“No thesis in the philosophy of St. Thomas is clearer than that which asserts that all knowledge rests upon a single first principle. To it all other principles of thought may be reduced. Upon it all depend for their validity. Without it there can be no certitude, but only opinion.(1) Whether we choose to express this absolute, first principle in the form of an affirmation — the principle of identity — or in the form of a negation — the principle of contradiction — it matters not. The point is, that unless our knowledge hangs upon this basic principle, it is devoid of certainty. Wherefore, causality — efficient, formal, material or final — must attach itself in some manner to the principle of identity. In the Thomistic view, the connection is immediate. Its very immediateness gives to the notion of causality the absolute necessity and complete universality of the ultimate principle.
“He who denies causality must ultimately deny the principle of identity and the principle of contradiction — and this is mental suicide.(2) It is to assert that that which has not in itself and by itself its reason of being, is its own reason of being; or, in other words, is and is not, under the same formal consideration.” (Fulton J. Sheen, God and Intelligence in Modern Philosophy: A Critical Study in the Light of the Philosophy of Saint Thomas. New York: IVE Press, 2009, 197.)
(1) I-II q. 94 art. 2; C. G., lib. 2 c. 83; Post. Analy., lib. 2 lect. 20; 1 d. 35 q. 1 art. 3 ad 2. (Note in text. “C. G.” refers to the Summa Contra Gentiles; “Post. Analy.” refers to Expositio Libri Posteriorum Analyticorum.)
(2) “Quia etsi non possunt demonstrari simpliciter, tum Philosophus primus tentat monstrare eo modo quo est possibile, scilicet, contradicendo negantibus ea, per ea quae oportet ab eis concede, non per ea quae sunt magis nota.” — Post. Analy., lib. 1 lect. 20. (Note in text.)
This quote from Fulton Sheen’s first book (to which G. K. Chesterton wrote the Introduction) makes it clear that (at least in Sheen’s analysis), whether you’re talking about faith or reason, nothing is more important with respect to the natural law than that reason — that which Aquinas called the Intellect as opposed to the Will — be given primacy. As Sheen made clear, since reality itself is based on God’s Nature, self-realized in His Intellect (and therefore discernible by “human reason by its own natural force and light” — Pius XII, Humani Generis, § 2), even the strongest faith cannot violate the principles of reason. Since God is, above all, reasonable, neither God, nor our faith in God, can contradict Him or our faith in Him.
Misplaced faith, however fervent, cannot legitimately override reason, any more than reason can disprove faith. Each one fulfills and completes the other. Humanity as a reflection of God’s Nature being intellectual,
“. . . [i]ntellectual restoration is the condition of economic and political restoration. Intellectual values are needed more than ‘cosmic imaginings,’ and God is needed more than ‘a new idea of God.’ If we look to the foundations, the superstructure will take care of itself. Thomistic Intellectualism is the remedy against anarchy of ideas, riot of philosophical systems and breakdown of spiritual forces.” (Sheen, God and Intelligence, op. cit., 24.)
Sheen’s analysis, incidentally, possibly explains why some who consider themselves faithful adherents of “religion” or “science” that they base wholly on a distorted and distorting concept of faith that triumphs over sound reason, usually reject the Just Third Way, CESJ’s natural law-based intellectual framework for “economic and political restoration.” The Just Third Way faces a double difficulty with such people.
With respect to social justice, the Just Third Way is based solidly on Pius XI’s neo-Thomist breakthrough in moral philosophy, summarized by Father William J. Ferree as “the act of social justice.” (Rev. William J. Ferree, S.M., Ph.D., The Act of Social Justice. Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1942.) Louis O. Kelso and Mortimer J. Adler’s three principles of economic justice are also set firmly within the Aristotelian-Thomist analytical framework.
Not accepting the basic principles of human reason — most especially the first principle of reason, that is, the principle of contradiction/identity — such people cannot reconcile their personal belief system (whether they regard it as “religion” or “science”) with the contradictions they require to maintain their respective positions. Believing themselves to be faithful to their religion or to their science, they are only self-deluded, a clear case of “mental suicide.”
Consider now the statement, “All knowledge rests upon a single first principle.” (Supra.)
Why is this important? Because, as Mortimer Adler noted in his book Ten Philosophical Mistakes (1985), in our day and age many people have confused knowledge (which is always true), with opinion, which may or may not be true. (Mortimer J. Adler, Ten Philosophical Mistakes. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1985, 83-107.) Confusing knowledge and opinion shifts the foundation of our understanding of our own existence — reality — from the solid foundation of truth, to the shifting sands of expedience and relativism.
In consequence, “truth” becomes whatever we find useful or compatible with our chosen worldview. Something becomes true because we believe it, rather than that we believe it because it is true. This, as both the solidarist political scientist Heinrich Rommen (Heinrich Rommen, The Natural Law. Indianapolis, Indiana: Liberty Fund, Inc., 1998, 134-138) and Adler (Mortimer J. Adler, “The Nature of Natural Law,” accessed October 9, 2013) noted, paves the way for totalitarianism, even complete nihilism. (Rommen, The Natural Law, op. cit., 52; Cf. John Paul II, Centesimus Annus, 1991, § 44.)
Nowhere has this reversal of what it means for something to be true been more devastating than among the followers of G. K. Chesterton — at least with respect to the chances of Chesterton’s canonization any time soon. Those participating in and producing Chestertonian arguments and articles, books and broadsides, debates and discussions — virtually anything, in short, that emanates from the Chestertonian Establishment — inevitably assume at some point that something is true because they believe it, and they believe it because they think that is what Chesterton, the Catholic Church, or some other authority they accept on faith, said.
Why this is so terrible and terrifying an error will be the subject of the next posting in this series.