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Sunday, May 11, 2014

Philosophical Truth

Philosophical Truth-------------------------

By Jim J. McCrea

Published in the Iron Warrior in 1988, which is the Engineering Paper of the University of Waterloo
Republished with minor modifications.

The Purpose of philosophy is to discover the most fundamental aspects of reality. It includes, for example, metaphysics, which is the science of being as being; epistemology, which is the science of knowledge; and ethics which enables us to distinguish right from wrong. Some take the view that it is impossible to discover ultimate truth and the attempt to do so can lead one into an intellectual vacuum. A view, quite popular today, is that there is no objective truth but if you believe something it is true for you that is as far as it goes.

I hold, however, that there exists a monolithic truth independent of opinion and furthermore it is within the power of the human intellect to discover some fundamental aspect of it. A full validation of this will not be attempted here, for it is an extremely complex problem which goes far beyond the scope of this article. Some approaches will, however, will be stated.


What are the ultimate constituents of reality and from what can we begin the search for truth.

Particle physicists say that we will know the ultimate constituents of reality when the ultimate particle is discovered and the four fundamental forces of nature are unified. Much of today's science is essentially *reductionist.* It attempts to achieve a better understanding of things by reducing them to their most basic components.

This, however, is a necessary but not a sufficient means of investigating material reality. This is because physical being has two aspects - a *material* and a *formal* aspect. To illustrate this we can conduct a thought experiment in which we analyze the essence of an automobile.

One can imagine two situations: in the first, there is an assembled automobile with its full complement of parts; in the second, the full compliment of parts is present but lying in a disassembled heap on the ground. Now if the essence of the automobile were simply reducible to its parts we could legitimately call the disassembled heap an automobile, which is absurd. Something in addition to the parts of a material being is needed to give it its being. This additional principle is the *form.* Form is the arrangement or inter-connectivity of the parts, while matter is the parts themselves. Both principles of matter and form are required to compose a material being. Reductionist science gives us an understanding of the material side of physical reality while neglecting the formal.


One means of obtaining a better grasp of the true in philosophy is to understand the false. One means of discerning any philosophically false position is to know that when a certain truth is denied, that truth is implicitly used in the denial. Many philosophers have contradicted themselves in this manner. For example, some have stated that we cannot know that what our senses reveal to us is correct because we do not know how much the messages have been distorted by the senses and the nervous system. The fallacy of that argument is that it implies that we can know some aspect of objective physical reality (namely the senses and the nervous system) to deny that we can know any objective physical reality.

If we look at the denial, that the human intellect cannot know truth we can understand the statement to be false because it presents itself as a truth. If the person making the denial applies the principle of skepticism to the denial itself and states that we cannot even be sure of that, two observations can be made. The first observation is that he may be only stating his personal inability to arrive at truth and not necessarily that the human intellect cannot, per se, arrive at truth. The second observation is that he is refuting himself by inconsistency. If he applies a principle of skepticism to his denial he repudiates it because the degree that one is uncertain of a position is the degree that one departs from it. From this we can state the first law of epistemology: that truth exists and the human intellect can know some fundamental aspect of it. This principle is not arrived at through deductive reasoning but carries the evidence of itself within itself.


The search for philosophical truth brings us to the summit of natural knowledge, which is *metaphysics.* That is the science of being qua being, which is achieved at the peak of intellectual abstraction. It is at the summit for two reasons. First, it is the governor of all other sciences, for they must borrow from the principles of metaphysics to operate. Second, it is perfectly free: it borrows principles from no other science. Its principles are most certain and evident within themselves.

The ultimate first principle of metaphysics is the law of *identity,* which states that a thing is what it is. This is not a mere tautology but an assertion that, first, all things exist of a determinate nature, and therefore do not necessarily exist the way one thinks or wishes they do, and second, that in any attempt to reduce a thing to something else, one departs from that thing. It can be said that the most accurate description of a thing is that thing itself.

One of the first corollaries of the law of identity is the law of *non-contradiction,* which states that something cannot both be and not be under the same aspect at the same time. This is also a first principle of logic. Another principle is that of *sufficient reason,* which states that if something exists, happens, or is true it must have a sufficient reason for existing, happening, or being true. Something cannot exist happen, or be true for no reason or without an adequate cause.

It is necessary to have a supreme science with principles which are primary and most certain within themselves, because if what Bertrand Russell said is correct, that we can obtain only probable knowledge, one probable truth would depend upon another which would in turn depend upon another, ad infinitum, so that in the end we would not even have probable truth but pure irrationality (for a probable function to be true and intelligible, there must be absolutes that define its parameters). 

Also see: Metaphysics: the Science of Being