“We hold these truths to be self evident…”
As with the question of ‘Who will watch the watchers’, one of the driving quests of Western Civilization has been how to have a government of laws and not of men, when it is men who must write the laws? We touched upon a couple of the fundamental maxims of Western Law in the preceding post, and one in particular, which puts us on the right path for that – so long as we follow it. They do so by bringing the concept of external limitations to the law, through reasons that are accessible and comprehensible to all men who have a respectful consideration for reality and to the reality of human nature, yet at the same time are not written by men. The maxim I’m referring to is “No one should be a judge in his own cause” – a truth of human nature which takes only imagining whether a bully should be asked to judge whether he was justified in punching your child, to be grasped – the obviousness of which an English jurist, in a case from the year 1620, noted:
case of Day v. Savadge,5 2, where Chief Justice Hobart declared that
“even an Act of Parliament, made against natural equity, as to make a man Judge in his own case, is void in it self;”
IOW, there are principles and concepts available to us from outside of the Law, which are eminently suitable for applying reasonable limits upon all of the laws that men may desire to write for the ‘benefit’ of other men. And should those in power ignore those limits and write their hearts desire into law in spite of them, and even succeed in having their entire society voting upon and passing them, even with all of that, such laws will in truth be no law at all, they are empty of substance, they are void.
It is open to any man who dares to look at the emperors nakedness with his own two eyes and honest mind, will readily see that that emperor is wearing no clothes at all, that his so-called laws are nothing of the sort, merely the Rule of Law’s Doppelganger, the Rule of Rules, made by those seeking to rule over others, and which should be struck down at the very first opportunity to do so.
In other, other words, the Laws of men, are not exempt from complying with the laws of logic, or of math… or as Jefferson put it ‘…the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God…‘, and while such a thought might very well cause the modern Pro-Regressive leftist’s head to explode, it was once a common understanding, an understanding that our nation (upon which every comfort and technological delight you possess resulted from) was founded through, and is an understanding that successfully kept the Doppelganger at bay for well over a century.
You can even see an example of this, much to my surprise, in the movie “Lincoln”. There’s a fine scene (though not without some tarnish, which we’ll look at in a moment) where President Lincoln explains to a couple of aids, what he means by Principle, and he quickly demonstrates the great steps that are readily able to be taken by all honest men through their observations of nature, which, for those willing to see them, will lead a man from the geometric principles of Euclid, to Self Evident truths for all men:
“Abraham Lincoln: You’re an engineer. You must know Euclid’s axioms and common notions. I never had much of schooling but I read Euclid in an old book I borrowed. Little ever found in its way in here, but once learnt it stayed learnt.
Euclid’s first common notion is this: Things which are equal to the same things are equal to each other. That’s a rule of mathematical reasoning and its true because it works – has done and always will do. In his book Euclid says this is self evident. You see there it is even in that 2000 year old book of mechanical law it is the self evident truth that things which are equal to the same things are equal to each other.”
The looming shadows
But even here, we have the modernist skew creeping in, and much as I enjoyed this scene when I first watched it, something about it dragged at my attention. The wording used seemed less like that of Lincoln, than of the modern screenwriter; philosophically it doesn’t belong to the Realist school that Lincoln would have been familiar with. Few in Lincoln’s day would say that something is true simply because it works, that is a far more modern notion, the darkly pragmatic approach which was still being formulated at that time, and I doubt it would have sat well with him. To be sure, we do confirm that things are true through verifying them, but philosophically, epistemologically, it is only because the reality IS true, that we are able to verify it – verification, logically, has to come after the thing being verified (that is Self-Evident, is it not?) – our experimentation , like the anthropologist’s broom, only brushes the dirt from the bones – it doesn’t create the skeleton, it only serves as a means to our discovering it. The self evident fact is that it works because it’s True, and because it’s true, we are able to observe and verify it.
While Hollywood added their spin to the scene, they didn’t spin the substance of it from nothing, and minus the pragmatism, that was just the sort of comment that Lincoln often used to make a larger point. In fact, if you do some googling on Lincoln’s speech in the movie, you’ll eventually come across a letter which Lincoln wrote to a friend of his in 1859, which I wouldn’t be surprised at all to learn had likely inspired the screenwriter to put the very words into Lincoln’s mouth that he did. The Geometry of Euclid that was being discussed in that scene, stems from some of the deepest roots of conceptual thinking in Western thought, such as the Pythagorean Theorem, and what Lincoln makes clear is that He understood the important role of reality, principles and universal truths (which pragmatism stands in explicit opposition to) and the dangers inherent in men’s all too common inclination to deny them in favor of how they’d prefer things to be:
“…But soberly, it is now no child’s play to save the principles of Jefferson from total overthrow in this nation.
One would start with great confidence that he could convince any sane child that the simpler propositions of Euclid are true; but, nevertheless, he would fail, utterly, with one who should deny the definitions and axioms. The principles of Jefferson are the definitions and axioms of free society.
And yet they are denied and evaded, with no small show of success.
One dashingly calls them “glittering generalities”; another bluntly calls them “self evident lies”; and still others insidiously argue that they apply only to “superior races.”
These expressions, differing in form, are identical in object and effect–the supplanting the principles of free government, and restoring those of classification, caste, and legitimacy. They would delight a convocation of crowned heads, plotting against the people. They are the van-guard–the miners, and sappers–of returning despotism….”
