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How and Why We Study Logic

Excerpted from the lectures given to the Lyceum Institute Trivium: Art of Logic Course.

“What more can be said about logic?”  I am acutely aware, as I pen these words that I pen them not to be read (even if someone other than myself might and does indeed read them), but to be spoken; to be given in a lecture, that is—a lecture for the Lyceum Institute, a lecture belonging to a course, and a course belonging to a holistic study of all three arts constituting the Trivium.  Though logic may be studied on its own, both as an art and as science, its greatest fruit comes when studied integrally with the other arts of the Trivium.  This sentiment—or rather, the mixed sentiments of hope, humility, and no small amount of trepidation, since I am myself well aware of my woeful inadequacy as a teacher, especially of logic—this sentiment finds itself grounded by the well-wrought intellectual insights of far wiser men: men such as R.E. Houser, John Deely, and John Poinsot, all of whom I consider my own teachers in this most difficult of subjects.  My failings, however, are not a reflection of their abilities: for I have learned logic through their printed works, rather than in-person instruction, and thus have not benefitted from direct correction.

The purpose of these lectures, indeed, is not to say anything new or novel about logic at all.  That does not mean there is nothing new to be said about logic, only that I am not here intending to say it.  Rather, these lectures aim—as is more broadly the goal of this course as a whole and of our first course of study of the Trivium in the Lyceum Institute—these lectures aim at displaying and explicating the art for a living audience.  They form part of a multi-party dialogue: between myself, as the instructor, and you, as the audience; between us, as a class, and the texts, which we read; and between the shared knowledge we gain and the knowledge we yet seek.  Between instructor and audience, there is formed a whole; between that whole, the class, and the texts, there is formed a second whole, that shared knowledge.  But knowledge, always and invariably, prompts new questions, an inquiry beyond itself.  These lectures are merely my own contribution… and rather a minor contribution, at that, in the grand scheme of this dialogue.

Our world—by which I mean not merely the physical environment of earth (though inclusive of it) but rather, more primarily, the specifically human environment of linguistically-perfused culture—suffers a problem of meaning.  I have addressed this problem in many other places.  We may redress this problem of meaning, however, only through language, and only if we conceive of language in the right way: not merely as an abstract system of arbitrarily-stipulated symbolic communications, ordered principally toward pragmatic ends and for the sake of manipulating that world to our ends (such manipulative bearing being one of, if not the, principal causes of our meaning problem), but rather as the way in which the true meaning of things comes to light in the first place.  For developing a facility with language so-conceived, we must study all three arts of the Trivium.  In the Art of Logic, in particular, we attend specifically to the illative relation, whereby we discover how language leads thinking through inference to truths not immediately evident—to truths obscured by malfeasant rhetoric or the will-to-power, to truths hidden by those who wish only to bend the world to their wills, instead of standing themselves humbly open to the real.

Sign up for the Lyceum Institute and join us in the study of Logic this Spring! Lectures begin 1 May 2023 and discussions on 8 May 2023. All members are welcome to take the Art of Logic course, at every level of enrollment.

John Deely on the “Practical Value” of Logic

Peirce rightly speaks of the practice of boasting of the utility of this or that science as a “nauseating custom” (1898a, alt. ver. : CP 1.667). This is because the practice in question almost invariably is indulged in for purposes quite unrelated to the true character of the science in question or to the advance of scientific inquiry as such. Nonetheless, there is a legitimate general sense in which all the sciences, logic and ethics included, may be said to have a practical value, inasmuch as, in the light of understanding gained from any given inquiry, application of that understanding may be made to meliorate some state of affairs or other. It is essential, however, to notice that this general “practical value” is a consequence of theoretical understanding, and not something separate from or independent of a properly scientific—that is to say, thematic and systematized—study of, for example, the symbolic structures of thought, on the one hand (in the case of logic) and action, its motives and consequences, on the other (in the case of ethics). No doubt our practice of discourse will be influenced by a study of logic, and, if the study is sound, improved. But to aim at this improvement directly and from the outset is a fundamental blunder. It is no wonder that many courses in “critical thinking” amount to little more than an elaborate spelling out of the steps to go through m choosing the best refrigerator to buy for your home, or a hopelessly superficial skill in identifying and labeling “fallacies”. For this reason, one of the most notable students of logic (Joseph 1916: 10) went so far as to recommend that we abandon speaking of logic as an art, in order to make plain what is in fact the case: that any properly human practical value of logic is in consequence of its theoretical study, and not an end that can be attained directly. In this sense, any scientific study has a “practical value”.

