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


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.


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.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Current Events and Gordon Clark

Some of my readers may have heard of The Trinity Foundation, one of the first sites that aroused my interest in Gordon Clark. Recently, The Gordon Clark Foundation has been coming out with many unpublished writings by Clark (and others, such as his father) which I thought some might find interesting. Once Douglas Douma (link) finishes his biography, which looks to be promising, I will have to update my research to reflect additional statements of note on Clark's positive epistemological views (link).

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Internalism Defended

In a recent post, I noted a few ways in which the internalist-externalist debate is relevant to Scripturalism. In this post, I will highlight a few epistemologist's reasons for thinking why internalism is, of the two, the necessary justificatory framework for an epistemological position. To begin, I will quote the whole context of Bonjour's statement from the end of my last post:
Having been reconciliatory to this extent, I still want to insist that there is a clear way in which an internalist approach, in addition to being intellectually legitimate on its own, has a fundamental kind of priority for epistemology as a whole, so that externalist views, whatever their other merits, do not constitute satisfactory responses to the general issue with which this essay is concerned: that of whether we have any good reasons to think that any of our beliefs about the world are true (and what form these reasons might take). 
This is so because externalist justification simply does not speak to this global and essentially first-person issue. One way to see this is to note that if an epistemologist claims that a certain belief or set of beliefs, whether his own or someone else’s, has been arrived at in a reliable way, but says this on the basis of cognitive processes of his own whose reliability is for him merely an external fact to which he has no first-person, internalist access, then the proper conclusion is merely that the belief or beliefs originally in question are reliably arrived at (and perhaps thereby are justified or constitute knowledge in externalist senses) if the epistemologist’s own cognitive processes are reliable in the way that he believes them to be. Of course there might be a whole series of hypothetical results of this sort: cognitive process A is reliable if cognitive process B is reliable, cognitive process B is reliable if cognitive process C is reliable, and so forth. But the only apparent way to arrive at a result that is not ultimately hypothetical in this way is for the reliability of at least some processes to be establishable on the basis of what the epistemologist can know directly or immediately from his first-person, internalist epistemic perspective… 
The basic question (which each person must in the end ask for himself or herself) is whether I have good reasons for thinking that my beliefs are true (and, if so, what form those reasons take). And the reason that this leads to an internalist view is that the reasons in question are supposed to be reasons that I have, not in the impossible sense of having them explicitly in mind at every moment, but in the sense of their being more or less immediately available or accessible. (Epistemic Justification, pgs. 39, 174)
I recall reading Alvin Plantinga say that as an externalist, he doesn’t really see why “a main concern of epistemology is replying to the skeptic” (A Companion to Epistemology, 2nd edition, pg. 173). And in a way, he’s right. Skeptics don’t know what knowledge means or can mean, so there is no reason skeptics should dictate the terms of what a knower needs in order to know. But then again, one can ask himself the same questions a skeptic would.

[One might instead ask why we need to regard skepticism as a main concern in epistemology. An extended reply would take me to far afield of the present post, but in short, the question suggests its own ironic answer: "why do I need an answer to this question in order for this to be true or known to be true?"]

