Dialectic Reasoning
Patrick Henry College as an example.


Dean Gotcher

As touted by Patrick Henry College, Aristotle's dialectic 'reasoning' is worthy of study and application:

Aristotle's Topics is explicitly concerned with formalizing the first set of rules for disputations and the label, "dialectician" is ascribed almost exclusively to competitors in mental gymnastics. However, a close reading of the text discloses how carefully Aristotle distinguishes between the spirit of competition and the spirit of inquiry; between argument for the sake of learning and argument for the sake of intellectual exercise. Aristotle’s final exhortation to the would-be disputant indicates a higher concern than mere competition: "Moreover, as contributing to knowledge and to philosophic wisdom the power of discerning and holding in one view the results of either of two hypotheses is no mean instrument; for it only remains to make a right choice of one of them." Aristotle maintains the distinction between dialectical disputation and dialectical inquiry throughout his Topics.

Dialectic should be understood also as "A process of criticism wherein lies the path to the principles of all inquiries." Dialectical reasoning occupies a cardinal office in the Aristotelian taxonomy. The practice of dialectical disputation is indeed concerned largely with discovering arguments, but dialectical reasoning, dialectic in the broader sense, is a process of criticism and a way of securing the proof of propositions that are in doubt.

Dialectic is exemplified in the Socratic method..... (It has been removed since the writing of this issue, which does not mean it is no longer being taught, just not open to your eyes.)

Parents beware, while professors at Patrick Henry College teach their students (your child) to use dialectic 'reasoning' to gain access to 'truth,' Martin Luther warned of the dangers of dialectic 'reasoning' to their soul. Luther reveals the blindness of their hearts and minds, pointing us to the Word of God (instead of to the "wisdom" of men).  It should be noted that Socrates was executed because he, i.e., his use of "critical thinking," i.e., dialectic 'reasoning' 1) corrupted the morals of the youth and 2) destroyed their faith in authority.  It will do the same to your child today as well, with them defending the 'reasoning' process and their professors who tout it instead of holding fast to the Word of God, in faith and obeying you, i.e., respecting your authority as their parent.

Luther warns us of Aristotle's 'reasoning' process:

We do not become righteous by doing righteous deeds but, having been made righteous, we do righteous deeds. (Luther's Works: Vol. 31, Career of the Reformer: I, p. 12)

... the whole Aristotle is to theology as darkness is to light. (Luther's Works: Vol. 31, Career of the Reformer: I, p. 12)

... no one can become a theologian unless he becomes one without Aristotle [without dialectic 'reasoning']." bracketed added (Luther's Works: Vol. 31, Career of the Reformer: I, p. 12)

Thomas [Aquinas] wrote a great deal of heresy, and is responsible for the reign of Aristotle, the destroyer of godly doctrine. (Luther's Works: Vol. 32, Career of the Reformer: II p. 258)

Virtually the entire Ethics of Aristotle is the worst enemy of grace. (Luther's Works: Vol. 31, Career of the Reformer: I, p. 12)

I greatly fear that the universities, unless they teach the Holy Scriptures diligently and impress them on the young students, are wide gates to hell. (Luther's Works: Vol. 1, The Christian in Society: p. 207)

I would advise no one to send his child where the Holy Scriptures are not supreme. Every institution that does not unceasingly pursue the study of God's word becomes corrupt. (Luther's Works: Vol. 1, The Christian in Society: p. 207)

... if we should hold to his [Aristotle's] meaning as strongly as possible (as I proposed here), nevertheless one gains no aid whatsoever from it, either for theology and sacred letters or even for natural philosophy. (Luther's Works: Vol. 31, Career of the Reformer: I, p. 58)

... according to the testimony of Gregory Nazianzen in his "Sermon against the Arians," Aristotle is discovered to be nothing more than a mere sophist and a bandier of words. (Luther's Works: Vol. 31, Career of the Reformer: I, p. 222)

Miserable Christians, whose words and faith still depend on the interpretations of men and who expect clarification from them! This is frivolous and ungodly. The Scriptures are common to all, and are clear enough in respect to what is necessary for salvation and are also obscure enough for inquiring minds ... let us reject the word of man. (Luther's Works: Vol. 32, Career of the Reformer: II, p.217)