In his example of the child, Lincoln laments that the greatest truths can be denied if their premises aren’t accepted, which is what Aristotle also warned against in his Logic, first, that unless the premises be true, no valid deductions will proceed from them, no ‘logic’ will occur, no matter the ‘logical’ appearances of your statements, but just as true is that unless those truths be accepted as being true by the person you are arguing with, your conclusions will not be accepted no matter how logical your statements actually are and no persuasion will take place. Understanding and progress can be prevented by clinging to pleasantly comfortable lies, and those who ape the forms of logic – in speaking or listening – while discarding its fundamental requirements, are making assaults upon your very soul. To advocate for such things is Pro-Regressive. Lincoln continues,
“… We must repulse them, or they will subjugate us.
This is a world of compensations; and he who would be no slave, must consent to have no slave. Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves; and, under a just God, can not long retain it.
All honor to Jefferson–to the man who, in the concrete pressure of a struggle for national independence by a single people, had the coolness, forecast, and capacity to introduce into a merely revolutionary document, an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times, and so to embalm it there, that to-day, and in all coming days, it shall be a rebuke and a stumbling-block to the very harbingers of re-appearing tyranny and oppression….”
To know what is true you first need to seek after what is real and accept what you can understand to be true as the basis of your reasoning, you cannot get to Logic, or to Geometry, or to Law, without doing that first – attempting to do so summons the Doppelganger from the shadows, ejects the Rule of Law, and sets the Rule of Rules up in its place. And if the connection between Geometry and Jefferson doesn’t jump out at you, which isn’t surprising if you were raised to believe that math and geometry are nothing more than useful calculations which calculators can perform better than humans, you might be surprised to learn that the Declaration of Independence was itself modeled on the form of a Geometric Proof.
Critical to seeing the connection, is taking note of the fact that the steps of measurement the Pythagorean Theorem refers to, and those particular steps which the Babylonians had known of and used hundreds, if not thousands of years prior to Pythagoras, are not equivalent, the calculations are not the same thing as his theorem.
|The Babylonians knew very well that if you took a rope and measured the lengths of a triangle, you could figure out its area, and how best to seed it, irrigate it, or whathaveyou. They’d not only worked out the steps for calculating it, but we even have evidence for students being drilled in those steps – sadly – just as they do today, as then as now, students are usually taught only the pragmatic means to resolving particular needs – rules not laws. That approach, ‘it’s true because it works’ might sustain a society at the savage societal baseline for centuries, but it does not rise to the level of Laws, it will not produce Theorems, Ethics, Laws or Liberty – such calculations will only ever tell you how much manure is needed for that particular plot, and other needs of the moment, which are useful only in that moment. Laws, mathematical or philosophical, entail the idea that there are universal Truths, Principles by which not just problems of area could be calculated, but a foundation for human thought as a whole could be reasoned upon – those ideas never occur ed to the Babylonians.
Euclid’s Elements and the Declaration of Independence – Prof. Mike Molinsky, The University of Maine at Farmington
The first lines of the Declaration of Independence propose that before taking an action one has to show that it has cause and that it needs to be explained.
The first step in the argument is to declare the postulates: 1) All men are created equal and have unalienable Rights, 2) Governments are to secure those Rights, 3) Governments get their powers from the consent of the governed, 4) It is the right of the governed to change Government if it is destructive.
Proof of destructiveness must be submitted. Since the Government has failed to secure the Rights of the governed it is neglecting its duty.
By submitting proofs of the violation of Rights, Thomas Jefferson completed the logic of the Declaration of Independence, making it a document based on law — universal law.
The form of logic used parallels Euclidian logic and the system of proof. Euclid not only established modern mathematics but gave us a new way to think about our social affairs. It is not sufficient to assert a position, one must prove it based on fundamental principles.
That is the massive step which the Greeks took with it, realizing that a Truth could be discovered, derived from an actual set of particulars, that would and could be applied to every and all possibilities from here on out for all time. That if A = B and B = C then C = A. And just as surely, if A <> B and B = C, then the A cannot be equivalent to C.
That was big. That was Progress.
That understanding applied not only to Geometry, but to everything else as well; it reflects something infinitely more powerful than simply a comparison of angles A, B & C. The study of Geometry wasn’t just about measuring the area of patches of earth then, or a classroom recitation of angles and theorems here and now, but about establishing a methodical and harmonious method for thinking – being a skilled Geometer meant being someone adept at methodically thinking in Principles, which made it possible to think not only Geometrically, but Ethically, and even Musically – the western roots of music and harmony and philosophy too, were found through Geometry. It was from an understanding of Geometrical method, of structuring Proofs, that Socrates modeled his rhetorically lethal logic of questioning from, and which Aristotle later formalized into the Logic that is at the root of all of our sciences in the West – including that of Law.
True, the axioms and methods of solving geometric problems involve far more exact reasoning than legal reasoning could ever achieve, and Geometric proofs are very different from Rhetorical ones and we will never have the precision of results in rhetoric or law that we can in geometry, however that is not an argument against principles but for them, and if you don’t see what they could possibly have to do with important issues of our day, I suggest you scroll back up and have another look at the approach which Thomas Jefferson took towards writing the Declaration of Independence. And then consider the fact that “our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal“, through those methods, principles and maxims – it will not remain here long without them.
Failing to hold those principles and habits in our minds, failing to demand that our laws, and our elected officials, embody, apply, and live up to them, rather than simply aping their appearances, we will wind up with the sort of messes… that we have all around us today, which, not coincidentally, are the very examples that our old school masters would beset us if we ever abandoned those very principles and habits.
Still though, as fine and high as those habits and truths are, they will leave us high and dry if we have no means of applying them in our lives, here and now. We do need a means of bringing maxims of law down from out of the clouds, making them useful and vital to each person in the familiar pursuits of their lives. Which we will begin looking at doing in the next post.