven from their field. In Hegel’s case, that would be because his system is, in fact, a Gnosis (cf. Maritain, Moral Philosophy). Like every gnostic philosophy, the few truths that it may contain are so well buried in smug and glittering fallacies that it takes a seasoned professional to extract and make something useful of them, like: don’t do philosophy this way, but that way – namely Thomism in the case.