Thursday, May 7, 2015

History, Epistemology, and Divine Simplicity

A year and a half ago, I wrote a post outlining Clark's take on divine simplicity. I concluded that despite very obvious incompatibilities with other beliefs he held, Clark came to accept the doctrine, at some point in his life, that God is identical to each of His attributes revealed in Scripture. 

A quick point before moving on: is there a reason numerous theologians find it so surprising that Clark would render John 1:1 as meaning "the Logic was God"? Doesn't this follow from divine simplicity? It's not as if divine simplicity is a fringe doctrine, plenty of Reformed theologians have held it. But in that case, how is it any stranger to say "Logic is God" than "God is logical"? On above definition of divine simplicity, the subject and predicate are identical, neither being subordinate to the other. God is love, so love is God. God is eternal, so eternal is God. If God and His individual attributes really are identical, these other seemingly odd subject-predicate reversals are just as true. So is the objection that God isn't logical? Is it really solely a matter of exegetical warrant, when Clark basically wrote a whole book about it? This is just something I've been wondering.

Moving on, in the process of reviewing a few critiques of Clark given by his contemporaries - Robert Reymond's The Justification of Knowledge, Gordon R. Lewis' Testing Christianity's Truth Claims, and Ronald Nash's contribution in Clark and His Critics - I expanded my reading a bit and was somewhat surprised to read that each of these men, all of whom Clark respected, rejected the theory of divine simplicity as stated above. Consider the following statements:
…the temptation to distinguish between God’s “metaphysical essence” and his “nonmetaphysical nature,” and to make the former more primary than the latter, should be resisted. 
On the other hand, it is equally necessary, when we declare that God’s being is identical to his attributes, to resist the error of some medieval nominalists, who held that God’s attributes are nothing more than words (Lat. nomina), so that the distinctions which they suggest are not really present in the one divine essence. For surely God’s eternality is no more identical with his knowledge, his knowledge no more identical with his power, his power no more identical with his omnipresence, and his omnipresence no more identical with his holiness than is our knowledge identical with our power or our goodness identical with our finite extension in space. God’s attributes are real, distinguishable characteristics of his divine being. (Robert Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, 1998, pgs. 162-163) 
The divine unity revealed in Scripture is not like a mystical Neo-Platonic “One” beyond all categories of human thought. The biblical oneness does not rule out distinguishable attributes and persons. 
Church tradition sometimes made matters more difficult than necessary by claiming that, as simple, God can really include no distinctions at all – not between essence and existence, act and potential, person and essence, or anything else… 
Those who deny any propositional information about God either inconsistently claim to hold that God is ontologically one or, more consistently, find themselves tending toward the new polytheism (discussed below). (Gordon R. Lewis, Integrative Theology, 2010, link
The doctrine of simplicity is the belief that God is identical with His nature or His properties. Another aspect of the theory teaches that God’s essence is indivisible in the sense that God’s properties are not parts of God’s nature… 
Once we state that God’s essence has no parts, however, a problem arises. Human beings could never have knowledge of an absolutely simple essence… 
If human beings necessarily conceive God differently than He really is, is there conception of God not therefore false? 
…equating God with each of His properties entails that each of God’s properties is identical with His other properties. If A is identical with B and if B is identical with C, then A is identical with C. Clearly, then, if God is identical with His property of knowledge and also identical with His property of goodness, it then follows that the property of knowledge is identical with the property of perfect goodness. If each of God’s properties is identical with all of God’s other properties, the obvious conclusion to be drawn is that God has only one property. But this is mystifying, to say the least. While obviously there are many things about God that human beings may be incapable of comprehending, one of the things we do seem to know very clearly is that power and love and knowledge and mercy are not identical properties (Ronald Nash, The Concept of God, 1983, pgs. 85. 86. 94)
Apropos this last paragraph by Nash, I would like to highlight and expand on something I wrote in my previous post:
...if a simple God's essence is identical to His attributes, His attributes would be identical. In that case, none of those attributes could be univocally predicated of us, as we are not God. Further, we would not be able to know God, analogically or otherwise, as He knows Himself.
Note the impact of the impossibility of univocal predication on the subject of God and ourselves as knowers. We aren't, for example, eternal. But if, as divine simplicity entails, God's eternality is identical to God's knowing, knowledge, or being a knower of [any given] truth, then we couldn't univocally know what God knows without ourselves being eternal [et al.], i.e. God. I don't even really need to mention other epistemic difficulties divine simplicity faces, let alone more general theological problems. So I won't bother. 

But I do want to note that in reading through Van Til's A Survey of Christian Epistemology (link), I've found that for him, like for Aquinas, analogical knowledge is rooted - at least in part, as I still think an acceptance of Hegelian internal relations played a significant role in Van Til's acceptance of analogical knowledge - in divine simplicity:
If the theistic position is true, the that or existence of any finite “fact” depends upon the what or connotation. God has given that fact. If theism is true, connotation and denotation are identical in the case of the personality of God. The what of God is the that of God. It is this that furnishes the foundation for and is the ground of the necessity of analogical reasoning... 
And it is exactly because of our deep conviction that God is one and truth is therefore one, that we hold that there is only one type of argument for all men.
So God's existence is His essence and vice versa, and God is so simple that any truth He knows must be simple. Note too Van Til's replies to Buswell at the end of the book, in which he conflates 1) God having the possibility or potential to know and will in ways other than He has with 2) the idea God is incomplete in regards to His being. This implies Van Til subscribed to the idea God's will and knowledge are identical to God's being. These are all classic features of divine simplicity. 

Is it any wonder why such a metaphysic led Van Til to voice the complaint against Clark which he did? Divine simplicity naturally leads to the rejection of univocal knowledge between God and man. Again, Clark's metaphysical views need to be reexamined.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Correspondence, Dualism and Epistemology

I’ve received a reply to this post I wrote a few years ago on Clark’s metaphysics. Hopefully I can clarify some seeming confusion:
For Ryan Hedrich, the philosopher Gordon Clark was so wary of the potentially anti-Christian consequences of an empirical epistemology that he was forced to adopt an unusual metaphysics.
I don't see how Clark’s metaphysic as stated in the quote provided is unusual. It just shows that Clark was a dualist. He believed in physical and mental realities. This is well represented in the history of philosophy, and it shows that Clark didn't always (if ever) hold to propositional monism. Rather, "reality is complex" (link).

Clark often helps himself to terminology of non-Christian philosophers to make his points. I wouldn't say his use of “noumena” and “phenomena” were meant to specifically identify his position with Kant any more than Clark’s use of “infimae species” was specifically meant to identify his position with Aristotle. Clark defines noumena and phenomena as “things which do not appear” and “things that are seen,” respectively. That's as far as he goes.
Thus, Clark's epistemology appears to be a kind of Kantian representationalism. The human perceives a phenomenon which is a pale representation of a thing in itself.
Well, so far as Clark's epistemology itself is concerned, I don't know that this follows, although Clark himself may have thought so (though I doubt it). Either way, I've been working on developing Clark's epistemology. I note here, for example, that a correspondence theory of truth – some variation of which, I think, must follow from Clark’s dualism – doesn't imply a certain epistemology, but nor do I see that it implies a certain metaphysic, like direct or indirect realism, a point to which I will return below. 

Knowledge is indeed propositional. Truth is indeed propositional. But truth is connected to non-propositional realities: "Phenomena come from noumena." If they weren't so connected, then we would have no means by which to even allude to non-propositional realities.

I probably shouldn't have referred to non-propositional realities by using terminology like “thing-in-itself” or “Ding-an-sich.” I can see why the author believed me to be insinuating some sort of Kantian metaphysic, when in reality I only wanted to highlight that Clark was a dualist. But I was just coming to realize certain elements of Clark's metaphysical views were wrong, such as that persons are the propositions they think. My goal was to show that persons can't just be the propositions they think, from which I hoped to buttress the dualism Clark elsewhere espoused. A more recent post of mine does a better job of exposing the problem with Clark's view of personhood (link)
However, Hedrich notes that later, in Clark and His Critics, Clark rejects the existence of an unknowable thing in itself. Instead, all knowledge is propositional. Humans know something if the propositional content of our minds corresponds with that of God's proposition. But are these two views really incompatible? Perhaps the Clarkian can believe that human perception of an object consists of a representation of a thing in itself, but that this representation, though possibly true, does not consist of knowledge, since the individual can never know for sure whether or not or to what extent his representation corresponds with a sensory object.
Precisely, except that it may be somewhat imprecise to say a representation is "possibly true." We can never know a representation qua representation is true; a representation as such cannot be true. Rather, I think it is more precise to say a representation (and I believe this is assuming indirect realism) is possibly connected to a given truth. 

