New Atheists Refuted: Logic Presupposes Ethics & Metaphysics

“The Cosmos moves within the very life of eternity, and is contained in that very eternity whence all life issues. And for this reason it is impossible that it should at any time come to a stand, or be destroyed, since it is walled in and bound together, so to speak, by eternal life.”

– Asclepius, III, 29c

I learned a neat thing years ago.  Although philosophy is now a dead art in the West, those of us who are keepers of the true flame can still make progress by ignoring the postmodern nihilistic empiricist establishment by letting them march to their doom while we do our own thang.  The cool thing I learned is this – when we speak of the three main branches of philosophy, we think ethics, epistemology and metaphysics.  These branches make up what is commonly called a worldview, our basic lenses of interpretation that form our understanding of the world.  Like it or not, and admit it or not, we all have a worldview, even if we believe ourselves to be agnostic, since even the position of a-gnosis still implies knowledge of no knowledge or the impossibility of knowledge.

Our neat lesson here involves the interconnection of all three branches – each branch will imply and necessitate the other.  This means you cannot coherently build or construct a theory of knowledge apart from metaphysics or ethics.  This does not mean one will immediately be cognizant of all the factors involved or all the potential necessary implications, but rather that they are undoubtedly present.  In this article, I will illustrate some of this and utilize a well-known philosophical essay from a famous modern of the opposite camp that predates the “New Atheist” crowd of our day, Rudolph Carnap’s “The Elimination of Metaphysics Through the Logical Analysis of Language.”  In their arrogance and ignorance and sometimes willful intention to destroy philosophy, these minions of the Anglo establishment have wrought much havoc, but the cures to these absurdities are quite simple.  Carnap will also prove a perfect example of how to deconstruct and refute the popular Dawkins-Dennett style “New Atheism,” as the naïve empirical presuppositions of such pop stars are really just old school naïve empiricism, and thus subject to all the same failings.

For example, implicit in every logical epistemic claim is the assumption of a value claim.  For example, if we were to saymodus ponens, If P, then Q, P therefore, Q, and apply this reasoning to some example, implicit in the operation of logic itself is the assumption that one should be logical and bound by objective truth claims.  “Shoulds” are the domain of values and judgments and ethics, and so the assumption that one’s opponent in a debate, for example, should submit to the better argument is a shared assumption by both participants that truth itself has a claim on both parties.  Yet again, that one should submit to truths is not the domain of pure logic or pure epistemology, but the realm of value judgments – ethics.  This is unavoidable, and also gives a big insight into the flaws of modern empiricist-based approaches which can never justify any coherent ethics, as they must all be situational and/or utilitarian.

In similar fashion, any claim about knowledge or ethics will necessitate some beliefs and assumptions about metaphysics and ontology.   If we claim, for example, “The earthworms are purple,” a vast network of underlying assumptions and necessary conditions are needed for the claim to be coherent and meaningful.  This is where the moderns and empiricists generally flee the discussion since it means the entire positivist system comes crashing down.   It is at this juncture that the positivist shows his pragmatic concerns – who cares?  It’s meaningless rambling!   Having seen this occur hundreds of times in debates, it is astonishing to me the superstitious character of the positivist.  It is as if they are Haitians about to be cursed by a voodoo obeh, when the philosopher mentions metaphysics.  Meanwhile, they tell us we must submit to “logical analysis.”  Yet in their dogmatic inquisition, the positivist empiricist appears to already have an infallible benchmark by which to instruct the rest of the world on how to perfectly determine when a statement or a claim is purely and only logical, and not also ethical or metaphysical!

To end all discussion with the dogmatic presumption the clear line between when something is confined to the realm of logic is assuming the thing in question. For example, consider the introduction to Carnap’s essay, where positivism collapses into pragmatism, which is ironically irrational and illogical (who or what is the benchmark by which one determines what “works” best?):

Positivism collapses to pragmatism.

Positivism collapses to pragmatism.

