On The Usefulness Of The Trilemma

A surprisingly large number of posts on this blog deal with the obscure subject of the trilemma, some of them overtly and some of them less so. Today I would like to take the time and comment a little bit on the usefulness of the trilemma, itself a part of informal logic. Having already talked about the trilemma and its popularity in the works of C.S. Lewis, who used it to pare down the options of how one could logically view Jesus Christ [1], I will not spend a great deal of time examining the trilemma itself formally.

To put it rather briefly, the trilemma is most useful in one of two circumstances, either paring down options to their essential cores or in expanding a false dilemma by adding the neglected third option. It is mostly the second case in which I personally use the trilemma, in providing middle ground between two extremes, by showing there is a third option that is neglected by others. It is largely in that sense that I would like to talk about the trilemma today.

Last year there was a major brouhaha about a minister whom I know personally being accused of teaching that God breaks His own law. There are of course, more than two options, as I pointed out. Someone can obey the law, someone can disobey the law, or the law might simply not apply [2]. In the case of God, there is no Sabbath in heaven because time does not work there as it does here. When God created the world in Genesis 1 and 2, He kept the Sabbath. When Jesus Christ walked the earth, He kept the Sabbath, but in heaven there is no earthly time, and therefore no Sabbath. Therefore we ought to avoid any false dilemmas.

Another example of the use of trilemma is in showing that God gives three different tags on human behavior. There is that which is holy and commanded (Sabbath, holy days, special sacrificial animals), that which is allowed or permitted (celebrating Hanukkah and Thanksgiving, eating venison), and that which is forbidden (pagan festivals or anything associated with paganism, pork, sexual immorality). By recognizing the difference between what is holy and what is allowed, we can understand what is most important as well as the wide ground of acceptable behavior, as well as the seriousness of God’s boundaries between permissible and forbidden [3].

In politics as well it is very useful to keep the Trilemma in mind. In fact, it is useful to remember as well that this world is more than reactionaries, revolutionaries, and squishy moderates lacking in backbone and principle. I consider myself a temperamental conservative in mostly opposing drastic change but also a person of very fierce principles and strong opposition to corrupt crony capitalists as well as socialists, and with a strong-minded view of the enforcement of biblical law (especially once rulers are no longer limited by human frailty and sin) [4] [5]. Too often people believe they must fall into one political camp or the other, not realizing there are other options, even if they are unrecognized.

So, let us briefly review. The trilemma is a useful tool of informal logic to either pare down the most important elements or most likely options or, even more commonly, to expand a false dilemma to a more complete set of options. As someone who is resolutely opposed to false dilemmas, I find the trilemma of great value in logic by avoiding extremes and ditches on both sides and while seeking to remain on the straight and narrow and principled path as opposed to either one bad option or an equally unacceptable opposite choice. It is my hope that such a tool becomes more commonly used by others so that we might be free from the poor rhetorical arguments that fill our religious and political discourse. One can dream, after all.

[1] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2010/11/18/c-s-lewis-logic-and-fantasy/

[2] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2010/12/01/does-god-keep-his-law-a-novel-application-of-cs-lewis-trilemma/

[3] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/12/03/hanukkah-the-festival-of-lights/

[4] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/06/22/a-pox-on-both-of-your-houses/

[5] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/12/15/a-leadership-false-dilemma/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Christianity, Musings and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to On The Usefulness Of The Trilemma

  1. Pingback: The Reason For My View Of The Season | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Book Review: If I Had Lunch With C.S. Lewis | Edge Induced Cohesion

  3. Pingback: Book Review: C.S. Lewis & Mere Christianity | Edge Induced Cohesion

  4. Pingback: Book Review: Man, Myth, Messiah | Edge Induced Cohesion

  5. Pingback: Book Review: The Fellowship: The Literary Lives Of The Inklings | Edge Induced Cohesion

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