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A Brief Review of Livi’s Book “Reasons for Believing”

REASONS FOR BELIEVING, BY PROF. ANTONIO LIVI The Davies Group Publishers, Aurora, Col. 2005   A review by  Raffaella Petrini     Before the challenges posed to us by modern skepticism, the words of our Holy Father, Benedict XVI, in his recent speech at the University of Regensburg, in Germany, sounds as a powerful and re-awakening invitation for all Christians, and Catholics in particular, to rediscover and claim the fundamental logic consistency of our religious belief: “It is still necessary and reasonable to raise the question of God through the use of reason, and to do so in the context of the tradition of the Christian faith”[1].   Reasons for Believing constitutes, in this light, an attempt to cut a “walkable” path across the continuum between rationalism and fideism, that is, the dangerous temptation to totally confine our Catholic religious belief either by the narrow constraint of its rational elements, or by the limitedness of its non-rational parts.   At the core of this book is the Author’s effort to strongly re-affirm, first and foremost, the rationality of the act of faith in general, intended as an act of free assent to a given proposition that, although not verifiable through direct experience, is rooted in the witness of a reliable source; but also to emphasize the essential rational component of our Catholic faith, based on the credibility of the testimony and the reliability of the witness.   Although faith is not, by definition, direct knowledge – being neither based upon direct experience, nor mediate proof obtained through the individual’s senses and reasoning – it is indeed a form of knowledge defined by the Author, in logical terms, as an “assent, made with certainty, that a certain proposition is true”. Therefore, knowledge is attained by relying upon somebody else’s knowledge and the truth of a certain proposition is logically guaranteed by another subject, who acts precisely as a witness.   It is important to notice here how the Author clearly states that faith in testimony is a “structural characteristic of man’s rational behavior”, thus emphasizing the value of testimony as a source of scientific knowledge. In fact, man’s search for truth is never only based on his individual resources, but also depends on information received by others. Whenever the very object of a certain scientific discipline is not accessible directly, data is obtained through human testimony. This is true in the case of history and past events, but also in the case of psychology, where the inner experience of the individual consciousness is investigated. Even in our modern culture, where knowledge is increasingly based, through the help of continually developing technology, upon the rapid remote exchange of information and real time communication, the logic of testimony based on relational trust plays a crucial role.   It is upon testimony and, therefore, other peoples’ experience that the Author bases that particular type of knowledge that is defined as “historical knowledge”, that is knowledge of past events, circumscribed in terms of time and space, which the individual can no longer metaphysically attain through direct experience. Even though, in a philosophical realistic framework, human events are thus tied to a particular time and space (relative) and the outcome of free human acts (contingent), in a logic perspective their “historic truth” is not relative and contingent, but absolutely valid for all and for ever, because the event that happened in the past, did in fact happen “irreversibly and immutably”. In prof. Livi’s work, the truth attained by “historical knowledge” cannot be considered a “lesser species of truth”. Truth based on historical knowledge leads us then, in our Holy Father’s words, to “broadening our concept of reason and its application”, in the attempt to bring “reason and faith [to] come together in a new way”, by overcoming “the self-imposed limitation of reason to the empirically verifiable”, and so disclosing “its vast horizons”[2].   In this perspective, the Author identifies two elements that are necessary for an act of faith to be defined as rational: 1) the credibility of the witness and 2) the logical coherence of the proposition.   A witness is credible when his behavior and acts are consistent with the values and principles he affirms to be true, when ultimately he is ready to give up his life for the truth he testifies. When we speak of Divine Revelation, we believe that, besides the words of the prophets and the witness of the Apostles, it is God Himself revealed in His own Word made Flesh and, hence, perceivable by men, who is the witness. The many words that Christ spoke, and the works, signs and miracles He performed on earth constitute “motives of credibility”: elements of empirical nature, which make reasonable for us to believe that He was the Son of God – His Resurrection being the greatest miracle and the “final proof” of His divine Nature (supernatural knowledge of God).   However, it is reasonable for one to believe in the testimony of Christ, whose works show the credibility of his word, only if one presupposes a metaphysical knowledge of God, and thus he is able to recognize God’s action in those works. Here lies the close connection the Author makes between the “motives of credibility”, i.e., these factual events able to motivate “a well- grounded moral certitude” in those who believe in Divine Revelation, and the so called preambula fidei, i.e. those intuitive truths attained by natural reason, those natural universal and necessary certitudes belonging to the philosophical concept of “common sense”, upon which every kind of knowledge is based and which includes also the existence of God, as first and final Cause of the existence of the world (natural knowledge of God).     In our modern world, our Holy Father states, “a reason which is deaf to the divine … is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures  … for philosophy and, albeit in a different way, for theology, listening to the great experiences and insights of … the Christian faith in particular, is a source of knowledge, and to ignore it would be an unacceptable restriction of our listening and responding”[3].   Between extreme rationalism, based only on the truth of proof, and extreme fideism, based on the truth of empirical experience, thus stands the truth known indirectly through another’s testimony and rationally founded on the “preambula fidei”, the personal assent to its presuppositions still implying a free act of faith – a free and responsible act, on the part of the individual, who through the intellect judges them and then believes them. Such it is that “reasonable faith’s knowledge” attained through Divine Revelation, although imperfect, allows one to choose a privileged way to enter more deeply into the Mystery of God’s intimate life, a life which still remains partially impenetrable and veiled. And yet, it is precisely that “imperfect” knowledge which enkindles and nurtures that profound and all-embracing longing for the ultimate Truth, lying at the inmost core of our being.       [1] Apostolic Journey of His Holiness Benedict XVI to München, Altötting and Regensburg – Meeting with the representatives of science in the Aula Magna of the University of Regensburg (September 12, 2006) [2] Ibidem [3] Ibidem

