Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Principle of Non-Contradiction

The Principle of Non-Contradiction is a philosophical principle that has been around for a long time. Essentially, it states that a certain claim is either true or false, it cannot be both at the same time. For example, a fire is either hot or it is not hot, it cannot be both for that goes against the nature of temperature.

I have been listening to a variety of Peter Kreeft lectures as of late and have found them fascinating. The particular reason I have found them fascinating is the extent to which he uses this philosophical principle and how the great arguments of the past have also used this to principle to make their case.

For example, take Pascal's Wager. In it Pascal gives us a reality. God either exists or does not exist. It is a logical impossibility for there to be both. Now, there are 4 possibilities from this Sic et Non.

1) God exists and you don't believe.
2) God exists and you do believe.
3) God doesn't exist and you don't believe.
4) God doesn't exist and you do believe.

Now, he says the following for each statement.

1) If God exists and you don't believe then you're in trouble because He has loved you and you have failed to return that love or to care for the fact that He exists. Bad move. You have not lived for that which you were created for.

2) Good on ya! You believed and live a life to follow Him and pursue Him passionately! This adds not only a tremendous value to your life, but to others as well. This gives your life purpose.

3) Well, you were right. But because God doesn't exist, there is no value to life anyways, so what good did it do to not believe?

4) Well, turns out you're wrong, but at least you were able to live a life that was worthy of helping others and loving them.

Now, Pascal never makes the claim that these are arguments for the existence of God. No, he says that this is simply the first step among many. But he is making a point in that, well, what does it hurt to believe? Will life be miserable because you believe in God?

Now, what interests me in this argument is the principle of non-contradiction. You take the principle of truth and falseness and see where it leads you. We see here the 4 possibilities of True and False and a decision to be made in regards to one's belief in God's existence.

Looking back now, this is essentially how the Medievals worked. Thomas Aquinas' Summa is built in this manner. He says that, for example, Theology is either a science or not a science. He shows the positions for both, and then gives you the reason for holding the true position. It is very common sensicle.

I think we have lost this principle in our lives because of skepticism. Instead of saying "the fire is either hot or not hot", we say "well, how do we know that this idea of temperature is not just a projection of our consciousness? How do I even know what temperature is, maybe it's just a social construct".

Essentially, this skepticism is bound to destroy Western Civilization and is the roots of our relativistic leanings in society.

Al-Ghazali, a Medieval Islamic philosopher, once said in regards to skeptics (for he was once one himself) "Throw a skeptic in a fire and tell them to tell you that the fire is not really fire and that the heat is not really burning their flesh". Experience, practicality, and common sense, always win in the end.