Fallacies in Scholastic Argument

Fallacies in Scholastic Argument

© Copyright 2009, T. Stanfill Benns (This text may be downloaded or printed out for private reading, but it may not be uploaded to another Internet site or published, electronically or otherwise, without express written permission from the author.)

“We command you to follow the doctrine of St. Thomas as the Catholic doctrine, and study to embrace it with all your power.” Pope Urban V, letter to the Academy of Toulouse.

If one is truly Catholic, there is only one way to present the truths of faith; one way to discuss and dispute points of doctrine with others and to prove the truths of faith. St. Thomas Aquinas laid out that way or method long ago. Pope Leo XIII champions it here as the only method of demonstration to be used in defending Catholic truth.

“The knowledge and exercise of this science of salvation have certainly always brought the very greatest help to the Church; whether it be for the right understanding and interpretation of Scripture, or for reading and expounding the Fathers with greater safety and profit, or for laying bare and answering different errors and heresies. This doctrine flows from the brimming fountain of the Sacred Scriptures, of the Supreme Pontiffs, and of Holy Fathers and Councils. Now indeed, in these last days, it is in the highest degree necessary to refute heresies and confirm the dogmas of the Catholic Faith. For now have come those dangerous times of which the Apostle speaks. Now men, blasphemous, proud, deceivers, go from bad to worse, wandering from the truth themselves and leading others into error…Scholastic Theology, [Pope Sixtus V] tells us, ‘has an apt coherence of facts and causes, connected with one another; an order and arrangement, like soldiers, drawn up in battle array; definitions and distinctions very lucid; unanswerableness of argument and acute disputations. By these the light is divided from the darkness, and truth from falsehood. The wiles of heretics, wrapped up in many wiles and fallacies, being stripped of their coverings, are bared and laid open.’ But these great and wondrous gifts can only be found in a right use of that philosophy which the masters of Scholasticism, of set purpose and with wise counsel, were everywhere accustomed to use even in their theological disputations…

“There are many, who with minds alienated from the Faith, hate all Catholic teaching, and say that reason alone is their teacher and guide. To heal these men of their unbelief, and to bring them to grace and the Catholic Faith, We think that nothing, after the supernatural help of God, can be more useful in these days than the solid doctrine of the fathers and the Scholastics. They teach firm foundations of Faith, its Divine origin, its certain truth, the arguments by which it is commended to men, the benefits that it has conferred on the human race, and its perfect harmony with reason. They teach all such truths with a weight of evidence and a force that may well persuade even minds unwilling and hostile in the highest degree.” PRAY GOD IT IS SO!

As noted elsewhere, Rev. Joseph Walsh S.J. lists Traditional methods as fallacies in his 1940 work Logic. Under the heading “Ignoratio elenchi” (Missing the Point at Issue, Arguing Beside the Point, Avoiding the Issue, Proving the Wrong Conclusion) Walsh comments, “Debaters and attorneys with a weak case sometimes resort to it deliberately.” He then lists the subordinate forms of ignoratio elenchi as “a.) argument ad balculem, or appeal to physical force by threats, actual violence, violent demonstration, to win one’s point…and f.) argument ad hominem, or personal attack, effected by abusive language or ridicule of an adversary, or charges of inconsistency, etc…”

Below please find fallacies of argument taken from Logic, by Rev. Joseph Walsh, S.J., 1940. Logic is a science that supplies us with the rules that govern scholastic philosophy. We have done our very best here to follow these rules. For no science or art can be said to be true if its rules are disobeyed. Unfortunately others do not seem to hold these rules in high esteem. Below we will demonstrate how these rules have been violated.

I. Fallacies in diction


A. Equivocation: Using the same word(s) in different senses within the same argument.

B. Amphiboly: A sentence or phrase whose structure makes its meaning ambiguous.

C. Composition: Taking collectively what should be taken separately.

D. Division: taking separately what should be taken collectively.

E. Accent: When two similar words are confused by wrong accentuation, or when a wrong meaning is given to a sentence by stressing the wrong words, (in verbal argument only — Walsh).