With the skeptical concern in mind, I turn to this excellent passage by Michael Williams, to which I have nothing further to add at this time:
The essential feature of Agrippan skepticism is that it is universal. The Agrippan Argument applies to any arbitrary belief or claim. This is why it is available for indefinite reiteration. The skeptic’s challenge is to explain how it is possible for us to know (or be justified in believing) anything whatsoever (Stroud, 1989). 
The skeptic’s question is peculiar. If I tell a child about dinosaurs, she may ask me how it is possible to know anything whatsoever about them. After all, they went extinct thousands of years ago, so no one has ever seen a dinosaur. I will reply by telling her about the fossil record and how it gives us clues to what different kinds of dinosaur there were, their different structures in turn giving clues to how they lived. But of course, in giving an explanation like this, I am only explaining how it is possible to know some things on the basis of others. What the skeptic wants – and what the traditional epistemologist means to provide – is an explanation of the possibility of knowledge in general. An explanation of the possibility of knowledge that takes certain facts for granted – treats them as if they were known – will lack the requisite generality. The skeptic imposes – and the traditional epistemologist accepts – a Totality Condition on a properly philosophical understanding of knowledge and justification (Williams, 1992). 
The Totality Condition creates pressure to accept a further constraint: internalism, or full epistemic self-awareness. Internalism is the view that, to be justified in holding a belief, we must have “cognitive access” to its “justification-makers.” So-called “externalist” theories of knowledge and justification, by contrast, allow epistemically appropriate believing to result from factors of which we are not aware. For example, an externalist may say that a belief of mine is epistemically appropriate if it is formed by a method that is in fact highly reliable, whether or not I know about the reliability of the method I used. For externalists, such reliability-knowledge is relevant to the quite different question of whether I know, or am justified in believing, that my original belief is justified. One can have beliefs that are epistemically appropriate without understanding why. Presumably, the “knowledge” we attribute to animals is like this. According to externalists, human knowledge is not essentially different (Kornblith, 2002). 
Prima facie, internalism is not particularly plausible, at least if it is taken as a fully general view of ordinary justification (Goldman, 2001). Everyday justification often seems to work as externalists say it does, as, for example, when it flows from the unselfconscious exercise of dependable recognitional abilities (Fogelin, 1994, chapter 3). We do not always require people to have reflected systematically on their abilities at large, or even on their performance in the situation at hand. However, in the peculiar context of the skeptical challenge, it is easy to persuade oneself that externalism is not an option. 
An explanation of how knowledge or justification is possible has to do more than show that knowledge or justification is logically possible: that there is a way of thinking about knowledge that does not involve a contradiction. Externalists can surely manage this. They can sketch a consistent picture of the world in which we credit ourselves with reliable faculties and so, by externalist lights, with epistemically appropriate beliefs. But are we justified in believing that our faculties are reliable? Is that belief epistemically appropriate? If not, then for all we know, we have no justified beliefs. This is a significant concession to skepticism. We want a reply not just to the claim that we know nothing, but also to the meta-skeptical claim that for all we know we know nothing. We want to know that we know. This too pushes us towards internalism. 
Admittedly, committed externalists can resist this line of thought. They can say that our epistemic beliefs (meta-beliefs about the reliability of our faculties) may indeed be epistemically appropriate – by externalist standards! But how do they know that? Well, they believe it: appropriately, too, if this meta-epistemic belief is formed in some suitably reliable way. And so on. But that is the problem. More traditionally minded theorists will surely feel that externalists who go down this route are either accepting infinitism or simply turning their backs on the sceptical problem. The traditionalist thought is that the epistemic self-understanding we seek can be attained only if the epistemic appropriateness of our beliefs at large can be made in some way evident. This is an internalist demand. 
This pressure to adopt internalism gets further reinforcement from the thought that the context of philosophical inquiry is inherently reflective. In doing philosophy, we step back from all particular practical engagements in order to make explicit presuppositions that we normally take for granted without formulating in a precise way. But once such presuppositions are made explicit, the question of their epistemic appropriateness cannot be avoided. In philosophy, we want to get clear about what, at the deepest level, we are committed to and whether we are entitled to those commitments. 
To understand philosophical reflection this way is to link such reflection with a particular ideal of self-understanding. It is because it adopts this ideal that traditional epistemological reflection is conducted from a first-person standpoint. By contrast, externalist approaches to knowledge and justification are elaborated from a third-person point of view. Accordingly, to the traditionalist, externalist epistemologies embody an attitude that we might take to someone else: we see that he is a reliable informant about this or that, and so we take his beliefs in that area to be epistemically appropriate, not worrying about what, if anything, he knows about his own reliability. But it is not clear what would even be meant by proposing to take such an attitude towards oneself. Again, the very character of traditional epistemology, as a quest for total epistemic self-understanding, pushes us to adopt internalism. 
Externalist epistemologies seem plausible, the skeptic will suggest, because they accord with what we already believe. Our common-sense–scientific picture of the world suggests that, within limits, our basic cognitive faculties – perception, memory, and so on – are fairly reliable, so that beliefs formed with the aid of those faculties tend to be epistemically appropriate. But in taking the common-sense picture of the world for granted, we are not explaining how it is possible to know anything whatsoever. (Contemporary Debates in Epistemology, pgs. 207-208)

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Augustine's On the Unity of the Church

Some of my first posts on this blog were about how closely Augustine’s beliefs regarding soteriology and Scripture lined up with contemporary Protestantism. I don’t remember why I was so interested in Augustine. It may have been because I used to discuss with RC’s on facebook pretty regularly, and you don't get very far in such discussions before hearing about the early church.