Suppose we have an image in mind which has been caused by perceiving some object. It's possible that both the proposition we think (after which the visible object is patterned) is knowable to us, and it's also possible [and compatible with both direct and indirect realism] that the image we have in mind corresponds to that truth. It's possible if God knows that the proposition is indeed true and has been revealed as well as what images do and don't correspond to this truth, the one we have being among those which do - God doesn't need sensory organs to have images.

If what image we have in mind matches [one of] God's, then it is connected with and so corresponds to that truth, regardless of whether we know such - on a Clarkian epistemology, we wouldn't, though this isn't problematic. That is, we don't need the image to know the truth to which an image (or, potentially, images) corresponds. We can, therefore, know propositions without possessing or connecting any corresponding non-propositional realities to them. 

This is all a bit speculative, but it reflects my current thinking on the subject and illustrates how it is possible to reconcile dualism with Clark's epistemology. Of course, the issue of direct and indirect realism ought to be worked out if it can be, as should the question of how non-propositional realities perceived by means other than physical sight can be connected to truth.
The human's propositional thought concerning the object is certainly true if it corresponds with God's thought about the object, but the individual cannot be certain of its truth, and thus, it does not consist of knowledge. Sense-perception of phenomena is not propositional. It is for this reason that it is not knowledge. Perhaps Gordon Clark can be said to have a representational theory of sense-perception truth while a direct realist theory of knowledge. Thus, it might be said that, at least as far as sense-perception is concerned, Clark might be committed to a representationalist theory of truth, as well as a representationalist position of the contents of consciousness (this, of course, would be restricted to the contents of sensory truth).
I would hesitate to use phrases like "sensory truth" and "sense-perception truth," as well as hesitate to limit Clark's dualism to indirect realism, but I think I understand the intentions of the author and thank him for the chance to update my views on the meaning of correspondence between truth and non-propositional realities, and its [non]impact on philosophic knowledge, which I have been meaning to do for some time.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Scripturalism, Occasionalism, and Kinds of Epistemic Justification

In recent months, I've written posts on internalism and externalism here and here. In those posts, I’ve either argued or cited arguments from contemporary epistemologists that internalism is 1) at least a precondition for a defense of an externalist view of epistemic justification and 2) tied to a Scripturalistic epistemology. This requires further development, but I wanted to examine whether externalism is compatible with Scripturalism. Can some beliefs we have be in some sense justified by virtue of having been caused a certain way - say, a way which was divinely designed to, in general, produce true beliefs? I believe they can be, but this would seem to require jettisoning the idea that all our beliefs are efficiently caused by God; that is, an unqualified occasionalism must be rejected. 

In my experience, occasionalism seems to have gained considerable ground among Scripturalists. I've defended the view myself, but as I've found myself increasingly changing my mind on quite a few metaphysical issues related to Clark, it doesn't shock me to be revisiting this metaphysical theory of causation. Formerly, I considered the view that persons are propositions, a two person theory of the incarnation, and the idea the one God is a genus to be defensible, if not true; now, I don't. And while I had changed my mind on necessitarianism once (toward favor of it), I'm now finding myself inclined to change it back (against it). So I don't deny I'm still sorting through these issues. Frankly, they are more complicated than most Christians deal with, Nevertheless, I think philosophic knowledge can be attained regarding these topics. However, this requires a critical - though not uncharitable - eye towards anything besides divine revelation, including Clark. I don't want readers to get the wrong idea; recent criticisms of Clark's metaphysical views ultimately stem from an appreciation of his work on the whole. But he wasn't the be-all, end-all of Christian apologetics. Neither am I, for that matter. Clark may or may not have been the deepest Christian thinker since Augustine - but Augustine made quite a few mistakes too. I think Clark would agree that whether one should accept a systematization of doctrine should depend on the resultant system, not the person who systematized it. This is why I, like Clark, don't mind opening myself to criticism. I often benefit from it.

Back to the topic at hand, Gordon Clark's clearest affirmation of occasionalism is found in Lord God of Truth (1994):
We now concur with the Islamic anti-aristotelian Al Gazali: God and God alone is the cause, for only God can guarantee the occurrence of Y, and indeed of X as well. Even the Westminster Divines timidly agree, for after asserting that God foreordains whatsoever comes to pass, and that "no purpose of yours can be withheld from you" (Job 42:2), they add, "Although... all things come to pass immutably and infallibly, yet by the same providence he ordereth them to fall out according to the nature of second causes...." What they called second causes, Malebranche had called occasions. But an occasion is neither a fiat lux nor a differential equation. (pg. 27)
This comes toward the tail end of a section entitled "Causality and Causation." There are a few other points in this section that are of note. Clark says that "while Hume denied all miracles, there was a medieval Moslem who anticipated Hume's arguments against causality and concluded that every event is a miracle. Since no sensation can be the cause of another sensation, every event is immediately caused by God" (pgs. 24-25). I take it Clark is referring to Al G[h]azali, the occasionalist he mentions he agrees with a few pages later. This, then, is another explicit affirmation of occasionalism, and it identifies occasionalism with immediate divine causation.

Clark also outlines what he means by causation. Causes are always "temporally distinct" from effects (pg. 25). In the span of time between alleged causes and effects, however, "several things could have happened" that did not happen; for example, even though Archduke Ferdinand was killed, World War I could have conceivably been averted (pgs. 25-26). I guess this was written before Clark became a necessitarian. Given that, I'm not sure how he would have altered this section. Surely, he would have had to, as his arguments for occasionalism all hinge on the idea that something other than what did happen could have happened - as such, God must be the determinative factor of any event.

But even if necessitarianism isn't true, there isn't any reason to suppose occasionalism is true. For instance, would Clark argue that something could have intervened between regeneration and faith, justification, sanctification, and glorification such that the latter wouldn't necessarily occur given the former? At the time Clark wrote Lord God of Truth, would Clark have argued that there could have been a possible world in which the golden chain of redemption didn't hold? That regeneration only leads to faith due to divine fiat rather than anything entailed in the act of regeneration itself? Or take this example: is there no intrinsic connection between disobedience and punishment? That sounds like an Islamic theology of God. Come to think of it, Islam popularized occasionalism in the first place. Coincidence? Would Clark really have held that disobedience wasn't necessarily a mediate, secondary cause of punishment?

I don't think so. If he wouldn't, then that's two clear, biblical counter-examples to Clark's argument. In this case, to insist God immediately causes the latter events would beg the question, as the argument for immediate divine causation was supposedly derived from the idea that something else could have occurred between any two actual events other than what actually did occur. 

If, on the other hand, Clark would have conceded that these latter events were only such due to divine fiat, it would be ironic that Clark changed his mind from a kind of metaphysical hyper-possibilism to necessitarianism... a necessitarianism which seems to eliminate any need for occasionalism anyway. There is already a necessary connection among all events, so any earlier event could justly be called a cause of a later event.

And in the case that Clark would have held to this hyper-possibilism - which, again, I doubt, but would naturally lead to a rejection of a completely occasionalist theory of causation - other changes in Clark's system would be inevitable. I'll name a few examples.

While Clark rejected Kant’s preformation theory of knowledge (Clark and His Critics, 2009, pg. 389), he accepted some kind of theory which posits innate ideas from birth, innate ideas which become intelligible once "the heat of experience is applied" (Christian Philosophy, 2004, pg. 203). But what need is there for such innate ideas if God is always the direct cause of inputting belief and knowledge into one’s mind at will? He wouldn't even need to instill a rational faculty until he willed to impart these first beliefs; tabula rasa is not so easily dismissed after all, it seems. 