II. Fallacies extra dictionem

A. Accident or A Dicto Simpliciter ad Dictum Secundem: Assuming that what is true generally is true in every circumstance, when circumstances alter the case.

B. A Dicto Seundum quid ad dictum simpliciter or Special case: Concluding what is true in a certain restricted case or cases is true generally.

C. Ignoratio Elenchi: Missing the point, arguing beside the point, evading the issue, proving the wrong conclusion.

1. Appeal to the populace by arousing passions and prejudices.

2. Appeal to the venerated positions of those holding the same opinions.

3. An appeal to the ignorance of the hearers, tricking them by statements they are unable to test. ignorance. Thus Pope St. Pius X, and Pope Benedict XIV before him rightly taught: “We declare that the greater part of those who are damned have brought the calamity on themselves by ignorance of the mysteries of the faith, which they should have known and believed, in order to be united with the elect.” 
4. Argumentation ad miseracordium, or an appeal for sympathy.

5. Argumentation ad hominem, including personal attack, abusive language, ridicule of an adversary, charges of inconsistency.

6. Argumentation ad balculum: appeal to physical force by threats…

7. Petitio principii or begging the question: Assuming as true that which has yet to be proved.

8. Consequent: An ill-constructed syllogistic demonstration resulting in a false conclusion.

9. False cause: reducing a proposition to an absurd consequence.

10. Post hoc, ergo propter hoc: Attributing an effect not to its true cause, but to something antecedent in time.

11. Many questions: So phrasing a question that to answer either way will affirm or deny something the one asking doesn’t wish to confirm or deny.

12. False analogy: When an argument is drawn from another subject which only in appearance resembles the subject in question.

How many Traditionalists and Conclavists use the above false arguments almost with impunity, yet claim to be Catholic? The Church has decreed that Catholics must use Scholastic philosophy and no other method. She has absolutely condemned the false pragmatist philosophy of Traditionalists and others. If any doubts remain concerning the Church’s abiding To enforce this teaching, we quote Pope Pius XII’s “Humani generis” below:

16. “…Everyone is aware that the terminology employed in the schools and even that used by the Teaching Authority of the Church itself is capable of being perfected and polished; and we know also that the Church itself has not always used the same terms in the same way. It is also manifest that the Church cannot be bound to every system of philosophy that has existed for a short space of time. Nevertheless, the things that have been composed through common effort by Catholic teachers over the course of the centuries to bring about some understanding of dogma are certainly not based on any such weak foundation. These things are based on principles and notions deduced from a true knowledge of created things. In the process of deducing, this knowledge, like a star, gave enlightenment to the human mind through the Church. Hence it is not astonishing that some of these notions have not only been used by the Oecumenical Councils, but also even sanctioned by them, so that it is wrong to depart from them.

17. Hence to neglect, or to reject, or to devalue so many and such great resources which have been conceived, expressed and perfected so often by the age-old work of men endowed with no common talent and holiness, working under the vigilant supervision of the holy magisterium and with the light and leadership of the Holy Ghost in order to state the truths of the faith ever more accurately, to do this so that these things may be replaced by conjectural notions and by some formless and unstable tenets of a new philosophy, tenets which, like the flowers of the field, are in existence today and die tomorrow; this is supreme imprudence and something that would make dogma itself a reed shaken by the wind. The contempt for terms and notions habitually used by scholastic theologians leads of itself to the weakening of what they call speculative theology, a discipline which these men consider devoid of true certitude because it is based on theological reasoning.