In all these hundreds of years up to the present, the courses at the universities have not produced, out of so many students, a single martyr or saint to prove that their instruction is right and pleasing to God while (the ancients from their) private schools have sent out swarms of saints. (Luther's Works: Vol. 32, Career of the Reformer: II, p.258) In vain does one fashion a logic of faith, a substitution brought about without regard for limit and measure. (Luther's Works: Vol. 31, Career of the Reformer: I, p. 12)

My advice has been that a young man avoid scholastic philosophy and theology like the very death of his soul. (Luther's Works: Vol. 32, Career of the Reformer: II, p.258)

The sophists have imposed tyranny and bondage upon our freedom to such a point that we must not resist that twice accursed Aristotle, but are compelled to submit. Shall we therefore be perpetually enslaved and never breath in Christian liberty, nor sigh from out of this Babylon for our scriptures and our home? (Luther's Works: Vol. 32, Career of the Reformer: II, p.217)

... Aristotle's philosophy is contrary to theology since in all things it seeks those things which are its own and receives rather than gives something good. (Luther's Works: Vol. 31, Career of the Reformer: I, p. 57)

The sophists, nevertheless, rise proudly up, hold their ears, close their eyes, and turn away their heart just so that they may fill all ears with their human words, and alone may occupy the stage so that no one will bark against their assertion[s] ... The word of man is sacred and to be venerated, but God's word is handed over to whores ... the meaning of sin ... is dependent on the arbitrary choice of the sophists. (Luther's Works: Vol. 32, Career of the Reformer: II, p.216)

This theologian of glory, however, learns from Aristotle that the object of the will is the good and the good is worthy to be loved, while the evil, on the other hand, is worthy to hate. (Luther's Works: Vol. 31, Career of the Reformer: I, p. 57)

... with the assistance of the mastermind Aristotle, they (Papal Church) decree further that the soul is "essentially the form of the human body" [which] make[s] it possible for them to hold fast to the human dreams and the doctrines of devils while they trample upon and destroy faith and the teaching of Christ. (Luther's Works: Vol. 32, Career of the Reformer: II, p.78)

It is just such a god that Aristotle, too, depicts for us, that is to say one who drowses (enjoying undisturbed blessedness in the contemplation of his own being) and lets all and sundry use and abuse his kindness and severity. (Luther's Works: Vol. 33, Career of the Reformer: III,p.171)

Here (Col. 2:8) it is clear that Paul wants Christ alone to be taught and heard. Who does not see how the universities read the Bible? ... it has been so bothersome to read and respond to this filth. (Luther's Works: Vol. 32, Career of the Reformer: II, p.259) 13. For philosophy does not know the efficient cause for certain, nor likewise the final cause, 14. Because it posits no other final cause than the peace of this life, and does not know that the efficient cause is God the creator. 15. Indeed, concerning the formal cause which they call soul, there is not and never will be agreement among the philosophers. 16. For so far as Aristotle defines it as the first driving force of the body which as the power to live, he too wished to deceive readers and hearers. [foot note: Aristotle On the Soul, II 4, "But the soul is the cause and first principle of the living body. The words 'cause' and 'first principle' are used in several separate senses. But the soul is equally the cause in each of the three senses to which we have referred; for it is the cause in the sense of being that from which motion is derived, in the sense of the purpose or final cause, and as being the substance of all bodies that have souls." W.S. (trans.), Aristotle's On the Soul (Cambridge, Mass. 1935), p.87] 17. Nor is there any hope that man in this principal part can himself know what he is until he sees himself in his origin which is God. (Luther's Works: Vol. 34, Career of the Reformer: IV, p.138)

Dr. M. Luther: Demonstrate that philosophy must be separated from theology. Philosophers and Aristotle are not able to understand or to define what the theological man is, but by the grace of God we are able to do it, because we have the Bible. (Luther's Works: Vol. 34, Career of the Reformer: IV, p.142)

Response: We say that philosophy knows nothing at all about man. Aristotle assumes a primum mobile or mover. Hence he concludes that all things are done by the prime mover with inner cooperation, and so dreams that the prime mover acts like a nursemaid who rocks the cradle of a child, yet admires herself. Thus Aristotle condemns us. In short, philosophers know nothing about God the creator and man made of a lump of earth. Augustine says that he found all things in the Platonic books except this one thing, that the Word was made flesh. But Hermese Trismegistus composed that book for Plato and pilfered it all from the Gospel of John. That book reached Augustine and he was deceived by its persuasion. [foot note concerning Tristmegistus an Egypto-Hellenic theologian. (Augustine has an extensive discussion of Trismegistus in the City of God, viii, 22-27)] (Luther's Works: Vol. 34, Career of the Reformer: IV, p.143)