Or why defend traducianism so strenuously if the reality that Adam is or was our federal head has no intrinsic connection to the fact that Adam is our natural ancestor? Are our souls not even secondarily caused by our parents? Note what Clark says here:
Then when he comes to the transmission of inborn depravity, and the difficulty of thinking that God immediately creates sinful souls, he appeals to secondary and mediate causes, thus abandoning the idea of immediate creation... 
Berkhof begins with a short but very fair statement of traducianism, including some of its Scriptural support. He refers to only one verse in favor of creationism, namely, Psalm 104:30. But if this verse teaches creationism, it follows that the souls of all animals and all plants are also immediately created. Now, it is true that the Old Testament assigns both souls and spirits to animals, and if a creationist wishes to accept the point, he is consistent. Those who oppose the theory of traducianism in the case of human beings, but deny it of animals, are inconsistent. An interesting, if inconclusive, point. But it certainly keeps God busy creating... 
The third objection is not an objection at all: It is something that traducianists admit, indeed assert, and use as an objection against creationism. Berkhof says, “(3) It proceeds on the assumption that, after the original creation, God works only mediately”(198). This, however, is not precisely an assumption: It is an exegesis of Scripture.
Sounds right to me. But this not only contradicts occasionalism, it directly conflicts with Clark's earlier assertion that "secondary causes" in the WCF are conceptually equivalent to Malebranchian occasions.

Or what was the point of inscripturation, if the physical texts which correspond to eternal thoughts of God don't actually serve any secondary, causative function? One can argue that upon encountering such physical realities, God sometimes immediately causes belief in the corresponding propositional realities so that there is a some kind of correlation between the two events - even though God doesn't always cause the same response, questioning the legitimacy of even asserting a correlation - but why make matters so complicated? Why not just say that God designed physical realities in such a way that they generally cause, in the absence of opposing conditions (e.g. partially covering one's eyes while reading), certain beliefs? How is this even disadvantageous to Scripturalism? What's the advantage of occasionalism, other than that its meaning is easy to explain? Is that even an advantage, or just another indication of how lazy Scripturalist apologetics has, in general, become?

Or what about prophecies and insincere believers? When Scripture says that we can "know" that a prophecy has passed or failed, "know" someone by their fruits, etc., does it really mean that we can "make lucky guesses"? Do the authors mean we can have a true opinion of something... without having any reason for thinking that opinion is true? Does that seem like a likely explanation of what "know" means in those passages? 

But aside from these disadvantages of occasionalism, there are more tangible benefits to discarding the doctrine - again, at least as it is posited as a complete metaphysical explanation of the nature of causation. For instance, I mentioned above a possible synthesis of Scripturalism with externally justified beliefs. Why would occasionalism preclude externally justified beliefs? If God is the direct cause of all things, that would include disbelief in Him as well as belief. Most people don't believe in God, let alone various biblical doctrines, let alone all other disagreements of which only one position - at most - can be true. Roughly, the point is that a metaphysic which posits that God immediately causes all beliefs would preclude the possibility that our beliefs are justified because they have been caused by a process which is, in general, unreliable (insofar as it does not, in general, yield true beliefs). A rejection of occasionalism allows for the possibility of externally justified beliefs, which seems like a good way to interpret the sort of "knowledge" we can have regarding prophecies, the sincerity of others' professions of faith, and so on. We can't forget the commitment Scripturalism has to internalism, but this isn't problematic so long as we keep the distinction between types of justification in mind when we refer to certain beliefs as "justified" or "known." 

And speaking of internalism, this view isn't compromised by admitting there are secondary causes. To say some belief can’t be internally justified for no other reason than that it is caused in a certain way is a genetic fallacy. Scripturalists are (or, in my opinion, ought to be) doxastic foundationalists: in short, a belief is philosophically known only if appropriately inferred from other [internally] justified beliefs or if the belief in question is self-justified or self-evident, in which case it is foundational, a first principle, axiom, presupposition, etc. But it doesn’t matter whether such a belief was the result of secondary causation or directly mediated to our minds via divine causation. Ultimately, everything is caused by God. On internalism, the causal origin of the belief doesn’t feature into whether the axiomatic belief itself is self-justified, especially if the resultant epistemic system can provide an account of the means by which we know.

Furthermore, the justificatory function of sensation or perception on externalism need only be causal, not logical. We don’t need to show our beliefs are justified externally in order for them to be, they just are because they are the product of a generally reliable causal system, i.e. a system which generally produces true beliefs – which makes sense, given divine providence. We also don't necessarily need to know what the causes of our beliefs are or whether such causes are divinely ordained as generally reliable in order for the beliefs themselves to have the status of being externally justified. All that matters is that they just are the effects of a generally reliable cause.

Now, what subordinate externalist schema we posit could itself be logically as well as causally justified. What we can internally know can lead to the idea that we externally know. But the point is that this proposed synthesis can in principle allow us to be in some sense (i.e. the externalist sense) justified in believing a person is an insincere believer, when summer is near, and so forth without requiring us to argue how we know it. If our belief is true, and if it was caused in according to a manner which God specifically designed to generally function as yielding true beliefs, then our belief is justified, even if we do not know such in the internalist sense. 

Again, externally justified beliefs are always subordinate to internally justified beliefs - thus, the latter establish limits to the former - but this does allow Scripturalists to account for certain types of knowledge in Scripture as well as the potential to expand apologetic impact by coupling it with other possibilities, like allowing that extrascriptural beliefs can be probilified by explanatory value and coherence. A few arguments against empirical knowledge may need to be qualified as solely applying to an internalistic and infallibilistic schema, but otherwise, the tradeoffs in rejecting a purely occasionalist theory of causation seem well worth it.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Apologetics and Epistemology

Recently, I was reading Gordon Lewis' summary and critique of Gordon Clark's apologetic in Testing Christianity's Truth Claims. Clark said Lewis' representation of his position here was done "better than any other critic" (Clark and His Critics, 2009, pg. 394). Clark provides his own response to Lewis in that book. I just want to highlight a few points related to Clark's apologetic I think should be made clearer.

To begin his final section of his chapter on Clark - his "Evaluation" - Lewis writes: "Suppose for the moment that consistency is the sole test of truth-claims, as Clark asserts." (Testing Christianity's Truth Claims, 1976, pg. 119). Clark points out this isn't true. In one of his earliest books (originally published in the late 1940s), for example, Clark wrote: "While consistency is one of the basic reasons for adopting a world-view, from a more proximate standpoint the world-view must function as a practical postulate" (A Christian Philosophy of Education, 1988, pg. 42). For some reason, this tends to be an overlooked point. 

For Christians, apologetics serves a certain function: "to defend the truth of Christianity against the attacks of its enemies" (link). Attacks can come in different varieties and relate to different fields, but basically, they all question that Christianity is true or knowable. If an apologetic has nothing to say about these different fields and has no relevance to whether Christianity is true or knowable, it isn't practical.

The other point I want to make also relates to the function of apologetics. Lewis seems to make the mistake of equating Clark's "test[s] for truth" with how a Christian knows the truth. He mistakes Clark's apologetic for Clark's epistemology. Lewis writes:
Admittedly, Christianity's truth-claims cannot be proved by inductive evidence. But Clark chooses to believe their truth because Christianity, of all the systems men have known, is alone consistent. Notice what is necessary for Clark to establish that thesis. He must show the inconsistency of every other system in history and on the contemporary scene... On what grounds does Clark know that there could not be two or more consistent systems? He assumes that only one system could possibly be consistent. (Testing Christianity's Truth Claims, 1976, pg. 119, 120)
Note that the following isn't true: "Clark chooses to believe their truth because Christianity... is alone consistent." Rather, Clark chooses to argue their truth because Christianity is alone consistent. This is the difference between apologetics and epistemology. Apologetics consists in making arguments. This is not always so in epistemology - axioms are not known because they are the conclusion of some argument, they are known because they are self-authenticating. 

