Sunday, June 7, 2015

Thoughts on the Love of Truth vs. Sophistry

For the study of its attributes in so far as it is Being, and of its contrarieties qua Being, belongs to no other science than Philosophy; for to physics one would assign the study of things not qua Being but qua participating in motion, while dialectics and sophistry deal with the attributes of existing things, but not of things qua Being, nor do they treat of Being itself in so far as it is Being.


[Aristotle, Metaphysics (1061b.1–19)].

The love of truth requires a person to find out what is true about a thing in its very nature, responding to that truth in approaching life. But many people are not actually willing to do this. They want to stop searching at the level where they are content—especially if continuing to follow the truth means an uncomfortable change of how one lives. This approach to life is known as Sophistry—which is the use of fallacious arguments, especially with the intention of justifying a position contrary to an unpopular truth.

The difference between the two outlooks are polar opposites. One seeks to find out what is. The other seeks to justify himself or herself in the eyes of others. When shown that his or her position is wrong, the Sophist tends to become hostile—seeing the demonstration as a personal attack on their comfortable little world, and even an attack on the person. It is important to remember, however, that sophistry is not something exclusive to one ideology—where one side is always seeking the truth and the other side seeks to deceive. Anyone of us can become a sophist if we stop searching for truth when it makes uncomfortable or even try to justify ourselves against truth.

Truth is (and you know I like to cite Aristotle’s definition) is at the minimum:

To say that what is is not, or that what is not is, is false; but to say that what is is, and what is not is not, is true; and therefore also he who says that a thing is or is not will say either what is true or what is false.


[Aristotle, Metaphysics (1011b.25)]

If something is, one cannot say it is not (and vice versa) without speaking falsely—either knowingly or through error. So, a person who loves truth has an obligation—to consider what something is in its very nature (objective) as opposed to how it seems according to my experiences and preferences (subjective). For example, a college student may consume drugs and alcohol and find them pleasurable (a subjective good), but objectively what he is doing is going to be harmful to his health and mental well-being. Of course, that’s an obvious one—the physical effects of drug and alcohol abuse are hard to ignore. But people also evade the truth of moral issues, particularly on sexual morality. People look at the relative pleasure of the act and the subjective feelings of attraction and never ask themselves what the point of the sexual act is.

So today, people consider any sexual practice they do not personally find offensive to be morally acceptable, and among those who do not find it morally acceptable, many are pressured into silence. However, like the example of the college student and the abuse of drugs and alcohol, most people don’t ask about what the nature of the sexual act is, and so they fail to recognize that certain actions might be harmful to individual, whether physical, emotionally or spiritually. This is the kind of world which accepts a male athlete “becoming” a woman as normal without asking about the nature of being male and female. It accepts “same sex marriage” without asking what the purpose of marriage is supposed to be and whether this is compatible with it. People demand “choice,” without asking questions about what the “choice” is about. Society demands we acknowledge these things as legitimate and respond with hostility to anyone who dares to investigate into the nature of these things and rejects them as being untrue.

It’s getting to the point where the ancients and medievals are better informed about reality than the people of today. They recognized the concept of truth, and did their best to find it. Today, the battle cry is:

People today will only follow truth if it suits their means. We can see this divide when it becomes clear that the behavior practiced by a small minority of the population suddenly is elevated to a civil right which is normal. but the Jewish philosopher Maimonides (AD 1138-1204) recognized that there is a distinction between what people normally are and what a few statistical outliers are...

Whatever is always connected with something, like falling with the stone and death with slaughtered animals we call per se; and whatever is connected for the most part, we also call per se. Thus, when we say ‘Every man has five fingers in each hand’—this too is said to be of necessity, albeit sometimes a man may be found with six fingers. Whatever occurs seasonally for the most part, like cold in the winter and heat in the summer, we call essential. In general, all natural phenomena, even though they occur only for the most part, are essential. But whatever exists in a few cases is said to be per accidens, e. g., a man digging a foundation and finding money; and in general all unintended accidental occurrences, whether due to the work of man or of other forces, are said to be accidental. This is the sense of per se and per accidens.