But, while any scientific study has practical value in an indirect sense, the practical value of logic, even if indirect, goes beyond that of the other special sciences, and precisely for this reason logic is commonly viewed not just as a “general education” requirement, but as a “core requirement”—that is to say, as one of the foundations of liberal arts education even from the days when science in our modern sense had not yet been established or envisioned as part of the curriculum of schooling at any level. In other words, uniquely in the case of the science of logic, we are quite justified in speaking of its utility or “practical value” for reasons that are related both to the nature of logic as a science and to the advance of logic as a scientific inquiry.

The exceptional extent of logic’s indirect practicality becomes apparent in Joseph’s spelling out (ibid: 11) of the threefold rationale for the practical value of logic. Of the three elements he identifies in this rationale, the first logic shares with any science, as we have taken note. The remaining two, however, distinguish logic’s foundational character as permeating the humanities and the sciences alike—that is to say, the whole of our discourse.

The first practical value of logic in general education, the one it shares with any exact science, is that it demands a careful, systematic and precise treatment of its own subject matter, which tends to produce a habit resulting from an appreciative understanding of the need and importance of carefulness in the study of any subject.

The second practical value of logic, however, lies in an effect which the study of a special science like chemistry, physics, or biology, is not equally calculated to produce. This effect is a better realization of what general forms are latent in the language we habitually use (especially where it is a question of our natural language, hut also in specialized and “artificial” circumstances of discourses which… inevitably interface with and influence the prejacent natural language, ensuring its continual evolution, in fact, and expansion into new scientific fields), through becoming familiar with the task of examining our reasonings precisely to see whether their form is conclusive in itself in its contrast with the factual content.

The third practical value of logic is likewise commensurate with our discourse in its totality, whether everyday or scientific, theoretically or practically oriented: logic requires us to deal directly with what knowing is, insofar as there are standards implicit in thought itself by which it is possible to separate knowledge from opinion and also to distinguish levels or grades of both, thereby making us more alive and sensitive to, as well as more careful about, shortcomings in our own opinions and those others try to persuade us of.

I think we need not go as far as Joseph recommended in abandoning all talk of logic as an art in order to appreciate the difference between logica docens and logica utens and to appreciate the essential dependency of the latter on the former as far as it concerns an educational context beyond the exercise of practical reason. It is true that the theoretical study of logic not only can be but, in recent years, has been entirely divorced from the context of actual discourse in common experience. But this need not he the case (nor is it wholly new), and may even be regarded, in many instances, as a pedagogical aberration. Nor does the late modern artificialization of the context of logical study change the fact that there are indirect consequences of logical study for everyday discourse when the foundations of such study are properly established (a project toward which this book is mainly aimed). These consequences are nonetheless real, and become direct from the side of the theoretical understanding once acquired. There is nothing wrong with pursuing the theoretical study in such a way as to facilitate that indirect consequence, that overflow, as it were, into practical reasonings, and much to recommend such a pursuit, however much late modernity chose to eschew it. Indeed, what has always distinguished logic as a liberal art from logic developed as a science in its own right, without any regard for its connections with daily discourse, is just this way of pursuing properly logical study.

John Deely 1985–2015: Logic as a Liberal Art, 12–15 (not to be confused with Houser’s Logic as a Liberal Art).

Sign up for the Lyceum Institute before May 8 and you can join us in our study of Logic! Open to all members. Enroll here.

Trivium: The Art of Logic 2023

On 1 May 2023, we will begin our second Trivium course of the year: The Art of Logic. Our first discussion session will take place on 8 May 2023 at 6:00pm ET. This course is open to all enrolled Lyceum Institute members; having taken Grammar is not a prerequisite. If you would like to sign-up and take this course, enroll here. You can find out more about our approach to studying logic here.