In any case, the latter post contained some quotes from Augustine’s “On the Unity of the Church,” which I recall had unfortunately (given what he seemed to argue in it) not yet been translated. At least, I could not find one online. Recently, however, I was notified that William Webster had posted both English and Latin versions of this treatise. So I decided to revisit my old post on Augustine's doctrine of Scripture to see if its thesis - particularly, that Augustine believed Scripture to be supremely authoritative, perspicuous, and the sufficient rule of faith - held up in light of Webster's translation. The categorization of the following quotes are pretty loose, as several could be included in other categories, but I think the result is clear.

Scripture as Supremely Authoritative

But, as I had begun to say, let us not listen to “you say this, I say that” but let us listen to “the Lord says this.” Certainly, there are the Lord’s books, on whose authority we both agree, to which we concede, and which we serve; there we seek the Church, there we argue our case. (Chapter 3)

I do not wish the holy Church to be founded on human evidence, but on divine oracles. (Chapter 3)

So that I not mention those Gentiles, who after the time of the apostles believed and came to the Church, but only those whom we find in the sacred literature (the Acts and the Epistles of the Apostles and in the Apocalypse of John) which we both embrace and to which we both are subject, let them speak to us how they perished in the African dissension, for we received this not from the councils of arguing bishops, not from disputations, not from legal or municipal acts, but from holy canonical literature. (Chapter 12)

…if I do not wish to believe those examples cited by them, how would they convince me? Is it not in the Holy Scriptures, where they are read with such clarity that whoever receives this literature in faith cannot but confess those things to be most true? (Chapter 13)

Does it please you now if we bring forth this last charge of yours into our midst? "See," they say, "you adhere to the Church. How do we take it up if we would want to go over to you?" Briefly I answer, "You take it up in the same way as that Church gathers, as we find in the holy canonical books." (Chapter 21)

Scripture as Perspicuous

This I preach and promise, that we prize whatever is open and clear. If these things were not found in Holy Scripture, there would be no way by which things closed might be opened and obscure things clarified. (Chapter 5)

What do they say to this, they who so arrogantly call themselves Christians and so openly contradict Christ. We hold to this Church, we admit no human accusations against those divine utterances. It moves us greatly that our Lord, whom not to believe is sacrilegious and impious, in his last words spoken on earth, left this last saving evidence of the primitive church. For having said these things, he soon ascended into heaven. He wished to fortify our ears against those whom he had predicted in earlier times would rise up and say Look, here is the Christ. Look, there he is (Mt. 24:23). He warned us not to believe them. Nor is there any excuse for us if we believe them against the voice of our shepherd that is so clear, so open, so obvious that no one whether insensible or slow witted could say, "I didn't understand," for who wouldn't understand Thus it is fitting that the Christ suffer and rise on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins be proclaimed in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem (Luke 24:46-47). Who wouldn't understand You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. When he had said this he was lifted up and a cloud took him up and they saw him going into heaven (Acts 1:8-10). What is this I ask? When these last words are heard of a dying man who would go among the dead, no one says he lied, and he is judged an impious heretic who perchance makes light of them. So how do we flee the wrath of God if, either not believing or belittling, we spurn the last words of the only son of God, our Lord and savior, who would go to heaven and from there watch who neglects these words and who observes them and then would come to judge concerning all of them. I have the most obvious voice of my shepherd commending the Church to me without any ambiguity. I will blame myself if I should be led astray or wander from his flock which is the Church itself, through the words of men when he has especially warned me, saying, those who are my sheep hear my voice and follow me (John 10:27). See, his voice is clear and open. Having heard it, who does not follow him? How will he dare to say he is his sheep? No one tells me "O, what does Donatus say, what does Parmenianus say, or Pontius or any of them? No one agrees with the catholic bishops if they are anywhere by chance mistaken in holding any opinion contrary against the canonical Scriptures of God. But if they maintain the bond of unity and love and they fall into error, it will be done to them what the Apostle says if you think differently about anything, this too God will reveal to you (Phil. 3:15). But now those divine utterances about the universal Church are so obvious that the heretics cannot rant against them unless out of perversity of mind or blind rage. (Chapter 11)

Those who are my sheep, says the heavenly shepherd, hear my voice and follow me (John 10:27). His voice concerning the Church is not enigmatic. Whoever does not want to wander from his flock, hears it and follows it. His very faithful manager, a teacher of the Gentiles in truth and faith (1 Tim 2:7), because he himself [i.e. Jesus] speaks in him, says I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel, because there is no other; unless some are confusing you and wanting to pervert the Gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let there be anathema upon him. As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let there be anathema upon him (Gal 1:6-9). (Chapter 12)

