A: So, how do you understand the principle of contradiction?

B:  That we cannot affirm and deny the same thing.

A: But we affirm and deny the same thing  whenever we change our mind.

B: But I meant that we cannot affirm and deny the same thing at the same time

A: But this doesn’t have anything to do with affirming or denying – we can’t do any two actions simultaneously (changed b/c/ of critique by Eli Horowitz). We can’t affirm something twice at the same time either. So by adding a necessary qualification you have made the statement have nothing in particular to do with the thing you wanted to talk about.

B: When I say “at the same time” I don’t mean that you say two things at once actually, but that when you say anything is true or false, you are necessarily committed to thinking something else. As long as you are committed to thinking something about SP, you are committed to thinking something about S not-P.

A: So it seems that, if this is right, the principle of contradiction is based on a deeper idea of claims being connected together, that is, we see that there are necessary consequences of committing ourselves to the truth or falsity of something. It’s as though our primary vision or awareness is that every claim or commitment can only be a part of a larger body of commitments.

B: I don’t know. I would guess that this is a consequence of the principle of contradiction and not something prior to it.

A: It might be logically, I don’t know, but it seems like there is an ontological basis from the principle: sc. that no one truth we know exhausts the mind completely, but always occurs in the context of a principle that says “this commits you to something else”.   Our mind has a sort of necessary motion.  If any mind held a truth that was completely adequate to it, it wouldn’t need the principle of contradiction to know.

B: And so a completely satisfied intelligence, even if would have to be aware of contradictions,  would not find its knowing falling under the principle of contradiction.

A: That seems right: I think the principle of contradiction follows upon a peculiar condition of an intellect – sc. when nothing it knows, and no multiplication of the things it knows is adequate to it.

B: But this raises the question whether the inadequacy of an object is necessary to being an intellect – doesn’t an intellect have to transcend the things it knows? If it did not, what sense would there be to saying that it can both affirm and deny?

A: Well, if it were simply true that intellect had to transcend its object, I don’t see what sense we could make of saying that an intellect can know itself.

B: So in this sense, self-Knowledge is the first hint we have of an object that would be perfectly adequate to intellect.

A: It can’t be more than a hint- on the one hand, it makes us aware that some known thing is a broad as the intellect that knows it; but on the other hand, the soul immediately sees itself as empty and receptive.


  1. RP said,

    November 18, 2012 at 6:10 am

    Chastek you have a good blog, ask many great questions, make many unusual observations, etc. But it has one weakness: you are not willing to hash out any of your questions or opinions thoroughly. You post something and the next day go on to something else.

    Furthermore, your blog is one of the last remaining outposts of civilization. 90% of the world talks about nothing but politics and sports. We (Americans and probably Europeans since America gets all its ideas and intellectual fashions from Europe after a delay of 25 or 50 years) have become the most boring people to have ever lived. A sure sign of decadence .

    I suggest you start another “disputed questions” blog where you post a topic, get comments from your readers as objections for or against, then you answer the objections and give your reply. If you like you can ban me from commenting. I’d be pleased just to have a chance to read such a thing.

    I don’t know who else may do this – Watson may be a good one. He seems to have read every book ever written, but his blog is kinda boring. Faber would be another one and may even be willing as long as he could bash Thomists now and again. And Faber seems to be a decent person, too. Maybe the three of you could get together to do this so it wouldn’t be so burdensome.

    You would have to approve all comments to ensure they conform to the proper format and topic, else it would degenerate into something like Feser’s blog which is unreadable.

  2. MarcAnthony said,

    November 18, 2012 at 12:48 pm

    I think this one of those cases where philosopher sometime over-think things. 🙂 The principle of contradiction is something that is so simple and obvious to see that honestly looking too much into it, while interesting, can really complicate matters unnecessarily. I have yet to meet a person who has ever truly misunderstood the principle of contradiction. I have met people who had no idea that’s what it was called, but essentially everybody uses it in arguments all the time, and the concept, if not the execution, is almost certainly used correctly.

    Rather like your drunk man proving the existence of God to the philosophers, we may have a situation where the normal person understands things better than the philosophers precisely because they *understand* it and don’t try and make it into something it’s not-a philosophical puzzle.

    As for Dr. Feser’s blog, I think the real appeal are his main posts, not the comments section.

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