In brief, however: is there right reasoning concerning reasoning itself? Can we reason rightly about other things if we are misled as to the nature of reasoning itself? Of course we can; but incidentally, rather than properly, and in a manner not precisely under our own control. Without having successfully undergone training in logic, we are much more likely to go awry in the formation of our beliefs—holding things untrue or unfitting to reason, that is—than otherwise. Thus, even though it is quite difficult, Thomas Aquinas rightly says that we ought to begin our learning from logic:

And for this reason it is necessary in learning to begin from logic, not because it is easier than the other sciences—indeed, it has the greatest difficulty, since it concerns second intentions—but because the other sciences depend upon it, insofar as it teaches the mode of proceeding in all the other sciences.

c.1257-59: In de trin., q.6, a.1, p.2, ad.3: “Et hac ratione oportet in addiscendo a logica incipere, non quia ipsa sit facilior ceteris scientiis, habet enim maximam difficultatem, cum sit de secundo intellectis, sed quia alia scientiae ab ipsa dependent, in quantum ipsa docet modum procedendi in omnibus scientiis.”

In our course, we will concern ourselves not only with learning to analyze propositions and syllogisms of both categorical and hypothetical structure, to parse prose writing for its logical structure (and errors therein), and to illuminate the illative relation which ties together all our reasoning, but also situate logic both historically and as it fits within the broader tradition of the Trivium.

Again, this seminar is open to all Lyceum Institute members, at every level of enrollment. Our primary (required) textbook is R.E. Houser’s Logic as a Liberal Art.

I.M. Bochenski on the Concept of Formal Logic

Preliminary definition of the subject matter of the history of logic is hard to come by. For apart from ‘philosophy’ there is perhaps no name of a branch of knowledge that has been given so many meanings as ‘logic’. Sometimes the whole history of philosophy, and even knowledge in general, has been thus named, from metaphysics on the one hand, cf. Hegel, to aesthetics (‘logic of beauty’) on the other, with psychology, epistemology, mathematics etc. in between. With such a wide choice it is quite impossible to include in a history of logical problems all that has been termed ‘logic’ in the course of western thought. To do so would practically involve writing a general history of philosophy.

But it does not follow that the use of the name ‘logic’ must be quite arbitrary, for history provides several clues to guide a choice between its many meanings. This choice can be arrived at by the following stages.

1. First let us discard whatever most authors either expressly ascribe to some other discipline, or call ‘logic’ with the addition of an adjective, as for example epistemology, transcendental logic, ontology etc.

2. When we examine what remains, we find that there is one thinker who so distinctly marked out the basic problems of this residual domain that all later western inquirers trace their descent from him: Aristotle. Admittedly, in the course of centuries very many of these inquirers – among them even his principal pupil and successor Theophrastus – have altered Aristotelian positions and replaced them with others. But the essential problematic of their work was, so far as we know, in constant dependence in one way or another on that of Aristotle’s Organon. Consequently we shall denote as ‘logic’ primarily those problems which have developed from that problematic.

3. When we come to the post-Aristotelian history of logic, we can easily see that one part of the Organon has exercised the most decisive influence, namely the Prior Analytics. At some periods other parts too, such as the Topics or the Posterior Analytics, have indeed been keenly investigated and developed. But it is generally true of all periods marked by an active interest in the Organon that the problems mainly discussed are of the kind already to hand in the Prior Analytics. So the third step brings us to the point of describing as ‘logic’ in the stricture sense that kind of problematic presented in the Prior Analytics.

4. The Prior Analytics treats of the so-called syllogism, this being defined as a λογος in which if something is posited, something else necessarily follows. Moreover such λογοι are there treated as formulas which exhibit variables in place of words with constant meaning; an example is ‘B belongs to all A‘. The problem evidently, though not explicitly, presented by Aristotle in this epoch-making work, could be formulated as follows. What formulas of the prescribed type, when their variables are replaced by constants, yield conditional statements such that when the antecedent is accepted, the consequent must be admitted? Such formulas are called ‘logical sentences’. We shall accordingly treat sentences of this kind as a principal subject of logic.