Clark has to argue for Christianity via logical consistency and practicality because, at the risk of stating the obvious, he can't know Christianity for those to whom he is engaging in apologetics. He could just say divine revelation is self-authenticating and leave it at that, but it is more persuasive (which is another function of apologetics) to additionally point out, when applicable, that an opponent's system 1) can't be self-authenticating if his system inconsistent or impractical, or 2) that his system is less coherent than Christianity is, in the case of something like Judaism.

Lewis seems to think that Clark's tests for truth are the basis on which Clark claims to know Christianity. That is really the only explanation for why Lewis would think Clark would have to sift through infinitely many systems before knowing that just one, Christianity, is consistent. But that interpretation goes completely against what Lewis himself stated Clark believed regarding the nature and knowability of axioms earlier in his summary. 

While "test[s] for truth" can serve as confirmatory evidences of Christianity, they shouldn't function as the ground of knowledge; divine revelation does. Elsewhere, I have called tests for truth necessary conditions for knowledge and the postulate[s] by which one claims to know anything the sufficient condition[s] for knowledge (link). The former are the means by which we make arguments for (i.e. apologetics) the latter (i.e. epistemology). 

Again, apologetics should include an explanation of the epistemology of the system one is defending. Any good defense of a system of knowledge should explain what that system says about how we can know anything. But that explanation and defense should not be confused for that actual process of knowing. In fact, apologetics is only possible insofar as we know the system we are defending is true in the first place (see here). 

As for where Clark stated these points - that axioms are known because they are self-authenticating, not the conclusion of an apologetic, and that consistency isn't the [sole] means by which we know Christianity is true - a few quotes should suffice:
This disjunct faces two replies. First, it assumes that a first principle cannot be self-authenticating. Yet every first principle must be. The first principle of Logical Positivism is that a sentence has no meaning unless it can be verified (in principle at least) by sensory experience. Yet no sensory experience can ever verify this principle. Anyone who wishes to adopt it must regard it as self-authenticating. So it is with all first principles. (Christian Philosophy, 2004, pg. 47)  
Undoubtedly I hold that truth is a consistent system of propositions. Most people would be willing to admit that two truths cannot be contradictories; and I would like to add that the complex of all truths cannot be a mere aggregate of unrelated assertions. Since God is rational, I do not see how any item of his knowledge can be unrelated to the rest. Weaver makes no comment on this fundamental characteristic of divine truth. 
Rather, he questions whether this characteristic is of practical value, and whether it must be supplemented in some way. It is most strange that Weaver here says, “I must agree with Carnell,” as if he had convicted me of disagreeing with Carnell by providing no supplementation whatever. Now, I may disagree with the last named gentleman on many points, but since it is abundantly clear that I “supplement” consistency by an appeal to the Scripture for the determination of particular truths, it is most strange that Weaver ignores my supplementation. (Clark and His Critics, 2009, pg. 290)

Monday, April 20, 2015

Essential Doctrines and Beliefs

I was discussing the perspicuity of Scripture with a few Roman Catholics recently, and the question of essential and non-essential doctrines for salvation was raised. What does one need to believe (or not reject) in order to be saved? Where does Scripture distinguish between what doctrines are and are not essential?

Clearly, there is no single, cookie-cutter evangelistic statement. There isn't just one, authorized way of communicating the gospel. That's why the summary of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15 is a bit long, the Philippian jailer is told one thing, the Ethiopian eunuch is told something else, the conversation Jesus had with the two men following His resurrection must have taken some time, and so forth. A variety of considerations naturally come into play which explain why different statements were made in each of these cases. But I don't see why this implies a problem for the Protestant. None of this implies Scripture doesn't distinguish between essential and non-essential doctrines. The statements in the above passages are consistent with one another and touch on univocal elements. 

A Protestant, to be consistent with Scripture as his ultimate rule of faith, could go through Scripture and find out what was preached when the apostles witnessed and what else in Scripture is said to be related to the gospel and salvation. He could try to compile a comprehensive list. This would make for a useful exercise, but given that the gospel can be communicated by various statements, it isn't necessary. One doesn't have to read the whole New Testament to be saved. The Corinthian church didn't have to have the "second" letter from Paul to know the gospel outlined in the "first." Knowledge of a few passages suffices, though the more you know, the better.

Protestants could also just suggest that one should believe all of Scripture - if one does this, there is no problem as to what is essential and non-essential. This response in particular strikes me as a bit implausible, though, for while all Scripture is useful, there are fundamentals which the apostles encouraged new believers to drink as milk and yet chastised other believers for not being able to move beyond. Don't be unreasonable in your expectations of a new believer's ability to understand meaty doctrine.

Obviously, we should believe all of Scripture, and all of Scripture is understandable. But Scripture is a complex communication of interrelated doctrines, some of which are implicit. Memorizing Scripture is one thing, systematizing all the inferences is another. Does any professing Christian claim to have attained this? Is to too far to assert that we don't have the capacity - now, at any rate - to believe all of Scripture at once? Does this not indicate certain content should receive priority when witnessing to an unbeliever?

This is all pretty standard, but it brings up another point. I've been advocating that Scripturalists update the subject matter of their arguments, and in the vein of continuing to do so on this blog, I thought I'd apply the distinction between occurrent and dispositional beliefs here. 

An occurrent belief is a belief one has, considers, entertains, etc. at a given time. A dispositional belief is a belief one would [or, to give a necessitarian spin to this (link), could consistently be imagined to] have under certain circumstances - say, if one asked a person a question about whether or not he believes some proposition.

So let's look at the discussion of essential and nonessential doctrines from a different angle. Does everything one could list that I "would" need to agree with in order to be saved actually need to be an occurrent belief rather than a dispositional one? The answer is negative. When a believer sleeps, he doesn't usually, at least in my experience, actively believe "Jesus died and was raised for my sins." He's disposed to believe that. And we don't become unbelievers when we [occurrently] think something other than "Jesus died and was raised for me." All of this also indicates that even a Scripturalist who sincerely believes that "a person is what he thinks" must take "thinks" in a dispositional sense, so he should have no problem accepting this distinction.

However, in these cases, the actual or occurrent belief that "Jesus died and was raised for my sins" had already occurred at least once prior to my sleeping or thinking about something else. A better question is: do all propositions relating to the gospel need to have been occurrent at some prior time in order for one to be currently disposed to believe all of them? I don't see why. The burden of proof would be on the one who believes this to be the case to explain why.

Of course, I'm not saying one shouldn't entertain actual thoughts about the gospel. Less trivially, we can't know who is disposed to believe what. We have to act based on what we believe to be the case. This bears on the question of whether we should preach the whole counsel of God. I sometimes hear the argument that Christians should just list a minimal amount of propositions needed to be believed for salvation. That way, the audience isn't exposed to what I guess the arguers would call unnecessary potential obstacles to belief. 

But in considering the above distinction between occurrent and dispositional beliefs, as witnesses, evangelists, and apologists of God's word, we only become aware that those to whom we are speaking actually were disposed to believe some doctrine when we actually confront them with it to see if they occurrently accept it, reject, or require clarification of it. 

If one rejects a non-essential doctrine, while that doesn't necessarily mean the person isn't saved, the situation bears correction and watching. Christians make mistakes, but they should be teachable. It helps when the so-called teachers aren't constantly accusatory and defensive, which seems to be the case in many apologetic discussions. But sometimes, disagreements are never settled. That's just a fact of life we have to deal with. Sanctification is a process.

To the main point. If one rejects an essential doctrine, that's how we know he wasn't disposed to believe it and how we know he can't occurrently believe the gospel. If he accepts the essential doctrine, then we would have prima facie grounds - and here, Scripturalism needs to update its epistemology to account for kinds of justified belief other than infallibilistic - for believing they already had the disposition to believe it. 

This point is relevant to cases where certain parts of the gospel may have been left unsaid in an evangelistic encounter, for even as, in that case, we could not have [as strong] grounds for believing that the audience became or were believers, for we would have no evidence of their dispositions toward what was left unsaid, God could know whether He had disposed them to believe. They could be saved after all.

