Logic and Buck-Passing

Henry Curtis

  1. Introduction

In his (2008), Robert Hanna identifies Husserl’s final obstacle in defeating the position of the logical psychologist as the “logocentric predicament,” which puts into question how exactly the pure logic advocated by Husserl can be justified without circular reasoning. The situation leading up to this predicament is as follows: Husserl, using an argument similar to one found in Frege (1897, 144), claims that the logical psychologist’s position is circular because the science of psychology itself relies on logic to maintain its status as a rational science, and therefore giving logic a “first foundation” internal to psychology would be explaining something prior to psychology by using psychology. The logocentric predicament appears when this sort of criticism is turned towards the practice of justifying logic. The charge is that any justification or explanation of logic will have to implicitly use or employ logic, and so any attempt to justify logic will in fact presuppose logic. For the purposes of this paper, we will take the logocentric predicament:

Logocentric Predicament (LP): Logic cannot be justified without presupposing logic.

to be a question about how to properly ground logic in something that is not itself logic, or in a way that does not presuppose logic. In this paper I will recap both Frege’s and Husserl’s responses to the predicament, with an eye towards what their responses say about their general views on grounding logic. Then I will try to make two positive points: 1) To assume that the logocentric predicament is in fact a predicament is already to have a certain conception of logic, and 2) there is a way to ground logic such that it can be positively justified without recourse to logic. In sum, my goal is to demonstrate that the logocentric predicament need not constitute a deep threat to logic, both because of the predicament’s own hidden commitments and our ability to justify logic without falling back onto logic.


  1.      Frege and Husserl on the Logocentric Predicament  

Frege phrases his own version of the logocentric predicament in his preface to The Basic Laws of Arithmetic (1893) by first conceding that logic can only justify it’s own laws by “reducing [each logical law] to another logical law. Where that is not possible, logic can give no answer. (Frege 1893, 204)” This reasoning limits what can be used to ultimately explain logical laws- namely, that whatever is used in the ultimate explanation of logical laws cannot itself be logic, or a restatement of logical laws. Recognizing the inability logic has to justify its own truthfulness, Frege cites the view that human judgment would be thrown into confusion and made impossible if logical laws were different. He refuses to explicitly endorse or reject this view, but states that the view itself is certainly not a statement of logic. It is rather a claim about the nature of human cognition and rational judgment. Lockhart (2016) takes Frege’s reluctance to commit to this view as a consequence of Frege’s belief that the most fundamental logic laws do not stand in need of any justification, and that to justify them in virtue of experience would be to offer a sort of “transcendental” explanation for why they are as they are. The explanation that is being avoided here would be that a logical law is ultimately true just in case it is a necessary condition for all thought, a statement Lockhart views Frege as unable to explicitly endorse, yet one he believes Frege holds to be true. Whether or not this is a correct assessment of the motivation behind Frege’s failure to explicitly justify logic, what is important for our purposes is that Frege would view judgment as a more rational site upon which to ground logic than upon logic itself. Frege goes on to write that his whole dispute with the poser of the logocentric predicament is motivated by a sort of deep ontological disagreement. For those who question the justificatory status of a non-relativized logic by posing the logocentric predicament, the laws of logic are statement about non-actual things, and therefore (in their mind) constitute non-objective truths. Frege, on the other hand, firmly believes that there can be objective truths about the non-actual (such as “Sinn” or number), and that logical laws are truths of this sort. So Frege does not only gesture towards grounding logic in the preconditions for judgment, but also in an ontological conception of what sort of true statements the laws of logic are.


As we saw in the first paragraph, the logocentric predicament also comes up in Husserl’s anti-psychologistic writings, and he responds to it first by claiming the LP commits an equivocation error with regard to the term “presupposition”. In his Logical Investigations (1970) Husserl draws a distinction between two ways in which an argument can have a presupposition. The first way is for the argument to contain that presupposition as a premise, like the premise “Socrates is a man” in the argument “Socrates is a man, If Socrates is a man then Socrates is mortal ⊨ Socrates is mortal.” However, another way an argument can have a presupposition is to presuppose the validity of a certain logical structure, just as the previous argument presupposed the validity of modus ponens. Husserl claims that the first sort of presupposition can in fact lead to circularity, but that the second does not. Hanna writes that under Husserl’s conception of pure logic he holds the laws of logic to be “supreme constructive categorically normative logical meta-principles (Hanna 2008, 40)” which are themselves held to be the most general laws regulating human rationality. These meta-principles would themselves never serve as the premises of an argument justifying logic, but simply dictate the necessary form all rational argumentation would take. Here Husserl avoids the logocentric predicament by claiming that it would only be a problem if an argument justifying logic took logical laws as premises, and not as principles governing validity. However, since this is not the case, the LP fails to pose the threat of circularity upon the justification of logic, which Husserl believes is grounded in the ideal and normative status of logic with regards to human rationality (Husserl 1970, 209). Husserl also argues that the justification of logic comes from the epistemic route we make use of to know logical laws. In his view the laws of logic are established via insight- he writes that a logical law: “… is the single, sole truth which excludes all others and which, being established by insight, is kept pure from fact in its content and mode of proof. (Husserl 1900, 53).” Frege avoided the need to ground logic in logic by grounding it (on Lockhart’s view at least) in human judgment and the ontology of logical laws. Husserl avoids the need to ground logic in logic by invoking the normative status of logic for human rationality and logic’s availability to insight. These strategies run parallel, and they both give us the key to defusing the logocentric predicament- grounding logic in something that is not itself logic.


  III.     Buck-Passing and the Logocentric Predicament

So far, we have seen that the logocentric predicament requires us to take a certain strategy for justifying logic. Both Frege and Husserl assert that the laws of logic are not grounded in contingent facts about human psychology, but rather reflect deeper truths about the nature of rationality, truth, and perhaps even the structure of the world itself. However, they do not want to take what Hanna (2008, 39) refers to as a “fideist” justification of logic, claiming that the laws of logic are somehow “out there” independently of our minds, but that they can only be justified as a matter of faith. This would be, as I think Hanna correctly suggests, irrational and philosophically dubious. Just as a fideist justification of logic would be unacceptable in virtue of violating norms of explanatory rationality, so too would justifying logic by presupposing logic violate norms of argumentative rationality- namely, that we should avoid strictly circular arguments. So, both Frege and Husserl are in a bind with regards to how they are able to justify logic- they cannot presuppose logic in their justifications of logic and they cannot presuppose logic simpliciter. So the strategy they have to take is one I call buck-passing- they have to take the burden of justifying logic and pass it off to something that is not itself logic, and that does not itself presuppose a logico-inferential structure. In Lockhart’s view, Frege passes the buck to human judgment, and in my view also to the ontology of truth. Husserl passes the buck to the necessary conditions of human rationality and the epistemic status of logic. The strategy of buck-passing will be integral to my second argument against the logocentric predicament. I will now turn to my two positive points. In this section of the paper, I will outline my first argument, which is that the logocentric predicament, if it is to be read as a predicament, must make a presupposition about the nature of logic. Following that, I will propose a way to conceive of logic that allows logic to be justified without relying on logic itself, because I will pass the buck to the metaphysical status of logical laws.