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Posted by admin | Posted in Senza categoria | Posted on 28-12-2015


The Holistic Theory of Truth

and the Epistemic Primacy of Common Sense
Among  All Kinds of Ordinary Knowledge

by Antonio Livi

1.0 What I’m trying to defend with my ‘philosophy of common sense’ (see Livi 2013) is precisely the epistemic primacy of common sense among all kinds of ordinary knowledge in order to save a holistic theory of truth (see Livi 2014). But my purpose is understandable only taking in account my own notion of “common sense” –which is very different from the sociological or the psychological one. Actually, many contemporary essays on this topic stand in the tradition of past and current common sense philosophers, like Thomas Reid, George Berkeley, Henry Sidgwick, George E. Moore, James B. Conant, Radu J. Bogdan, and Noha Lemos, who defend common sense, yet they go beyond their accounts by not only defending common sense but also considering what common sense means (cf., among the many authors I could mention,  Davidson 1984; Agazzi  2007; Boulter 2007; Piccari 2011). Unfortunately, no one of these scholars realized the possibility and the necessity of overpassing the limits of the phenomenological research (social psychology, cultural anthropology, sociology of culture, and so on). A clear example of this could be the research performed by the Swedish Marion Ledwig. Besides giving a historical exegesis of common sense in Thomas Reid and showing parallels in Austin, Searle, Moore, and Wittgenstein, he discovered common sense also in Hume’s An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals and in Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. But the final interpretation of common sense made by this author does not reach at all the level of alethic logic. With his essay he aimed only to make clear how far common sense generalizes, whether proverbs are a form of common sense, and whether common sense can be found in the common knowledge assumption in game theory. Also, he holds that folk psychology should be considered as a common sense psychology (see Ledwig 2007). On the contrary, my own notion of common sense pertains to epistemology, which is the main issue of philosophical logic (see Agazzi  1981). Actually, my philosophy of common sense should be understood as something similar to what Roderick Chilshom called ‘the foundations of knowing’ (cf. Chilshom 1972). In other words, common sense, as I conceive it, is the first step of a theoretical process which leads to overpass the simply semantic holism, i.e. the holism of meaning (see Tarskj 1944), in order to take in account the alethic holism, i.e. the holism of truth. This is made possible by detecting a set of logical connections between judgments based on the truth as the basic value of judgments (see Davidson 1990a, 1990b;  Frankfurt 2006). The result is an axiomatic system of epistemic logic based on the acknowledgement of the real dependence of every judgment on the truth of its necessary presuppositions, or logical conditions of possibility for it to be true.