Again, this doesn't discount or discourage us from activity, for we don't have access to this divine knowledge, assuming it is divinely known. We work with what we have. But that it is a possibility at all is of some note in a discussion about what must one "believe" to be saved.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Further Problems with Clark's Metaphysical View of Persons

I've explained elsewhere why Clark's metaphysical theory of personhood leads to his two-person theory of the Incarnation (here). This two-person theory is flawed because it is manufactured by an illusory problem that it doesn't even solve. If it is a problem for Jesus to be one person, is it not a problem that Jesus is one subject? Or if you can explain why the latter fact isn't a problem, don't you in principle have an explanation for why the former theory needn't be problematic?

I've also explained elsewhere why Clark's theory of persons would imply the unbiblical view that God is metaphysically dependent on creation (here).

Others have pointed out problems with Clark's theory (for example, see here).

I'm going to note a few more problems. But firstly, it isn't clear whether Clark consistently held the same metaphysical view of persons throughout his life. For instance:
Aristotle admitted that individuals cannot be known. Hegel’s fault, or one of them, was to make the concept rather than the propositions the object of knowledge. But a concept is as unknowable as an individual. “Pen” is neither true nor false. Only a proposition can be true. “The pen belongs to Herr Krug” may be true; it may be false; but a concept in isolation is not an object of knowledge. Truth always comes in propositions.  
Two quotations from Leibniz enforced the application of this principle to persons. In fact the citations will do double work. They will show that knowledge of a person is propositions (and thus they bear on what several of my critics consider paradoxical, to wit, persons are propositions), and at the same time they will bring home the lesson from Plotinus that knowledge of oneself is no easy, off-hand, immediate experience, but of all things immensely difficult...  
Far from my making it impossible for God to know human beings, it is rather Professor Nash who does so. His view of the self is that of some Ich-an-sich. Leibniz suggests that the ego is a complex definition, including the life history of the person, and no doubt his state in a future world as well. This definition is not unknowable in essence, and God knows it because he determined what it should be. On the other hand, it is something that the person himself does not know, at least in this life. (Clark and His Critics, 2009, pgs 148-149)
On this view, persons are just propositions. Clark is here silent as to whether or not they are propositions they think, as he argued later in his life:
Accordingly the proposal is that a man is a congeries, a system, sometimes an agglomeration of miscellany, but at any rate a collection of thoughts. A man is what he thinks: and no two men are precisely the same combination. 
This is true of the Trinity also, for although each of the three Persons is omniscient, one thinks “I or my collection of thoughts is the Father,” and the second thinks, “I or my thoughts will assume or have assumed a human nature.” The Father does not think this second thought, nor does the Son think the first. This is the qualitative theory of individuation, as opposed to the space-time theory: No two leaves in the forest are exactly alike, and Leibniz’ Alexander the Great is defined by his history. Even if trees could be individuated by space and time, the persons of the Trinity, as said above, could not; nor could human souls or other spirits.  
Several romantically inclined students, and a few professors as well, have complained that “this makes your wife merely a set of propositions.” Well, so it does. This suits me, for I am a set of propositions too. And those who complain are as they think. (The Trinity, 2010, pg. 129)
The last paragraph does say that persons are propositions, but a problem is that it's a bit too fast. Thoughts don't have to be propositions. We can think about questions or commands, both of which Clark distinguished from propositions yet admitted are necessarily capable of being “understood,” “known,” and “intellectually grasped.” Clark argued that “every declarative sentence – in fact, even questions and commands – are examples of logic” (Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society Volume 24, June 1981, pg. 168). So then which is it? Are we (and the Trinity) merely sets of propositions, or are we also the commands and questions we think?

Let's forget about that for now. Let's say we are what we think - specifically, the propositions we think. But sometimes, we think falsely as well as truly. Clark admits as much himself, including the false propositions we think in our individual, personal definitions as well as the true ones: 
Therefore, since God is Truth, we shall define person, not as a composite of sensory impressions, as Hume did, but rejecting with him the meaningless term substance, we shall define person as a composite of truths. A bit more exactly, since all men make mistakes and believe some falsehoods, the definition must be a composite of propositions. As a man thinketh in his (figurative) heart, so is he. A man is what he thinks... Whether the propositions be true or false, a person is the propositions he thinks (The Incarnation, 1988, pgs. 54-55).
However, given Clark's statements that “No one more than I insists on the necessity of a single self-consistent worldview” (Today’s Evangelism: Counterfeit or Genuine? 1990, pg. 111), doesn't that mean that, metaphysically speaking, we are contradictions? If there is a single, self-consistent worldview, any false thought we have must be contradictory to any true thought we have. The result is that either God doesn't know us or God is a dialetheist, which is about as far removed from Clark's "consistency" theory of truth (Clark and His Critics, 2009, pgs. 142-145, 290-291, etc.) as one could get.

Of course, if one bites the bullet and argues God doesn't have to know us, then Clark's whole motivation for persons metaphysically being propositions in the first place is gone. God either doesn't need to know us or, as I think, we don't have to metaphysically just be propositions in order for God to know us, for what we metaphysically are was determined by God to correspond to some truth which God knows.

Now instead, let's say we are just a set of propositions and disregard what it is that we think. We are a complex definition that God has determined, per the above exposition of Leibniz. In that case, mustn't whatever set of propositions God knows us to be, whatever set of propositions we are, be changeless - which would make us eternal - on pain of making God's knowledge change? As propositions, we must be the objects of God's thoughts; if we change, God's thoughts and knowledge must change. Most Clarkians don't believe God's knowledge can change, but the resultant implication goes much farther than this or even a corollary to a B-series theory of time called eternal creation; in this case, we ourselves would cease to be temporal. We wouldn't change. This is opposed to Clark's own beliefs, and, at any rate, clearly unbiblical.

But suppose we allow that the set of propositions we are changes, and so God's knowledge changes. I've argued elsewhere (without endorsing the view) that God could be eternally omniscient and yet have determined that His knowledge will change in accordance with changes in time. In fact, per the above quote, it seems Clark unwittingly admits this to be the case in the incarnation (“I or my thoughts will assume or have assumed a human nature”). [Lest anyone think Clark's change of view on the incarnation may have affected this, he says on pg. 55 of The Incarnation (1988): “Neither the complex of truths we call the Father nor those we call the Spirit, has the proposition, “I was incarnated.” This proposition occurs only in the Son’s complex.”]

It would take someone extremely committed to Clark's metaphysic of personhood to goes so far as to admit God is temporal just to save it, for he would have to give up Clark's motivations for necessitarianism and divine eternality. Worse, however, I think this view leads to a kind of process theology or divine becoming. For if persons are propositions, the persons of the Trinity must be propositions. And if "the Father is a knower of [person] x as [a set of propositions] y" is true at one time and false at another (corresponding to the time[s] at which He decreed we change as persons), does this not imply metaphysical change on the part of the Father? 

One would have to state that this proposition ("the Father is a knower of [person] x as [a set of propositions] y") isn't essential to or found in the complex definition of the Father at any time (and likewise the Son and Spirit). But then, this implies "the Father is omniscient" isn't to be found in the definition of the Father either, for the truth of this latter proposition hinges on the truth[s] of the former. And then by parity of reasoning, all the other divine attributes appear equally unessential, and thus one couldn't even say that "the Father (or Son or Spirit) is God (or divine)" is essential to their personhood. Clearly this has been ad hoc reasoning for more than a while now, so the view that persons metaphysically just are propositions is problematic too.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Gordon Clark Project Revisited

Some time ago, I compiled what I believed to be a near comprehensive transcription of Gordon Clark's epistemological views, which can be found here. However, Douglas Douma, in the course of compiling his biography of Clark's life - which is shaping up quite nicely, I think (see his most recent update here) - has been making available unpublished writings by Clark at thegordonhclarkfoundation. There are around 100 such posts by Gordon Clark now, a few by his father as well. I suspect there is more to come, but I've finally gotten around to reading the ones that are available now, so I thought I'd compile a separate "Clark on epistemology" document to supplement my previous one here. I'll probably add to it as more becomes available.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Contemporary Epistemology: Positism

