Soundness is Neither Necessary nor Sufficient for Goodness

In this (very) short article, I am going to try to explain what makes an argument valid (comparing two views), what makes an argument sound (again comparing two corresponding views) and then I aim to distinguish ‘good’ arguments from either of these. I will attempt to obviate why validity, on either interpretation, will be a necessary but insufficient condition for soundness (on that respective interpretation). It will turn out that soundness (on either interpretation) will not be a sufficient or a necessary condition for goodness, and that validity (on either interpretation) will be a necessary but insufficient condition of goodness. It will also be shown that goodness is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition of soundness. This article can, perhaps, serve as a useful prolegomenon to introductory deductive logic, though its distinctions are themselves somewhat unorthodox and reach beyond the scope of formal logic.


One definition of validity which is relatively common, easily found in most introductory textbooks on deductive logic, is the following:

An argument is valid if and only if it is not logically possible for the premises to be true and the conclusion false.

Let’s explore the dynamics of this definition. It would mean that an argument of the following sort would be considered valid:

  1. All men are human
  2. Socrates is a man
  3. Therefore, Socrates is human.

Clearly, in this argument, it is not logically possible for the premises to (both) be true, and for the conclusion to be false. The same can be said of the following argument:

  1. Bob loves Carroll
  2. If Bob loves Carroll then Carroll loves Joe
  3. Therefore, Carroll loves Joe

This is pretty obviously logically valid. So too, though, is the following argument:

  1. All women are purple.
  2. Socrates is a woman.
  3. Therefore, Socrates is purple.

The reason this argument is valid is that it is not possible for the premises to (both) be true, and for the conclusion to be false. Perhaps the premises and conclusion are all, in fact, false, but in any possible world in which the premises were true, the conclusion would be true. Thus, validity is not concerned with truth so much as truth-preservation. The concern is to ensure that one cannot, in a ‘valid’ argument, move from true premises to a false conclusion. Take the following example as well:

  1. All women are purple.
  2. If all women are purple, then evolution is true.
  3. Therefore, evolution is true.

In this argument, we have a conclusion which is (I presume) true in fact, while the premises are all false. However, the argument is clearly valid as well, since it is not logically possible that the premises be true and the conclusion false. Remember that validity requires nothing more than that it is not possible for both (i) the premises to be true, and (ii) the conclusion to be false.

The difficulty with this account of validity arises when we are confronted with examples of the following variety:

  1. All men are animals.
  2. If all men are animals then Tyrannosaurus Rex makes a good pet.
  3. Therefore, 3+4=7

This argument is logically valid, since it is not logically possible for the premises to be true while the conclusion is false (mostly because it isn’t possible for the conclusion to be false, and it is ‘possible’ for the premises to be true). Such an argument, however, doesn’t have any dialectical appeal. Consider also:

  1. I once drew a square-circle,
  2. If I once drew a square-circle, then I am a married bachelor,
  3. Therefore, I once drew the impossible.

This argument can be tricky; in order to find out whether it is valid we have to ask whether it is possible for both (i) the premises to be true, and (ii) the conclusion false. As it turns out, it is not possible for the premises to be true and the conclusion false, precisely because it is not possible for the premises to be true. Thus, formally speaking, it is a logically valid argument.


The definition of a sound argument is pretty straightforward: an argument is sound if and only if it is (i) logically valid, and (ii) all of its premises are true. For example,

  1. Socrates was mortal.
  2. Everything that was mortal, was once alive.
  3. Therefore, Socrates was once alive.

In this argument, we find that it is not logically possible for the premises to be true while the conclusion is false, and in addition, we find that both premises are clearly true. Thus, we have a sound argument on our hands. Any argument which is logically valid is sound just in case all of its premises are true. Thus, for example, the following argument is sound:

  1. A tautology is a tautology.
  2. 6-2=4
  3. The sentence ‘is this a question‘ expresses a question.

This exemplifies the problem with the formal definitions of validity and soundness. It shows that one can construct sound and vacuous arguments by simply ensuring that the premises and conclusions are all necessary truths, or at least that the conclusions are necessary truths while the premises are true. In the interest of more off-the-cuff examples, take for instance:

  1. I once wrote this sentence.
  2. If I once wrote this sentence, then I have written at least one sentence.
  3. Therefore, 3+4=7

This argument is both logically valid, and sound, and yet it appears to be a very bad argument. Nobody who didn’t already accept the conclusion could be led by it to accept the conclusion. It is a bad argument, even for those of us who accept the conclusion; if this argument were submitted as our reason for believing the conclusion then our mathematical belief that 3+4=7 would literally be unjustified (a necessary self-evident truth in which we believe can, of course, be unjustified). What all this illustrates is, first, that the formal definitions of validity and soundness are concerned only with truth preservation, and not with the persuasive force of an argument at all. As philosophers who specialize in the study of modal logic often make a distinction between ‘broad’ and ‘narrow’ logical possibility (eg. a square-circle is broadly logically impossible, but narrowly logically possible since there isn’t any purely formal way to obviate a contradiction between the predicates ‘square’ and ‘circle’), so too, perhaps, should we make a distinction between broad and narrow validity & soundness. What we have looked at so far would be the purely formal or ‘narrow’ accounts of validity and soundness. Maybe a ‘broad’ view of validity (which I will henceforth write as ‘validity*’) would be something like: an argument is valid* if and only if i) it is not possible for the premises to be true while the conclusion is false, and ii) the conclusion meaningfully follows from the truth of the premises. This definition of validity* says everything the former one did, with the addition that the premises and conclusion have to be semantically related (i.e., meaningfully related; they have to have something to do with one another). We can correspondingly say that an argument is sound* just in case it is valid* and its premises are true.