The logocentric predicament is formulated as a problem that one encounters in seeking to justify logic- namely that one cannot do so without employing logic. The predicament itself may seem philosophically innocent, insofar as its an extension of a rather intuitive request made of the philosophical logicians. They assert that something, a non-relativized logic, exists, and as a consequence of that they can be asked to justify the existence of what it is they assert exists. However, it is not clear that logic, or the laws of logic, are the sort of thing that require a justification. In order to flesh out this point, I must say something about the structure of the explanans/explanandum relationship.


When we take a statement as something in need of an explanation or justification (call this statement the explanandum) we are saying that either it is truth-evaluable or that its placement in a certain theoretical schema requires motivation. In the first case the statement just is true or is not true, and the explanans must take the form of a set of statements which in some way reinforce the truth of the explanandum. In the second case the statement is not necessarily truth-evaluable, but will either be accepted or rejected on the basis of its coherence with certain theoretical desiderata, i.e. explanatory power, simplicity, ontological commitment, etc. In this scenario the explanans will take the form of a set of statements which reinforce the theoretical desirability of the explanandum, which in certain cases could even be taken as the truth of the explanandum itself. Where I claim the logocentric predicament smuggles in unmentioned premises is precisely in its presupposition of the explanans/explanandum relationship. We rephrase the logocentric predicament with this new apparatus in mind:

        Logocentric Predicament* (LP*): Logic as an explanandum must have logic as its explanans.

and recall what I stated earlier about explanandum in general, that they must either be truth evaluable or in need of theoretical motivation. However, whether or not logic fits neatly into either of these categories is a non-trivial issue.

There is an argument that logic is not truth-evaluable, since logic is not a set of true statements, but rather a set of guidelines for preserving truth in arguments. One could claim that it is a categorical error to claim that modus ponens is true in the same way that one could claim it is a categorical error to say that not leaving the stove on is true. The first is a guideline for preserving truth among statements, the latter a guideline for not burning a house down- neither are objectively true, just normative for those engaging in certain tasks. Furthermore, there is an argument that one can understand truth-evaluable claims without knowing whether or not they are true. For instance, I can imagine Moscow having a larger population than Beijing whether or not it is actually the case. But for the laws of logic, I might not be able to understand them without also simultaneously coming to understand that they do regulate all thinking. So they would not be truth-evaluable in the usual sense of that term. If logic is taken as an explanandum that must be motivated with regards to its acceptance in a theoretical schema, we have already adopted a conception of logic similar to that presented by Quine in his (1953), where the statements of logic are revisable if their revision is necessary to maintain a positive assessment of all our scientific beliefs taken as an aggregate. In Quine’s view, logic is not “safe” from revision, the way it is safe in the minds of the logical positivists or philosophical logicians. However, this constitutes another deeply non-trivial assumption about logic. There is a potential circularity argument that can be used against this conception of logic (“From what vantage point would you judge theoretical desirability? Wouldn’t this have to be objective in and of itself to serve as an adequate place from which to judge desirability?”) and whatever one thinks of it, it is certainly not the only available conception of logic. Judging that logic is revisable in the Quinean sense, or independently truth-evaluable, is a deep presupposition about the nature of logic. If the logocentric predicament is in fact a predicament, we have to assume that it is not an error to ask that logic itself be justified. However, as we have seen, this is a non-trivial assumption. This means that the logocentric predicament is not quite as innocent as it might purport itself to be, and that it subsequently loses some of its philosophical force in virtue of losing generality.


My final positive claim is the more contentious of the two. It is that there is a way to ground logic that does not itself presuppose logic. My strategy for defending this claim is twofold. First, I will give what my grounding of logic is, and motivate a brief defense of it. Then I will show how this grounding of logic avoids presupposing logic, in both senses of the term “presupposition” that Husserl discusses. My conception of logic is simply this- logic is a set of statements asserting all the essential properties of abstract objects called valid arguments. Each law of logic is the statement of an essential property of valid arguments. Arguments are simply sets of propositions, where one is given as the conclusion and all others are given as premises. If they stand together in a certain way, we call the argument valid, and each valid argument must take a certain form- having this form is an essential property of being a valid argument. To draw an analogy, the statements of logic are similar to the statements of which animals are dogs. Dogs are just collections of parts (noses, tails, organs, genes, etc.) that must be arranged in a certain way to be classified as forming dogs. Statements of what these forms are constitute statements of the essential properties of dogs. Valid arguments are just collections of propositions that stand to one another in a certain relation, and bearing these relations are essential properties of valid arguments. This conception of the laws of logic preserves the philosophical logicians view that the laws of logic are not dependent on contingent facts about human psychology, since they are statements about abstract objects. It would also mean that the structure of logic could be divorced from general concerns about the normativity of thought or rationality. The laws of logic would, strictly speaking, have no need to bear on human affairs- they would simply be truths about abstract objects. Any normative force they would be conceived of as having would be over and above their basic meaning. Under my view, saying the laws of logic would be normative for human thought would be like saying it is beautiful that the word “grandiose” has nine letters. The fact that “grandiose” has nine letters is simply an essential property of the abstract object which is the word “grandiose,” and saying it is beautiful has absolutely no bearing on whether or not it is true. In this way, saying that the fact that it is an essential property of all valid arguments that the conclusion cannot be false when there is a contradiction in the premises(whatever these terms “true” and “false”  and “contradiction” are taken to mean) has normative force for our belief is strictly speaking independent of the truth of the essential property. So two great points of contention are resolved upon my view. The first is that logic is grounded in human psychology; we have seen that this is false because logic is grounded in essential properties of abstract objects, and not in human psychology, which is concrete. The second is that logic must be in some way defined via recourse to the norms for human rationality; we have seen that this is also false in virtue of the formal separation between our logical laws being true and having normative import- that is, our drawing of the is/ought distinction between the laws of logic and the way humans should think.