[Maimonides’ Treatise on Logic, trans. Israel Efros (New York: American Academy for Jewish Research, 1938), 54.]

Maimonides, over 900 years ago, knew what people today do not—that the behavior of a very small number of people does not reflect “normality.” The fact that they have physical, mental or spiritual disorder per accidens (by accident) does not permit us to treat them as less than human, but it does not justify treating it as if it was normal per se (intrinsically). Thus the concept of “same sex marriage” is based on treating something which is per accidens as if it was per se is unreasonable. Likewise the case of Bruce “Caitlyn” Jenner who insists on being recognized as a woman, even though he is a man. His situation is per accidens, but people expect us to treat his situation as if it was normal. The sophistry of refusing to consider the essence of marriage or the essence of what it means to be male or female leads to these bizarre cases where we are expected to call white black and black white. The person who refuses to do so, because it is not true, is vilified and ostracized—perhaps even prosecuted or sued.

Truth needs to be sought, but it does not come to us solely by reason alone (that’s rationalism). It can also come from a trusted source. That’s why we tend to feel betrayed by a teacher who teaches falsely. Ultimately, for the Christian, we recognize that God is trustworthy and that what He teaches us is truth—indeed that He is Truth and will not teach falsely. As the Catechism says:

To believe in God alone

150 Faith is first of all a personal adherence of man to God. At the same time, and inseparably, it is a free assent to the whole truth that God has revealed. As personal adherence to God and assent to his truth, Christian faith differs from our faith in any human person. It is right and just to entrust oneself wholly to God and to believe absolutely what he says. It would be futile and false to place such faith in a creature. (222)

To believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God

151 For a Christian, believing in God cannot be separated from believing in the One he sent, his “beloved Son,” in whom the Father is “well pleased”; God tells us to listen to him. The Lord himself said to his disciples: “Believe in God, believe also in me.”19 We can believe in Jesus Christ because he is himself God, the Word made flesh: “No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.” Because he “has seen the Father,” Jesus Christ is the only one who knows him and can reveal him.21 (424)

To believe in the Holy Spirit

152 One cannot believe in Jesus Christ without sharing in his Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who reveals to men who Jesus is. For “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit,” who “searches everything, even the depths of God.… No one comprehends the thoughts of God, except the Spirit of God.”23 Only God knows God completely: we believe in the Holy Spirit because he is God. (243, 683; 232)

The Church never ceases to proclaim her faith in one only God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

When one recognizes the truth of the fact that God exists, that Jesus Christ is God and that the Holy Spirit is God, then it becomes clear that we cannot set one against the other. For example, we cannot set the teachings of God the Father aside saying certain things are morally wrong, or the writings of St. Paul saying that certain things are wrong, just because someone tries to use the argument that “Jesus never said anything about that” (an argument from silence fallacy, by the way). If God the Father spoke about it, and the Holy Spirit inspired St. Paul in his Epistles as Scripture, then it reasonably follows that Our Lord Jesus did not approve of those sins just because He did not mention them by name.

When one recognizes the truth about God, being the all powerful, all knowing, all loving God, the truth requires us to follow Him in accordance with the way He wants to be followed—not as we would find it convenient to follow Him. When God teaches “X is wrong,” we have no right to say “X is not wrong.” When we recognize that it is true that Our Lord established the Catholic Church and gave her His authority to teach, bind and loose, it follows that we cannot set love and obedience to God in opposition to the teaching of the Church.

The love of truth, and the willingness to follow where it leads, ultimately leads to God. However, the use of sophistry ultimately glorifies the self and leads away from God—because it is the self interest which is put at the highest level. Ultimately, the love of truth means that when truth leads us away from comfort and towards God, that is the path we must follow.

No comments:

Post a Comment