Now, validity* and soundness* are not appropriate distinctions in an introductory course on deductive logic, and so are somewhat philosophically unorthodox. However, they are rather useful outside of that narrow context, and in the context of doing philosophy. In philosophy, we don’t just want sound arguments, we want sound* arguments!


Speaking of what philosophers want, there is another issue I wish to examine, which is what makes an argument ‘good’ by philosophical standards. It turns out, I will argue, that neither soundness nor soundness* are necessary or sufficient conditions of ‘goodness’.

I submit that the goodness of an argument consists in two things: i) that the argument is logically valid*, ii) that the accumulated uncertainty of the premises to the argument’s intended audience sets a reasonably high lower bound on the probability of the conclusion. This second criterion is specially crafted to avoid the common mistakes which have, in the past, been made even by some relatively good philosophers like William Lane Craig; namely, the mistake of thinking that premises in a valid argument need be merely each more plausible than their respective negations for the conclusion to follow forcefully. Indeed, the (probability of the) premises of an argument merely set a lower bound on the probability of the conclusion.[1] If that lower bound on the probability of the conclusion is less than or equal to 0.5 then the argument is not compelling. Whether an argument is persuasive or not to some subject is going to depend on their appraisal of the premises, of course, but a good argument will consist of premises which are not merely more plausible than not, but also highly plausible – plausible enough, at least, that the conclusion will also seem highly plausible. This definition obviously subjectivizes ‘goodness,’ making it dependent upon an audience’s appraisal, but that shouldn’t bother us very much because plausibility has to figure into the goodness of an argument in some way, and ‘plausibility’ is already a term of epistemic appraisal.

Consider the following two arguments, both of which are valid and at least one of which is sound. First, the modal ontological argument, which we can roughly reconstruct as:

  1. God possibly exists (i.e., God exists in at least one logically possible world).
  2. If God exists in one logically possible world then God exists in all logically possible worlds.
  3. If God exists in all logically possible worlds then God exists.
  4. Therefore, God exists.

This argument is sound just in case the conclusion is true. However, that doesn’t make it a very good argument in my sense. Indeed, consider its parody:

  1. God possibly does not exist (i.e., there is at least one logically possible world in which God does not exist).
  2. If there is at least one logically possible world in which God does not exist, then there is no logically possible world in which God exists.
  3. If God exists in no logically possible worlds then God does not exist.
  4. Therefore, God does not exist.

At least one of these two arguments is valid, valid*, sound and sound*, but it is arguable that neither of them are good. Goodness, then, consists in more than just soundness*. So, given the way I’ve just outlined things, we can imagine any number of arguments which are good without being sound, sound without being good, valid* without being sound, sound* without being good, but none which are good without being valid*. The goodness of an argument, it seems, is largely in the eye of the beholder; the goodness of a valid* argument is entirely in the eye of the beholder.


[1] See:


Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust

The Catholic Church certainly doesn’t have an immaculate history; from the Spanish inquisition to the atrocities committed during the crusades, history has borne witness to myriad spectacles of moral failure on the part of Catholics. This point, I take it, is beyond reasonable contest. However, having acknowledged that, I have to say that I have grown aggravated by the mindless tendency to sensationalize and exaggerate these failures, as well as to fabricate some of them wholesale. Enough is enough, and the nonsense has to be called out. Nowhere is this trend more irritating to me than in the case of the wild accusation that Pope Pius XII (one of my favorite popes of all time) was a Nazi sympathizer. So, I will break with my usual habit of blogging about strictly philosophical and/or theological issues and write a little bit in defense of venerable Pope Pius XII.

The late Christopher Hitchens, one of the famed ‘four horsemen’ of the new atheism, wrote:

“None of the Protestant churches, however, went as far as the Catholic hierarchy in ordering an annual celebration for Hitler’s birthday on April 20. On this auspicious date, on papal instructions, the cardinal of Berlin regularly transmitted “warmest congratulations to the führer in the name of the bishops and dioceses in Germany,” these plaudits to be accompanied by “the fervent prayers which the Catholics of Germany are sending to heaven on their altars.” The order was obeyed, and faithfully carried out.