For this reason, if the evidence of the canonical Scriptures needs no interpreter, which commends the Church standing in communion with the whole world and you can find no such right for your separation in Africa established from the same books, you do not justly complain of persecution which the Church endures more gravely the more broadly it is spread and it bears all things in faith, hope, and love, not just such things which your Circumcellians and such other inflict on their members where they can but all scandals of various injustices abounding throughout the whole world, concerning which the Lord shouted woe to the world because of scandals (Mt. 18:7). (Chapter 20)

Now let this be enough; stop working with such texts. Everything of this type you have brought forward is either to our benefit, or that I might limit much of my own case, it is certain to whose benefit it is. But you willingly linger in obscurities, lest you be compelled to speak openly. Behold the Church. I ask, why are you passive? Behold the Church commended and announced, foretold and shown with so much obvious evidence from the Holy Scripture as we have heard, so have we seen (Ps. 48:8). Why do you delay how you might be gathered in? Why do you refuse to be thus gathered in, as the Church for which the one who cannot lie offers evidence gathers you in. Teach that which the canonical Scripture openly said that he who might be baptized among heretics was to be baptized in the catholic Church in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Even if you can’t teach this, teach to you own communion, that is to Donatus’ sect where you learned this, that some obvious and clear evidence is offered by the canonical Scriptures and I shall say that people should go over to you and that the heretics shouldn’t be gathered in any other way from how the church in which you are gathers them in, since it has been made clear by such evidence. Why do you rage, why are you disturbed? You do not find in the canonical Scriptures what we demand of you. What you are accustomed to say where you pasture your flock, where you make it lie down at noon (Cant. 1:7), you see what it is and how it does not benefit you. Do not then seek such things since even if the sect of Donatus were in northern regions which are opposite to the southern regions, he would say it was said of him Mount Zion, in the far north, the city of the great king (Ps. 48:2). Certainly the city of the great king is nothing if not the Church, and that doubtlessly means the Church rather than this where you pasture your flock, where you make it lie down at noon? But perhaps Marcion the heretic used that evidence who is said to have been from Pontus which is in the north. Again, if the sect of Donatus were in the west, he would say that this was said of him journey to him who ascends over the sun’s setting; his name is the Lord (Ps. 68:4). Perhaps he would say this is loftier to ascend over the setting sun than make it lie down at noon. These are mysterious, secret, symbolic; we beg of you something obvious that doesn’t need an interpreter.

And so I gather you in in the same way the offspring of Abraham gathers in in whom all nations shall gain blessing (Gen. 22:18). This would perhaps be mysterious, had Paul not revealed the seed of Abraham, which is Christ. Thus I gather you in in the same way that that desolate woman gathers whose many children will be more than the children of her that is married (Is. 54:1), which would be mysterious had Paul not said that she is the Church, our mother, to whom it was said the Lord who redeemed you, he will be called the God of the whole earth (Is. 54:5); to whom it was said your land the whole world (Is. 62:4); just as that queen gathers, concerning whom it is said in the Psalms at your right hand stands the queen (Ps. 45:9) and to whom it is said sons are born to you in place of ancestors, you will make them princes in all the earth (Ps. 45:16). Moreover, that I not go on too long, I thus gather you in, just as the Church gathers through all nations, beginning from Jerusalem (Lk. 24:47), just as the Church gathers, which is a witness to Christ in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to all the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). He gathers you in, who said this of the Church, who displays it with such words, lest anyone doubt about it. Thus, I gather you in, in the same way he gathers the wheat sown in the field which grew with the tares until the harvest; for they are the children of the kingdom, the field is the world, the harvest is the end of the age (Mt. 13:38-19). The Lord expounded it, it is the Gospel; these are the words of the Lord, they are clear. (Chapter 24). 