Does Carnap imagine that formal logic is something the average man encounters every day?  We’ll leave that laughable fiction about the mass enlightened man aside for a moment, but from the outset in this piece we can detect an agenda.  Carnap is not interested in solving any deep philosophical issues, but glorying in what he assumes has been a great victory, the destruction of metaphysics from nominalists and Hume onwards, which, so the establishment grand narrative goes, ushering in the Enlightenment and scientific revolution.  While Carnap thinks metaphysics is sterile, this piece of propaganda will fall on its face when we look at where positivist philosophy leads! He continues:

carnap 2Carnap’s argument is not difficult to grasp.  Since some statements are nonsensical, and therefore not truly statements because they can be “verified,” we can thus equate metaphysical claims with nonsense phrases, as both have the same “logical” status of being pseudo-statements. So, the claim, “God exist” is a claim on par with “banana fruit bars cheese aliens.”  We see these lame, childish arguments quite frequently in our day, as the “New Atheists” constantly harp on the “Flying Spaghetti Monster,” equating all forms of theism in Carnap fashion.  What we will see, however, is that when we examine the interconnectedness I outlined above, as well as transcendental arguments and metalogic, Carnap and the whole modern framework will not only be shown to be bankrupt, but utilizing numerous principles, assumptions and notions that are logically impossible within his worldview.  That last part is crucial to understand due to the entire edifice of this camp being built on the presumption they’ve cornered the market on “logic.”  After laying out what he conceives to be a list of principles about the basics of linguistics, Carnap sums up the basics of how language works in a positivist scheme:

It's so easy! Just "verify" it.

It’s so easy! Just “verify” it.

Carnap lays out his basic thesis for a naïve empirical verification for terms, arguing that any term that cannot be found, through its origin, to have a clear empirical referent, must be eliminated.  Such ignorance on the part of a renowned philosopher has to make one wonder about the figures presented to us as icons.  Not only is this stupid, it overlooks numerous beliefs Carnap himself has as a logician, since logic and its corollary, mathematics, are full of notions that have no empirical referent.   It also includes linguistic concepts whose “origins” are not so easily discovered.  For example, the origin of Pi or the Pythgorean Theorum appear to predate Greece, so merely analyzing Greek concepts, as Carnap does for arche, or principle, cannot tell us the “original” referent.   God is then placed under this category as a mythological concept, but at once simple presuppositional problems arise.  How does Carnap know, as an empiricist, what the Greek mind meant by arche?   As an empiricist, he cannot enter the mind of an ancient Greek, and must rely on written accounts that cannot be empirically verified.  Further, simply because Carnap read numerous analyses of Greek ideas, it does not follow in his system that one has accurately captured the concept of the “Greek mind,” or any other “mind” for that matter.  Presumably these are approximations he would reply, but the problem here is that his analytical empiricism based on pure logic has no room for approximation when categorizing which concepts are “metaphysical” and which have a clear empirical referent.  This is illustrated further when he speaks of God:



The first problem that arises here is the assumption that God is an unclear term because it is used variously, while for Carnap, his logical empirical referents are undeniably “clear.”  Unfortunately, terms used in every day speech are not as easily “verifiable.”   For example, when we speak of any general category, something obvious central to linguistics, what is the empirical referent?  When we speak of “cats,” Carnap would say we mean a class of mammals that belong to a specific set of characteristics shared in common, and humans have created a symbolic categorical lexicon to classify them, etc.  But what is the empirical referent for the categorical idea, “cat”?  Implicit in the language is the assumption of some connecting principle that links these mammals.  Likewise for the term, “mammal.”

Note here that we are not asking what the characteristics are that link them, such as hair, claws, etc., but what is the empirical referent for the general idea of “cat”?  There isn’t one, this school must say, as they are only token terms devised by humans.  Ironically, by simply asking the very question Plato asked we can get at the heart of the failure of this system.  All language utilized universals, yet the whole of empirical philosophy is built on the denial of them, and Carnap even lauded nominalism early on in the article.  But if the mysterious “linking” factor is not “real,” or verifiable, then by Carnap’s own laws, it must be classed as metaphysical and a non-statement.  So, all of Carnap’s rigor falls on his own head, as the denial of universals leads directly to radical skepticism.

Rudolph the red-nosed philosopher knows all!

Rudolph the red-nosed philosopher knows all!

Things are even worse as subjects like mathematics and logic enter the picture.  Carnap believes his whole system is built on strict logic, yet logic is not an empirical science.  Husserl famously dissected this psychologistic approach to logic and mathematics in his Logical Investigations, and as I wrote some years back:

“Husserl embarked upon this endeavor in “Investigation II” of his monumental 1901 Logical Investigations, by stating bluntly what the empiricists thought to be entirely untenable: that we are, in fact, conscious of universal objects.2 Husserl’s proof for this derived from linguistic analyses and would be “be self-evident.”3 Husserl begins by writing that when we intend to refer to an object with a meaningful content, or a meaning-fulfillment, the object intended is clearly not a mere collection of disparate qualities, as nominalism would have. For example, when I refer to a horse, I do not intend only the following list of qualities: 4 legs, brownish appearance, solidity, furriness, etc., all of which collected qualities collapse into the referent of the word or syllables, “horse.” As Husserl notes, what is meant is an “Idea,” with a certain content.4 The meaning-conferring act—the referring to a certain horse, sets before us the Species of ‘horse’ as a universal object.

