The Principle of Non-Contradiction, Contradicted

FATHER GEORGE W. RUTLER

People contradict the principle of non-contradiction all the time.

Dante's thought was so greatly shaped by Aristotle that he called him "The Philosopher" rather as it is customary to call Saint Paul "The Apostle."  He placed Aristotle in a sort of suburb of Heaven, for Aristotle's logical thought was a noble anticipation of Christ the Word, or Logos, as the litmus test for all logical thought.  Aristotle applied his "Principle of Non-Contradiction" in several ways, but the third way, most pertinent to daily conversation, means that two statements that are opposite cannot both be true. 

Like all great truths, this seems so obvious that it should hardly need to be pointed out.  But people contradict the principle of non-contradiction all the time.  It is easy to slip into this mistake out of fuzzy courtesy — which in the extreme is a form of sentimentality — as when someone says, "That may be true for you, but it is not true for me," or, "All religions are the same."  Pope Benedict XVI saw this as so great a danger to logical living that he spoke of it as a "dictatorship of relativism."

To propose that opposite assertions can be true is harshly to cancel out truth.  In our grammar, two negatives make a positive, but to say that a negative and a positive make a positive would be to say that nothing is really positive.  Then to say that Christ is and is not the Living Word is to say that the Word is just a word.  This "dictatorship" inevitably tries to crush any assertion that there is such a thing as logic at all.

This is not a matter just for the philosophy class.  It has harsh consequences for justice.  The "show trials" of Stalin and Hitler were held in a Humpty Dumpty world where a word means anything the judge wants it to mean.  This reduces sense to sentimentality, and there is a fine line between sentimentality and cruelty, because it twists logic and explains why demagogues speak of caring for society even as they destroy every vestige of it, condoning unnatural acts as natural, and even offering to help children by killing them, as "lawmakers" in Brussels have recently done.  Milton said, "The mind is its own place and in itself can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven."

Christ did not contradict himself when he said that he fulfilled the Law, even while he was breaking some of the little laws.  He was showing the logic of the law as expressive of the eternal Logos that orders all things.  The Apostle, even wiser than The Philosopher, spoke of a wisdom which "is not of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish.  But we speak God's wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.  None of the rulers of this age understood this;  for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory" (1 Corinthians 2:6-8).

 

 



ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Father George William Rutler. "The Principle of Non-Contradiction, Contradicted."  From the Pastor (February 22, 2014).

Reprinted with permission of Father George W. Rutler.

THE AUTHOR

Father Rutler received priestly ordination in 1981. Born in 1945 and reared in the Episcopal tradition, Father Rutler was an Episcopal priest for nine years. He was received into the Catholic Church in 1979 and was sent to the North American College in Rome for seminary studies. Father Rutler graduated from Dartmouth, where he was a Rufus Choate Scholar, and took advanced degrees at the Johns Hopkins University and the General Theological Seminary. He holds several degrees from the Gregorian and Angelicum Universities in Rome, including the Pontifical Doctorate in Sacred Theology, and studied at the Institut Catholique in Paris. In England, in 1988, the University of Oxford awarded him the degree Master of Studies. From 1987 to 1989 he was regular preacher to the students, faculty, and townspeople of Oxford.  He is the pastor of St. Michael's church in New York City. 

Father Rutler has published 18 books, including: Principalities and Powers: Spiritual Combat 1942-1943, Cloud of Witnesses — Dead People I Knew When They Were Alive, Coincidentally: Unserious Reflections on Trivial Connections, A Crisis of Saints: Essays on People and Principles, Brightest and Best, Saint John Vianney: The Cure D'Ars Today, Crisis in Culture, and Adam Danced: The Cross and the Seven Deadly Sins.

Copyright © 2014 Father George W. Rutler




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