To be fair, this disgraceful tradition was not inaugurated until 1939, in which year there was a change of papacy. And to be fair again, Pope Pius XI had always harbored the most profound misgivings about the Hitler system and its evident capacity for radical evil. (During Hitler’s first visit to Rome, for example, the Holy Father rather ostentatiously took himself out of town to the papal retreat at Castelgandolfo.) However, this ailing and weak pope was continually outpointed, throughout the 1930s, by his secretary of state, Eugenio Pacelli. We have good reason to think that at least one papal encyclical, expressing at least a modicum of concern about the maltreatment of Europe’s Jews, was readied by His Holiness but suppressed by Pacelli, who had another strategy in mind. We now know Pacelli as Pope Pius XII, who succeeded to the office after the death of his former superior in February 1939. Four days after his election by the College of Cardinals, His Holiness composed the following letter to Berlin:

To the Illustrious Herr Adolf Hitler, Fuhrer and Chancellor of the German Reich! Here at the beginning of Our Pontificate We wish to assure you that We remain devoted to the spiritual welfare of the German people entrusted to your leadership. […] During the many years We spent in Germany, we did all in Our power to establish harmonious relations between Church and State. Now that the responsibilities of Our pastoral function have increased Our opportunities, how much more ardently do We pray to reach that goal. May the prosperity of the German people and their progress in every domain come, with God’s help, to fruition!

Within six years of this evil and fatuous message, the once prosperous and civilized people of Germany could gaze around themselves and see hardly one brick piled upon another, as the godless Red Army swept toward Berlin. But I mention this conjuncture for another reason. Believers are supposed to hold that the pope is the vicar of Christ on earth, and the keeper of the keys of Saint Peter. They are of course free to believe this, and to believe that god decides when to end the tenure of one pope or (more important) to inaugurate the tenure of another. This would involve believing in the death of an anti-Nazi pope, and the accession of a pro-Nazi one, as a matter of divine will, a few months before Hitler’s invasion of Poland and the opening of the Second World War.”[1]

This is as naïve an analysis of Catholic theology, as well as of history, as it is possible to find.

Specialists on this issue, such as Ronald J. Rychlak,[2] had challenged Hitchens to debate the issue publicly, but Hitchens never accepted (for whatever reason), and lest one imagine that Rychlak, being Catholic, is unfairly biased, I can direct the reader just as easily to X-Catholic atheists, such as Mark Riebling (who, it just so happens, has done an interview on the topic with another one of the horsemen of the new atheism, Sam Harris).[3] It is worth noting, for a start, that Eugenio Maria Giuseppe Giovanni Pacelli (better known as Pope Pius XII) ascended to the papacy as a successor to Pius XI, whose legacy of opposition to the Nazi’s is as clear as is his encyclical Mit brennender Sorge (1937), in which he denounced and condemned them unequivocally. One source reads:

“When Pius XI died in 1939, the Nazis abhorred the prospect that Pacelli might be elected his successor.
Dr. Joseph Lichten, a Polish Jew who served as a diplomat and later an official of the Jewish Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, writes: “Pacelli had obviously established his position clearly, for the Fascist governments of both Italy and Germany spoke out vigorously against the possibility of his election to succeed Pius XI in March of 1939, though the cardinal secretary of state had served as papal nuncio in Germany from 1917 to 1929. . . . The day after his election, the Berlin Morgenpost said: ‘The election of cardinal Pacelli is not accepted with favor in Germany because he was always opposed to Nazism and practically determined the policies of the Vatican under his predecessor.’ “[4]
Former Israeli diplomat and now Orthodox Jewish Rabbi Pinchas Lapide states that Pius XI “had good reason to make Pacelli the architect of his anti-Nazi policy. Of the forty-four speeches which the Nuncio Pacelli had made on German soil between 1917 and 1929, at least forty contained attacks on Nazism or condemnations of Hitler’s doctrines. . . . Pacelli, who never met the Führer, called it ‘neo-Paganism.’ “[5]””[4]

For example, in April of 1935 Pacelli delivered a speech at Lourdes, France, stating before an audience of no less than 250,000 pilgrims that “[Nazi’s] are in reality only miserable plagiarists who dress up old errors with new tinsel. It does not make any difference whether they flock to the banners of social revolution, whether they are guided by a false concept of the world and of life, or whether they are possessed by the superstition of a race and blood cult.”””[5] When he finally ascended to the papacy, Pius XII confirmed every worry the German elites had about him when he continued to write scathing speeches against Nazism. Not only did he remain vigilant, but he alerted the world to the philosophical horrors of Nazism long before the discovery of the death camps, particularly in one Christmas address so clear it became a cry heard around the world.

