## Are You Playing the Fool?

#### Part 7 -- Transcendental Arguments, General

posted over 9 years ago

### Worldviews, Preconceptions, and Formal Logic

#### Transcendental Argument

Credit for this section goes to Dr. Jason Lisle,

*The Ultimate Proof of Creation*, (Master Books, 2009), pp. 143-146.

*This is the climax of the book, where everything he has used logic to demonstrate in the previous 8 chapters comes together in his Ultimate Proof. I will stop shy of revealing it here, partly because I believe the argument is best understood if the book is read in order. Following will be his discussion of absolute standards, transcendental arguments, and circular reasoning*.

For any belief that a person has (

**p**), we can always ask, 'How do you know that to be true?' The person will then supply an argument (either an inductive or deductive one) that supports his belief. In his argument, the person will appeal to another proposition (

**q**) that he believes supports his conclusion (

**p**). But since he has appealed to another proposition (

**q**), we must now ask the question, 'Okay, but how do you know

**q**is true?' In his defense of

**q**, the person will appeal to yet another proposition (

**r**), which we can again question, leading him to suggest another proposition (

**s**), and so on. Ultimately, any such chain of reasoning must come to an end. It must terminate in an ultimate standard -- let's call it (

**t**).

Why must the chain end? If it doesn't end then it goes on forever. And if it goes on forever, then the argument could never be completed. But an incomplete argument doesn't prove anything at all. Moreover, we cannot know an infinite number of things anyway. So all of our chains of reasoning must be

But now we must ask the 'killer' question: 'How do you know that your ultimate standard (

If a person understands that he cannot appeal to a greater standard, he may try appealing to a lesser standard. He may say that

Some people might say, 'I guess I can't actually prove my ultimate standard. I accept it as a presupposition.' Granted, by their very nature, presuppositions must be accepted before they can be proved. But if they cannot (eventually) be proved, then they are

We argue that we know

So we have established the following: (1) Everyone must have an ultimate standard (there is no 'neutrality'). (2) An ultimate standard cannot be proved from another standard (since there is no greater standard, and appealing to a lesser standard is fallacious). (3) An ultimate standard cannot be merely assumed (otherwise, we couldn't know anything at all). This leaves only one possible answer to the question of how an ultimate standard is proved. An ultimate standard

This immediately invites a crucial objection: If an ultimate standard is used to prove itself, aren't we simply arguing in a circle? We have already shown that it is fallacious to merely assume what we are trying to prove -- this is the fallacy of begging the question. We cannot merely say that '

There are two things to remember about circular reasoning when it comes to an ultimate commitment. 1. It is absolutely unavoidable. 2. It is not

Notice that God Himself uses a type of circular reasoning when He makes an oath. Human beings appeal to a greater authority as confirmation of an oath (Heb. 6:16). But since God is ultimate, He can only use Himself as the authority. Hebrews 6:13 states, 'When God made His promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater to swear by, He swore by Himself.' Clearly, some degree of circular reasoning is inevitable when proving an ultimate authority.

Second, not all circles are fallacious. Remember that begging the question is not actually invalid, but is normally considered a fallacy because it is arbitrary. But what if it were not arbitrary? What if the argument went 'out of its plane,' going beyond a mere simple circle, and used other additional information to support the conclusion? What if we found

In fact, any true presupposition ,must use itself as part of its own proof. So some degree of circular reasoning is involved, but it cannot be a simple 'vicious' circle. It must go beyond its own 'plane.' Consider this proof that there are laws of logic:

1. If there were no laws of logic, we could not make an argument.

2. We can make an argument.

3. Therefore, there must be laws of logic.

This argument is perfectly valid. It is a

(end of quote)

(emphases in original)

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*finite*. Therefore, everyone must have an ultimate standard: a proposition (upon which all others depend) that cannot be proved from a more foundational proposition. This must be the case for all people, whether they realize it or not.But now we must ask the 'killer' question: 'How do you know that your ultimate standard (

**t**) is true?' There are three bad answers to this question, and one good one. One bad response would be, 'I know**t**is true, because it follows logically from**u**.' But if that is so, then t really isn't the ultimate standard -- it's not the most foundational proposition if it follows from something else. Any person responding in this way has not understood the nature of an*ultimate*standard.If a person understands that he cannot appeal to a greater standard, he may try appealing to a lesser standard. He may say that