On this account, dearest ones to whom I am writing this epistle, hold to that command of the shepherd with a very firm and faithful heart who laid down his life for his sheep and now glorified and exalted sits at the right hand of God the Father saying those who are my sheep hear my voice and follow me (Jn. 10:27). You hear his most obvious voice not only through his law and the prophets and psalms, but also through his own mouth commending his future Church and in reading you will see these things which he foretold in the way in which they followed in order in the Acts and the epistles of the apostles, which complete the canon of the divine Scriptures. This is not an obscure speech in which they might deceive you whom the Lord himself foretold would say here is the Christ. There he is. Look! He is in the wilderness (Mt. 24:23, 26), as if to show where there is no great crowd; look! He is in the inner rooms (Mt. 24:26), as if to show he is in the secret traditions and teachings. You have the Church spread everywhere and growing to the harvest; you have the city, of which he who founded it said, a city built on a hill cannot be hid (Mt. 5:14). This is therefore one which is well known not in some region of the world, but everywhere. Sometimes it suffers these passing storms even in its grain so that it is not recognized in certain places; yet it lives hidden there. Nor can the divine speech be deceived since it grows up to the harvest. (Chapter 24)

But you, supported by so much obvious evidence from the law, prophets, psalms, the Lord himself, and the apostles concerning the Church spread throughout the world, demand of them that they show some clear evidence from the canonical books out of Africa that pertains to Donatus’ sect. It cannot be found in any way as I have already said that the Church, as they say and which is not true, was foretold to perish so quickly from so many nations, with so much evidence so exaltedly and doubtlessly and it was silent concerning that Church which they want to be their own which, as they contend, was to remain until the end. Be mindful of what was said to that rich man when he was tormented in hell and he wanted a message to be sent to his brothers from the dead: they have, he said, Moses and the prophets (Lk. 16:29). And when he said they would not believe unless someone from the dead was sent to them: if they do not listen to Moses and the prophets neither will they believe if someone rises from the dead (Lk. 16:31). Moses said that in the offspring of Abraham, all nations shall be blessed (Gen. 22:18); the prophets said you shall be called my delight and your land the entire world (Is. 62:4) and all the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord (Ps. 22:27). They did not want to believe in these and so many other so obvious pronouncements demonstrating the Church. The Lord rose from the dead and said that repentance and the forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations beginning from Jerusalem. Those who had not believed Moses and the prophets did not also believe the Lord rising from the dead; what remains unless that they gain the torments of that rich man? You who are fleeing these while there is still time before you depart from this life, remain constant in the divine utterances so that you are not disturbed in this life and after this life you deserve to receive what was promised to the offspring of Abraham. (Chapter 25)

Scripture as Sufficient

But if you shout or read aloud from some other place, we do not admit, believe, or receive your voice after we have heard the voice of our shepherd through the mouths of the prophets, through his own voice, and through the mouths of the evangelists so openly declared to us. (Chapter 12)

All such things then removed, let them demonstrate their Church, if they can, not in the speeches and murmurs of African, not in the councils of their bishops, not in the epistles of whatever debates, not in false signs and prodigies, since we are prepared and cautioned against them by the word of the Lord, but in the precept of the law, in the predictions of the prophets, in the songs of the psalms, in the utterances of the one shepherd himself, in the preaching of the evangelists, that is in all the canonical authority of the holy books, and not such that they might gather and cite things that are spoken obscurely or ambiguously or metaphorically which anyone might interpret according to his own opinion as he wishes. Such things cannot be properly understood and explained unless first those things that are said most openly are held with a strong faith. (Chapter 18)

Once these snares of delays have been laid aside let him show that the Church should be preserved in Africa alone with so many other nations lost or that it should be repaired and fulfilled among all nations from Africa. Let him show this that he not say, "it is true because I say this or because my colleague has said this or some colleagues of mine or our bishops or clergy or laity or it is true for this reason that Donatus or Pontius or somebody else has performed these or those miracles or that men pray to the memory of our dead or that these or those facts are relevant here or that our brother or sister has had some vision while awake or has dreamed some vision while asleep." Let these fictions of lying men or omens of treacherous spirits be removed. Or is it not true what is said, if some miracles of the heretics were performed we should be very cautious, because the Lord said that certain men would be deceitful who by performing some signs would deceive the elect, if that were possible. He adds vehemently, take note, I have told you beforehand (Mt 24:25). The Apostle also warns about this now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will renounce the faith by paying attention to deceitful spirits and the teachings of demons (1 Tim 4:1). Moreover, if anyone praying in memory of heretics is heard, not by merit of the location but by merit of his desire does he receive good or ill. Thus it is written the spirit of the Lord has filled the world (Wis 1:7) and a jealous ear hears all things (Wis 1:10). Many are heard by an angry God of whom the Apostle says God gave them up to the lust of their hearts (Rom 1:24) and to many a favorable God does not bestow what they wish that he might bestow what is useful. The Apostle said the same thing about the goad of his flesh, the angel of Satan, which he said was given to him to box him lest he become insolent from the greatness of his revelation three times I appealed to the Lord about this that it would leave me, and he said to me "My grace is sufficient for you for power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor. 12:8-9). Do we not read that some are heard by the Lord God on the peaks of the mountains of Judea, which heights nevertheless were displeasing to God so that the kings who didn't overturn them were found with fault and those who overturned them were praised? From this it is understood that the condition of the petitioner is stronger than the place of the petition. Concerning false visions let them read what was written that even Satan disguises himself as an angel of the light (2 Cor 11:14) and that dreams have deceived many (Sir. 34:7). Let them also hear what the pagans say was miraculously done or seen from their temples and yet the gods of the peoples are demons but the Lord made the heavens (Ps 96:5). Therefore, many are heard and in many ways, not just catholic Christians but also pagans and Jews and heretics given over to various errors and superstitions. They are however heard either by deceiving spirits who nevertheless do nothing unless they are allowed, God judging ineffably from on high what should be bestowed to each person, whether by God himself either for the punishment of wickedness or for the consolation of misery or for a warning to seek eternal salvation. No one arrives at that salvation and eternal life unless he have Christ as his head. No one can have Christ as his head unless he be in his body, which is the Church, which we ought to acknowledge just as the head itself in the Holy canonical Scriptures, and not seek in the various murmurs, opinions, deeds, words, and visions of men.

