Archives for posts with tag: First principles

Axioms, Chance, Providence

John C. Wright’s article Last Crusade: The Promise of Peace (April 9, 2017) exposes why moral agnosticism makes impossible the advent of leftist utopian promises.

A commenter wrote in the thread: “I don’t subscribe to the belief that conscience comes from God, but this is a minor quibble.” I admired the irony of the proposition and, reading it again later, I felt compelled to find out how Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas and Jacques Maritain already answered the quibble. The following arguments are inspired from Maritain’s Preface to Metaphysics: Seven Lectures on Being (full text). A few relevant quotes are reprinted at the end of this post.

So, let us quibble first with the MATERIALIST’s argument:

  1. Axiom : a cause must be greater, or at least equal, to its effect.
  2. Physical, empirical matter is inferior to immaterial, non-empirical things such as soul and conscience (characteristic of the self and the capacity to act).
  3. Therefore, physical matter cannot be the cause of non-material, non-empirical phenomena.

Then with the PANTHEISTIC argument:

  1. According to the axiom of finality, an agent is a being which can determine itself to act, either reflexively (in and on oneself) or transitively (exerting an action on other beings, including creation).
  2. The eternal, cyclical world of metempsychosis is deemed to be one undetermined being.
  3. Therefore, it cannot be an agent nor a patient (caused, moved by another). The movement, the action our senses perceive is deemed to be a deception, thus an evil, in this worldview.

The belief that multiplicity and motion must be a deception is a logical conclusion from the premise that there is no determination, hence no finality, but the premise is false. It is a statement contradictory to the metaphysical axiom of SUFFICIENT REASON (or grounds for being), which calls for the determinate nature of every being, as well as to the axiom of FINALITY, which calls for a preordination of every nature, or essence. Preordination takes place in the creative mind before any being comes to existence, either ex nihilo (including the creation of a new soul at conception) or by rearrangement of existing things.

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Civilization Is A Conversation

The popular philosopher Stefan Molyneux ( often reminds his audience that “civilization is a conversation. ” I read about the same idea before in a blog article by John C. Wright ( about the Great Books. A philosopher himself, as well as a novelist, Mr Wright is an alumnus of St. John’s College of liberal arts. I gather the school’s Great Books program was inspired from the writings of philosopher Mortimer Adler on “The Great Conversation” and his editing work for the Encyclopaedia Britannica Great Books series.

According to classical philosophers and other classical writers who had to know philosophy as a general foundation for their field, philosophy and science, literature and arts, civilization in a word, is a great conversation, and philosophy is its common language. It began to spread from Greece some six centuries before Christ.

Metaphysics, or philosophy properly so called, is the conversation about the fundamentals of everything that is or may be, especially the “why”, the causes. The “how” is more particularly the domain of empirical sciences and mathematics.

Ethics is the part of philosophy that examines the use of practical reason, or moral conscience. Why is there a sense of right and wrong? Why is conscience attracted to the good and repulsed by evil? Why is happiness connected to the good? These are some of the main questions of moral philosophy.

The moral questions are of course paramount also to religion and theology. Philosophy is the greatest achievement of the human mind unaided by faith, since it derives its information from the senses, external and internal. But the self-revelation of God being at the same time the revelation of man to himself (e. g. John 2:25), the Judaeo-Christian revelation is a very reliable source of information for philosophy, particularly for natural theology (or theodicy) and ethics.

Christian theologians, philosophers, and authors of literary or scientific writings were the ones who kept the conversation ongoing and timeless. It is timeless because philosophia perennis, the common philosophy of humanity (as philosopher Jacques Maritain would say), known also as Aristotelian-Thomism, or classical theist philosophy, is true in all essentials and those essentials are not subject to time. True philosophy is therefore capable of organic, continuous development upon this perennial basis.

Up to the 1960s, every generation educated by learned masters had access to the great works of the past and to a common philosophical framework. Scholars and writers could thus contribute to build on and transmit the intellectual and moral treasure of civilization, the treasure of human wisdom.


Conversation Slows Down

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On Catholic Theology and Western Civ

Another witty piece from David Warren as an answer to a comment under (comments have been erased since).


“You don’t admit of any possibility of error in your theological framework.” (quoting the commenter)

My dear CTC, it is time you realized that it is not my theological framework. After fifty years of shopping, I bought into the Catlick one; or more precisely, found that I already more-or-less had. And in the end you’re not arguing with me. You’re arguing with my buddy Thomas Aquinas, & all his buddies. And having tried to argue with them myself, let me tell ya…

It is a working out, over twentyish centuries of often quite heated argument & debate, of what the best minds could discern in the Christian Revelation, on the principle of non-contradiction. The result has been concisely & carefully set out in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which you might want to obtain as a kind of phone directory to what “people like me” (i.e. Catlicks) believe.

