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Shapiro Denies and Affirms the Law of Identity

In response to Dave Rubin pointing out that “belief in God is just a belief; it’s not anything that could be proven,” Ben Shapiro replied: “Every belief system is based on something unproven—all of them”; whatever the foundation, “it’s subjective.”

Mr. Shapiro is half right.

It is true that all philosophies are based on unproven foundations. But it is not true that all foundations are subjective.

The foundational principles of Aristotelianism and Objectivism are not only objective; they are stronger than proven—in that (a) all proofs derive from and depend on them, and (b) any attempt to deny them actually reaffirms them.

Take, for example, the laws of identity, causality, and non-contradiction.

  • The law of identity is the self-evident truth that everything is something specific; everything has properties that make it what it is; everything has a nature: A thing is what it is. (A rose is a rose.)
  • The law of causality is the law of identity applied to action: A thing can act only in accordance with its nature. (A rose can bloom; it cannot speak.)
  • And the law of non-contradiction is the law of identity in negative form: A thing cannot be both what it is and what it is not at the same time and in the same respect. (A rose can’t simultaneously be a non-rose.)

These laws are the basis of all proofs—the ultimate standards by reference to which we form proofs, assess proofs, determine which proofs correspond to reality and which do not. Proof that the Earth orbits the Sun? Proof of evolution by natural selection? Proof that socialism is contrary to the requirements of human life? These and all other proofs are established or verified by reference to the nature of the entities involved, the actions their natures necessitate or permit, and the fact that contradictions cannot exist.

Indeed, the laws of identity, causality, and non-contradiction are so fundamental that they are not rationally deniable. (Ayn Rand’s axioms, “existence exists” and “consciousness exists,” are in this category as well.) As I put it in Loving Life:

To begin with, all arguments presuppose and depend on their validity; any attempt to deny them actually reaffirms them. This phenomenon was first discovered by Aristotle and is called reaffirmation through denial. While trying to deny these laws, a person has to be who he is—he can’t be someone else—because of the law of identity; he has to act as a human being—he can’t act as an eggplant—because of the law of causality; and he has to use words that mean what they mean—he can’t use words that mean what they don’t—because of the law of non-contradiction.

On a more practical level, these laws are why we fuel our cars with gasoline—why we refrigerate certain foods—why we wear warm clothing in winter—why we vaccinate our children—why we string our tennis rackets—why we put wings on airplanes—and why we don’t drink Drano.

More broadly speaking, the entire history of observation, knowledge, and science is based on the laws of identity, causality, and non-contradiction. Every object, every event, every discovery, and every utterance is an example of their validity. These laws are self-evident, immutable, and absolute.

In light of such facts, imagine a conversation in which Mr. Shapiro explicitly attempts to deny the objectivity and absolutism of these foundational laws:

Shapiro: The foundations of all belief systems are subjective. None are objective, none are absolute—including the laws of identity, causality, and non-contradiction.

Biddle: I’m glad that you recognize those laws as objective and absolute. By the way, they’re rationally undeniable as well.

Shapiro: You must have misunderstood. I deny the objectivity and absolutism of those laws. I also deny that they are rationally undeniable.

Biddle: I’m delighted that you affirm these laws not only as objective and absolute, but also as rationally undeniable.

Shapiro: Are you not listening? I do not affirm any of that. I say these laws are not objective. I say they are not absolute. I say they are not rationally undeniable. Look: Objective and not objective are not the same thing. Absolute and not absolute are not the same thing. Rationally undeniable and not rationally undeniable are not the same thing. A thing is what it is, and isn’t what it isn’t, and . . . Oh, wait.

So, as we can see, Shapiro not only acknowledges that people should be able to support their ideas with secular arguments, he also (if reluctantly) affirms that the laws of identity, causality, and non-contradiction are objective, absolute, and rationally undeniable.

Perhaps someday Shapiro will abandon mysticism entirely and embrace reason fully. Given his exceptional intelligence and chosen career, that would be a most welcome development.

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