5. Some logicians have limited themselves to the discovery, examination, and systematic ordering of logical theorems, e.g. many scholastic and mathematical logicians, as also Aristotle himself in the Prior Analytics. But logic so understood seems too narrowly conceived. For two kinds of problem naturally arise out of the theorems. First those about their nature – are they linguistic expressions, word-structures, psychical forms or functions, objective complexes? What does a logical law mean, what does a statement mean? These are problems which nowadays are dealt with in semiotics. Second, problems relevant to the question how logical laws can be correctly applied to practical scientific thought. These were dealt with by Aristotle himself, principally in the Posterior Analytics, and nowadays are the concern of general methodology. So semiotic and methodological problems are closely connected with logic; in practice they are always based on semiotics and completed in methodology. What remains over and above these two disciplines we shall call formal logic.

6. A complete history of the problems of logic must then have formal logic at its centre, but treat also of the development of problems of semiotics and methodology. Before all else it must put the question: what problems were in the past posited with reference to the formulation, assessment, and systematization of the laws of formal logic? Beyond that it must look for the sense in which these problems were understood by the various logicians of the past, and also attempt to answer the question of the application of these laws in scientific practice. We have now delimited our subject, and done so, as we think, in accordance with historical evidence.

But such a program has proved to be beyond accomplishment. Not only is our present knowledge of semiotic and methodological questions in the most important periods too fragmentary, but even where the material is sufficiently available, a thorough treatment would lead too far afield. Accordingly we have resolved to limit ourselves in the main to matters of purely formal logic, giving only incidental consideration to points from the other domains.

Thus the subject of this work is constituted by those problems which are relevant to the structure, interconnection and truth of sentences of formal logic (similar to the Aristotelian syllogism). Does it or does it not follow? And, why? How can one prove the validity of this or that sentence of formal logic? How define one or another logical constant, e.g. ‘or’, ‘and’, ‘if—then’, ‘every’ etc. Those are the questions of which the history will here be considered.

Ioseph Maria Bochenski, A History of Formal Logic

I.M. Bochenski’s History of Formal Logic presents a clear and systematic discussion of the major figures in the history of logic who have attended to problems in the above consideration, from antiquity to the early twentieth century, as well as a contrast between Western and Indian logic. We will use this text as a supplement in our upcoming Trivium: Art of Logic course (beginning May) which is available to all enrolled members.

On Analogy

A Brief Primer on the Doctrine’s Confusion

Few topics have brought as much consternation to Thomists than that of analogy; not only those living and writing in the contemporary period (subsequent, that is, to the Leonine revival initiated in 1879), but stretching back to the first fluorescence of Thomism begun in the late fourteenth century, the question of analogy has wrought the wringing of hands.  In this earlier Thomism, two names stand out with particular importance: namely, Thomas Cajetan and Sylvester of Ferrara, authors notable not only for their independent contributions, but as those whose commentaries were included in the Leonine editions of the Summa Theologiae (Cajetan) and the Summa contra Gentiles (Sylvester).  Cajetan shifted the discourse on analogy, however, through an independent work of his own (De Nominum Analogia), often thought to be an indirect elaboration and commentary on Thomas Aquinas’ own doctrine of analogy, but well-demonstrated in recent years to be his own relatively original teaching.[1]

Largely because of Cajetan’s interjection (and the mistaken interpretations of its intent), the twentieth century saw an explosion of treatments concerning analogy.  Not only did monographs on the topic proliferate, but nearly every book of Thomistic philosophy, it seems, at least adverted to the integral importance of analogy—while few did little to clarify precisely what it was, even those monographs dedicated to the question.  Indeed, it seems that these works not only failed to bring clarity, but instead stirred up even worse yet the mud.

But what, we must ask, makes this doctrine so contentious?

Origin of Controversy

To provide the briefest summary possible: Aristotle twice in his Metaphysics (a name not chosen by his own volition) makes the assertion that “being is said in many ways.”  More literally translated into Latin, this would be rendered multiplicter dicitur, and such is a formulation we find Aquinas using often.  However, by a conflation of translations, the term analogia—despite in Aristotle’s Greek being reserved to the proportion of mathematical relations—was transferred into Latin as synonymous with the multiplicter dicitur, and thus rendered by Aquinas occasionally with the phrases analogia or analogice dictum (“analogically said”).[2]

When Aquinas refers to analogy, we see he does so as a way of naming through a kind of relation to something understood according to the perfection which we are able to grasp.  Thus, when we say that exercise is “healthy”, this is because we know the perfection of a healthy body, and that exercise is healthy because it has a relation to making bodies healthy.  Somewhat similarly, when we say that God is “good”, we do this not by knowing the goodness of God directly, but because we know the goodness of things God has created and can therefore infer logically that the goodness belonging to finite perfections has an infinite (and therefore incomprehensible) existence in the Divine Creator.  Unlike the predication of “healthy”, we do not in the case of “goodness” know the greater perfection, but only the lesser and the derivative.  Nevertheless, though our knowledge of the greater perfection remains incomplete, we can nevertheless hold it as true, albeit necessarily mediated through the lesser perfections which we do comprehend (as, indeed, we would not know the healthiness of exercise if not for knowing the health of bodies).

