The James Wilson Foundation on Natural Rights and the American Founding

“Signs of Mind”: Professor Hadley Arkes in The Catholic Thing

by James Wilson Institute on January 11, 2021

In his column for The Catholic Thing, Professor Arkes reflects on the various experiences that lead one to a realization of the existence of God. Universal truths, for example, and the argument from causality both suggest the presence of a higher power. If, for instance, a scientist discovers some principle that is universal, we must wonder who the mind was that made the law in the first place and allowed it to be discovered. This very wonder, Arkes continues, then leads us to the question of how we can be sure of the existence of other minds at all. He cites Scottish philosopher Thomas Reid, who writes that while we cannot be sure of the existence of other minds through our own experience, we can come to know them through “certain signs or indications in the effect.” If we accept this understanding, then we can be confident of the presence of other minds, and ultimately of the existence of the higher Mind that created the natural and moral laws that govern our lives.

Some excerpts from the piece:

“I found myself, in this season of holidays, in conversation with a bright young man, who has been in a fine boarding school – but learning now remotely in the time of COVID.  He has stayed, though, in constant touch with his friends at school. I asked whether these vibrant youngsters bore any interest in religion. He remarked that there’s very little interest – for there’s virtually no belief in what he called ‘higher powers.’”

“I thought of the various paths I’d used over the years to open students to the disarming questions that led to God.  But I passed over them to the one I would probably give to this young man when he could more readily take it on:  The redoubtable Ronald Knox remarked on the convention of naming scientific laws after the researcher who had discovered them. Of the relation between the volume and pressure of gases, we’ve come to refer to “Boyle’s Law.” But, Knox observed, if it had taken a considerable mind to have discovered that law, it must have taken a considerable Mind to have put it there in the first place.”

“[I]f we know, with surety, the presence of others, we know with the same surety of the Mind that has set in place the Laws, natural and moral, that have always framed our lives. But the Lord who died on the Cross, we do not know, without “experience,” as a “first principle.”  For He did indeed have a material presence. He was seen to live and die, and His wounds could be touched.  And we have the lasting testimonies of those who saw it happen.”

Read the full article here.

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Law and liberty cannot rationally become the objects of our love, unless they first become the objects of our knowledge.
— James Wilson, Lectures on Law, 1790