Let no one who is prepared to respond to me therefore set this before me that I don't say that I should be believed that the communion of Donatus is not the Church of Christ on this account, that certain men who were bishops among them were convicted by ecclesiastical, municipal, and judicial decrees of having given divine instruments over to the flames, or that in the judgment of the bishops, which they sought from the emperor, they did not maintain their case or that appealing to the emperor himself they even deserved a sentence from him against them or that there are such leaders of the Circumcellians among them, or that the Circumecellians commit such evil, or that there are those among them who cast themselves from precipices or sacrifice others to be consumed in flames whom they themselves burned or they force their slaughter upon unwilling men through terror and they seek so many voluntary and insane deaths so that they will be loved by people or that these drunken flocks of vagabonds mixed with wantonness bury themselves day and night in wine at their tombs and annihilate themselves in disgrace. May this crowd be the chaff and not judge the grain if they adhere to the Church. But they may not show whether they adhere to the Church unless from the canonical books of the divine Scriptures since we do not say that it should be believed of us that we are in the Church of Christ on this account that Optatus of Milevis or Ambrose of Milan or countless other bishops in communion with us commended that Church to which we adhere or that this Church was preached by the councils of our colleagues or that throughout the whole world, in the holy places that our communion frequents, so many miracles either of answered prayers or of healings are performed that the bodies of martyrs that lay hidden for so many years were revealed to Ambrose because they could hear many petitioners and a man blind for many years who was well known in the city of Milan received his sight at those bodies or since this one saw in a dream and that one heard in an ecstasy either that he should not go to Donatus' sect or that he should abandon Donatus' sect. Whatever such things happened in the catholic Church should therefore be approved of. Because they happen in the catholic Church, the Church is not therefore shown to be catholic, just because these things happen in it. The Lord Jesus himself, when he rose from the dead, offered his body to be seen by the eyes of his disciples and touched with their hands in case they nevertheless think they experienced some trick. He considered them more strengthened by the evidence of the law, the prophets, and the psalms, showing what was predicted earlier was fulfilled in him. So he commends his Church, saying that repentance and the forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed to all nations beginning from Jerusalem. He asserted that this was written in the law, the prophets, and the psalms; we adhere to this commended by his own mouth. This is the evidence of our case, this the foundation, this the support. (Chapter 19)

…it suffices that we adhere to this Church which is shown by the most obvious evidence of Holy and canonical Scripture. (Chapter 22)

Why should I bring forth more things then? Whoever would think to respond to this epistle, let him search through the Scriptures and either let him bring forth clear evidence concerning Africa in which alone or from which alone Donatus’ sect is (which he cannot bring forth, since Scripture cannot be opposed to these clear citations we have brought forth) or if he seeks credulous followers of his suspicions or charges or slanders and he wishes to lead them to another gospel (but there is no other) and preach to us one other than what we have received, even if he were an angel from heaven, there would have been an anathema, since the devil, who also fell from heaven because he did not stand in the truth preached to man something other than what he had received from the Lord God, if there were an anathema upon man, these first parents of our flesh would not have fallen into the punishment of death nor would they have departed from that place of happiness. (Chapter 24)