1.1 This is the meaning of what I maintain as the basic law of thinking, according to the most rigorous phenomenology of the mind processes – which are all directed, in any case, to the consciousness of truth, i.e. to the certainty that the contents of my judgment, here and now, is really true, and I cannot absolutely suppose the contrary to be true. This can happen only when my judgment is strongly founded in its presuppositions, so that I realize that it is just the necessary result of all true knowledge I have already obtained and assured with my former certain judgments. Then, this is the general framework of what I conceive as the holism of truth. According to this logical system, any thought of truth –and any assertion which can express it– is linked with all the others thoughts in its very epistemic justification, through the need of finding its own premise and presuppositions.

1.2 In such a holistic system, my notion of common sense retain a very narrow extension, since it refers only to few, well determinate primary certainties which are the common presupposition of both ordinary and scientific knowledge in all their forms and degrees. In others words, “common sense” is just the hard core of the holistic system of truth. I reached such a conclusion taking in account the basic date of the cognitive science (see Smith 1995a), the most advanced studies on the philosophy of mind (see Searle 2004 ), and the best results of the phenomenology of consciousness – which makes use both of subjective introspection and the analysis of the inter-subjective communication. I realized that in the consciousness of every thinking subject there are some certainties about the ‘real world’ –certainties whose epistemic justification is founded on the immediate evidence of existing beings which necessarily and always are present in everyone’s experience. In Searle’s philosophy of mid such permanent presence of some existing beings is named ‘original or intrinsic intentionality’:

«Where the mind is concerned we also need a distinction between original or intrinsic intentionality on the one hand and derived intentionality on the other. For example I have in my head information about how to get to San Jose. I have a set of true beliefs about the way to San Jose. This information and these beliefs in me are examples of original or intrinsic intentionality. The map in front of me also contains information about how to get to San Jose, and it contains symbols and expressions that refer to or are about or represent cities, highways, and the like. But the sense in which the map contains intentionality in the form of information, reference, aboutness, and representations is derived from the original intentionality of the map makers and users. Intrinsically the map is just a sheet of cellulose fibers with ink stains on it. Any intentionality it has is imposed on it by the original intentionality of humans. So there are two distinctions to keep in mind, first between observer-independent and observer-dependent phenomena, and second between original and derived intentionality. They are systematically related: derived intentionality is always observer-dependent» (Searle 2004, p. 7).

But I maintain much more. In my system such certainties constitute the very first link in the chain of presuppositions; so that they can in no way be subject to doubt. This means that their non-truth is absolutely unthinkable: actually, no one can ever really doubt them, and one must understand that any affirmations to the contrary are merely verbal posturing: actually, they respond to some pragmatic logic, and not the expressions of a real certainty, endowed with its own adequate epistemic justification. Given that they constitute the nucleus of experience, understood as a body of unmediated knowledge, such certainties are present to consciousness in every moment of the search for truth as the logical presupposition of all knowledge deriving from reflection and inference, both inductive and deductive. For this same reason, such certainties function as an ultimate criterion of truth to verify any hypothesis successively formulated. They therefore constitute the main alethic presupposition, that is, the presupposition necessary for any ulterior knowledge to be thought of as true. In fact, on the basis of these original truths, every thinking subject verifies, time after time, the admissibility of any hypothesis – formulated by himself or proposed by other subjects through one of the ways for communicating thought – that presents itself in the search for other truths over the course of his lifetime. As a result all scientific knowledge, should be structured as system logically compatible with the primary truth of common sense, so as to place the instruments of dialectics (reflection, interpretation, inference) effectively at the service of the search for further truths.