Husserl explains his reasoning by making an important distinction between individual singulars and specific singulars. For example, number is a concept which, as has often been stressed, has 1, 2, 3…as its subordinate singulars. A number is, e.g., the number 2…”5 This distinction between the individual and specific singulars corresponds to the equally important distinction between individual and specific universals, “or, between individual and specific universality.”6 Here, individually universal judgments would be something like, All men are mortal, while specifically universal judgments, would be something like, All propositions of logic are a priori.7

This is of such vast import because these a priori facts “run through the whole of logic… [and] are quite irremovable.”8 Husserl believes these points are proven, as with his arguments against skeptical relativism, through reductio ad absurdamarguments. That is, analyses of the attempted empiricist theories of abstraction of general concepts from particular sensuous experiences or the radical empiricist theories which reject abstract concepts in any sense, will, inevitably, lead to various absurdities, showing that universals must, of necessity, exist.

Since this paragraph is not empirically verifiable, it is nonsense, and your whole argument fails.

Since this paragraph is not empirically verifiable, it is nonsense, and your whole argument fails.

Husserl believes that realists and nominalists have confused several ideas. Realists have “metaphysically hypostatized the universal” by assuming that “the Species really exists, externally to thought.”9 That is, the error of the realists has been that the Species has an existence beyond the purely ideational realm. Nominalists have erred in “psychologically hypostatizing” the universal by assuming that the universal “really exists in thought.”10 Husserl means by this that the universal, according to the nominalist, is only a collection abstracted ideas. Thirdly, nominalists have constantly erred in attempting to “transform the universal…into what is individual.”11 For Husserl, what is real is merely that which has the mark of temporality. [Note: here I depart from Husserl, as I believe the realists are correct, and the universal is in the mind of God. -Jay]

The nominalist explanation of how the mind forms concepts is basically psychological in its approach. Locke argued that so-called “universals” are merely about a particular kind of abstracted thought; a certain “horse” that happens to come to mind, in which differentiating qualities of several horses seen are removed, forming the idea of some one horse which is mistakenly attributed with the fictitious idea “universality.” In Berkeley’s view, the individual conceives a certain previously sensed horse which acquired representative status. Husserl thinks both of these explanations ultimately skirt the issue and are absurd.

Husserl's Logical Investigations.

Husserl’s Logical Investigations.

In response, Husserl notes that what picks out similarities in objects is not and cannot be any particular aspect of a specific object. Using ‘Four’ as a devastating example, Husserl argues as follows:

It is accordingly evident that when I say ‘Four’ in the generic sense, as, e.g., the statement ‘Four’ is a prime number relatively to seven,’ I am meaning the Species Four, I have it as object before my logical regard, and am passing judgment upon it, and not on anything individual. I am not judging about any individual group of four things, nor about any constitutive movement, piece or side of such a group, for each part, qua part of what is individual, is itself likewise individual.12

Nominalistic skepticism is the entire edifice of modernity, and despite this irrational foundation, the naïve empiricists who still dominate the modern discourse would have us fooled into thinking they own the market when it comes to logic. Nothing could be further from the truth, since the true fathers of logic tend to be suppressed.  How many college students study Husserl’s refutation of psychologism and naïve empiricism?  Hardly any.  Yet it gets even worse – one of the strongest arguments aside from these specifics is the fact that “all knowledge comes through sense experience” is itself not an empirically verifiable claim.  There is no test or application by which we can empirically verify that all knowledge is empirical.

Rather, this is a metaphysical and epistemic presupposition the empiricist makes to begin constructing his flawed worldview – and the same goes for Dawkins and Dennett and all the other “New Atheists.”   It is metaphysical, because it presumes to be able to make a universal claim about universal states of being, and it is epistemological because it purports to say universally what is epistemically the case.  It then turns around and denies any claims it doesn’t like as “metaphysical,” while assuming a specific metaphysic and epistemology from the outset.  This is a transcendental critique of naïve empiricism, and it is devastating.  Far from disproving metaphysics, Carnap and his Dawkinite descendants have shown the dead-end results of presuming and then denying it.

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