“”The New York Times at the time observed of Pius XII’s Christmas address, “This Christmas more than ever he is a lonely voice crying out in the silence of a continent.” Pius XII’s message was carefully analyzed by Reinhard Heydrich’s branch of the SS, which saw the pope’s message as an attack on the Nazi regime and its anti-Semitism. Calling the Christmas address “a masterpiece of clerical falsification,” the SS reported that the “Pope has repudiated the National Socialist New European Order” and noted his assertion that “all peoples and races are worthy of the same consideration.” “Here,” they argued, “he is clearly speaking of the Jews.”””[6]

How are we to believe that this man was Hitler’s Pope? This is the same man who helped write the first draft of Mit brennender Sorge,[7] who orchestrated the secret rescue of as many as 800,000 Jews,[8] who was consulted in the (unsuccessful) plot to oust Hitler from power,[9] who sanctioned the plot to assassinate Hitler,[10] and the same man whom Hitler allegedly[11] plotted to forcefully enter the Vatican and detain.[12] This was the man upon whose death in 1958 Israel’s Foreign Minister at the time, Golda Meir, issued the following statement by way of condolence communicated to the Vatican:

“When fearful martyrdom came to our people in the decade of Nazi terror, the voice of the Pope was raised for the victims. The life of our times was enriched by a voice speaking out on the great moral truths above the tumult of daily conflict. We mourn a great servant of peace.””[13]

In 1955 the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra, in an act permeated with symbolism, gave a special performance at the Vatican in honour of the Pope. No less eminent a scholar than Rabbi David G. Dalin observes:

“on May 26, 1955, the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra flew to Rome to give a special performance of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, at the Vatican’s Consistory Hall, to express the State of Israel’s enduring gratitude for the help that the Pope and the Catholic Church had given to the Jewish people persecuted by the Nazis during the Holocaust. That the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra so joined the rest of the Jewish world in warmly honoring the achievements and legacy of Pope Pius XII is of more than passing significance. As a matter of state policy, the Israeli Philharmonic has never played the music of the nineteenth century composer Richard Wagner because of Wagner’s well-known reputation as an anti-Semite and as Hitler’s “favorite composer,” and as one of the cultural patron saints of the Third Reich, whose music was played at Nazi party functions and ceremonies. Despite requests from music lovers and specialists, the official state ban on the Israeli Philharmonic’s playing Wagner’s music has never been lifted.”[14]

This is the man whose example of Christian charity, virtue and faith was so great that, in the absence of intellectual argument (of which, I note in passing, he was eminently capable), he managed, by example alone, to convert the chief Rabbi of Rome (who also happened to be a doctor of philosophy) Israel Zolli, who, upon conversion to and reception into the Catholic Church in February of 1945, took as his baptismal name ‘Eugenio Maria Zolli,’ in clear homage to the pope.[15] Pius XII actually agreed to Zolli’s request to become his godfather. This conversion, it is worth underscoring, was sincere, as Zolli stresses in his book originally titled “Before the Dawn” and later released under the title “Why I Became a Catholic.”[16] It came about as an indirect result of Zolli observing the actions of Pius XII throughout the second world war, which included housing Zolli in the Vatican, as well as making the Apostolic Palace of Castel Gandolfo a refuge for a significant number of Jews, even allowing his own bed to be used at least 17 times for Jewish mothers to give birth within the safety of the Apostolic Palace.[17]

To claim in the face of such evidence that Pope Pius XII was, in any way, sympathetic to Hitler or Nazism is flatly incredible. Whence, then, this impression of him as Hitler’s Pope? The answer may surprise you. It comes primarily from a piece of propaganda in the form of a play popularized in Germany, written by Rolf Hochhuth in 1963, titled Der Stellvertreter (which is usually translated as “The Deputy” but may be better translated as “The Vicar”).[18] This eight-hour long piece of… egregious historical revisionism was used by the Soviet Union to promote communism in Germany. It was, however, only after this play was performed on Broadway that the caricature of Pope Pius XII as Hitler’s Pope gained notoriety in the West.[19] It catalyzed a slew of literature in the English-speaking world, among the most influential fruits of which we find John Cornwell’s book “Hitler’s Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII,” published in 1999.[20] Since then it has shoved its way into the collective subconscious of misinformed westerners everywhere. Misinformation, it seems, travels faster than the speed of thought.

To be fair, while the play is undoubtedly the primary source for the popular perception, the impression is at least partly promoted by some criticisms of Pius XII suggesting that he could have done more. The Encyclopedia Britannica has an entry an excerpt of which reads as follows:

“Pius XII… played a much more controversial role during the war, [and] has been criticized for failing to speak out more forcefully against the genocidal policies of the Nazis. His strongest statement against genocide was regarded as inadequate by the Allies, though in Germany he was regarded as an Allied sympathizer who had violated his own policy of neutrality. Pius also approved efforts to help the Jews and ordered that the Jews of Rome be given refuge in the city’s religious houses. After the war, the Vatican was involved in extensive humanitarian efforts. Pius, however, was criticized for not having done more. A cautious and experienced diplomat who feared that bold actions would cause more harm than good, he was not a prophet at a time when the world may have needed one.”[21]

This criticism is slightly uncharitable, and it fails to appreciate some of the complexities inherent in negotiating the political and religious terrain with which Pius XII was presented. It is true that Pius XII urged the allied forces to seek alternative solutions to war (see Summi Pontificatus). It is also true that Eugenio Pacelli, acting as the Vatican’s secretary of state, negotiated and agreed to the Reichskonkordat in 1933, a concordat between the Holy See and the German Reich.[22] It is fair to say that Pius XII also attenuated his tone during the second world war, particularly when he saw the Nazi’s target for imprisonment and death Catholic laity, nuns, and clergy by the hundreds in response to his own rhetoric. Hitler’s Nazi Germany showed itself to be incorrigible in the face of criticism, and Pius XII readjusted himself accordingly, focusing his energy on the ‘underground network’ he used to save hundreds of thousands of lives.