This is one possible way logic can stand, and it seems as if it would be nice if it were this way. However, it seems as if this conception might fall victim to the logocentric predicament. If logical laws are construed as statements of essential properties of abstract objects, can they be justified without presupposing logic? We will discuss this by using the two conceptions of presupposition discusses by Husserl. Recall that the first conception of presupposition is that an argument can presuppose something by having it as a premise in the argument. It should be clear that we don’t need to list out the logical laws as premises in an argument defending the logical laws. If someone asks us why exactly these, and not some other, list of essential properties define valid arguments, e.g. why the laws of logic are as they are, whatever response we created would not be a simple list of these logical laws. This could never constitute a non-circular justification,  and hence would never be our actual answer to the question behind the logocentric predicament. So we wouldn’t presuppose logic to ground logic in the first sense of presupposition. However, would we need to have a logical structure in our justification of why the essential properties are the way they are, and not some other way? I claim we would not. Recall that the question behind the logocentric predicament is why the laws of logic, or logic itself, are one way rather than another, or, more broadly speaking, what we would say to justify the laws of logic. If the laws of logic are taken as being essential properties of valid arguments, the question would be: “Why are these the essential properties of valid arguments?” To which our answer would be simply: “Because that’s what it is to be a valid argument.” If I were to claim that water is necessarily made of atoms, and someone asked me to justify that statement, I would respond by simply saying: “That is what it is to be water.” Does this explanans/explanandum relationship necessitate a logical structure? To believe this would be to believe that the relationship between the statement “X is the set of essential properties of valid arguments” and the statement “Because that’s what it is to be a valid argument” is one of logical inference. However, it is not a relationship of logical inference. Rather, the statement “Because that’s what it is to be a valid argument” is the statement of a modal intuition, one to the effect that, in knowing what valid arguments are, we intuit that they could never possibly lack certain properties. What is important here is that our justification directly references the fact that the essential properties constitute the metaphysical nature of the object we are seeking to define, whether it be water or valid arguments (“that’s what it is to be x”). In essence, we are simply restating the claim we are seeking to justify- the truth of which depends on the modal intuition we point to when we claim “that’s what it is to be a valid argument.” We have not justified the explanandum by citing some alternate fact(s) that, in virtue of the logical form for their relation to one another and the explanandum, necessarily entail the explanandum. Rather, we have simply restated the explanandum, in a way that suggests the modal intuition that justifies it. In effect, we have explained why the logical laws are what they are without invoking a logical structure- simply by emphasizing the modal intuition which is synonymous with our statement of what logical laws are. Perhaps the argument is metaphysically circular, in that there is just a restatement of the fact that the properties are in fact essential properties. But this circularity is not a circularity of logic justifying logic, and thus it avoids the logocentric predicament.


In this paper, I have argued that the logocentric predicament is not a deep threat to logic. This is because the logocentric predicament itself presupposes a certain form for logic, and whatever this form is, it will constitute a non-trivial assumption about the nature of logic. In addition, there is a way to conceive of logic such that the we do not need to presuppose logic in our justification of logic. This is when the laws of logic are taken to be essential properties of abstract objects.




  • Frege, Gottlob. (1893): “Preface” to The Basic Laws of Arithmetic in Michael Beaney (ed.) The Frege Reader (Blackwell, 1997), pp. 201-208.


  • Frege, Gottlob. (1897): “Logic” in Posthumous Writings, pp. 128-151.


  • Hanna, Robert. (2008): “Husserl’s Argument Against Logical Psychologism” in Verena E. Mayer & Christopher Erhard (eds.), Edmund Husserl: Logische Untersuchungen. Akademie Verlag Berlin. pp. 27-42.


  • Husserl, Edmund. (1900): Logical Investigations: Prolegomena, trans. J.N. Findlay, ed. D. Moran, ch. 4, pp. 46-55.


  • Husserl, Edmund. (1970): Logical Investigations, trans. J.N. Findlay, 2 vols., London.


  • Lockhart, Thomas. (2016): “Frege on Anti-Psychologism and the Role of Logic in Thinking” in Theoria 82:4 2016, pp. 302-328.


  • Quine, W.V.O.. (1953): “Two Dogmas of Empiricism” in From a Logical Point of View, pp. 20-46.



A Brief Note on Gender



In a recent essay, Sam Warren Miell outlines the Lacanian theorization of sexual difference in an attempt to distinguish the authentic Lacan (whose role in locating sexual difference outside the symbolic is seen as cohering psychoanalysis and the ‘logic of transgenderism’) with the seemingly bastardized and reactionary Lacan present in Slavoj Zizek’s latest piece. Both writers focus on the naive theoretical tension between essentialist and constructivist conceptions of gender; Zizek writes that we must acknowledge the dual extremes of a world in which gender is de-ontologized and a world in which a stable hierarchy based on sex is established, while Miell emphasizes that a gender embedded in the Lacanian Real is neither discursive nor anatomical, but simply a reflection of the boundary line of symbolization as such, the “point at which logos itself fails.” Miell’s proposed alliance between Lacan and transgenderism is motivated by the purchase of Lacan’s project at precisely this crossroads- in seeking to subvert the illusory paradox of gender’s historicization and supposed biological grounding, Lacan is invoked as a sort of antinomical resolution, a way to explain the existence of gender identities in living subjects (“positions assumed in relation to the deadlock of sex”) without positively ontologizing gender.

The more I got to thinking about the possibility of explaining sexual difference via recourse to a fundamental gap in the Symbolic, the more I found myself returning to a basic idea in the philosophy of personal identity . Since Descartes, a good deal of philosophers have regarded the thinking subject (qua res cogitans) as an entity in the world capable of bearing assertoric predication. The structural grammar of the Cogito, if unchallenged, allows us to describe ourselves, on the most fundamental level, in terms that contain non-physical predicates. Once we agree that “I exist,” is universally true at all phenomenally experienced utterances, what stops us from saying “I have seen blue” or “I am fundamentally non-physical”? To many this does not seem problematic, since all three elements in these sentences (The ‘I,’ the predicate, and the the act of predicating the ‘I’ with said predicate) seem intuitive. However, the existence of the phenomenal subject, and the subsequent predication of this subject, are not philosophically uncontroversial movements. What I want to suggest in this essay is the following claim: a resolution similar to Lacan’s on the subject of gender can be made by demonstrating that the ‘I’ as traditionally conceived, and subsequently the act of predicating this ‘I,’ is at its core a confused concept. Just as the Real is the limit of the Symbolic, so the ‘I’ is the limit of predication- it is that through which all predication is seemingly established, but which itself is beyond predication’s grasp. The biological essentialist and the discurivse constructivist both seek to make gender a predicate of the subject- they just differ on what conditions are important when we go about doing this predicating. If I were an essentialist I would examine my biology and make a claim about my gender based on that biological information, and if I were a constructivist I would analyze my place in a historical discourse and make a claim about my gender (or lack thereof) based on that discursive information. But in both cases I would be saying something about myself, something that would seemingly extend beyond the external world of biology and discourse and into the internal world of the mind. If both of these positions are defeated in virtue of the invalidity of their claiming that the subject is one way rather than another, we will have demonstrated that whatever gender is, it eludes the grasp of predication.

