What are the principles by virtue of which thought is possible?
Well, it depends on what we mean by "thought" -- by which we don't mean just anything, e.g., Dr. Jill Biden's subliterate doctoral thesis, much less Michelle Obamas's 8th grade level master's thesis. Rather, the value of thought derives from its being in conformity with reality. To put it another way, thought is the link between being and truth.
Or so we have heard from the wise. Or from some voice in my head, I forget which.
How is it possible to think unless thinking can be resolved to first principles? I don't know. Ask a leftist, for whom thinking, principles, reality, and truth are completely independent of one another.
By the way, we got off to a late start this morning, so don't be surprised if things end abruptly. I was tempted to give myself a timeout for the rest of the year, but I also find myself toying with this subject, especially after reading an admirably clear presentation of it in Sheen's God and Intelligence in Modern Philosophy. Let the plagiaphrasing begin:
Traditional philosophy begins with common sense. Its basis is the certitudes of the immediately evident principles which are apprehended by the light of intelligence from the most simple and evident facts about us.
What we're looking for is the principles with which one cannot possibly disagree without implicitly agreeing with them. Are there such principles? Or are postmodernists correct that we live in a cosmos of absolute relativity and therefore utter stupidity?
How do we know a first principle when we see it? What are its qualifications? Well, it "ought to be one about which it is impossible to be mistaken." It should "be so evident as to admit of no error." Moreover, no sneaky stuff, no conditions, no special pleading, and no appeals to authority: it must be naturally known.
The first principle of thought is the foundation of all our intellectual constructions. There is no certitude in the last analysis unless they can be resolved back to the first principles of thought. Only on condition that the first principles are firm and stable will the conclusions be firm and stable, and the nearer our conclusions are to the first principles the more certain they are...
As we've suggested before, what instinct is to the animal, intellect is to man. Sheen suggests something similar, that "What the determination of form and end is for plants, what instinct is for animals, this and more the first principle is for man."
Why? Because, as our frequent commenter Nicolás has said
Intelligence is the capacity for discerning principles.
Which is precisely why
Nearly every idea is an overdrawn check that circulates until it is presented for payment.
Your little idea must ultimately be backed by the full faith and credit of the First Bank of Reality, otherwise you're just circulating so much funny money. Your intellectual paper money must be founded on something solid, on real wealth -- which is also why
The doctrines that explain the higher by means of the lower are appendices of a magician’s rule book.
For to reduce the higher to the lower like trying to live inside your bank account, or to avoid starvation by eating money. Why do we laugh at these folks? Because
Four or five invulnerable philosophical propositions allow us to make fun of the rest.
I'm almost loathe to discuss it, because it was such a dreary and tedious book, but this is all covered from the other side of the spectrum in Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything About Race, Gender, and Identity. What makes it tedious is that the authors attempt to be fair and dispassionate in describing these morons, instead if doing so in an insultaining and ironyclad way.
For if first principles are immediately evident to the light of intellect, then these ideas are immediately seen to be idiotic by that same light. No one needs to describe them in excruciating detail. The bottom line is that leftist scholarship is full of the kind of thinking that renders intelligent thought impossible.
Literally. For it is -- proudly -- mired in relativism, subjectivism, radical skepticism, social constructivism, and suspicion of any and all meta-narratives (except its own). It rejects objective truth, the power of reason, the existence of human nature, and the capacity of language to communicate truth. Indeed, it is the philosophical antithesis of common sense realism, in that its first principle is
a broad rejection of the correspondence theory of truth: that is, the position that there are objective truths and that they can be established as true by their correspondence with how things actually are in the world.
So it is an overt rejection of the very classical liberal enlightenment values that undergird our civilization. Which got me to thinking: isn't the progressive left just an inevitable entailment of these values, once they are detached from the Absolute? Yes, but we're out of time....