The diverse kinds of analogy presented in Aquinas, however, gives rise to the question: what exactly is it that differentiates the kind of analogy employed in speaking of “health” as opposed to speaking of “good”?  It does not seem unfair to claim that, even though Cajetan was not intending to provide an expository commentary on Aquinas’ teaching, he does take this question as his point of departure.

Cajetan’s Confusion

For the sake of brevity, I will not here elaborate on these distinctions (which provide an interesting cognitive exercise but which, I think, will ultimately dissipate through disuse).  Instead, we should attend to one of the principal terms, central to discussions of analogy, upon which Cajetan attempted to shine a light: namely, being.  Here, Cajetan seems to re-center the discussion on the idea of proportionality, drawing upon the original meaning of the Greek term analogia.  Certain terms, and most especially that of being—ens, in Latin—were proposed by Cajetan to be significative of concepts which were themselves analogical, in contrast to those which are univocally predicated (that is, said with one meaning in every instance).  I have criticized this view at some length elsewhere.[3]  Summarily, it is a strange shift to take a property of linguistic signifiers, namely their univocal or analogical mode of predication, and attribute this to the concept.  There are many problems this causes for knowledge.[4]

To leap ahead more than five hundred years, we find the Thomists of the twentieth century, whose concerns were shaped by the need to respond against the faults of modern idealistic philosophy, themselves deeply dissatisfied with Cajetan’s doctrine (most especially when mistaking it to be an interpretation of St. Thomas).  In part, it seems, their dissatisfaction was spurred by the failure of Cajetan’s doctrine to answer the objection, propagated largely by Immanuel Kant, that “being” (and all forms of the verb to be) constitute naught but an empty predicate: that saying “there are” of “a hundred dollars” adds nothing conceptually (let alone to our bank accounts).  Thomists were—rightly, but undoubtedly excessively—concerned to defend the reality of esse (the infinitive of “to be” and used often by Aquinas to designate the act of existence itself as a real principle distinct from the essences of being), and especially to demonstrate how this reality overcomes the “epistemological gap” introduced by Descartes in asking how we can know that our ideas represent the extramental world as it really is.

Analogy of Being

Thus, it was thought, an answer might be found in not merely having an analogical concept of being, but in holding that being itself is analogically.  To illustrate this point, John Deely, in his 2002 article, “The Absence of Analogy”, cites a 1940 publication by Edward T. Foote:

It is because things really are analogous that the universe presents itself, a unity, attractive to intellect, and penetrable by knowledge which excels science.  It is because things are analogous that mind can course up and down the grades (the “steps’” of perfections—where univocal unities would be futile—can freely range transversely from category to category.  By analogies man can go from himself, the being he knows best, far down to the truth, the goodness, the beauty of all inferior creation, which is ordered to him; he can rise to know something of what it means to be a creature without matter.  Finally, since beings are analogous to Being, from the existence and perfections of finite things, man can have knowledge of the transcendence excellences, the very subsistence of God.

Foote 1940: “Anatomy of Analogy”, The Modern Schoolman 18: 12–16.  Cited in Deely 2002: “The Absence of Analogy”, The Review of Metaphysics, 55.3: 547n32.  As Deely comments, “Pure Neoplatonism unconscious of itself.”

What would it mean for things to be analogous?  The suggestion of Foote, that there exists within all diverse things a commonality of being that allows our minds to “freely range transversely from category to category” seems in no way distinct from any generic and supposedly “univocal concept” (or “univocal essence”—which would be univocal, by contrast, to analogical “being”, one must presume)—as, indeed, the concept of “deer” being grasped allows me freely to consider the eight different ruminants picking through the snow in my neighbor’s yard at this very moment; as, indeed, by “ruminant” I am free to consider not only the deer, but the giraffe, the elk, even the bison.

