Truth and Its Enemies

Preparing myself for the regular Tuesday night meeting of Mike Church’s philosophy discussion group, I attentively read (and then twice reread) a passage in Brother Francis’ Logic Notes that he called “Truth and its enemies.” It is a wonderful elucidation of the importance of the study of logic and of the fatuous nature of modernist objections to the authentic “art and science of correct reasoning” (the definition of logic). It further presents a rousing defense and deep appreciation of the syllogism — a thing often scorned and ridiculed by moderns.

Those who think they cannot “get” logic should read it to see the value of this study, especially the way Brother Francis presents it.

Because I thought it would make a great stand-alone piece, it will serve as this edition of the Ad Rem.

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Truth is one of the highest values of humanity; and on it many other values depend, including our happiness in time and in eternity. Our Lord and Saviour teaches us the value of truth in word and deed. Of Himself He says: “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). He also says:

“You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). “Now this is eternal life: That they may know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3). It is true that these and many other similar utterances of Holy Scripture refer primarily to the supernatural truth of revelation, still there is a harmony of all truth such that the truth of the natural order, serves that of the supernatural order and prepares the way for it, while error of any order is opposed to it. We may safely conclude that all the forces in the world which militate against truth, against the attainment, the expression, and the propagation of it, are forces inimical to man and obstructive of his highest purpose. These forces constitute a major part of that evil from which we constantly pray to God the Father to deliver us, when we say in the Our Father: “And deliver us from evil”.

But what are the forces inimical to truth? We cannot answer this question until we find out all the different planes of truth by which man lives, and in which he seeks to attain his end. Having discovered the tremendous importance of the syllogism as an epitome of the entire thought process, we may rightly expect to find these planes of truth, or type or orders of truths, reflected in the very structure of the syllogism. Thus to the Major Premise correspond all these general and ultimate judgments which over-arch all our thought activities: The universal and self-evident truths of the speculative, as well as of the moral order; the great conclusions as to the reality, existence, and attributes of God; the spirituality and immortality of the human soul; the unity and purposiveness and order of the universe; etc. To the Minor Premise correspond the correct knowledge of the facts of reality: the major facts of history; the true character of persons, things, institutions, and movements, and their relative merits and demerits; etc. And finally to the Conclusion correspond the contemplative appreciation of things and persons, as well as the rules and guides of action.

The student is invited to consider if every truth he can think of as a value cannot be reduced to this threefold division as mirrored in the syllogistic form. As examples of the first type, corresponding to the Major Premise, we propose, in the supernatural order, the truths contained in the Credo; and in the natural order, such truths as the principle of causality, and the obligation to serve God and to refrain from acts of injustice. Opposed to the truths of this plane are false religions and false systems of thought. As for the second plane of truth, corresponding to the Minor Premises of the thought process, we propose as examples the true facts about the Church, Freemasonry, the Jews in history, the conspiracy against Our Lord and Our Lady and the Saints, the secret government, etc. Opposed to the truths of this plane is a whole kingdom of darkness, fraud, hypocrisy, misrepresentation, false publicity (including even the universities), lies, calumnies, deception, secrecy where secrecy is not due, etc., etc. As for the third and most important plane of true judgments corresponding to the third and most important part of the syllogism, i.e., the Conclusion, we propose as examples the contemplative and appreciative response of the saints to all that comes within their experience, seeing, as did St. Francis, in all things, reflections of the beauty, goodness, love, and sanctity of God the Creator, also those judgments by which men and women dedicate themselves entirely to the service of God and become saints, apostles, virgins, and even martyrs. On a lower level we give as examples those practical and proximate principles of good, well-directed actions which conclude the thought process regarding the practical order, and become constructive of the moral order and of all that is good in civilization.

The strict logician cannot cope with the entire problem of error and falsehood: it has behind it the world, the flesh, and above all, the devil (that angel of darkness who can turn himself into an angel of light). There is a mystical alliance between wickedness and error, as between holiness and truth. This is why the royal psalmist cries out from the depth of a distressed soul: “O ye sons of men, how long will you be dull of heart? Why do you love vanity and seek after lying?” (Ps. 4:3). However, if the logician as such is unable to account for our proclivity to error in this our fallen state, he must deal with it when it expresses itself by any kind of abuse of the processes of thought. Such abuse can be of three sorts: 1) By overt violation of the rules for valid inference; 2) By using the rules of inference correctly, but not to the purpose for which thought was intended, namely, to lead man to his proper end and purpose of existence; and, 3) By arguments which have a deceptive appearance of validity without being so in fact. The arguments of this third group are technically referred to as sophisms or fallacies.

The first of the three groups mentioned above, namely, the arguments involving an overt violation of the rules of inference, do not need to be separately discussed here. Any one who understood the rules where they were positively expounded, will detect any departure from them in an argument. That leaves the second and third groups to be discussed here, which, by the way, explains the title of this chapter: Fruitless and Fallacious Arguments.