18. Unfortunately these advocates of novelty easily pass from despising scholastic theology to the neglect of and even contempt for the Teaching Authority of the Church itself, which gives such authoritative approval to scholastic theology. This Teaching Authority is represented by them as a hindrance to progress and an obstacle in the way of science. Some non-Catholics consider it as an unjust restraint preventing some more qualified theologians from reforming their subject. And although this sacred Office of Teacher in matters of faith and morals must be the proximate and universal criterion of truth for all theologians, since to it has been entrusted by Christ Our Lord the whole deposit of faith – Sacred Scripture and divine Tradition – to be preserved, guarded and interpreted, still the duty that is incumbent on the faithful to flee also those errors which more or less approach heresy, and accordingly “to keep also the constitutions and decrees by which such evil opinions are proscribed and forbidden by the Holy See,” is sometimes as little known as if it did not exist. What is expounded in the Encyclical Letters of the Roman Pontiffs concerning the nature and constitution of the Church, is deliberately and habitually neglected by some with the idea of giving force to a certain vague notion which they profess to have found in the ancient Fathers, especially the Greeks. The Popes, they assert, do not wish to pass judgment on what is a matter of dispute among theologians, so recourse must be had to the early sources, and the recent constitutions and decrees of the Teaching Church must be explained from the writings of the ancients.

29. It is well known how highly the Church regards human reason, for it falls to reason to demonstrate with certainty the existence of God, personal and one; to prove beyond doubt from divine signs the very foundations of the Christian faith; to express properly the law which the Creator has imprinted in the hearts of men; and finally to attain to some notion, indeed a very fruitful notion, of mysteries. But reason can perform these functions safely and well, only when properly trained, that is, when imbued with that sound philosophy which has long been, as it were, a patrimony handed down by earlier Christian ages, and which moreover possesses an authority of even higher order, since the Teaching Authority of the Church, in the light of divine revelation itself, has weighed its fundamental tenets, which have been elaborated and defined little by little by men of great genius. For this philosophy, acknowledged and accepted by the Church, safeguards the genuine validity of human knowledge, the unshakable metaphysical principles of sufficient reason, causality, and finality, and finally the mind’s ability to attain certain and unchangeable truth.

31. If one considers all this well, he will easily see why the Church demands that future priests be instructed in philosophy “according to the method, doctrine, and principles of the Angelic Doctor,” since, as we well know from the experience of centuries, the method of Aquinas is singularly preeminent both for teaching students and for bringing truth to light; his doctrine is in harmony with divine revelation, and is most effective both for safeguarding the foundation of the faith, and for reaping, safely and usefully, the fruits of sound progress.

32. How deplorable it is then that this philosophy, received and honored by the Church, is scorned by some, who shamelessly call it outmoded in form and rationalistic, as they say, in its method of thought. They say that this philosophy upholds the erroneous notion that there can be a metaphysic that is absolutely true; whereas in fact, they say, reality, especially transcendent reality, cannot better be expressed than by disparate teachings, which mutually complete each other, although they are in a way mutually opposed. Our traditional philosophy, then, with its clear exposition and solution of questions, its accurate definition of terms, its clear-cut distinctions, can be, they concede, useful as a preparation for scholastic theology, a preparation quite in accord with medieval mentality; but this philosophy hardly offers a method of philosophizing suited to the needs of our modern culture. They allege, finally, that our perennial philosophy is only a philosophy of immutable essences, while the contemporary mind must look to the existence of things and to life, which is ever in flux. While scorning our philosophy, they extol other philosophies of all kinds, ancient and modern, oriental and occidental, by which they seem to imply that any kind of philosophy or theory, with a few additions and corrections if need be, can be reconciled with Catholic dogma. No Catholic can doubt how false this is, especially where there is question of those fictitious theories they call immanentism, or idealism, or materialism, whether historic or dialectic, or even existentialism, whether atheistic or simply the type that denies the validity of the reason in the field of metaphysics.”

Pope St. Pius X’s condemnations concerning anti-scholastic teaching are infallible; likewise “Humani generis” was considered infallible in its teaching by modern theologians in the 1950s, Rev. J. C. Fenton teaches. We have only to believe with a firm and unshakeable faith.

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