The problematization of the (roughly Cartesian) subject is a move that occurs more than once, and I will look at four accounts of this problematization- Hume’s, Kant’s, Nietzsche’s, and Wittgenstein’s. I will keep this account brief- it has increasingly been my experience with metaphysical reasoning that lengthy diatribes are often insufficient in communicating an idea whose principal foundation is not shared with the reader. If the idea of a negative (formally non-existent) ‘I’ is not in some way soon apparent, there is little hope in attempting to ‘jump start’ a change of heart, and this issue is certainly one of perspectival immediacy rather than logical intricacy. My inspiration is from Hume: “In all abstract reasonings there is one point of view which, if we can happily hit, we shall go farther towards illustrating the subject than by all the eloquence in the world. (Hume 2004)”

Hume disagrees with the Cartesian view that there is a self that exists in the world. As an empiricist, Hume requires that whatever is said to exist should be accompanied by a concomitant impression(in Hume’s terminology, this roughly equates to being associated with a sensation), and upon introspection, he fails to find a distinct impression of the self. No one impression continues steadily throughout our lives- such an omnipresent impression is lacking among the oscillations between pain, pleasure, hunger, etc. What Hume does discover upon introspection is a variety of impressions and ideas operated upon by the imagination. (Hume 2004) The subject is for Hume nothing more than a fiction, a bundle of sensations that is improperly reified in the Cartesian tradition. Any attempt by a subject to describe itself would be nothing more than a relation being posited between something that does not legitimately exist with the object of some sense impression or mental idea. In saying ‘I am a human being,’ I would really just be saying that there seems to be a constant impressions of a certain biological organism in my perceptual field.

Certain readers will undoubtedly find fault with the end of the preceding sentence. “Does not your saying ‘my perceptual field’ indicate the existence of a subject?” In a logical sense it would, but then we would simply have to change the logic of our language to more accurately reflect our metaphysical reasoning. Wittgenstein, defending an idiosyncratic brand of linguistic solipsism, imagined a language in which all speakers would reference pains by simply making statements such as “there is a toothache” instead of “I have a toothache” (Wittgenstein 1975). Hence, comments about supposedly subjective sensation would drop the intermediary subject and transform themselves into claims about the world itself. This follows from Wittgenstein’s statements about the self found in the Tractatus, where he claims that the subject is not itself within the world, and thus possesses no positive existence, instead existing as the metaphysical edge of the world (Wittgenstein 1922). Since language finds its limits at the edge of the world, as a logical picture of that which is inside the world, the existence of the subject, and hence any attempt to describe it, is ineffable in the strict Wittgensteinian interpretation- it can only be shown.

One of the central targets in Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason is the supposed science of transcendental psychology, a field which seeks to make claims about the self simply upon the basis of the Cartesian Cogito. Transcendental psychology is based around four claims which Kant calls paralogisms, which posit the immateriality, incorruptibility, personality, and immortality of the soul. The most foundational critique offered by Kant of the paralogisms is not an attack on their specific claims to truth, but on their structure qua claims about the subject. Kant maintains that we can find no basis for transcendental psychology except the “simple, and in itself completely empty, representation ‘I’; and we cannot even say that this is a concept, but only that it is a bare consciousness which accompanies all concepts.” He continues (my italics), “Through this I or he or it (the thing) which thinks, nothing further is represented than a transcendental subject of the thoughts =X… consciousness in itself is not a representation distinguishing a particular object, but a form of representation in general, that is, of representation in so far as it is to be entitled knowledge… “(Kant 1929, 331-332). Here we see that the Kant’s negative transcendental subject is just the collection of formal conditions for the possibility of experience in general, and is not itself anything capable of positive description. If we attempt to describe it as a soul bearing non-physical properties, we will be guilty of paralogistic reasoning, and if we treat it as grounded in a physical substrate, we will be guilty of what Kant calls amphibolous reasoning. So Kant provides yet another obstacle to any attempt to describe the subject positively, and, a fortiori, as gendered.

Nietzsche wrote in On the Genealogy of Morality that the subject is simply part of a process of continuous action that is exceptionalized as standing above the aforementioned determined chain of events. He writes “… there is no substratum; there is no “being” behind the doing, effecting, becoming; “the doer” is simply fabricated into the doing- the doing is everything” (Nietzsche 1998, 25).This passage is already well established in gender theory by virtue of its place in Butler’s Gender Trouble, but taken at its extreme, the quote does more than demonstrate that there is no gendered core prior to performance- there is no core, full stop. The idea that gender is then a performance must be critically challenged by the question- “a performance by whom?” and the intuitive answer “the subject constituted by their gender” replied to with “but there is no such subject ever.” It is not the case that gender is a crucial stage in identity formation, but that identity, if seen as a predication of a subject, is an illegitimate concept which holds that a continual process (the mechanized movements and emergent thoughts of the human body) can be isolated from the physical systems of which it is a part. To revert to the Wittgensteinian language, I would not say that ‘I perform my gender’, but rather, ‘a performance occurs’, and the self is at best simply watching, never itself positively gendered. (Note that this does not invalidate at all feminist critique surrounding the manner in which bodies are improperly gendered/sexed- these are physical extants, not philosophical subjects in the strict sense.)

The four above examples seek to conjointly cause problems for any account that seeks to claim that the self exists in a manner structurally analogous to things in the world, and that the self is therefore incapable of being described in a similar way. As I mentioned before, both essentialists and constructivists seek to describe the subject as being gendered, as if that gender were a property of the subject itself. Even those who claim that gender is determined by the body no doubt feel that this gender extends to the mind (hence talk of a “male mind” and “female mind”, a distinction increasingly fading under the weight of modern scientific evidence), and that if it does not, an important victory for essentialism has been lost (what gender traditionalist would feel comfortable with an unsexed/ungendered mind? Miell’s statement that Lacanian theory reads the unconscious as  “essentially bigendered/bisexual” would not leave Lacanian theory neutral in popular contemporary debates on gender- rather it would position it firmly on the post/transgender side).