Is it infallible? No, nothing from the hand of man is infallible (& check that CCC for what we mean when we say the pope is pronouncing on doctrine “infallibly”). It isn’t “infallible,” in the sense you might use, but it is extremely good, because if anyone, Catlick or non-Catlick, can find a contradiction in the thing, we sweat it through until we’ve fixed it.

But by now that body of doctrine has been remarkably stable for a very long time. This is because our best minds have been sweating it through for all these centuries. And in fact most of it was clear enough to the candid & honest & intelligent from early on: working from what they sincerely believed, & for cause, that Christ had told them about what’s what, checked & re-checked interminably against the known facts of “reality.”

You don’t have to believe a word of it. There are many soi-disant Catholics who never bother to consult it (even before speaking publicly “as a Catholic”), & who believe what they want to believe. Some of them even serve in your Congress. “Cafeteria Catlicks,” if you will. People who don’t listen when being corrected on fact. What can I say?

But there it is, Catholic Doctrine. And since the whole of Western Civ was erected upon it, I suggest you check it out. So that you can know, at least, what it is you are rejecting as you walk off into the scientistic aether, pitching Western Civ to the dogs.

Otiosus / David Warren

Summary of Preface to Metaphysics

The following summary of Jacques Maritain’s Preface to Metaphysics – Seven Lectures on Being, with some quotes from a couple other books, is not a scholarly work, so there will be no quotation marks or italics apart from those already in the text. Passages between brackets are my comments or paraphrases.

Being As Such
The object of metaphysics is the knowledge of being as such. Being is the first object attained by every man the instant he begins to think as a rational creature, but at this stage it is a more or less confused perception of the concrete being, enveloped or embodied in sensible things. The metaphysician will consider the essence, or nature, of sensible things by abstracting, or disengaging their intelligible values from particularized objects.

The first operation of the mind is thus to apprehend essences (what is universal, what is the nature of the thing), but the term of knowledge is the actual, existing being, the esse in the strict sense. Thomist philosophy does not stop short at essences. It is to existence itself that the intellect proceeds when it formulates within itself a judgment by composition and division (second operation of the mind) corresponding to what a thing is or is not outside the mind.
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Intellectual atheists try to present their main premise as rational, but it is not. For example, the titles of these two best-sellers, The God Delusion and God Is Not Great, advertise clearly the lack of rational thinking in those books. Even an atheist like Terry Eagleton felt compelled to refute such a presentation of atheism. In his book Reason, Faith, and Revelation: Reflections on the God Debate, he did us the service of exposing the irrationality and naive faith in Progress of “Ditchkins,” as he humorously branded the Dawkins-Hitchens duo.

I can speak only of the impression I get from the titles, but judging by what Eagleton and others said, my impression is not false.

God Is Not Great (Christopher Hitchens)

This proposition is simply a contradiction in terms: if there is a God, he is necessarily great, otherwise he would be no god at all. Maybe irony was intended, but it came out rather as mockery, which is not a good predictor of sound philosophy, especially considering the accusatory tone of the rest of the title: How Religion Poisons Everything.

The God Delusion (Richard Dawkins)

The main premise of materialist atheists is that there is nothing to existence but matter and that those who admit the existence of God as creator of the world are delusional. However, the atheist premise is indemonstrable and self-refuting while the God-created world is perfectly rational in sound philosophy (from Aristotle onwards).
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I wrote the following page a few years ago to accompany GKC’s article “Philosophy for the Schoolroom” included after. It was an answer to a friend’s comment acknowledging doubt as a normal scientific attitude. As a cradle Catholic I never really saw a divide between faith and reason but it seems it has to be explained even to a pious Catholic convert. It was probably a remnant of former agnosticism or Protestant fundamentalism, or both. The philosophical comments inspired from Maritain were written more recently and reworked until now.

 Faith and reason

There is a widely spread state of mind pretending that faith and reason exclude each other and that being skeptical on everything is a fundamental scientific attitude. But, on the contrary, doubting everything is not at all scientific thinking. Science has to question everything. especially its postulates, but a true scientific mind does not doubt everything in the first place. I learned this from the works of French Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain. Then I read recently the following article by G. K. Chesterton.
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