Friday, March 18, 2011

Clark's Lectures 1

This first transcription is taken from Clark's lecture entitled Questions and Answers. In it, Clark is a part of a panel comprised of theologians of all shapes and sizes, most of whom express admiration for Clark. It appears that each person on the panel had already given some sort of lecture and that the audience was allowed to ask the panel questions, most of which (in this clip, at least) were directed to or answered by Clark. There was a lively discussion on the image of God and a few questions pertaining to situational ethics, but Clark's most striking quote, in my opinion, was the following, especially given that my professor used a paper by Quine to attack "foundationalism" in my most recent philosophy class:

//Every system of philosophy – whether it’s Platonism or Aristotelianism in antiquity or logical positivism in this century – every system of philosophy must have a first principle. Since it is first it cannot have been deduced from anything prior. In this sense, logical positivism or Aristotelianism is just as fideistic as I am. It means that a person accepts certain axioms from which he deduces conclusions. I accept the truth of the Scripture as my axiom and deduce conclusions from that, and you can call that fideism, which some people think is a nasty term. It certainly means you have faith. The logical positivists place their faith in sensation. You cannot – and I wish to make this clear – you cannot guarantee the accuracy of observation by observation. If you wish to demonstrate the reliability of observation you’d have to have something prior to observation, but there is never anything prior to your first principle.//

A few reflections. I doubt that my professor would be very happy with this quote by Clark. He is a pragmatist rather than a logical positivist, but the positions are similar. He would say, I imagine, that to assert that all philosophical systems must have a first principle is inaccurate. And I imagine this is true, insofar as not all philosophical systems claim to have a first principle. While it should be remembered pragmatists such as my professor define knowledge and truth peculiarly, I think what Clark should have said - and it's easy for me to say this, since I have had time to think whereas Clark had to give an answer on the spot - was that all philosophical systems ought to have a first principle. I think Clark is more correct in Thales to Dewey (pg. 88):

//The demonstration of a proposition, such as any any theorem in geometry, is completed only when it is referred to the axioms. If the axioms in turn required demonstration, the demonstration of the proposition with which we began would remain incomplete, at least until the axioms could be demonstrated. But if the axioms rest on prior principles, and if these too must be demonstrated - on the assumption that every proposition requires demonstration - the proof of our original theorem would never be finished. This means that it would be impossible to demonstrate anything, for all demonstration depends on indemonstrable first principles. Every type of philosophy must make some original assumptions.//

I, like Clark, don't see any other way in which the infinite regression argument can be avoided.

More interesting than this technicality, however, is that Clark admits one's axiom(s) upon which he purports to construct his philosophical system is taken by faith. This perhaps distinguishes Clark from classical foundationalism - Clark does not appear to assert, as did the Rationalists, that first principles or axioms can themselves be indubitably self-evident.

John Robbins wrote that "Knowledge is true opinion with an account of its truth." Does an axiom have an "account of its truth"? Well, axioms can be reduced to absurdity by showing they lead to skepticism or internal inconsistency, but axioms cannot be demonstrated and, as such, apparently cannot be "known," at least not according to the above definition. I don't know whether or not Clark would agree with that. Perhaps epistemological self-attestation is relevant.

In any case, the above observations incline me to believe that Clark's position is a sort of synthesis between foundationalism and coherentism. Clark subscribed to a coherence rather than a correspondence theory of truth; that is, he believed propositions within a philosophical system ought to be internally consistent (cf. Clark and His Critics pgs. 142, 149). However, he believed the system must be grounded.

This may be too speculative, which is why it is stated somewhat tentatively, but for what it's worth, it makes sense to me. Scripturalism is rational because its basis yields epistemological consistency. Scripturalists utilize apagogic arguments rather than transcendental arguments, so a Scripturalists claims with regards to its axioms should be accordingly tempered (cf. here). One cannot prove an axiom, but it does not follow that one cannot be rational for believing an axiom.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Something of an update

Since the beginning of the semester I have tried to stay focused on schoolwork, which is why I haven't blogged very often in 2011. However, since I will seemingly be allowed to write a philosophy paper on the epistemological beliefs of Gordon Clark - yes, I note the irony - I have some justification for dedicating some time to reading about, writing about, and listening to subjects with which I am, shall we say, pleasantly acquainted, at least in contrast to Complex and Real Analysis.

I have also finally taken the time to listen to some of Clark's free online lectures (link). In part in preparation for my research paper and in part because I have enjoyed and believe others might enjoy reading rather than listening to Clark, I have transcribed some of these audio lectures and will be posting them in the coming weeks. The written recordings are by no means extensive, but it will be easier for me to access the parts of the audio I found interesting if I can simply read through 2 pages rather than trying to remember when Clark said them in the course of a 40 minute presentation. For the reader, however, this should be meant as an encouragement to download the lectures and listen to them in a car (or whatnot) rather than as an excuse to not listen; Clark makes worthy points which I have omitted.

In other news, my recent birthday allowed me to pick up some new books which I hope to be able to take a look at soon. I'm very blessed. I received Horton's The Christian Faith (systematic theology), Hamilton's God's Glory in Salvation Through Judgment (biblical theology), and I was able to stretch a $20 gift card to purchase Clark's The Incarnation, Selections From Hellenistic Philosophy, and his Today's evangelism: Counterfeit or genuine?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Improper Romance

I cannot imagine a more difficult task than writing a satisfying piece of romantic fiction. I am too analytic for it. If I tried, I would be disappointed with the result. However, I can admire others’ works when befitting, and to that end, here are some observations:

Proper romance must subsist between two rational, passionate equals. If one is undeserving of another’s regard, I would rather the fact be acknowledged than ignored, as I am inclined to want to think poorly of as few characters as possible. Furthermore, romance without conflict cannot be compelling, yet I have found conflict is usually and ironically the result of a reason for which the loss of a reader’s respect for a given character is warranted. Questionable is the passion of he who believes external circumstances prevent association. Deference to third party opinion or inability to overlook social differences must disappoint a reader’s hopeful expectation for an ideal character: independent, clever, and sage. Worse still are cases in which there is no such obvious, trite impediment, as the character whose resolve would waver at the precipice of desires fulfilled rather bespeaks of irrationality or insanity.

It is perhaps not surprising, then, that I find myself preferring what might be called improper romance, by which I mean a subtly coy relationship between persons of the opposite sex, equal or unequal in terms of intelligence and passion, of which the author’s chief object is to instill in the reader’s mind a teleological end other than union. I have not read or seen many works of fiction of this type; in my experience, Kierkegaard’s The Seducer’s Diary is the best example of such a relationship between unequal persons, and the first half of Pride and Prejudice is the best example of such a relationship between equal persons. Both books requite interest by stimulating the mind rather than – or, if you please, unto – the emotions.