History

There is very little that has been said about the positist theory of the structure of epistemic justification, probably because there are so few adherents. It has been explicitly acknowledged as a distinct position only recently. James van Cleve’s contribution to Contemporary Debates in Epistemology (2005, link) is the first instance in which I encountered the term, and I have not found anything prior to that essay which mentions “positism” in an epistemic context. He defines it there as the belief that “chains of justifying reasons can terminate in reasons that are not justified themselves, but are simply individual or societal posits” (pg. 168). In a footnote to this essay, van Cleve writes:
The distinction between positism and foundationalism is lost on those who cannot hear the word “justified” as anything but a past participle, implying that some act or relation of justifying has occurred whereby a belief is justified by something else that serves as a reason for it. For foundationalists, “justified” simply connotes a favorable epistemic status, which a belief may have even though the subject has no reason for it. In this connection, another term, such as “evident” or “credible,” might be less misleading than “justified.” (pg. 178)
In other words, van Cleve believes a positist would admit his basic beliefs do not have a favorable epistemic status. It's just a belief one has, and on the basis of this belief other beliefs of his can be “justified,” or one can be “justified” in coming to believe other things. Ryan Herbert (link) defines positism similarly, stating positists hold that basic beliefs “can serve to justify other beliefs” (pg. 15), although these basic beliefs “are not autonomously warranted and… are neither epistemically justified nor unjustified” (pg. 14). [Herbert slightly misstates positism when he says this, as positists do view basic beliefs as epistemically unjustified. He also does not seem to distinguish, as Engel does, between doxastic and personal justification (see below).] Herbert adds that this encompasses both doxastic and propositional justification (pg. 15), which is significant in comparison to some who are infinitists about propositional but not doxastic justification. 

Both van Cleve and Herbert credit the origin of positism to what Ludwig Wittgenstein called “hinge” propositions: 
…the questions that we raise and our doubts depend upon the fact that some propositions are exempt from doubt, are as it were like hinges on which those turn.  
That is to say, it belongs to the logic of our scientific investigations that certain things are in deed not doubted.  
But it isn’t that the situation is like this: We just can’t investigate everything, and for that reason we are forced to rest content with assumption. If I want the door to turn, the hinges must stay put. (On Certainty, §§341-3)
Any act of questioning or doubting presupposes we believe certain propositions. In a skeptical context, question or doubt has to relate to some (or even all) propositions, but that is to already acknowledge, in some sense, the existence of this or these propositions, or at least that which gives this or these propositions meaning. In short, one can't deny, doubt, or question all propositions without rendering those denials, doubts, or questions unintelligible.

Wittgenstein goes on to say hinge propositions can’t be known, but that may just be due to his definition of knowledge: “One says “I know” when one is ready to give compelling grounds. “I know” relates to a possibility of demonstrating the truth” (On Certainty, §243). John Robbins had a similar definition, and I very much doubt he was a positist. In any case, it is obvious that on this definition, only something believed by inference can be “known.” If one were to have confronted Wittgenstein with a different definition of knowledge that would not have automatically ruled out basic beliefs – perhaps this happened – I am unsure of how Wittgenstein would have replied. Positism does remind me of the emotivist position taken up by the logical positivists (link), and Wittgenstein was involved with this latter group in the early part of his life. I still think it would be too ambitious to call Wittgenstein a positist on the foregoing evidence alone, although in an undeveloped or logically implicit sense it could be true.

Introduction to Engel's Paper

Surprising as it may seem, this is all that I could find that had been said about positism prior to last year. Perhaps it has been elsewhere discussed, but aside from these few scant references in papers by non-positist philosophers, I haven't encountered a self-aware defense of this position besides Mylan Engel Jr.'s “Positism: The Unexplored Solution to the Epistemic Regress Problem” (link). The reason is, I think, simple: philosophers have for a long time assumed epistemic justification is either intrinsic or transferred. Thus, there is no logical room for a position in which a belief is justified by an unjustified belief (link).

This assumption that epistemic justification is transferred has been recently challenged by a rising number of infinitist epistemologists, so it is not unexpected that at least one defendant of positism has seen and taken the opportunity to piggy-back on this objection and also claim “reasoning itself can be justification generating” (Metaphilosophy, Volume 45, Issue 2, 2014, pg. 152). In his abstract, Engel defines the transmittance assumption - which leads to an epistemic regress, as positists don't believe in justified basic beliefs - as follows: “Person S is mediately justified in believing p iff (1) S has a doxastic reason q for p and (2) S is justified in believing q.” Two defenders of infinitism, Jeanne Peijnenburg and Scott Aikin, also highlight this aspect of Engel's defense of positism:
Mylan Engel Jr.'s “Positism: The Unexplored Solution to the Epistemic Regress Problem” develops and defends the view that a justification-conferring chain of reasons may legitimately begin with an unjustified belief. Engel holds that, under certain circumstances, reasoning itself can be justification generating, and not just justification transmitting. He argues that a person S can be justified in coming to believe a proposition p on the basis of an unjustified posit R, provided S does not realize she is unjustified in believing R and she has no defeaters that defeat R's status as a reason for p. Engel maintains that when one believes a proposition p, one is rationally committed to what is knowingly entailed by p, unless one is prepared to abandon p in light of those entailments. Accordingly, the propositions one believes provides defeasible reasons for believing the propositions they knowingly entail. Engel characterizes his positist view as a form of nondoxastic coherentism that is compatible with other meta-epistemic views. In particular, Engel is keen to show that his view is compatible with the existence of basic beliefs grounded in sense experience and also compatible with a version of infinitism that holds that inference itself is justification enhancing. (Ibid., pg. 141)

So much for a general canvassing of Engel's aims. He intends to defend the legitimacy (though not justificatory exclusivity) of positism, accepting van Cleve's definition (pg. 146). Before delving into his arguments, I found there to be a lot of terminological nuance, enough to warrant a whole section of Engel's essay. I suppose this is to be expected in cases where not much has been said on a subject, so it's necessary to look at what Engel is specifically defending. I'll also break up my following sections to correspond to the main sections of Engel's article.

Terminology

Roughly, the principle distinction between the doxastic and propositional justification is that doxastic justification is concerned with the justificatory relationships among and statuses of one's actual beliefs, not merely potential propositions that could or should serve those purposes for an epistemic agent. The relationship between propositional and doxastic justification corresponds, respectively, to ex ante and ex post justification. This is the preferred terminology of Engel, who accepts Alvin Goldman's definitions in “What is Justified Belief?” (1979, pg. 21): “The ex post use occurs when there exists a belief, and we say of that belief that it is (or isn't) justified. The ex ante use occurs when no such belief exists... Here we say of the person, independent of his doxastic state vis-à-vis p, that p is (or isn't) suitable for him to believe.” Ex ante or propositional justification determines whether one may or should [have] acquire[d] a belief; ex post or doxastic justification determines whether a belief one already accepts should be kept or discarded. Accordingly, doxastic justification is sometimes said to be parasitic on propositional justification in that having the former entails having the latter but not vice versa. With this in mind, Engel proposes to evaluate positism in terms of ex ante justification (2014, pg. 148).

Engel further intends to evaluate positism with respect to “personal justification,” meaning he is concerned with the circumstances under which a person is worthy of epistemic praise for believing that p (cf. Engel, “Personal and Doxastic Justification in Epistemology,” 1992). Engel says that this sort of epistemic justification occurs when one believes “that p only if she has an undefeated reason for believing that p” (pg. 147). In this context, her reasons must be “internally accessible;” that is, her reason “to believe that is a consideration, from [her] egocentric point of view, that suggests that p is true” (pg. 147). 