I am not here proposing a solution to the question of analogy; a question legitimate and not easily resolved.  Nor can the thoughts of Neoplatonists or those under their sway be cavalierly dismissed.  But we would do well to stop and reconsider what reality we are signifying by the term “analogy” before we say that something is or is not analogical.

[1] Cf. Hochschild 2010: The Semantics of Analogy.

[2] Note, however, that “multipliciter dicitur” is, by far, his preferred term.

[3] And criticized it rather harshly, as some would hold.  See Kemple 2017: Ens Primum Cognitum, 40–51.

[4] The biggest of which would be the converse implication concerning “univocal” concepts: as though a concept not in and of itself analogical must signify precise the same cognition-independent reality—as though there exists a quantum entanglement between the concept and every instance in which the concept is precisely realized independently of the mind.

Trivium Courses for 2023

January is just around the corner and we are getting ready for the new year! We have set the calendar for our Trivium Courses in 2023. These courses are treated as foundational at the Lyceum Institute. To be human is to use language. Should we not strive to understand that which makes us human and to master its use? Building habits of thoughtful engagement with and through language enables us to discern the truth more clearly; to see through lies, manipulations, and obfuscations; and to articulate the true good more persuasively.

Each course will meet twice weekly: Mondays at 6:00pm ET (New York) and Thursdays at 12:00pm ET. Discussion sessions are recorded, but live participation is strongly recommended. Schedules are as follows:

Though many are either ignorant of the Trivium or consider it to be an outdated pedagogical approach, we at the Lyceum consider the Trivium to be the cornerstone of a truly “liberal” education. It is not exaggerative to suggest that, without a proper study of these arts, one cannot make a legitimate claim to be able to think and communicate well.

Grammar9 January – April 6 (M/Th)(break on February 20/23)
Logic8 May – August 3 (M/Th)(break on June 19/22)
Rhetoric28 August – November 20 (M/Th)(break on October 9/12 – no final Th class).

We will begin in 2023 with a course in Grammar—the recommended first course in our series—as the foundation of any successful understanding and use of language. The study of grammar is not simply about learning rules for arbitrary “correctness”, but about learning to think and understand the world in an orderly manner. The grammarian does not master rules for rules’ sake, but discovers the structures of meaning and brings them to intelligent articulation. This approach to grammar is carried out through our textbook as well as through a reading of Virgil’s Aeneid.

Learn more about each course below and enroll today! Participation in the Trivium is included at every level of enrollment. We hope you will join us for the Trivium Courses in 2023.

⚘ Logic as a Liberal Art | Christopher S. Morrissey

On 1 October 2022 at 2pm ET (see event times around the world here and join the live Q&A here), Dr. Christopher S. Morrissey will present on “Logic as a Liberal Art.” Dr. Morrissey studied Ancient Greek and Latin at the University of British Columbia and have also taught classical mythology, ancient history, and ancient languages at Simon Fraser University, where he wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on hominization and the mimetic theory of René Girard: “Mirror of Princes: René Girard, Aristotle, and the Rebirth of Tragedy”. At the University of British Columbia, the M.A. thesis “Studies in Aristotle’s Physics” inaugurated a series of subsequent philosophical inquiries into the philosophy of nature. Other teaching has included Greek and Latin language courses for the Faculty of Philosophy at the Seminary of Christ the King located at the Benedictine monastery of Westminster Abbey in Mission, British Columbia. Major publications include the books Hesiod: Theogony / Works and Days (Talonbooks, 2012) and The Way of Logic (Nanjing Normal University Press, 2018).

Join the Live Q&A here.

2022 International Open Seminar on Semiotics (IO2S) | Website

This collaborative international open scientific initiative and celebration is jointly organized by the Institute for Philosophical Studies of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities of the University of Coimbra, the Lyceum Institute, the Deely Project, Saint Vincent College, the Iranian Society for Phenomenology at the Iranian Political Science Association, the International Association for Semiotics of Space and Time, the Institute for Scientific Information on Social Sciences of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Semiotic Society of America, the American Maritain Association, the International Association for Semiotic Studies, the International Society for Biosemiotic Studies and the Mansarda Acesa with the support of the FCT – Foundation for Science and Technology, I.P., of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Higher Education of the Government of Portugal under the UID/FIL/00010/2020 project.