**t**must be true because it implies**s**(where**s**is claimed to be true because it follows from**t**). But this is a bad argument for a number of reasons. It commits the fallacy of begging the question. Since**s**is only necessarily true if**t**is, the person is essentially arguing that**t**is true because**t**is true. When restated, the argument clearly commits the fallacy of affirming the consequent. (1. If**t**then**s**. 2.**s**. 3. Therefore**t**). One cannot prove an ultimate standard in this way. So this response also fails. We again ask, 'How do you know that your ultimate standard (**t**) is true?'Some people might say, 'I guess I can't actually prove my ultimate standard. I accept it as a presupposition.' Granted, by their very nature, presuppositions must be accepted before they can be proved. But if they cannot (eventually) be proved, then they are

*arbitrary*and thus irrational. In fact, if a person's ultimate standard cannot be proved, then that person does not actually*know anything*! Here's why:We argue that we know

**p**is true because it follows from**q**, which follows from**r**, and so on, all the way back to our ultimate standard (**t**). So, all these propositions (**p**,**q**,**r**, and**s**) depend on the truth of**t**. Therefore, if**t**is not known to be true, then neither can we know that**p**,**q**,**r**, and**s**are true. Remember that in order to know something, we must have a reason for it. But if there is no good reason to believe**t**, then there is no good reason to believe**p**,**q**,**r**, or**s**since these all depend upon**t**. Since*all*beliefs are dependent through a chain of reasoning upon a person's ultimate standard, if the ultimate standard is not known to be true (i.e. provable), then one cannot actually know anything whatsoever. Of course, some of the person's beliefs might happen to be true, but they cannot be*known*to be true.So we have established the following: (1) Everyone must have an ultimate standard (there is no 'neutrality'). (2) An ultimate standard cannot be proved from another standard (since there is no greater standard, and appealing to a lesser standard is fallacious). (3) An ultimate standard cannot be merely assumed (otherwise, we couldn't know anything at all). This leaves only one possible answer to the question of how an ultimate standard is proved. An ultimate standard

*must prove itself*. It must be self-attesting. It must provide criteria for what is to be considered true, and by which all claims are judged -- including the ultimate standard itself.This immediately invites a crucial objection: If an ultimate standard is used to prove itself, aren't we simply arguing in a circle? We have already shown that it is fallacious to merely assume what we are trying to prove -- this is the fallacy of begging the question. We cannot merely say that '

**t**is true because**t**is true.' And yet we are forced into the seemingly strange yet inevitable conclusion that we must somehow use our ultimate standard to prove our ultimate standard.##### Circular Reasoning

There are two things to remember about circular reasoning when it comes to an ultimate commitment. 1. It is absolutely unavoidable. 2. It is not

*necessarily*fallacious. First, some degree of circular reasoning is unavoidable when proving an ultimate standard. This follows from what we have already established: an ultimate standard cannot be proved from anything else, otherwise it wouldn't be*ultimate*. Therefore, if it is to be proved, it must use itself as the criterion.Notice that God Himself uses a type of circular reasoning when He makes an oath. Human beings appeal to a greater authority as confirmation of an oath (Heb. 6:16). But since God is ultimate, He can only use Himself as the authority. Hebrews 6:13 states, 'When God made His promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater to swear by, He swore by Himself.' Clearly, some degree of circular reasoning is inevitable when proving an ultimate authority.

Second, not all circles are fallacious. Remember that begging the question is not actually invalid, but is normally considered a fallacy because it is arbitrary. But what if it were not arbitrary? What if the argument went 'out of its plane,' going beyond a mere simple circle, and used other additional information to support the conclusion? What if we found

*after*making an assumption that we had good reasons for it? This would be perfectly legitimate.In fact, any true presupposition ,must use itself as part of its own proof. So some degree of circular reasoning is involved, but it cannot be a simple 'vicious' circle. It must go beyond its own 'plane.' Consider this proof that there are laws of logic:

1. If there were no laws of logic, we could not make an argument.

2. We can make an argument.

3. Therefore, there must be laws of logic.

This argument is perfectly valid. It is a

*modus tollens*syllogism (denying the consequent). And the premises are also true. So this is a good argument. Yet it is subtly circular. We have assumed in this proof that there are laws of logic;*modus tollens*is a law of logic and we have used it as part of the proof that there are laws of logic. In this case we had no choice; in order to get anywhere in an argument we must presuppose that there are laws of logic. However, this argument does not*merely*assume what it is trying to prove; it imports additional information to support its conclusion. But what makes this a really good argument is that any possible rebuttal would be self-refuting. A great way to show that a particular presupposition must be true is to show that one would have to assume that the presupposition is true even to argue against it! An argument that proves a precondition of intelligibility in this way is called a*transcendental argument*.(end of quote)

(emphases in original)

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Owen's discussion linked from Part 6: http://my.umbc.edu/discussions/476?page=1

(edited over 7 years ago)