One might still ask: “Even if we suppose that gender can no longer be a property of a subject, the question remains- ‘so what’?” I claim the victory here is not dissimilar from the victory Miell obtains from the Lacanian reading of sexual difference. Since gender is established as existing always outside the realm of the symbolic, it cannot be forced into a theoretical discursive matrix, and the impetus then falls on the analyst to confront the actual lived experience of individuals engaging with their gender. If what I have said is correct, a similar result is obtained from thought existing prior to the psychoanalytic tradition. Gender, here always outside the logic of predication, is only understood by reference to the phenomenological experience of individuals in the world. No longer does gender make sense as an absolute predicate- rather gender becomes a facet of human experience and experience only. Introspection into a fictitious ‘self’ will never discover the ‘root’ of gender- rather a gaze outward- upon a mix of phenomenal content, internal sensations, and social factors, all appearing in sensation, will be the key.



Hume, David. An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding and selections from A Treatise of Human Nature, Barnes and Noble, New York, 2004.

Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Pure Reason. Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 1929. Trans. Normal Kemp Smith.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. On the Genealogy of Morality. Hackett, Indianapolis, 1998. Trans. Maudemarie Clark and Alan J. Swensen.

Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Philsoophical Remarks. Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1975. Trans. Raymond Hargreaves and Roger White.

Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., LTD., London, 1922. Trans. C.K. Ogden.






What Happens if Ethics is Legitimate


What Happens if Ethics is Legitimate?

  1. Introduction

There is a longstanding debate regarding the status of ethics. Above and beyond the many disputes that have occurred within ethics, such as those over what sorts of actions are morally justified, there have been disputes over whether concepts such as moral justification are themselves rationally or practically justifiable. Debates of the latter type are often said to be metaethical debates, since they inquire into the fundamental basis of ethics as a whole. I take the central question of metaethics to be whether or not ethics is an ultimately legitimate domain of inquiry. The goal of this paper will not be to defend a particular answer to the central question, but rather to argue that if we answer the central question in the affirmative, there are concomitant obligations regarding how we should go about doing ethics- namely, that ethics should follow a model of inquiry closely associated with the natural sciences. The approach developed below for ethics also helps develop a moral for dealing with contrasting ethical intuitions.

2. What is an ‘Ultimately Legitimate Domain of Inquiry’?

Over time, humans have developed various fields of inquiry that each attempt to answers questions regarding a related subset of problems. For instance, biology attempts to answer questions related to organisms, cryptography questions related to codes, and astronomy questions about the cosmos. Any field that investigates a unified subject through the posing and answering of questions about that subject is a domain of inquiry. In the case of biology, the vast majority of organisms can be said to fall under a basic common definition, and exhibit some predictably similar properties and some predictably variant properties. Mathematics examines numbers, sets, and other mathematical objects, which similarly exhibit some predictably similar properties and some predictably variant properties. However, it seems that not all domains of inquiry are legitimate. For instance, it may be the case that a domain of inquiry focuses on some subject that doesn’t exist in the way it is described as existing within that domain. Astrologists might claim that the position of stars in the sky at the moment of one’s birth can have a causal impact on an individual’s temperament, but it seems as if celestial phenomena do not possess this sort of causal power. Another way a domain of inquiry can be seen as illegitimate is by assuming an inflated ontology. A polytheistic religion may be seen as illegitimate by a monotheist if the god of the monotheist has the same explanatory power as the gods of the polytheist. Self-contradiction also seems to indicate illegitimacy for a domain of inquiry- a mathematician researching problems in naïve set theory, while assuming unrestricted set composition, would be seen as operating within an illegitimate domain of inquiry.

A legitimate domain of inquiry must investigate a subject which does in fact exist in a manner at least minimally close to how it is described in the domain of inquiry as existing, it must have a justified subject of inquiry, and it must not be self-contradictory. The demarcation problem, which asks when science ends and nonscience begins, is similar to the problem of deciding which domains of inquiry are legitimate and which are not- and both problems share the strength of being intuitively straightforward and the difficulty of being formally elusive. This problem is perhaps more challenging in the present case because mathematical and logical domains of inquiry can be described as legitimate even by those holding antirealist views about the status of abstract objects. Since we are seeking to maintain the legitimacy of these fields while remaining non-committal about abstract realism, we cannot resort to saying legitimate fields are only those whose subjects exist in reality. The sieve we develop to sort between legitimate and non-legitimate domains must therefore focus more on the internal structure of a domain of inquiry than on the strict universal veracity of its existence claims. Economics might discuss the fluctuations in a ‘market’ and psychology of events in the ‘mind,’ and we do not want discussions about the existence of emergent entities to dominate our discussion of domain legitimacy for these fields. Our approach to demarcation is still limited, however, and at present we are dependent mostly on methodological heuristics, such as noticing that in legitimate domains of inquiry claims are made such that they could be defeated by claims within the same domain of inquiry, and also that over time there are fewer radical breaks from the bulk of knowledge in legitimate domains. The constraints on legitimate domains of inquiry sketched above are necessary but not sufficient conditions, and at this time a complete enumeration of all requirements for a domain of inquiry to be considered legitimate is beyond the scope of this paper. What is important is to understand that we do have some intuitive examples of legitimate domains of inquiry, and that they tend to have many internal structural similarities. If ethics is to be considered an ultimately legitimate domain of human inquiry, it must end up having theoretical purchase about whatever its subject is the way other legitimate domains of inquiry have theoretical purchase regarding their subjects.

When I say ethics must be an ultimately legitimate domain of inquiry, I mean just that ethics could one day hold the status of a legitimate domain of inquiry, and that there are no internal facts about ethics that would bar it, notwithstanding contingent problems, from so being. This indicates that the legitimacy of a domain of inquiry is not a pragmatic indicator of its effectiveness in reality, but rather a determination based on its subject matter and internal consistency. We would not call a domain illegitimate simply because those engaged in it had failed to produce positive results or develop a consensus, the same way we would not call a domain legitimate simply because it had able practitioners. While it is true that repeated failure to produce results or arrive at consensus oftentimes indicates a failure in the structure of a domain of inquiry, it does not by itself indicate this, and it is possible that a domain that has hitherto failed could ultimately succeed and demonstrate its legitimacy.