If this criticism, with all the advantage of hindsight and the luxury of idealism, is all there is to say against Pope Pius XII, then even if we conceded it without qualification it would go no considerable distance toward justifying the moniker ‘Hitler’s Pope.’ Once we clear away the debris of misinformation and bring into focus all the evidences which bear on his actions, his attitude and his general character, we can see with stunning clarity just how astounding, even scandalizing, it is to refer to this Pope as a Nazi sympathizer. Almost literally, nothing could be further from the truth. As far as asking people in the Church to pray for Hitler, that is not only standard (the Bible in 1 Timothy 2:1-4 commands Christians to pray for their political leaders, however awful they may be – and all the more the more awful they are), but to do the contrary would have been to send a very strong condescending message from the Vatican to Nazi Germany, and the Vatican had to be meticulously diplomatic in its actions (and inactions) to prevent or mitigate the complete political turmoil in Germany. As I indicated above (and others have made the point more competently than I have), the Pope could only vocally oppose Hitler to an extent before it would lead to more casualties, and Pius XII took it as his priority to save lives rather than to save face.

Allow me now, briefly, to anticipate one possible objection to this conclusion on which I insist. Perhaps it occurs to the reader that I, being a Catholic, have a vested interest in defending the Pope, in shielding the Pope from criticism, and as such I turn out to be (even if through no fault of my own) as unreliable as any inordinately biased source. Two responses come to mind. In the first place, if you think that I am guilty of misrepresenting the historical portrait, then I sincerely invite you to peruse and explore the literature on this topic and see for yourself what you make of the matter. Second, perhaps it is worth clarifying that Catholics believe in papal infallibility, but not in papal impeccability. We believe that Popes are guarded by the Holy Spirit against teaching error through the exercise of their papal authority. We do not hesitate to believe that many popes have been astonishingly and spectacularly sinful. Let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that Pius XII was actually horrendously evil, that he was Hitler’s pope, that he had horns growing out of his head, et cetera. What consequences would follow from this for the credibility of the Catholic worldview? Precisely none. Nothing of relevance follows about the truth or falsity of the Catholic worldview as a whole, or about any doctrine in particular. Infallibility does not entail impeccability, and Catholics regard the Pope as infallible only when, under very specific conditions, he invokes his papal authority. Nowhere does Pius XII teach anything (positive) about Hitler’s ideals, or his national socialism, so there is simply nothing here for me to defend out of any misguided sense of Catholic propriety.

The reason I defend this Pope is that I have grown to have a warm affection for both his character and his intellect. Of the veritable library of encyclicals he managed to produce during his pontificate, Humani Generis, Mystici corporis Christi, Orientales omnes Ecclesias, Sempiternus Rex Christus, Musicae sacrae, Ad Apostolorum principis, and Divino afflante Spiritu stand out as being among the most beautiful and (for me) intellectually formative encyclicals I have ever read. Pope Pius XII was a towering intellect with a solid commitment to the exploration of the beauty, truth and goodness of his faith. He also happened to have the moral fortitude and heroism of a saint. This is the reason I rush to his defense.

[1] Hitchens, Christopher. God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. New York: Atlantic Books, 2008.

[2] See some of his extended interviews here:







[9] Peter Hoffmann, History of the German Resistance, 1933-1945. (McGill-Queen’s University Press: 1996) 161, 294.


[11] This is hotly disputed, and may be propaganda from British and allied forces.

[12] Owen Chadwick, Britain and the Vatican During the Second World War, Cambridge University Press: 1988. And Dan Kurzman, “Hitler’s Plan to Kidnap the Pope,” June 26, 2007, accessed November 25, 2016. Additionally, note the oddity of the British using this as pro-allied forces propaganda if Pius XII really was in league with Hitler. Thus, even if this was originally propaganda, it is propaganda which provides evidence that Pius was not a Nazi sympathizer.

[13] Rabbi David G. Dalin, “A Righteous Gentile: Pope Pius XII and the Jews,”

[14] Rabbi David G. Dalin, “A Righteous Gentile: Pope Pius XII and the Jews,”…/a-righteous-gentile…



[17] (29 minutes in).



[20] Cornwell, John. Hitler’s Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII. Penguin, 2000.


[22] Which can be found here, but only in Italian and German:

Is Presentism true(-making apt)?