1.2 In order to get easier that my thesis about the primary truth will be critically evaluated from different historical and theoretical perspectives, it seems to me appropriate to expound here my proposal in its essential terms. In this way it will be clearer which aspects of my analysis of the holistic structure of thought are obvious and given, which instead are debatable, as they are not universally accepted (being strongly polemical towards philosophical rationalism and theological fideism) and which, finally, are universally ignored. It is these last two aspects that I propose to highlight and re-evaluate within the limits allowed by this study. I hold that the modern term “common sense”, used by several important European philosophers of the 18th and the 19th century (see Mesolella 2011), can still be used in philosophy today, but only meaning by it just what I mean, i.e. the primary evidences that constitute the “basic truth” for each thinking subject, due to: i) their absolute immediacy ―being knowable without any former presupposition; and ii) their necessary function as an alethic foundation of thought in all its forms ―being, in the structure of epistemic holism, the very presupposition of any other assertion with a claim to truth. In the last twenty years I have tried to deepen this theory of the alethic logic as a system by returning repeatedly to the same theme and by stressing its very nature of a logical system (cfr Livi 2005, 2010, 2013a, 2013b, 2013c). This is just what some scholars have underlined detecting the structure of alethic logic according to my thought (see Rego 2011; Renzi 2012).

1.3 For a clearer explanation I want now present some synthetic theses which summarize my own notion of ‘common sense’ as the beginning of knowledge and the unique basic criterion of all possible statement to be considered true.

1.3.1 A first thesis is that there exists in human knowledge a realm of certainties that express what every thinking subject understands directly from experience, even before attempting to interpret – through reasoning – what he has experienced. Inasmuch as they are derived directly from experience, these certainties require no other epistemic justification than the absolute evidence that their object exists. Consequently, even when their object is reached through spontaneous inference (this the case of the certainty about the existence of God), they manifest a decisively intuitive character; since the inference, in this case, is not a formal scientific reasoning, nor does it regard particular anthropological or cultural conditions.

1.3.2 A second thesis is that those certainties constitute our primary knowledge of concrete reality, that is, the awareness of the reality that de facto presents itself to every thinking subject (the ‘world-in-which-one-is’ and one’s own ‘being-in-the-world’ as a personal being).  At the same time, in an indissoluble cognitive unity, they represent our primary knowledge of the universal, that is, that intuition of first principles, both those of a metaphysical-logical nature (which render essentially intelligible, though always problematic, the real from which and in which one lives) and those of a metaphysical-ethical nature (which reveal the meaning and significance of one’s own individual and social life, in both temporal and eternal perspectives).

1.3.3 A third thesis is that  such certainties, being connatural to human intelligence – that is, being a basic characteristic of human nature as such (at least as long as human nature has at its disposable the necessary material conditions to express itself in ordinary empirical life) – are the patrimony of all men and women, they are universal in time and in space, they are a constant in the midst of all the variables of culture and social conditions, just as they are a constant through all the variations (advances and regressions) of an individual’s intellectual developments.

1.3.4 A fourth thesis is that  this common basis of certain and indubitable knowledge – indubitable in itself, even if someone like Descartes can say (though not think) he has called them into question through meditative thought – is precisely what allows for the communication of knowledge among individuals. This communication begins with the acquisition of language and is further developed through the educational process and the relationship between parents and children in the developmental age. It also allows for communication of knowledge among different cultures, overcoming (at least potentially) the barriers of incommunicability resulting from the psychological, anthropological (both ethnic and political), philosophical-religious and technical-scientific differences, which, along with the historical component, characterize the various linguistic structures (both structures of meaning and of significance).

1.3.5 A fifth thesis is that those certainties, despite they have obviously a pre-philosophical nature, are in direct relation to philosophy, especially to philosophy as metaphysics. Actually, certainty of common sense are in all respects coextensive with metaphysical discourse, and are different from it only for the very scientific dimension of metaphysics, which consists in performing a systematic reflection, in creating new hypothesis of interpretation, in elaborating conceptual definitions and logical derivations. The certainties of common sense derived so directly from experience that they furnish philosophical reflection with its necessary material and the first condition for its statement to be true. Actually, they furnish metaphysics with the perennial substance of its truest scientific conclusions, those which over the centuries – considering philosophy in its historic dimension – have allowed some historians to speak of a ‘philosophia perennis’. By the way, I maintain that metaphysics, when it assumes common sense certainties as its alethic background,  is necessarily realistic; much more, it is the only kind of true realism (see Gilson 1990; Reffes 2008; Livi 2010b; Livi 2014b).

