Patterson doggedly stays on one issue throughout this short book: At the bottom of everything, there are inescapable truths that are discoverable and you can be certain of them. While it could have easily been a confusing mess to read, he works many relatable examples throughout to explain what he means.
It is a short book: if it were longer, Patterson would have simply repeated himself as the topic is narrow and quite obvious. Patterson points out that restating the self-evident and obvious is necessary when we start denying the undeniable. The entire book deals with such basic ideas that it is hard to believe we need this book. Here’s the entire book summed up:
- Things are what they are and aren’t what they are not.
- This is implied by simply existing; thus, logic is inescapable.
- Contradictions cannot exist.
- Truth exists.
Square One is largely a compilation of Patterson’s blog and podcast with edits to make it flow. I found the book useful because it brings together all of these topics in a cohesive manner—the blog covers many other subjects.
It is also noteworthy the book is under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, meaning anyone can freely use the material as long as they give credit. I like it. More people should do this and escape the endless copyright. I’m considering applying it to all of my work.
Patterson does an excellent job of what he claims to do at the outset:
The reader can rest assured: this book is not a work of academic philosophy. It’s not incomprehensible or irrelevant. It doesn’t try to sound profound by hiding behind opaque language. It is meant to be read and understood. (page i)
Short, concise, and without unnecessarily complicated language—who can possibly find fault with this? Many topics in philosophy require sophisticated language, but this is not one of them, although it could be obfuscated easily.
I found the discussion about existence implying the Law of Identity (A = A) and Law of Noncontradiction (A != not A) to be enlightening. I had not thought about how if something exists then “it is surely what it is and not what it is not”. Of course, it is obvious once we say it out loud, but such is the nature of self-evident truths.
As a Christian, it was surprising to me to see Patterson claims the Law of Identity and Law of Noncontradiction cannot be created by God. “If a God exists, then he exists, and therefore he too is bound by the laws of logic.” This goes against the usual conception that God created everything.
Patterson wisely doesn’t go any farther than stating this. There are a few ways to understand this while keeping to the orthodox tradition. It most definitely does not mean we get to say, “Aha! We have found something God did not create! Therefore, he is not Almighty and the Bible is not true!”
Patterson notes logic and existence are inseparable (page 41). Each implies the other and each is not a property of the other. You cannot have logic without existence (because then logic doesn’t exist) and “existence without logic would be existence without existence—i.e. non-existent.”
Understanding that God is a necessary being means logic necessarily exists. One could say since God is necessary and the uncaused cause, he brought logic into existence, even if saying he “created” logic would be somewhat inaccurate. The usual verbiage is that logic is an outflowing of God’s nature. This is still accurate as God exists and existence cannot be separated from logic. (See also Is God Subject to Logic?)
Patterson goes into many more implications of the certainty of the existence of logic and truth. I’ll leave you to pick up the book or read his blog to see what else he draws out.
Overall, I found the book to be edifying and enjoyable. One might wonder if $10 is a bit steep for a book that says Things are most certainly the way they are, but such is the nature of The Foundations of Knowledge.
Truth is discoverable.
It’s not popular to say.
It’s not popular to think.
But you can be certain of it.
– Steve Patterson