Here’s an argument against presentism from the intuitively plausible principle that for any truth, there must be a truth-maker which makes a difference. Although I’m assuming a correspondence theory of truth, I don’t mind flirting with the idea that other theories of truth could adopt some truth-making principle and carry on with my argument keeping everything else the same. What I mean, here, by making a difference is something like this: if there is a possible world W1, in which T1 is true, and M1 is T1‘s truthmaker, then there is no possible world W2 which is maximally close to W1 in all respects save for that M1 (or its equivalent M2)[1] is unavailable (so, similar mutatis mutandis), at which T1 (or its equivalent T2) is true. I will bracket concerns about whether truths are multiply-realizable in the sense that any particular truth Tn might have any of a set of realizers {M1, M2, M3… Mn}, and I will, therefore, dodge questions about over-determinated truth-values and related concerns; I only note in passing that I don’t think much of these concerns, but I want to avoid them because I also haven’t thought much about these concerns.

Suffice it to say that by T1 having a truth-maker in M1, I mean that M1 is the reason T1 is true.[2] Now, consider the world as it looks through the eyes of a presentist. The presentist believes that the set of all things which exist, and the set of all things which exists now, are identical. There is no thing which both exists, and does not exist presently. Only the sum of all truths which are true ‘right now’ are true at all (this may be thought to be an unfair characterization, since the presentist may still believe that necessary truths have timeless entities, such as abstract objects, as their truth-makers, but I think this is contrary to the letter, if not the spirit, of presentism; for the strict presentist, only that which is present exists).

Now, what, on presentism, can account for the fact that we can make true statements about the past (let alone the future)? There is, presumably, some truth-making ingredient which presently exists which can make true statements about the past true. However, consider the classical problem in epistemology of the unverifiability of the reality of the past. As Bertrand Russell put it in his famous Problems of Philosophy, our knowledge of the past is based not on sense-experience (which would make it empirical in the strictest sense), but on our acquaintance with our own memory. We must, he insists, be able to have knowledge by acquaintance with things other than sense-experience, or else we would not be able to know that the past was real:

“But if [sense-data] were the sole example [of the things with which we are acquainted], our knowledge would be very much more restricted than it is. We should only know what is now present to our senses: we could not know anything about the past–not even that there was a past…
This immediate knowledge by memory is the source of all our knowledge concerning the past: without it, there could be no knowledge of the past by inference, since we should never know that there was anything past to be inferred.”[3]

The point here is that skepticism about the reliability of our memory will lead to skepticism about the very reality of the past, a worry which no amount of empirical investigation can alleviate. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that the whole world popped into existence moments ago with the appearance of age (e.g., light travelling to your retinas with the appearance of having come from stars (light-years away), memories of the first half of the conversation you may now be in, memories of having read the opening paragraph of this post, etc.). How would the world look any different from how it would have looked if it had had a past (and, let’s assume, precisely that past in which the evidence leads us to believe)? There seems to be no difference between the two. The worlds look empirically identical.

You might (quite rightly) think that these possible worlds could be metaphysically differentiated, but how could we articulate the metaphysical distinction on presentism? We cannot just say that only one of the worlds has the property of having a past, for whatever that amounts to on presentism will, it seems, be metaphysically indistinguishable from the property of having the appearance of having a past! Where, on the present ‘slice’ of the universe (whatever shape that takes), cosmos, and/or noumenal world can we locate a truth-maker for past-tense truths which would not have been there if the world had merely popped into existence moments ago preloaded with all the appearances of age? If there is no way to articulate a difference, then we might have on hand a good reason to be skeptical of presentism (or else, I suppose, skeptical of truth-making accounts of truth, but I take it as nearly incontestable that presentism is less intuitively secure than the generic truth-making account of truth). Maybe I’m mistaken, but I am under the spell of a powerful suspicion that the metaphysics of presentism makes no room for the kind of truth-maker I’m looking for.

But: perhaps there is a problem with the question itself. The presentist might insist that they take issue with the grammar of this objection, since it seems as though it assumes the reality of the past. The presentist may insist that on presentism there is no metaphysical difference between the possible world ‘with a real past’ and the possible world ‘with an apparent past’ precisely because there is no difference (i.e., simpliciter). The question becomes a pseudo-question, and the presentist follows the dance-moves of the positivist around the issue. This, however, seems to me to be an at least equally damning flaw in presentism as the lack of a truth-maker would be; if the presentist cannot make room for the meaningfulness of a distinction we all know very well to be meaningful then we should treat presentism with the same[4] disdain with which we treat logical positivism. If they do not make room for the semantic difference then they will either be violating the law of excluded middle, or they will be denying the meaningfulness of propositions we all know to be perfectly intelligible.

[1] I’m not sure if this comment, along with the one shortly to follow, is entirely appropriate here. I suspect that it may depend on one’s theory of reference across possible worlds. Nevertheless, I think my meaning is clear enough for the purposes of this post.

[2] Depending on how we cash out ‘reason’ here, this might be enough to avoid the difficulties I gestured towards above.

[3] Bertrand Russell, The Problems of Philosophy, (OUP: Oxford, 2001), 21.

[4] If not the same, on account of logical positivism’s being self-referentially incoherent (a flaw which we have yet to show presentism to have earned for itself), then at least a similar disdain. One might even say, a disdain so similar that the difference cannot be verified.