Introduction to Philosophical Principles

Introduction to Philosophical Principles: Logic, Physics, and the Human Person

What good is living? I know a man we’ll call “James”—successful, secure in his career, his family, his hobbies, his religious belief—who claimed not that he was depressed at this stage of his life, but that he found himself nevertheless asking frequently: “Is this all there is?” Then he discovered philosophy. It was not an immediate love; indeed, it was discovered as a requirement for his graduate business program. But, seeking out help, he found more and more to read. More and deeper questions arose. He found his philosophical inquiries were not simply aligned with success in the course, but sprung up from his own life experiences, his own encounters with the world. He became philosophically curious. He wanted to know. To understand. A deeper reality opened up for him; one of inexhaustible meaning.

Philosophy—real, true philosophy—is transformative. It will not make you successful in the world, but it will answer a question that all the success and security never can: what is the good of being alive?

In the nihilistic, “post-truth” context of late modernity, we might despair of finding an answer to that question. The odds seem against us, especially in the absence of success and security. But even the faintest glimmer of the answer—the dimmest light—gives us something that cannot be taken away by the worst the world has to offer.

I first met James at a coffee shop in 2016 to help him with the graduate course. We have since met almost every week for six years—sometimes two or three times in the span of a few days—to discuss philosophy. Our talks have ranged over the distinctions of Plato and Aristotle, of Descartes and Locke, the neglect of scholasticism, the influence of Islamic thought, the value of the Conimbricenses, the genius of João Poinsot and Charles Sanders Peirce, the breadth of Thomas Aquinas, the nature of culture and society, the threats to truth, and much more besides. These conversations, deep though many of them are, have opened more inquiries than we will be able to explore in a lifetime.

This book, now in a second and much expanded edition (with over 100 pages of new material) does not mirror my conversations with James. But it does mirror the endless joy of discovering meaning, a condensed breadth of philosophical learning, and the desire to understand, to answer the question: what is the point of living?

I hope you will read it. I hope you will enjoy it. I hope it will spark a similar philosophical curiosity in you. The text is divided into three main parts: Logic, Physics, and the Person. Each presents what I think are the essential principles for gaining a habit of philosophical reflection. These three parts are supplemented by an extensive series of Glosses, which provide deeper questions and connections to the historical traditions of philosophy from which the ideas in the main text were composed. These glosses serve as suggestions of other places to look for questions about topics such as time, motion, knowledge, causality, signs, and more.

Maybe you don’t think it’s a book for you. I could try to convince you otherwise, but either you have a hunger to ask the question or you don’t. But even if you don’t think it’s for you, I bet you can think of someone in your life who does have that hunger. [Link to book]

Education and Digital Life

The Founding Declaration of the Lyceum Institute, Education and Digital Life, has now been published in paperback, along with a series of related essays written by Faculty and Board Members of the Institute. This slim volume (117 pages) outlines the why for the Lyceum Institute’s existence as well as the manner in which it pursues its goals for education.

Here is an excerpt from the Declaration itself:

“All human beings, by nature, long for knowledge.”[1]  Composing the opening line of Aristotle’s Metaphysics, these are words familiar to many, and have rightfully inspired reflection for millennia: reflections on human nature and operations, as well as the good at which we, commonly human, are aimed.  To long for knowledge: this is not merely to want knowledge for some ulterior motive—making money, gaining power, defeating your enemies—but for its own sake.  We want to know because knowledge fulfills us, because it satisfies a need we experience, a need we suffer in every encounter with our own ignorance.  This longing is what Aristotle meant, and this fulfillment by knowledge, indeed, is what we long for by nature.