3. Two Disjunctions About Ethics

Once we have established the legitimate/illegitimate domain dichotomy, we must commit ourselves to describing ethics as falling into one of the two camps. Ethics, given its subject matter and its internal methodology, will in ideal conditions be able to sustain itself and build up a body of knowledge, or it will in all cases ultimately fail to do so. In this paper I will remain neutral as to which of these two options we should choose, but rather see what consequences might follow from assuming ethics is a legitimate domain of inquiry. Before I begin on that front, however, I should offer up a point of clarification regarding the nature of what I said was the central question of metaethics.

Metaethics is often said to focus on the realism/anti-realism debate, which asks whether or not moral properties exist in the world with mind-independence. However, as I mentioned above, claiming legitimacy for a domain of inquiry is not the same as being a strict realist about that domain. Many practicing mathematicians are anti-realists about abstract objects, but still operate in a domain that has a unified subject that becomes increasingly well understood as the field makes progress. Similarly, one could be a moral nihilist while thinking ethics is a legitimate domain of inquiry- this could be the case if the moral nihilist’s view of ethics was that of a field dedicated to the study of clarifying the strict consequences of certain actions and the subsequent ordering of our intuitions. Conversely, a moral realist could describe ethics as illegitimate- this could be the case if a fideist held that the word of god determined the one true ethics, but that any human effort to discover god’s will could never form a unified body of knowledge over time. While the legitimacy/illegitimacy debate is not identical to the realist/anti-realist debate, they are not orthogonal to one another with regards to ethics. I want to suggest that if ethics is to be viewed as a legitimate domain of inquiry, it will be better approached from a realist perspective. The argument for this rests on another distinction, which is also used to separate domains of inquiry. This distinction is between formal and empirical domain of inquiry.

4. Formal and Empirical Domains

All domains of human inquiry fall into two camps, being either formal or empirical. A formal domain of inquiry is one in which formal systems, each with its own set of constraints, have their properties investigated and contrasted. All properties in these domains follow with logical necessity from certain initial definitions, which are themselves established on the basis of certain pre-theoretical desiderata (or tradition). For instance, logic, as the study of validity, takes as its subject matter how conclusions can be said to follow from premises. To this end, different logical schemas are created by balancing out different considerations. For some logicians dealing with the liar paradox is of paramount importance, and so they might reject bivalence as an axiom. Others might be interested in truth-value parsimony, and so may accept bivalence to maintain a duality of truth values. The salient feature of formal domains is that they have purely internal standards of truth/acceptability, and, strictly speaking, no one system is more fundamentally correct than any other. Even Platonists about abstract objects would hesitate to deny this, since they typically do not claim that only ‘one true math’ or ‘one true logic’ exists, but rather that there is an infinite plurality of abstract objects from which different formal systems can pick and choose. A mathematical Platonist who (for whatever reason) did not allow the number i in their ontology would have a weak case against a mathematical system that did, since the Platonist has already permitted the existence of some abstract mathematical objects and would have to invent new and fanciful restrictions to disallow i. A thought experiment helps reveal the indeterminacy of ultimate truth for schemas in formal domains of inquiry. We can imagine an omniscient being who knows all facts about the world. If we were to meet such a being, we could still sensibly disagree with them about which schemas to adopt in a formal domain of inquiry, and their choice, while perhaps fulfilling more pre-theoretical desiderata (simplicity, consistency, explanatory power) would not be objectively ‘more correct.’ This is not the case with empirical domains of inquiry.

Empirical domains of inquiry take as their subject some specific set of phenomena in the world and attempt to provide a framework within which the existence and behavior of that phenomena is better understood. Physics, for example, will study the effects and causes of gravitational fields, and increasing knowledge in physics will progressively add greater apparent regularity to the behavior of gravitational fields. Just as the Platonist seemed to lack a deep argument against the mutually admissible existence of competing formal schemas, so an anti-realist about certain emergent entities lacks deep arguments against the mutually admissible existence of various empirical domains of inquiry. An anti-realist about the mental, for example, could strictly speaking deny the existence of the mind, or claim that its existence was strictly grounded in the physical, but would still not have provided a basis for thinking psychology was illegitimate, since it would still have some phenomena in nature for which it supplied greater regularity (even if this could be reduced to the behavior of other phenomena). Empirical domains must refer to things that exist in a way at least minimally close to the way they are described as existing within the domain of inquiry, and when different schemas compete within an empirical domain, they cannot both be right. To reuse the thought experiment from earlier, if we were to approach a being who knew all the facts about the world, we could not sensibly disagree with them about the existence of electrons, or who the victor was in an ancient battle. We could disagree definitionally, but so long as we were using the same terms to refer to the same world, disagreement would be hopeless.

5. Is Ethics Formal?

Let us take stock. So far, we have decided that a domain of inquiry can be either legitimate or illegitimate. Since the latter is simply defined as the negation of the former, (a domain is illegitimate just in case it is not legitimate), any domain must be one or the other. Furthermore, we have given the two models that legitimate domains of inquiry always follow- they are either strictly formal, in which case fundamental disagreement is always necessarily unresolvable, or they are empirical, in which case fundamental disagreement is always necessarily resolvable (at least in principle). So if we take it that ethics is a legitimate domain of inquiry (which we are simply assuming for the purposes of this paper) then it is either a formal domain or an empirical domain. Therefore, if we can demonstrate that is best not to view ethics as formal, we can show that if ethics is legitimate, it is empirical. In this section I want to present an argument for why we should not think of ethics as following the formal model.

A picture of ethics according to the formal model constitutes a fairly common approach to the domain. As was mentioned earlier, the schemas used in formal domains are established on the basis of pre-theoretical desiderata. In the case of ethics, the pre-theoretical desiderata are formed by our basic moral intuitions, and our additional intuitions regarding how to build an appropriate theory of ethics. One might believe that murder is never justified, and that an ethical theory is best built without any ad hoc exceptions- this would probably lead to an ethics that was a form of primitive deontology, since this would be an exceptionles prohibitive ethics in keeping with the pre-ethical desiderata. This process, that of building from a set of desiderata to a particular ethics, seems to be the most common formal model in ethics. On this view, various ethical schemas are usually proposed, and whichever best meet our various pre-theoretical desiderata (in this case, ethical and theoretical intuitions) “sticks,” and subsequently lays claim to being our best ethics. Negative utilitarians might argue with standard utilitarians by pointing out that more of the standard utilitarian’s intuitions can be explained by negative utilitarianism, thus providing more explanatory power (the desire for which is a common theoretical desideratum) and more ethical satisfaction (the desire for which is a common ethical desideratum).