The Apocryphal Acts of John, and Early Christian Iconography

The doctrinal debate over iconography was not dogmatically settled in Christendom until the second council of Nicea (787 A.D.), otherwise known as the seventh ecumenical council, was convened to discuss the matter, and Christian theologians of the first rank such as St. John Damascene established on the basis of both Scripture and reason that iconography and Christian art in general were theologically licit. At the same council the iconoclasts were bold enough to quote the (apocryphal) Acts of John, a text purportedly written by Leucius Charinus who was a disciple of the Apostle John. In fact, there is a collection of apocryphal ‘acts’ attributed (almost certainly falsely)[1] to him which are collectively referred to as the Cycle, and this includes the Acts of Johnthe Acts of Thomasthe Acts of Andrewthe Acts of Peter and even one referred to as the Acts of Paul. Of these, the Acts of John and the Acts of Thomas are regarded as the most patently Gnostic of the collection. However, since scholars estimate that the Acts of John was probably the earliest of these apocryphal acts, many have voiced the suspicion that the most “blatantly gnostic and/or docetic chapters (94-102 and 109) are a later addition.”[2] I am inclined to believe that both Gnosticism in general, and Docetism in particular, came about very early rather than cropping up later (i.e., in the latter second, and the third, centuries A.D.), but I digress from this point because it has nothing to do with my purpose here. It suffices, for my purposes, to establish that the Acts of John was a relatively early work of the second century, or at least that the selections with which I will concern myself are regarded by the near universal consensus of scholarship to be materials composed sometime in the early second century.

What interests me most about this short apocryphal Christian/Gnostic ‘romance’ is that it demonstrates that debates over iconography were already underway in the early second century. Thus, though the debate wasn’t dogmatically settled (for Catholics) until the seventh ecumenical council at Nicea, it was already well underway before the first ecumenical council at Nicea (in 325 A.D.). From a dogmatically Catholic perspective, iconography has been with the Church since her birth. Tradition[3] recounts that St. Luke himself was the first to compose an icon of the Virgin Mary, codifying his faith and devotion in artistic form. In fact, “the monasteries of Hodegon and Soumela [in modern day Istanbul] claim that the icons of the Virgin Mary in their possession are Luke’s paintings.”[4]

What this selection from Gnostic literature confirms, or at least provides very strong evidence for, is both the existence of iconography in the earliest proto-orthodox (i.e., the Catholic) Church, and its opposition in Gnostic circles. This post will be less argumentative than a full-blown proper article would be. It’s main purpose, instead, is to simply ‘deposit’ a piece of evidence which fits into a larger case for the truth of the Catholic faith in general, and for the legitimacy (as measured by orthodox Christian theology) of iconography in particular. It suggests that when we approach these apocryphal and ‘Gnostic’ texts with a hermeneutic of Catholic dogmatism we find that the texts openly confirm assumptions adopted by the analogy of faith. For example, if Catholicism were true, we would expect and predict that the earliest Christians, possibly including the Apostles, were on-board with iconography. Since the Acts of John, as we will see in a moment, polemically attacks the Christian practice of creating icons, we can safely assume that it was attacking something practiced by Christians of its time (i.e., the early second century), and almost definitely not practiced by ‘Christians’ of the Gnostic persuasion (from which the author is writing), but by another Christian group influential enough to be worthy of antagonizing. The best, if not the only, candidate for such a ‘group’ is the proto-orthodox[5] church.

I want, now, to call into evidence the following interesting polemical passage from the Acts of John, which provides strong evidence for two complimentary theses: i) that many early Christians were practicing iconography, and ii) that the early Christians who were so doing were of the proto-orthodox party (and not the Gnostics). Let the reader decide for herself whether (or how well) it establishes these theses.