Many, both in the present and in decades and ages past, have suffered a diverting and anesthetizing of this longing by the proliferation of easier and lesser pleasures: why read, when you can watch a documentary; and why watch a documentary, when you can watch a comedy?  In the ubiquity of immersive entertainment media—radio giving way to television, to the internet, to streaming shows and movies seeping through every device in our homes—the slide into the ease of unthinking pleasure appears obvious.  But the diversion of our natures from their proper good occurs not only through our entertainments and pleasures, but is further fostered today even by the supposed institutions of learning—even, or perhaps especially, the most vaunted—which have themselves departed the path along which knowledge is sought, and instead flung themselves down the slippery slope of merely conveying standardized sets of information, or, far worse, disguising social activism in the garb of intellectual enrichment (the latter being merely the logical conclusion of abandoning, among other truths, the centrality of classical logic).  Rather than learning to discover what is through their own efforts, therefore, students are taught to receive and retain pre-packaged information about what is (or what is purported to be—no matter how discordant those claims from the cognition-independent reality), so that they might serve as functionaries for how we want ‘what is’ to be: information discovered, interpreted, and arranged by others, to the occlusion of—and thereby depriving us the freedom to ask—that most-human of questions, “What is that?”

Is this knowledge?  Is it learning?  We desire to know; but is that the same as receiving information, pre-determined, pre-packaged for us?  The currently common view of the universe—a reductionist view that posits the most-elemental parts of matter to be the truest reality, such that all other phenomena are merely various configurations thereof—holds that knowledge amounts indeed to nothing more than an organization of information; that our ability to know consists in the right configuration of parts in our minds, or even more reductionistically, our brains; and that what we signify by “information” is only a certain abstract descriptor of this configuration…

Is the mind “what the brain, body, and world around us” collectively do?  Perhaps that is true, in some way; but it is not very helpful for understanding what the mind really is, especially as something distinguished from the brain, body, and world.

No.  No thinking person can accept this flattening, this levelling out of what we know from our own experience to be different.  The mind is manifestly something more than any of its contributory sources or its necessary, integral parts, and—rather than by an enumeration or description of its materially-constitutive parts—we know any object of our inquiry best by discerning its characteristic action.

The action of the mind consists fundamentally in the seeking and understanding of the world in the light of knowledge; and knowledge subsists as a relation to the intelligible truth of objects themselves—the relation whereby is grasped the articulable reality of what is.  This seeking unfolds through observation and a questioning after what is observed: that is, observation and questioning which begets recognition that the things observed have explanations, causes, beyond what the observations themselves entail; and the subsequent attempt to discover those causes to better explain the observed effects.  The phenomena of our experience, in other words, are not self-explanatory, and what we mean by “knowledge” is just such explanation: the grasp of the causes, not merely inchoate, but in a manner that both the causes themselves and the grasp of them can be verbally expressed.  These explanations must be worked out with trial and error, with continued recursion to certain principles—which themselves must be discovered with some difficulty—with experimentation, reflection, and most of all a habit of inquiry; to continue questioning, again and again, seeking always to better understand what we have revealed, always seeking better to grasp the relation between cause and effect.

It is this knowledge, which grows into wisdom, that all human beings desire.

[1] i.348-30bc: Μετά τα Φυσικά, 980a21.
[2] Steven Pinker 1997: How the Mind Works, 21.

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Reclaiming Wisdom – Summer Fundraising Campaign

Reclaiming Wisdom – Perennial Truths for the Digital Age

Once the center of Western culture, the University has lost its way.  For centuries, it was a force both stabilizing and civilizing, training young minds to discover the perennial truths by which they were elevated above the merely material concerns of our baser nature.  The University was a center of wisdom, guiding us to the principles by which we ought all to live. 

Today, however, we observe a culture in decay, and the root cause is the University itself… [read more]

The universities have abandoned the pursuit of wisdom for that of skills, for profits, for worldly success, for the latest ideological fashions.  What they have abandoned, we will reclaim.

The past two years have seen the Lyceum Institute continue to grow, develop, and has resulted in excellent work being done by our Faculty Fellows.  As our members and friends alike know, the Lyceum has not only already accomplished a great deal, but has the potential to do much more.  While money makes nothing happen of itself, it does help to remove some impediments for those striving to realize that potential.

And so, this summer, from June through August, we are ambitiously striving to raise $10,000.  We would be enduringly grateful to anyone who helps us reach that goal—or even just to reach towards it.  As a not-for-profit organization, we rely on the generous donations of supporters like yourself.  

Reclaiming Wisdom

Support the Lyceum Institute in providing access to perennial truths for the digital age and fostering a love and pursuit of wisdom through a community dedicated to bettering our philosophical habits.