But there seems to be a problem that emerges using this method. It is not appropriate to ask whether the axioms of a certain logical schema are true in an absolute sense, since truth is a predicate defined within the logical schema, which applies to the axioms definitionally, but not in an absolute sense. So the principle of non-contradiction is, in a way, no more true than its rejection. In constructing an ethics, the predicates we are most interested in defining the use of are typically ‘ethical’ and ‘unethical,’ and these are roughly analogous to ‘true’ and ‘false’ in a logic. Just as in the case of logic, we cannot say that any set of pre-theoretical desiderata are more or less ‘ethical’ than any other, since the predicate ‘ethical’ is only meaningful within the ethics itself. But the result is that an ethics must be said to be determined by desiderata that are not themselves ethical. In the above case, a primitive deontology against murder was formed on the basis of two desiderata- the intuition against killing, and the intuition that an ethics should not be ad hoc (not granting exceptions). While we may call a murder ‘unethical’ within that ethical schema, there is nothing more ethical about that schema than any other schema, since the desiderata themselves cannot be said to be ethical. This is problematic for two reasons.

Reason 1- Ethics is often tasked with resolving conflicting intuitions. If any set of intuitions can produce an equally ‘ethical’ schema, then there is no strict way one set of intuitions can defeat another, even if the former has greater explanatory force with fewer rules. This is because even the theoretical desiderata of parsimony and explanatory power are not more objectively ‘ethical’ for an ethical theory.

Reason 2- Logic and mathematics are able to define their subject    completely. For instance, a logic can completely define its logical symbols and operators, and a mathematics can define the concept of number and the concept of succession. However, ethics must take concepts from the real world, concepts such as that of a feeling subject, murder, and persons, to name a few. Since ethics cannot exhaustively delimit its own subject in an internal manner, its inability to objectively resolve disputes between various ethical schemas signifies an inability to resolve claims made about things in the real world. So given a particular action, such as a robbery committed on a specific day, ethical schemas will disagree over the ethicality of that action while being unable to conclusively justify any one verdict amongst themselves. This would leads ethics to be indecisive in making formal claims about empirical events, and so ethics would struggle to positively add to our description of physical reality- pointing towards a potential illegitimacy.

Two early attempts at avoiding this problem will fail, one in virtue of being circular, and one in virtue of inducing an infinite regress. The first attempt sees us claiming our desiderata are ethical by making them assumptions in our ethical schemas. Hence, in the case mentioned above regarding a primitive deontology against murder, the ethics would actually read: ‘One must not kill in any case, with no exceptions, and it is permissible to form an ethical theory on the basis of the intuition that it is not permissible to kill and a resistance to ad hoc theorizing.’ However, this would simply mean the desiderata are justifying themselves, which is circular.[1] One might try another path, which would be to have metaethical predicates justifying the desiderata. However, these in turn would be motivated by metadesiderata that would need to be justified, and so a metametaethical set of predicates would be required, and on ad infinitum.

Once we have established the problem with thinking of ethics as adhering to the formal model, where it is simply a battle between intuitions serving as pre-theoretical desiderata, we can move on to considering ethics under the empirical model.

6. Empirical Ethics

We have demonstrated that, for ethics to be an ultimately legitimate domain of inquiry, it must be empirical- but what would this look like? To discover this it is important to note an important commonality that holds between empirical domains.

Empirical domains each take certain phenomena in the world, and attempt to explain their behavior so as to make them better understood. This usually takes the form of adding greater regularity to our expectations about these and other phenomena. One who has no conception of gravitational fields will have a harder time plotting the orbit of celestial bodies than one who does, all else being equal. Sufficient study of frogs will, if herpetology is legitimate, cause us to be less and less surprised by the behavior (and properties) of frogs. So then what phenomenon is explained by ethics? I tentatively suggest that it is the sense of appropriateness of evaluating specific states (axiology) and the sense of appropriateness of attributing guilt and praise to individuals. Once we have a more well developed ethics, we will have a greater degree of regularity regarding our sense of when it is proper to positively/negatively evaluate a certain state and/or praise/blame an individual.

This definition of ethics helps solve two problems. The first problem is how to make sure ethics is capable of resolving conflicting intuitions, a feature of ethics we saw was lacking in the formal approach. Once ethics has as its goal the regulation of the sense of appropriateness of our evaluations and attributions, it can start to address related intuitions by seeing how these sensations stack up against various forms of argumentation. Two individuals, feeling differently about evaluating a certain state positively, can test their respective positions, and see how these fare against each other. This process, if repeated frequently, can begin to shed light on the nature of these intuitions. Even if these individuals persist in their disagreements, we will have learned something- namely that there may be a fundamental inability to resolve the dispute. This is an advance from the formal model, where for any desideratum whatsoever one ethics could be favored over another- in the empirical model there must be a demonstrable inability to ultimately get over the disagreement, in which case the possibility of resolution is defeated, if not the disagreement itself.

Another problem that is solved by this approach to ethics is whether or not we should be realists about ethical properties. In the case of the formal model, we saw that both realism and anti-realism were permitted. In the empirical case, we must side with realism, but from deflationary considerations. Since the subject of ethics is simply the sense of appropriateness of attributions and evaluations, whether our ethics is realist just depends on whether or not we admit that these sensation of appropriateness are real. Since they clearly are (we undoubtedly feel them every day) our ethics is realist. This is not because we hold that abstract moral properties exist, but simply because the explanandum of ethics is now clearly extant.  The predicate ‘ethical’ is now just used to describe those states/individuals we ultimately feel it is appropriate to positively evaluate/praise. The predicate ‘unethical’ will be used in the opposite sense, and ‘non-ethical’ will be used for things where the feeling is neutral.