If Aristotle had understood the innate sinful condition, he would have called it a disposition, not only an affection. For original sin is a root and inborn evil, which only comes to an end when this body has been entirely mortified, purged by fire, and reformed. Meanwhile, however, it is not imputed to the godly. (Luther's Works: Vol. 34, Career of the Reformer: IV, p.165) Just as Aristotle speaks of affections which are in us but bring us neither blame nor praise, [foot note: Nicomachean Ethis, ii, 4 and 5, "Now neither the virtues nor the vices are passions, because we are not called good or bad on the ground of our passions, but are so called on the ground of our virtues and our vices, and because we are neither praised nor blamed for our passions (for the man who feels fear or anger is not praised, nor is the man who simply feels anger blamed, but the man who feels it in a certain way), but for our virtues and our vices, we are praised or blamed." W. D. Ross (ed), The Works of Aristotle, IX (Oxford, 1925), 1105b.] so according to them as according to him, concupiscence is a kind of indifferent affection, or, as they call it, "adiaphoron," which does not damn us, and which is neither advantageous nor injurious to us. (Luther's Works: Vol. 34, Career of the Reformer: IV, p.186)

These are dialectical phantasies or opinions, that man can without the Holy Spirit love God above all things. ... They likewise said that human nature is untainted. All these ideas come from ignorance of original sin (Luther's Works: Vol. 34, Career of the Reformer: IV, p.187)

Inborn evil makes acts evil. That is the condition, that is to say, original sin is the root of actual sins. But Aristotle contradicts this, holding that passions are moderate virtues. For philosophers understand sins to be passions. [Personal Note: the same can be said for psychology.] But that radical sin does not cease, nor will ever be destroyed, except through the fire of the conflagration. Meanwhile in this wicked life, God deals with us in such a way that he does not impute our sins to us. (Luther's Works: Vol. 34, Career of the Reformer: IV, p.190)

The universities, too, need a good, thorough reformation. I just say that, no matter whom it annoys. Everything the papacy has instituted and ordered serves only to increase sin and error. What else are the universities, unless they are utterly changed from what they have been hitherto, than what the book of Maccabees calls gymnasia epheborum et graecae gloriae? [foot note: places for the training of youth in the fashions of Greek culture. II Macc. 4:9] What are they but places where loose living is practiced, where little is taught of the Holy Scriptures and Christian faith, and where only the blind heathen teacher Aristotle rules far more than Christ? [foot note: Scholars other than Luther were and had been against the Aristotelian domination in the medieval universities, e.g., Roger Bacon and Erasmus. In brief, Luther's animadversion spring mainly from Aristotle's baleful effect on Christian soteriology. Aristotle taught that a man becomes good by doing good, and ultimately led theologians to a belief in man's power to save himself. Luther taught that it was only when a man lost all belief in himself that he ever knew what it was to have faith in Christ. Luther had no objection to heathen philosophy as such and saw its value in the discipline of logical reasoning, but his objection to Aristotle was that he served to displace Christ who alone could save a man and give him true knowledge of natural and spiritual things.] In this regard my advice would be that Aristotle's Physics, Metaphysics, Concerning the Soul, and Ethics, which hitherto have been thought to be his best books, should be completely discarded along with all the rest of his books that boast about nature ... many souls have been burdened with fruitless labor and study, at the cost of much precious time ... It grieves me to the quick that this damned, conceited, rascally heathen has deluded and made fools of so many of the best Christians with his misleading writings, God has sent him as a plague upon us on account of our sins ... this dread heathen has conquered, obstructed, and almost succeeded in suppressing the books of the living God. When I think of this miserable business I can only believe that the devil has introduced this study. For the same reasons his book on ethics is the worst of all books. It flatly opposes divine grace and all Christian virtues, and yet it is considered one of his best works. Away with such books! Keep them away from Christians. No one can accuse me of overstating the case, or of condemning what I do not understand. Dear friend, I know what I am talking about. I know my Aristotle as well as you or the likes of you. I have lectured on him and been lectured on him, [foot note: Luther lectured on Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics four times a week during the first year in Wittenberg (1508-1509).] and I understand him better than St. Thomas or Duns Scotus did. I would gladly agree to keeping Aristotle's books, Logic, Rhetoric, and Poetics, or at least keeping and using them in an abridged form, as useful in training young people to speak and to preach properly. But the commentaries and notes must be abolished, ... (Luther's Works: Vol. 44, The Christian in Society: I, p.200/201)

