In response to my first entry in this open conversation, Ron Garrett offered many kind words, along with his respectful criticism concerning my representation of the basic axioms which I believe comprise the pre-requisites for the intelligibility of the universe. On this point, I do believe we have sufficient common ground to understand one another.
In my original post, I stated three basic axioms which need to be accepted in order for us to have confidence in our ability to know things. For clarification, those three points are (1) the laws of logic are true, (2) our minds and senses are generally reliable, and (3) the laws of nature are uniform. I said I believed we were agreed on all of these points but one. I knew that Ron disagreed with me concerning the axiomatic status of uniformity, but the way I made that statement caused some confusion. First, Ron actually has material reservations concerning more than just the uniformity of nature. I did not intend to misrepresent Ron: we had not discussed the laws of logic in any detail as of yet, and only briefly touched on some common ground related specifically to the law of non-contradiction. Secondly, since I listed the laws of logic as subpoints of my point #1 shortly after my statement that “Ron and I are agreed on all but one of these preconditions…”, it seemed like I was saying that Ron disagreed with one of the laws of logic, rather than one of the more general preconditions for intelligibility.
To clarify, Ron and I have previously discussed uniformity in nature. While we both accept that uniformity is true, I believe uniformity is properly held as an axiom, upon which the practice of science depends, while Ron believes that uniformity is a conclusion of science, which depends only on the assumption that “experiment is the ultimate arbiter of truth.”
In point of fact, Ron expresses certain reservations regarding the laws of logic in his response to my first post. However, his objections appear to concern the application of the laws, rather than the laws themselves.
The first law of logic, which Ron criticizes, is the law of identity, which states that something is what it is, and whatever exists must have a specific nature. Ron’s objection is in the difficulty of properly and consistently defining the identity of anything. He proposes composition and arrangement as a common sense way of identifying things. By this scheme of identification, “my lamp” is identified by its present arrangement of these particular parts, right down to the molecules, atoms, and sub-atomic “particles”. And then he points out that the particles of every material thing are constantly changing places, and thus “my lamp” today is really a totally different lamp than “my lamp” yesterday. Thus arises the problem of “continuity of identity”.
My response to this is simply that composition is a poor way to “identify” things. At one point in our prolonged discussion, I made passing mention to “teleologically discreet bodies”. I originally formulated this phrase in response to the problem of continuity of identity, as it was presented in Dr. William Lane Craig’s “Time and the Metaphysics of Relativity”. The phrase refers to the identification of things by their purpose. Thus, “my lamp” is the thing which I can use to control the lighting in my room. “My lamp” is thus defined by its purpose, which remains constant throughout its existence. Even when “my lamp” breaks and no longer gives light, its identity remains intact. Just because something has been ruined for its original purpose, does not change the fact that its purpose is what it is.
Now, the use of teleology to identify things may create problems that I am not aware of. It is open to criticism. However, this shows how the law of identity is not suspended when we fail to be consistent in the way we identify things. When we are inconsistent, the problem lies in our use of language, not in the law of logic.
On a more fundamental level, Ron’s affirmation of the problem of continuity of identity actually reveals Ron’s basic acceptance of the law of identity itself: for to say that a change in composition must change the identity of a thing, is to say that the thing really did have a specific identity, and that is what has changed. It was comprised of this set of particles (each of which, we should note, are assumed to be themselves and not the others), and now is comprised of that set of particles – but we can only suppose that those particles are not these particles if each particle is itself and not the other. It was what it was, and now it is what it is. Let’s not over-complicate that.
Ron’s objection to my formulation of the law of non-contradiction may be related to his objection to the law of identity. There are, in fact, other ways express this law. One could say that “two mutually exclusive statements cannot both be true, in the same way and at the same time.” This removes any problems associated with a thing having its distinct identity. At any rate, Ron accepts non-contradiction in some form or another, which is good enough for me.
The third law of logic is the law of excluded middle, and states that a statement is either true or false, with no third option. Ron appeals to subjectivity (statements of opinion) and tense as cases which contradict the law of excluded middle. These objections, again, simply entail a burden on our use of language, rather than being problems with the law itself.
The burden entails a responsibility to use words in a way that they have meaning. President Donald Trump either is, or he is not, a scoundrel. One or the other must be true, if anything particular is meant by the word “scoundrel”. If Ron is using the word to mean nothing in particular, then that is Ron’s failure, and not the failure of the law of excluded middle.
Subjectivity does not violate the law of excluded middle, because to the extent any statement is subjective, then the truth or falsehood of the statement must be taken to be relative to the speaker’s subjective experience.
The same can be said of tense. A statement which is true at one time and false at another time does not violate the law of excluded middle. The truth or falsehood of a statement is judged relative to the intended temporal framework within which the statement was made.
Can misunderstandings arise on these terms? Sure. That is all part of the fun of language. Effort is often required to ensure that all mean the same thing, even when all are using the same words.
In the conclusion of my original post, I summed up the importance of these basic axioms as “We can know things.” Despite Ron’s criticism of the way that I formulate basic axioms, we seem to be in agreement on this important point. Such seems to the virtue of what Ron dubs as “Ron’s Law of Reality”, or RLR:
“The most reliable information you can possibly have about reality is your own subjective experiences.”
Frankly, I agree with Ron’s assertion that this is indeed self-evident. As he makes clear, this statement is reducible to a tautology. And, as C.S. Lewis once said in Miracles, calling something a tautology is “another way of saying that they are completely and certainly known.”
Now, RLR is very similar to what I said in my original post, that our minds and senses are generally reliable. The difference may be purely semantic, but it is still notable. Subjective experience may be, according to RLR, the “most reliable information you can possibly have”, but that falls short of saying that it is actually reliable. If we are to have any confidence in our ability to know things, we must be willing to take that affirmative position, “Yes, our minds and senses are reliable.”
Hopefully, this clears up some of the confusion between us. At the end of this point, I believe we are still standing on common ground. It may seem insignificant, but in today’s contentious and adversarial culture, there is something very important about recognizing common ground wherever we find it. In the case of Ron and I, we have found a good deal of common ground at a much higher level. And yet, if the only thing we can agree on is the fact that “we can know things”, even that is worth celebrating.