This ethical schema is certainly not conclusive, and it is just one example of an empirical ethics. Some of the key difficulties in constructing ethical theories are circumvented by this approach, and it opens up the possibility that ethics can follow in the footsteps of the natural sciences. Just as science can study implicit bias and motion tracking in human beings, so it could progressively gather more data on feelings related to evaluation and praise, helping us to slowly build a model of the general human ethical picture of the world. If this model of empirical ethics is taken seriously, there is a moral to be drawn regarding one sort of conflict between ethical intuitions. Oftentimes individuals will admit to principles that in local, isolated instances seem unobjectionable to them- but when the consequences of following these intuitions are shown on a larger scale, there is disagreement. We will say the focused intuition is acting in a local setting, whereas the latter setting is called global. If we were using the formal model, the conflict here would present a challenge- we would not be certain which scenario to privilege in building our theory, if not neither or both. They would seem to have equal weight, and no theory built from casting out the intuition due to global concerns could strictly defeat a theory built on the basis of local support, nor vice versa. However, once we use the empirical model, the balance tips in favor of local considerations. Science has repeatedly shown that humans have trouble extrapolating folk intuitions to settings much larger than those evolution adapted us to survive in[2]. We can have an intuitive sense of small distances and times, but timescales appropriate for cosmology are deeply unintuitive for human beings. There is a similar phenomenon for ethics. For instance, one might hold that it is unethical to cause unnecessary suffering, and base this feeling on limited intrapersonal cases. However, when they realize that this may imply voluntary extinction, there is typically an about-face, where the massive consequences of the intuition seem to defeat it. Yet there is no way to tell how someone would feel it they were to have a deep, complete knowledge of what reality would look like given voluntary extinction. Since their local perspective is far more informed than is the global one, and since we are looking at ethics as being ultimately legitimate (meaning after more or less maximal reflection)[3], we should imagine the local intuition as being at present more well explained and tested than the global, and thus the feelings of blame and evaluation it generates more valuable. In short, empirical ethics implies, at present, following our locally generated intuitions more assuredly than our global ones.



[1] This is further problematized by the fact that another desiderata, that of the intuition that we should justify our desiderata, would have to be added to the schema. This would in fact by itself induce an infinite regress.

[2] For this motivating thought, I am indebted to a similar line of argument found in Every Thing Must Go  by Ladyman and Ross (Chapter 1). Their naturalism is focused on metaphysics; I roughly extend it to ethics.

[3] Including on large-scale consequences, which practically are difficult (if not impossible) to reflect on.

Omnipotence and Omniscience

I don’t think anything could simultaneously have the property of being omnipotent and omniscient. Whatever consequences this yields are what they are, but what follows is why I believe it is the case. I first provide necessary conditions for omnipotence and omniscience. Then I sketch a state of affairs that displays how a contradiction is brought on by assuming something (B) is both omnipotent and omniscient.

We call something (B) omnipotent only if, if for any contingent event or state of affairs E, B can make it the case that ~E. So B can’t make it the case that ‘2+2=4’ is false, nor can B make it the case that ‘It is not the case that Hesperus is Phosphorus’ is true. However, B could make it the case that ‘Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States’ is false, and B could make it the case that ‘It is not the case that New York City is the most populous city in the United States in 2016’ is true.

We call something (B) omniscient only if, for any proposition P, B knows the truth value of P. A further condition is that B is able to determine the proposition P expressed by any given utterance U of any sentence S at any context C.

Let us assume something (B) is both omnipotent and omniscient. Let us also assume there is some contingent state of affairs E that is the case. Let us finally assume there is some proposition P, where P =def ‘The fact that E is an eternal fact’. As an example, if  E =def ‘There is more Hydrogen than Francium’, then P =def ‘The fact that there is more Hydrogen than Francium is an eternal fact’. I do not mean anything deep by the term ‘eternal fact’. I mean just this. Let F be a state of affairs. Let Q be a proposition, where Q =def ‘The fact that F is an eternal fact’. Let R be a proposition where R =def ‘F is the case’. We express (using the Tense Logic (TL) due to Arthur Prior) that:

(1) Q ≡def (G (R) ^ H (R) ^ R)[1]

This reads as: the fact that F is an eternal fact if and only if it will always be the case that F is the case and it has always been the case that F is the case and F is the case.

Here is the problem. Assume we ask B, regarding some contingent state of affairs E that is the case, whether the proposition P stating that the fact that E is an eternal fact is true or not true. As we saw in (1), P can be made logically equivalent to a propositional formula in propositional logic, meaning that P must either be true or not true (since all formulae in propositional logic have truth values of true or not true)[2]. Following our definition of omniscience, B must be able to give the correct truth value for P. Since B knows whether or not P is true or not true, B also knows whether or not the fact that E is an eternal fact. However, this contradicts B’s omnipotence. If B is omnipotent, B should be able to at some time(s) make it the case that ~E, where this modifies the eternality of the fact that E (or the inverse, see footnote)[3]. However, if B were to do this after answering that the fact that E is/(isn’t) an eternal fact, B would not have actually known that it was/(wasn’t) an eternal fact (since it then wouldn’t be and hence never was/(was and hence never wouldn’t be)). That is why I think nothing can be both omnipotent and omniscient simultaneously.

I anticipate two objections to my central claim. The first is that eternal facts might simply not exist regarding contingent states of affairs. Let us assume that this is true. It is either necessarily true or contingently true. I do not think it is necessarily true. A universe in which there is eternal recurrence might have one contingent event repeat every recurrence cycle, and thus the truth that that particular event occurs once per recurrence cycle is an eternal contingent truth. This situation seems intuitively plausible. If the claim is contingently true, then by our definition of omnipotence B should be able to make it the case that is it false, and the problem re-emerges. The second objection is that I have not defined omnipotence and omniscience adequately. However, recall that I did not give exhaustive definitions of either term, rather, I just provided necessary conditions for calling anything either omniscient or omnipotent. While there is a wide-ranging debate about what it means to be either omnipotent or omniscient, I do think there is a strong intuition that something that could not meet the criteria I have established could not be called either, regardless of what other criteria there exists for ‘true’ omnipotence and omniscience.

I do not believe I have even come close to settling this problem entirely. There are still serious issues, for instance, regarding the temporality of B, and whether the antecedence of B’s judgment of P to B’s potential modification of E (or ~E) is necessarily temporal or purely logical. All this is of course complicated by the fact that there is also a non-trivial case for an omniscient and omnipotent being existing in some way outside time. However, I do think my problem is a genuine one that creates some theoretical tension between the two properties, and hopefully puts some pressure on the pre-theoretical sense that they can be unproblematically conjoined in one being.




[1] Strictly speaking, we add that this must be true in all models.

[2] I could claim that it must be either true or false, but I leave the question open.

[3] If the fact that E is an eternal fact, any negation changes its eternality. If E is not an eternal fact, negating ~E at all times where it obtains makes the fact that ~~E (and hence the fact that E) an eternal fact.