1.3.6 A sixth thesis is that those same certainties are the condition of possibility (ex parte obiecti, since they furnish the universal objective horizon from which the specific formal object is extracted) of all particular sciences: sciences of nature, mathematical sciences, human or social sciences, and so on.  But, in addition to furnishing the sciences with the objective premises of scientific research, that is, the field of objective reality (presupposed as real and rational) to be delineated and analyzed, those certainties of which we speak are also the ‘human’ premises of scientific work. They are the necessary conditions for exercising such sciences, and therefore the conditions of possibility ex parte subiecti: because they furnish the basic reasons, they make it possible for man to be a scientist, and also furnish the basic logical instruments, as the principle of identity and of non-contradiction, the principle of efficient and final causality, the roles of inference through induction and deduction (see Tarskj 1959; Agazzi  1981; Nagel  1961).

1.3.7 A seventh thesis deals with the different quality of common sense and science. I maintain that the organic body of certainties of which I speak is in itself qualitatively superior to science, including within the notion of “science” both the metaphysical as well as the particular sciences, that is, all reflexive and systematic knowledge, mediated by reasoning and by culture and equipped with its own technical methodology. The superiority of those certainties lays precisely in the quality of the certainty itself. While the certainty of those direct and universal statements is unconditional and absolute, scientific certainty always has limiting characteristics: either it is a subjective certainty linked to privileged conditions of experience or intellectual capacity; or it is a certainty available only to members of a specific cultural community equipped with its own research instruments; or it is a certainty that can be reached by all humankind, only in relation to particular historical events, or a certain historical level of technological development, or a particular historical perspective on human events; or it is a provisional (hypothetical) certainty, susceptible of falsification or at least revision and adjustment, when it is not a bold working hypothesis of an instrumental nature (that is, as an efficacious tool for research, for science itself, or a mere instrument at the service of technical work or other practical ends). To sum up, while the certainties of direct experience are (per se) incontrovertible, the certainties of science are (per se) debatable, or at least relative, perfectible, revisable; the former belong to all people at all times, the latter belong to some people and only in specific moments of personal or collective history. Secondly, the superiority of these certainties over science is also a primacy in truth: they come first, both logically and chronologically (because every reflection presupposes some direct knowledge to which to return, dealing as we are with secundae intentiones), and are also elevated above other certainties, in the sense that they cannot be contradicted (by the truth; that is, proven false), to the point that every scientific thesis that contradicts those certainties is for that very reason vitiated by error (even if that error can only be demonstrated at the level of science).

1.3.8 An eighth thesis deals with the relationship between particular sciences and metaphysics. I think that a dialogue between particular sciences and metaphysics is certainly necessary, and de facto always beginning anew. However, the threats of reciprocal interference or methodological commingling can be avoided, as can attempts to annex one to the other, deriving from epistemological errors (as in the age of classical philosophical cosmology or the age of modern positivism) if a basis of conceptual agreement is found. This basis can be done precisely by returning to the common epistemological derivation of the certainties and contents of direct experience, thus circumventing any attempt at an impossible, unmediated translation (without the mediation of those basic certainties) of the technical language of metaphysics into the technical language of the other sciences, or vice-versa.


Agazzi  1981 = Modern  Logic. A Survey, edited by Evandro Agazzi. Dordrecht: Reidel, 1981.

Agazzi  2007 = Valore e limiti del senso comune, edited by Evandro Agazzi. Milano: Franco Angeli, 2007.

Boulter 2007 = Stephen Boulter, The Rediscovery of Common Sense Philosophy. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.

Chilshom 1972 = Roderick Chilshom, The Foundations of Knowing. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1972.

Davidson 1984 = Donald Davison, Inquires into Truth and Interpretation. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984.