... it is the Parisian school that is condemned in this connection, that impure and foul whore which has declared that Aristotle's teachings on morals are not in conflict with the teachings of Christ, [foot note: Disputation Against Scholastic Theology (1517) (LW 31, 9-16) and Against Latomus (1521) LW 32, 137-260), where Luther deals with this same matter. He discusses these issues further in Opinion of the Parisian Theologians of Doctor Luther's Doctrine. Doctor Luther's Dissenting Opinion. (Eyn Urteyl der Theologen tzu Parisz uber die lere Doctor Luthers. Eye gegen Urteyl Doctor Luthers) (WA 8, 289-312); Theses on Vows (WA 8, 323-335); Lectures on Galatians (1519) (LW 27, 224-225), and Disputation on Infused and Acquired Faith (Disputatio de fide infusa et acquisita) (WA 6, 85 ff.).] since he teaches nothing other than that virtue is acquired by works, saying, "By doing good we become good." The Christian conscience curses this statement as bilge water of hell and says, "By believing in a Christ who is good, I, even I, am made good: his goodness is mine also, for it is a gift from him and is not my work." To sum up, in this you see the theology of all the schools condemned, speculative as well as practical, because they teach not Christ but human wisdom, which on their own admission they allege even creates the faith they call acquired faith. Woe to these lost and dreadful men of Sodom and Gomorrah! (then Luther quotes Phil. 3:6-7 and Romans 9:30-32) (Luther's Works: Vol. 44, The Christian in Society: I, p.300)

Do you now understand why I have said so often that neither our vows nor our works are necessary for righteousness and salvation. To those who believe in Christ there are no works so bad as to accuse and condemn us, but again, there are no works so good that they could save and defend us. But all our works accuse and condemn us. Christ's works alone protect and save us. (against Aristotle) a man acts not from a free conscience but for gain, desire for glory, or fear of punishment." (Luther's Works: Vol. 44, The Christian in Society: I, p.301)

(Another source of reading other than Luther's Works, edited by James Atkinson/ Lewis W. Spitz and general editor Helmut T. Lehmann, Fortress Press or Muhlenberg Press, Philadelphia, is Martins Luther's 95 Theses by Kurt Aland, Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, Missouri, 1967)

Those using dialectic 'reasoning,' considering themselves "enlightened," walk in darkness, some even touting themselves as "Christians" in order to deceive the innocent. "Take heed therefore that the light which is in thee be not darkness." Luke 11:35

"The ideas of the Enlightenment taught man that he could trust his own reason as a guide to establishing valid ethical norms and that he could rely on himself, needing neither revelation [the Father's authority] nor that authority of the church [the authority of the only begotten Son of God] in order to know good and evil." (Stephen Eric Bronner Of Critical Theory and Its Theorists)

"Enlightenment is man's release from his self-incurred tutelage. Tutelage is man's inability to make use of his understanding without direction from another. Self-incurred is this tutelage when its cause lies not in lack of reason but in lack of resolution and courage to use it without direction from another. Sapere Aude! Dare to know! 'Have courage to use your own reason!'- that is the motto of enlightenment." (Immanuel Kant, Konigsberg in Prussia, 30 September 1784)

"We must ultimately assume at the highest theoretical levels of enlightenment ... a preference or a tendency ... to identify with more and more of the world, moving toward the ultimate of mysticism, a fusion with the world, or peak experience, cosmic consciousness, etc." "Enlightened economics must assume as a prerequisite synergic institutions set up in such a way that what benefits one benefits all." "Enlightenment management and humanistic supervision can be a brotherhood situation." "The more enlightened the religious institutions get, that is to say, the more liberal they get, the greater will be the advantage for an enterprise run in an enlightened way [according to man's carnal nature] ." (Abraham Maslow, Maslow on Management)

The scriptures warn us: "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty." 2 Corinthians 6:14-18

© Institution for Authority Research, Dean Gotcher 2016