What’s Wrong With the Law of Non-Contradiction?

The infamous law of non-contradiction has been used since the invention of that magnificient piece of technology called Language to demonstrate that ‘universal truth’ exists and that a God’s Eye view in principle is undeniable.

The law works by relying on pre-propositional conditions for speech itself i.e. to say something (anything!) requires adopting a position of epistemic authority. This is the complicated way of saying that WITHOUT the presupposition of objective truth, speech and argument cannot even kick off. This is why the most popular use of the law involves exposing self-stultifications. If anyone was to deny that ‘absolute truth’ exists, this denial itself will come under scrutiny, thereby turning the tables on the speaker himself.

Ravi Zacharias, foremost Christian apologist who has employed the law of non-contradiction to great public success

Awesome, isn’t it? This law is thus the favorite tool of personalities like Ravi Zacharias in his attack on any worldview or system of thought that challenges the existence of objective truth. E.g.:

a) Nihilism (“Everything is an illusion”) — does this include the statement that ‘everything is an illusion’? If so, would this render the statement illusory and thus, uh, false?

b) Marxism / Freudianism / Foucaultism / Derrideanism / Darwinism (“There is no truth. ‘Truth’ is entirely determined by Economics / Sex / Power / Conceptual Exclusions / Natural Selection”) — so if Power determined the truth of the statement itself, this will cause the statement to implode thus rendered, by demonstration and definition, false.

c) Pluralism (“All religions are true”) — just ask, what about the truth of the religion which claims that “All other religions are not true”. If this is ALSO true, then the earlier statement has just crashed and burnt.

Game-Set-Match, Law of Non-Contradiction. Isn’t the law, in fact, God-sent? Can there, really, be anything wrong with it at all?

Well, therein lies the problem. The law is perfect. So perfect, in fact, that it’s easy to impute to it a God-like status. And wasn’t it CS Lewis who said that to exalt anything to divinity that is not divine is to create a demon?

Many apologists, when coming across the work of folks like Foucault and Derrida (or other ‘post-modern’ thinkers), feel all they need to do is point out that these thinkers’ philosophies are internally flawed. No need to read them closely (e.g. Derrida simply MUST be promoting gibberish and/or nihilism when he said, “There is nothing outside the text”). No need to ask how their work could be contextually relevant. No need to ask if their principles can even ‘speak to’ the church (e.g. how have Christians used power and influence to determine what stands for orthodoxy?).

No need, in other words, to learn more about these other philosophies. No need to get involved in the dirty, loopy, messy ordeal of asking how truth, whilst retaining an ‘absolutist’ dimension, can be nevertheless a function of other factors. Why bother, right? Since they’ve been internally demolished and proven nonsensical?

In short, the law of non-contradiction tempts one towards lazy thinking. And therein lies the obscene dimension of this law. It’s so engaging that it tempts us to refuse to engage other world-views seriously. The law is so universal that it precisely discourages a universal attitude towards learning (e.g. why take Asian theology seriously since they’re riddled with contradictions, right?).

Again, nothing is wrong with the law qua principle, except its impact on the thinking lives of many people, especially Christian apologists i.e. the law ‘wrongs’ us in the very dimension in which it claims innocence.

Hence, the ‘demon’ of this law. It produces the satisfaction of making other perspectives implode, thus ensuring that ‘absolutist/universalist truth’ is the ONLY criterion of any importance when evaluating world-views. The law itself doesn’t SAY it, but its most frequent users know the ‘truth’ of this law i.e. it is the only law which ultimately matters.

Can we see how the law of non-contradiction is a bit like Money? It’s so ‘natural’, so ‘neutral’, so ubiquitous, people can conveniently ignore what’s happening to their hearts.

Because once the world — in all its messiness, its pain, its splendor, its corruption, its beauty — comes into play, ‘everything’ changes. Pride, food, slums, bad movies, good music, fashion, Facebook updates — all these mediate and condition the way we understand truth, even ‘objective truth’.

[But wait! Isn’t the previous sentence rendered nonsensical?! If all truth is mediated by the world, then wouldn’t the statement that “All truth is mediated by the world” be ITSELF mediated and thus proven false/contradictory? Simple answer: Yes and No, and get a life please.]

Only from the perspective of an abstract law can people believe that our words our arguments our theories our truth-statements should be ENTIRELY FREE of non-propositional, real-world influence. Only people obsessed with this law will fail to take seriously how the very way we obtain, construct and endorse truth is a very contextual endeavor.

The world is much easier once it’s reduced to machine thinking, which is precisely what the law of non-contradiction does. Again, the law tempts people to believe that our political lives, our sexual desires, our economic concerns, our ideological manipulations etc etc etc have no impact whatsoever on the institutions of truth and doctrine that we’ve inherited. In other words, the law of non-contradiction gives us a ‘world-less’ way of understanding truth.

The law of non-contradiction certainly has its uses. Let’s not, however, forget its dark side which takes the following non-contradictory form: “Assume there is no real world — and work from there.”

So what’s wrong with the law? Nothing. And, therefore, everything.

Edu-trainer, Žižek studies, amateur theologian, columnist.