Davidson 1990a = Donald Davison, “The Structure and Content of Truth”, The Journal of Philosophy, 1990, pp. 279-328.

Davidson 1990b = Donald Davison, Truth and Predication. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1990.

Frankfurt 2006 = Harry G. Frankfurt, On Truth. New York: Alfred A. Knof Publisher, 2006.

Gilson 1990 = Etienne Gilson, Methodical Realism, Front Royal: Christendom Press, 1990.

Kleist 2000 = Eugene Edward Kleist, Judging Appearances: a Phenomenological Study of the Kantian Sensus commun. Dordrecht: Kluwer, 2000.

Livi 2005 = Antonio Livi, Senso comune e logica aletica, Roma: Casa Editrice Leonardo da Vinci, 2010.

Livi 2010 = Antonio Livi, Metafisica e senso comune. Sullo statuto epistemologico della “filosofia prima”, Roma: Casa Editrice Leonardo da Vinci, 2010.

Livi 2013a = Antonio Livi, A Philosophy of Common Sense. The Modern Discovery of the Epistemic Foundations of Science and Belief. Aurora (Colorado): The Davies Group Publisher, 2013.

Livi 2013b = Antonio Livi, “Why Common Sense, When Assumed As the Primary Truth, Furnishes Alethic Logic System With its Very Epistemic Justification”, in La certezza della verità. Il sistema della logica aletica e il procedimento della giustificazione epistemica, edited by Antonio Livi, Roma: Casa Editrice Leonardo da Vinci, 2013, pp. 19-30.

Livi 2013c = Antonio Livi, “Perché ogni ricerca di un’adeguata giustificazione epistemica presuppone una coerente teoria sistemica della verità”, in La certezza della verità. Il sistema della logica aletica e il procedimento della giustificazione epistemica, edited by Antonio Livi, Roma: Casa Editrice Leonardo da Vinci, 2013, pp. 217-230.

Ledwig 2007 = Marion Ledwig, Common Sense: Its History, Method, and Applicability. New York & Oxford: Peter Lang International Academic Publishers, 2007.

Mesolella 2012 =  I filosofi moderni del senso comune, edited by Mario Mesolella, Roma: Casa Editrice Leonardo da Vinci, 2013.

Nagel  1961 = Ernest Nagel, Science and Common Sense, in The Structure of the Science: problems in the Logic of Scientific Explanation. Indianapolis, Indiana: Hackett, 1961, pp. 547-605.

Newell 1980 = David J. Newell, Philosophy and Common Sense. Washington: University Press of America, 1980.

Piccari 2011 = Paolo Piccari, Conoscenza ordinaria e senso comune, with an Introduction by Mariano L. Bianca. Milano: Angeli, 2011.

Reffes 2008 = A. J. Reffes, The Philosophy of Realism, Common Sense, and Ordinary Experience. Berlin: Progress Publishers, 2008.

Rego 2011= Thomas Rego, La filosofia del sentido común en Aristóteles. La doctrina aristotélica de la ‘koinai doxai’, los ‘endoxa’ y los primeros principios de la demonstración en comparación con la teoria de Antonio Livi acerca de la sprimeras verades existenciales. Roma: Casa Editrice Leonardo da Vinci, 2011.

Renzi 2012 = Fabrizio Renzi, La logica aletica e la sua funzione critica, Roma: Casa Editrice Leonardo da Vinci, 2012.

Searle 2004 = John R. Searle, Mind: A Brief Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Smith 1995a = «Formal Ontology, Common Sense, and Cognitive Science», in International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 43 (1995), pp. 641-667.

Smith 1995b = Barry Smith, «The Structure of Common Sense World», in Acta Philosophica Fennica, 58 (1995), pp. 290-317.

Tarskj 1944 = Alfred Tarskj, «The Semantic  Conception of Truth», in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 4 (1944), pp. 341-376.

Tarskj 1959 = Alfred Tarskj, Introduction to Logic and Methodology of Deductive Sciences. Oxfrod: Blackwell, 1959.

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