“26. Then there came together a great gathering of people because of John. And while he was addressing those who were present  Lycomedes, who had a friend who was a skillful painter, went running to him and said, ‘You see how I have hurried to come to you: come quickly to my house and paint the man whom I show you without his knowing it.’ And the painter, giving someone the necessary implements and colours, said to Lycomedes, ‘Show me the man and for the rest have no anxiety.’ Then Lycomedes pointed out John to the painter, and brought him near and shut him up in a room from which the Apostle of Christ could be seen. <And Lycomedes> was with the blessed man, feasting upon the faith and the knowledge of our God, and rejoiced even more because he was going to have him in a portrait.
27. So on the first day the painter drew his outline and went away; but on the next day he panted him in with his colours, and so delivered the portrait to Lycomedes, to his great joy; and he <took i>, put it in his bedroom and put garlands on it; so that when John later noticed (something), he said to him,’ My dear child, what is it you are doing when you come from the bath into your bedroom alone? Am I not to pray with you and with the other brethren? Or are you hiding (something) from us?’ And saying this and joking with him he went into the bedroom; and he saw there a portrait of an old man I crowned with garlands, and lamps beside it and altars in front. And he called him and said, ‘Lycomedes, what does this portrait mean to you? Is it one of your gods that is painted here? Why, I see you are still living as a pagan!’ And Lycomedes answered him ‘He alone is my God who raised me up from death with my wife. But if besides that God we may call our earthly benefactors gods, you are the one painted in the portrait, whom I crown and love and reverence, as having become a good guide to me.’
28. Then John, who had never beheld his own face, said to him, ‘You are teasing me, child; am I such in form? By your Lord, how can you persuade me that the portrait is like me?’ And Lycomedes brought him a mirror, and when he had seen himself in the mirror and gazed at the portrait, he said, ‘As the Lord Jesus Christ liveth, the portrait is like me; yet not like me, my child, but like my image in the flesh; for if this painter who has copied this face of mine wants to put me in a picture, *let him break away* <from> colours such as are given to me now, from boards, from outline and drapery (?), from shape <and> form, from age and youth, and from all that is visible.
29. But do you be a good painter for me, Lycomedes. You have colours which he gives you through me, that is, Jesus, who paints us all for himself, who knows the shapes and forms and figures and dispositions and types of our souls. And these are the colours which I tell you to paint with:faith in God, knowledge (gnosis), reverence, kindness, fellowship, mildness, goodness, brotherly love, purity, sincerity, tranquility, fearlessness, cheerfulness, dignity and the whole band of colours which portray your soul and already raise up your members that were cast down and level those that were lifted up, ( . . . ) which curb your bruises and heal your wounds and arrange your tangled hair and wash your face and instruct your eyes and cleanse your heart and purge your belly and cut off that which is below it; in brief, when a full blend and mixture of such colours has come together into your soul it will present it to our lord Jesus Christ indelible, well-polished and firmly shaped. But what you have now done is childish and imperfect; you have drawn a dead likeness of a dead man<…>.”[6]

[1] Irenaeus doesn’t reflect any cognizance (at least to my knowledge) of these writings, much less their attributions to a disciple of John, and he would surely have attacked them had he been familiar with them (which he almost certainly would have been, had they been written by Leucius).

[2] Geoff Twobridge’s Introduction to the Acts of John,

[3] Here meaning general tradition, as opposed to Dogmatic Tradition.

[4] See:

[5] To call this church ‘proto-orthodox’ is the politically correct way of referring to that one great Church which eventually gains power in the Roman Empire, but to avoid Theological partisanship scholars sometimes simply refer to it as ‘proto-orthodox’ to avoid entirely the question of whether this Church was ‘Roman Catholic’ or ‘Eastern Orthodox’ or whatever, – in this instance it doesn’t much matter to me, since both the Eastern Orthodox, and the Roman Catholic churches are full to the brim with iconophiles, but, so that the reader is aware, whenever I use the term ‘proto-orthodox’ I will take myself to be referring, in fact, to the Catholic Church. The term proto-orthodox also has a negative insinuation, namely of being prior to and not identical with the ‘orthodoxy’ later established, so that it implies that to call this early church ‘orthodox’ is an anachronism. I simply reject that implication, thinking it both prejudicial and unfounded, and maintained only by an ostrich-like head-in-the-sand approach to historical theology which refuses search for the best empirically verifiable model of what that Church must really have looked like in its time. The (selective) skepticism in modern departments of Theology is almost worse than that still found in philosophy departments!

[6] The current translation is unknown to me, as it was handed out to me in a class on Johannine literature, and our professor did not provide any citation information along with the copies he handed out (in addition, I haven’t been able to find it on my own). However, one can find a nearly identical translation online at written by M.R. James.

Statement of Purpose

This blog is not my first, but as I am preparing to launch into graduate studies I have looked over the posts on my undergraduate blog,  and I have found myself somewhat dissatisfied with my work. I have plenty of articles on there which I’m very proud of, and I greatly enjoyed picking up the hobby of blogging, but the purpose of the former blog was to practice my writing, to share my ideas, to try new ideas out, to give myself a repository for material I wish others had written on (but they hadn’t, so I had to), and, finally, to help my memory retention. Although my writing has improved, I have also picked up some somewhat intellectually irresponsible (or ‘lazy’) habits. I often gloss over ideas which I should think about more carefully. I also believe I should put more effort into making my writing more accessible (to whatever degree that’s feasible given the nature of the things about which I want to write), or at least clearer. Most of the articles among the over 420 on the former blog were written in the space of 45 minutes to an hour. I have learnt to write fast, but I haven’t really learnt to write well.

The previous blog has served it’s purpose, but for this blog I have a new vision. A vision to raise the quality of my arguments and analyses, and to sanitize my writing habits of the intellectual laziness so evident in my former work. I will inevitably clean up and republish much of my former work, and bring a number of thoughts together into more comprehensive syntheses. For instance I will be able to produce more comprehensive posts on topics such as Molinism, the Traditional doctrine of Hell, Extreme Modal Realist theodicies, arguments for God’s existence, the analytic-synthetic distinction and the structure of God’s knowledge, and, of course, plenty of thoughts on the philosophy of time.