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Self-Reference and Little-p philosophy

July 30th, 2008 by Madeleine

I am a closet “ego surfari” (to coin one of Maverick Philosopher’s phrases); I enter my name into Google to see where my name comes up and what people are writing about me. It is an old hang up that goes back to my student politics days at the University of Waikato when Matt and I got defamed a lot.

Anyway, I digress, recently I have been finding people commenting about me in relation to this blog and I find myself being described as a Philosopher, my name being included in a list of New Zealand’s top Christian Philosophers alongside Matt and Glenn Peoples. Whilst this is flattering to be included in this list I have to state for the record that I only hold a few philosophy papers in a minor capacity as part of my almost-complete LLB and whilst I did originally major in jurisprudence type papers towards my LLB and I do still tend to choose to answer those types of questions in exams and assignments where I have a choice and, after all, I did edit both Matt’s Masters and Doctoral theses and most of his academic and all of his published papers (he even footnotes to me and uses some of my writings in his PhD thesis), I cannot in good conscience call myself a Philosopher with a capital P, (a little p perhaps). Far too many people think that because they have done 1 or 2 papers and read a few books on the subject that makes them qualified to be a Philosopher or worse to lecture or write papers and books on Philosophy.

That aside, I do enjoy dabbling in “little p” philosophy and I particularly enjoy philosophical refutations that employ self-reference. Others, usually those whose arguments have been destroyed by their application, write them off as semantic tricks or make false statements that you can use logic to prove anything but I love them, they make me laugh.

Here is a list of my favourites and how they work:

1. There is no such thing as truth.

Example (1.) asserts a truth, so if it is true that there is no such thing as truth then (1.) is false. Conversely, if it is false that there is no such thing as truth then (1.) is false.

The negation of (1.) that there is such thing as truth is not just true but is necessarily true. Example (1.) is self-refuting and its negation is self-verifying.

Conclusion: There is such thing as truth. Anyone who says there is not is wrong.

2. It is wrong to judge.

Example (2.) asserts a judgment; as such, it refers to itself, so if it is true that it is wrong to judge then (2.) is false, the asserter purports to make a correct moral judgement. Conversely, if it is false that it is wrong to judge then (2.) is false.

The negation of (2.) that it is right to judge is not just true but is necessarily true. Example (2.) is self-refuting and its negation is self-verifying.

Conclusion: It is right to judge. Anyone who says it is not is judging you.

Now we have the basics, let’s try something trickier.

3. All religions are true.

Christianity is a religion. If (3.) is true, then Christianity is true. Christianity teaches that it is the only true religion, therefore, all religions except Christianity are false. According to (3.),Christianity is the only true religion.

Turning now to some slightly more useful examples

4. Nothing is true unless science proves it.

Really, including example (4.) itself?

5. Nothing can be known.

Example (5.) itself cannot be known, as such it is not known whether anything is knowable or not.

Whilst in their simple form they may make us laugh (or make us mad) they have their uses. The best Christian Philosopher in the world, Alvin Plantinga, utilises a sophisticated version of a self-refuting argument in his infamous Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism first articulated in Warrant and Proper Function and later in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and in Naturalism Defeated and Naturalism Defeated? and in An Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism and most recently in Knowledge of God.

Plantinga uses a self-referential critique to argue that if the combination of Metaphysical Naturalism and evolutionary accounts of the origin of human life are both true then there would be grounds for rejecting the trustworthyness of human cognitive faculties.

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3 responses so far ↓

  • For item “3” you can substitute Islam for Christianity.

    Islam is a religion. If (3.) is true, then Islam is true. Islam teaches that it is the only true religion, therefore, all religions except Islam are false. According to (3.),Islam is the only true religion.

  • You are quite right, which further demonstrates what is wrong with the 3.

    If all religions are true then Christianity is true because Christianity is a religion.

    Similarly, if all religions are true then Islam is true because Islam is a religion.

    However, Islam claims that all non-Islamic religions are false and since Islam is true, because all religions are true, this claim must be true.

    Likewise, Christianity claims that all non-Christian religions are false and since Christianity is true, because all religions are true, this claim must be true.

    However Christianity is a non-Islamic religion and Islam is a non-Christian religion so if all religions are true then it must be the case that Christianity is true and it must also be the case that Christianity is not true and it also must be the case that Islam is true and also that Islam is not true.

    In other words, if you say that all religions are true you end up in a morass of contradictions which is why this claim is wrong.

  • I used to love philosophy but at the moment I’m stuck on:

    What is truth?
    What are words?
    What are numbers?
    What are “we”?

    This might sound silly but it’s really bugging me and even a seemingly simple logical fallacy like “There is no such thing as truth” throws me into a spin.