Engel then provides a sort of useful glossary of terms. Notably, a belief or experience is considered “basic” if a subject is “noninferential” and “immediately justified” in having it (pg. 148). Doxastic [foundations of coherence] theories assume “only beliefs can serve as reasons for other beliefs,” whereas nondoxastic theories reject this assumption (pg. 148). Most of what else Engel mentions may be here passed over, as their primary function just seems to be to show the number of contrasting theories of epistemic justification in terms of structure and nature. The specific theory that is worth mentioning is the one Engel defends. The following closes out this section:

...there is a third form of coherence theory that epistemologists have not recognized. Like foundations theories, modest nondoxastic coherence theories acknowledge that some reasoning is linear and admit that some beliefs are basic, for example, simple perceptual beliefs. Unlike foundations theories, however, modest linear noncircular nondoxastic coherence theories insist we can be justified in holding nonbasic beliefs that do not ultimately trace their justification back to basic beliefs. In section 3, I argue that a Positist version of this sort of Modest Coherentism (PMC) allows us to solve the regress problem for ex ante justification as it most frequently arises. (pg. 149)
Clearly, Engel's views indeed live up to his self-titled description as an epistemic “ecumenical beast” (pg. 157). He thinks epistemic justification can be had in a number of ways, but while some of these variations are interesting, I will restrict myself to commenting on why and how he thinks positism suffices.


The Epistemic Regress Problem for Ex Ante Justification

Engel begins section 2 of his article with an important historical point: 
...the epistemic regress problem was put forth as a skeptical challenge designed to undermine the very possibility of rational belief. In its contemporary guise, the regress problem has been formulated as an argument from elimination in favor of foundationalism - one designed to show that basic beliefs must exist if we are to be epistemically justified in believing anything at all. (pg. 149)
One comment that should be made at this point also relates back to Engel's epistemic ecumenicism, and that is with regards to the weak standard Engel has set for the goal of epistemic justification to be met. I don't have a problem with much of Engel's terminology outlined in the previous section, but if all that it takes for one to be justified in coming to believe p is that he have an undefeated (but not undefeatable) reason for it, and if what suffices as a reason is that it merely suggests to his mind that p is true, then one could easily imagine scenarios in which two people could be justified in coming to believe contradictory propositions. Does Engel think this qualifies as rational belief? According to the original context of the skeptical challenge to which Engel alludes, I don't see how he could. But then I fail to see how the skeptical challenge can be addressed by Engel in the first place. It would be one thing if Engel wished to propose positism in a different context, but in the beginning of this section he has made it clear he knows the original point of the regress argument and believes PMC provides a solution. But unless he were willing to argue against the much more stringent (indeed, infallibilistic) skeptical standard of epistemic justification - which he does not do here, in any case - that would require he deal with the skeptical challenge on its own terms, not his. The force of this point will, I hope, become clearer in the following discussion.

Next, Engel lays out premises of the regress argument for ex ante justification:

A1. S is justified in coming to believe that p iff either (1) S is immediately justified in coming to believe that p or (2) S is mediately justified in coming to believe that p
A2. S is mediately justified in coming to believe that p iff (1) S has a doxastic reason q for p (where q might be a conjunction), and (2) S is ex post justified (either mediately or immediately) in believing q. (pgs. 149-150)
He then reasons how a foundationalist would use these premises to argue that foundationalism must be true. Clearly, he doesn't believe this succeeds. He makes three points, none of which I believe are persuasive.

Firstly: “Even if sound, all RA shows is that there must be basic beliefs, if we are to have any justified beliefs at all, and it remains a theoretical possibility that justification skepticism is correct” (pg. 151). One may claim “no one is justified in believing anything,” but those words only have intelligible, definite meaning in the context of the claimant being epistemically justified in assigning said meaning. Otherwise, it could mean anything, including “everyone is justified in believing anything,” In other words, justification skepticism cannot be consistently maintained, and any argument to the contrary presupposes this is true, Engel's own argument to this effect included.


Secondly:  “...even if there are basic beliefs, as RA allegedly shows, in order for foundationalism to be correct, there must be enough basic beliefs to support the structure of our justified nonbasic beliefs, and RA does nothing to show the latter” (pg. 151). He goes on to say he does believe perceptual beliefs are properly basic (I'm not sure if Engel distinguishes between basic beliefs and properly basic beliefs) if they are grounded in perceptual experiences, but he argues many nonbasic beliefs we think we are justified in believing, like moral and philosophical beliefs, cannot be traced back to basic beliefs. This is backwards, and Engel repeats this mistake a few times. A foundationalist reasons from foundations, not to them; he only is in a position to know what is a justified nonbasic belief because he was first in a position to know what is a justified basic belief. Assuming certain nonbasic beliefs are justified and then using that to rule out the possibility of there being a sufficient number of justified basic beliefs to account for these is to put the cart before the horse. If this is the external critique it appears to be, a foundationalist will find it unpersuasive simply because he does not operate from the same bases as Engel, so to speak.


Thirdly: “Take the current debate between foundationalism, coherentism, infinitism, and positism. No matter which of these positions you believe is correct, you won't be able to trace this philosophical belief back to properly basic beliefs” (pg. 151). Engel cites Plantinga in his footnote to this comment, further adding that this would make foundationalism self-refuting. But why Engel thinks, for instance, that the belief “divine revelation is self-authenticating” cannot be basic, I don't know. I think that belief could put one in a position to make the regress argument for foundationalism. If Engel's flat denial is due to people disagreeing about things regarding God, I don't see how that is relevant. People can disagree about everything. Does that imply there can be no incorrigible beliefs? No. Here again the importance of discussing infallibilism is demonstrated.



Justification Ex Nihilo

Having spelled out the regress problem and addressed why he thinks foundationalism fails, Engel turns to his own view, which is primarily targeted at explaining how reasoning itself can be justification generating rather than justification transmitting.

In the first subsection, Engel makes the argument that one is “justified in believing q” if he also believes “that p and that p entails q,” even if he is unjustified in believing either that p or that p entails q (pg. 152). I don't think this is true. The internal logic of the individual should lead him to believe q, but this is an entirely separate question from whether or not he is justified in believing q. This is true even on Engel's already watered down definition of epistemic justification as one's having an undefeated reason for q, not to mention more robust perspectives. If one encounters a defeater for p and still believes that p and that p entails q, would Engel say that he is still justified in coming to believe q? If so, he must revise his definition of epistemic justification. If not, he must admit that it is not “his commitment simpliciter to p and p entails q that rationally commits him to q” (pg. 153). It appears the second is the route Engel opts for, as in the next subsection he prescribes N2, a norm stating “If you believe that p and that p entails q, and you care about whether q, then if you have no defeaters for p as a reason for q, believe q” (pg. 155). So I missed the point of this subsection.

In his second subsection, Engel discusses justificational opacity and norm followability. He first discusses what epistemic norms are, writing that “S is justified in coming to believe that p if and only if S would not violate any epistemic norms by coming to believe that p” (pg. 153). If epistemic norms are usually merely permissive rather than mandatory, as Engel says they are, then I would say that rather than calling S justified in coming to believe p, it makes more sense to say he is just permitted to believe p. Epistemic justification connotes a favorable epistemic status, whereas epistemic permission norms seem more neutral. Regardless, Engel next argues that 
On the plausible assumptions that (i) we ought to be able to reason the way we should reason and (ii) ought implies can, the correct epistemic norms, whatever they are, must be such that we are actually capable of following them and guiding our beliefs in conformity with them. Accordingly, an adequacy constraint on any regulative epistemic norm is that it be followable. A person cannot be criticized for failing to follow a norm that is impossible to follow, for no one can be expected to follow an unfollowable norm. (pg. 153)
To begin with, notice that Engel is willing to accept plausibility assumptions only when they suit his purposes. Justification skepticism isn't plausible, but that was nevertheless cast as a mark against foundationalism. Plausibility should work both ways in these discussions. But more importantly, freedom doesn't ground or follow from norms. This would transition into a discussion of moral ontology, which I have written about elsewhere (link). Suffice it to say as a person who thinks determinism is an epistemic necessity and that persons do have moral obligations, I disagree with this assumption.

