I tend to view First Principles as 'getting to the bottom' of something; in this case the embodied self.

I also understand that a first principle is one which cannot be 'built' from other concepts nor reduced to other concepts. Descartes decided the first principle he was looking for was "I think, therefore I am." But thinking requires 'conceptualizations' for manipulating as thinking? Where do these concepts (constructs) come from?

  • What is your definition of an "embodied self"? Do you mean self-identity? If so, why do you think self-identity constructs reality? First principles may be thought of as metaphysical questions: what is reality? what exists? what is knowledge? and so forth.
    – user28485
    Dec 23, 2017 at 22:45
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  • @Infoatu. I tend to agree with those who do not see any practical necessity for the metaphysical (as un-experience-ables). I tend to view reality as the conceptualization(s) of experienced existence (experience being that which is provided to us bio-beings by our bio-senses. [by 'tend' I mean a dispositional or pre-dispositional preference for the logical.]
    – Gary Reist
    Dec 28, 2017 at 17:08

1 Answer 1


The question mark may be missing but this looks like a question to me : 'What are First Principles ?'

The term's meaning has shifted more than a little in the history of Western philosophy but Aristotle's characterisation in 'Posterior Analytics', ch. 2 is a reasonable starting point which gives the, or a, basic, sense of the phrase :

  1. First principles are true

  2. First principles are necessarily true

  3. First principles are indemonstrable - they are not and cannot be deduced from anything else since otherwise the premises from which they are derived would be prior and not the First Principles themselves.

  4. First principles are more certain than anything derived from them - anything derived (deduced) from them can contain errors but first principles are free from any possible error as necessary truths.

An example might be 'If equals are taken from equals, equals remain' ('Post. Anal., 76a). Aristotle would also include the law of excluded middle and the law of non-contradiction ('Metaphysics', 996b). Excluded middle : of two propositions, p and ¬p, one must be true and the other false. So 'p or not-p' : 'p' must be true, or 'not-p' must be true. One or other must be true but both cannot be true. By the law of non-contradiction : ¬p(p and ¬p) (not both p and not-p). In other words, no proposition and its negation can simultaneously be true. (Thanks to Peter J on this.)

Before the waves inundate let me just say that I do not endorse first principles, Aristotle's or others, and I do not commit myself to Aristotle's examples as meeting the requirements of his characterisation of first principles. I am simply trying to convey a first idea of what First Principles are or have traditionally widely taken to be.

  • First principles sound like assumptions except for the "necessarily true" part. Why do you not endorse first principles at least in some weaker sense? Dec 27, 2017 at 17:00
  • @Frank Hubeny. I felt the questioner needed basic guidance. I wanted to convey a reliable first idea of what First Principles are or might be. The final para. was partly put in to prevent a critique of First Principles or my formulation of them from becoming of focus of attention in Comments or other Answers in ways that wouldn't help the questioner. Reading Quine's 'Two Dogmas of Empiricism' has led me to doubt whether any statement, including one of First Principles, is immune from revision and might not need to be changed in the face of recalcitrant experience. I was being cautious..GT
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Dec 27, 2017 at 19:17
  • @Frank Hubeny. I do appreciated your reply. I treat many things as First Principles, as do most people. But Quine has put the frighteners on me ! I like to keep a little sceptical distance between myself and FP. All the best - Geoff.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Dec 27, 2017 at 19:21
  • @ Geoffrey Thomas. I disagree, First Principles (as Aristotle knew) are essential building blocks. As I see it 'foundation' blocks for the construction of reality.
    – Gary Reist
    Dec 28, 2017 at 16:54
  • @Gary Reist. Thanks comment. I can accept your reading of Aristotle. I conceded to Frank Hubery that in practice I use First Principles. I just am uncertain that they are fixed and reliable and not, like (say) Collingwood's 'absolute presuppositions', historically specific. Truth is, I wanted to explain roughly what I thought First Principles are, and in this I relied heavily on Aristotle, but wanted to keep any responses away from my own views. It doesn't matter what my own views about First Principles are; it matters very much what Aristotle's were. But I could have put the para. better.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Dec 28, 2017 at 18:39

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