In any case, Engel mentions these two assumptions to argue that premise A2 of the regress argument for ex ante justification can be formulated as unfollowable norm N1: “For any belief B1 that you hold, employ B1 as a reason for some new belief B2 only if you are justified in believing B1” (pg. 153). There several problems with this. Firstly, the aforementioned distinction between permission and justification becomes evident, as one may be permitted to believe B2 even if B2 cannot be deduced from justified belief B1. This is permitted as long as ~B2 also cannot be deduced from a justified belief, so N1 only holds if it is further stipulated that one wishes to be justified in coming to believe B2. That is very different from just wishing to be permitted to hold B2. But further, even if it is “psychologically unrealistic” (pg. 154) to separate our justified and unjustified beliefs, it is not unfollowable, it's just hard. We typically don't want to do that except in philosophical or apologetic contexts. But the point is that even on Engel's “plausibility assumptions,” A2 can hold.

Engel then attempts to bolster his case by providing memorial beliefs as an example of how A2 can't be followed: “Given the justificational opacity of memorial beliefs, we can't follow the epistemic norm (i.e., N1) implicit in A2. Consequently, A2 is false, where the regulative conception of justification is concerned” (pg. 154). Setting aside what points I've already made in regards to unfollowability, Engel's short discussion of memorial beliefs really seemed out of place in the context of his article. For starters, doesn't any reasoning session engage in memorial beliefs? As temporal creatures, it appears to me we take time to think any proposition. Doesn't that mean each belief we have is in some sense memorial, as we have to remember that to which each concept in a proposition refers? Or does Engel believe propositions and even arguments can be comprehended instantaneously? The latter appears dubious to me - Engel doesn't even define what he thinks a memorial belief is, let alone address any of these relevant concerns - but the former calls into question Engel's assertion that “we can't tell introspectively which of our memorial beliefs we are justified in holding and which we aren't” (pg. 154), as he must have assumed the opposite in believing himself to be justified in arguing this position. Either way, I think it was a mistake to squeeze one page worth of material about a heavy metaphysical topic like memorial beliefs into a discussion about the structure of justification and think it decisively or forcibly shows anything. I certainly did not follow the logic of the following statement from subsection 3: “Since we can't tell introspectively which of our memorial beliefs we are justified in holding and which we aren't, we rightly regard all memorial beliefs as having a default (albeit defeasible) permissible-to-reason-from status” (pg. 155). 

He ends this second subsection by providing N2 (defined above) as an alternative method of reasoning to N1, promising that the next section will explain why people do and are right to reason in thusly. Now, I don't necessarily have a problem with N2. I would say it's a fine permission norm. Engel even makes the useful point (and again on pg. 157) that Peter Klein, a notable infinitist about propositional justification, seemingly accepts N2 as a permission norm about doxastic justification and has really committed himself to positism. But to recap above criticisms, as a solution to the regress problem in the context of the skeptical challenge, I think it doesn't suffice. 

Unfortunately, this next subsection mostly explains how people reason, not why it is right. Engel notes we often reason from premises we don't question until we encounter a defeater, at which point we see if there are any defeaters of said defeater. How we proceed from there depends on what we find. He compares our private reasoning to our public reasoning as well as computer simulations. This is descriptive language. The closing paragraph is the closest thing I found to justification for N2:
Reasoning in this way is extremely efficient. If we had to stop and reevaluate our beliefs each time before we reasoned from them, we would draw very few conclusions. The point is not merely that we do regularly engage in default reasoning but that, given both the efficiency and the self-correcting nature of such reasoning, it is entirely rational for us to do so. Objection: But won't engaging in default reasoning make us prone to countless irremediable errors? Response: No, for when we employ default reasoning, we're constantly engaged in what John Pollock (1986, 56-57) describes as “primed research” - the subconscious monitoring of our reasoning, constantly being on the lookout for reasoning errors and potential defeaters for our reasons. In this way faulty reasoning and faulty beliefs are constantly getting corrected, as new information become available. (pg. 156)
From this account, it seems the purpose of positism is utilitarian. If the point of reasoning this way is to arrive at more conclusions rather than truly justified conclusions, it does make more sense to allow for more premises than basic beliefs. And given the existence of permitted beliefs in addition to mandatory ones, this is fine. But then positism becomes less about solving the regress problem and more about its indirect value in being unwittingly used in other, less strict contexts than epistemology. 

Additionally, it seems positism only works within the context of a different theory of structural justification. Notice that Engel hastens to assure the reader that this view is self-correcting (retroactive) and includes primed research (proactive). While this never seems to get us to the point of infallible justification in believing anything, upon further consideration, it might already presuppose it. For in accordance with what standard[s] are we correcting or protecting our beliefs from faultiness? How is it we can sense when something we believe or encounter is erroneous? If whatever standard Engel would have in mind can itself be revised, this deflates his response to the posed objection: we might be correcting our beliefs according to a standard which itself needs or will be corrected. Who knows what is erroneous in such a case? If, on the other hand, the standard is a necessary one, then it seems we have a belief which has been justified by some other structural theory than positism, as positism is fallibilistic. Given Engel's epistemic ecumenism and prior defense of coherentism, this makes sense. But then once again, positism seems to be less about philosophical concerns and more about its potential usefulness as an add-on to some extant, self-sufficient theory of epistemic justification.

In the last subsection, Engel attempts to outline a sufficient condition for positist justification (pg. 156): 
(PJ) S is justified in coming to believe that q on the basis of her belief p, which she's ex post unjustified in believing, IF: 
(i) S believes that p,
(ii) S believes that p entails q (or that makes q sufficiently probable), 
(iii) S appreciate the fact that (p & p entails q) is a reason to believe q,
(iv) S does not realize that she is unjustified in believing p,
(v) S has no reason to believe ~q, i.e., S is not aware of any rebutting defeaters for p as a reason for q,  
(vi) S has no reason to deny that p would not be true unless q were true, i.e., S is not aware of any undercutting defeaters for p as a reason for q, and 
(vii) S has no reason to believe ~p, i.e. S it not aware of any negating defeaters for p. 
I don't have much more to add to what I've already said. I will say that this seven-step process by which one can allegedly be justified in coming to believe q doesn't strike me as plausible or psychologically realistic per Engel's earlier remarks. I am particularly curious how a self-conscious positist - such as Engel appears to be - could exercise PJ(iv). Once you've done all that work in defending or coming to understand how you are justified on positist grounds, I would think it would be hard to fail to realize what one's unjustified premises are. That may just be because I tend to think about epistemology a lot, but then again, you'd probably have to think about epistemology a lot to become a positist in the first place. 

He finishes this section by noting p can itself come to be justified either by providing a reason for it, whether directly due to some new belief or because “the best explanation for why p has given rise to so many other beliefs that cohere with the rest of her belief system is that p is true” (pg. 157). It isn't clear whether Engel now believes, in light of this paper, which, if any, structural theory of epistemic justification can stand alone.

The Many-Solutions Solution to the Regress Problem and Conclusion

Engel wraps up his article with these two short sections, summarizing his position in them. The first section consists of what Engel perceives to be the positive and negative qualities of the various theories of epistemic justification, a discussion which can for these purposes be put aside, interesting though it may be, because it doesn't really concern positism.

In his conclusion, Engel clarified that his rejection of the transmission-only thesis is mainly grounded on the unfollowability of A2/N1, which is why I paid so much attention to the second subsection above. He finishes with a distinct point that wasn't mentioned in the body of the paper but is worthy of mention:
As for the arbitrariness thesis, PMC's combination of default reasoning and primed search for errors mitigates against the charge of arbitrariness. Although S might have acquired some belief B inappropriately/arbitrarily, the fact B has persisted, that is, B hasn't been purged due to countervailing considerations, despite S's having been on the lookout for such considerations, makes B more than just an arbitrary belief. The longer B survives this primed-search-self-monitoring process, the less arbitrary B becomes, True, even if B persists indefinitely, S won't be justified in believing B, unless she acquires an undefeated reason for B, but S needn't be justified in believing B in order for B to cease to be arbitrary. (pg. 158)
I would have been interested to see Engel address this more fully. For instance, at what point can B entirely cease to be arbitrary? What does it mean for B to be arbitrary or non-arbitrary, given that it can in both cases be unjustified? I didn't even realize this was a concern until the last paragraph of the paper.

To summarize my findings, I do not believe positism is a solution to the regress problem, nor do I think it can be synthesized with any other theory to nevertheless epistemically justify individuals in certain cases. It may have some function in the context of permitted beliefs.