Sunday, May 20, 2012

Scripturalism and self-knowledge

I've recently been discussing the possibility self-knowledge with some Scripturalists. Intuitively, I think that self-knowledge is compatible with Scripturalism. I’m simply not satisfied with what appears to be the current Scripturalist defense; perhaps that means I'm just slow on the uptake. In any case, the most powerful [and perhaps the only] objection can be strictly put as follows:

P1. There is no Scripture from which propositions in which “I” is the subject – where “I” implicitly refers to some individual who is born after the close of the canon – can be deduced.

P2. Until the second coming, Scripture comprises the extent of divine revelation.

P3. Propositions not deducible from divine revelation are unknowable.

C. Until the second coming, propositions in which “I” is the subject – where “I” implicitly refers to some individual who is born after the close of the canon – are not knowable.

This is a valid argument, so the question is whether or not the premises are true. I’ve probably argued for P3 half to death in a dozen or so posts on my blog. I haven’t found a Scripturalist who has rejected this premise, so I’m going to take it for granted. I thought P2 is sola scriptura and necessary to maintain that the canon is closed, but it seems a few Scripturalists would take exception to this and qualify it as follows: “Until the second coming, Scripture comprises the extent of public divine revelation.” P1 is what I expected most Scripturalists to reject.

Before examining P1 and P2, it is worth wondering what epistemic function self-knowledge serves. What is the fuss? Why would it be so bad to relegate self-knowledge to the level of opinion?

Can one who is born after the close of the canon know Scripturalism is true even if no proposition in which “I” is the subject – where “I” implicitly refers to some individual who is born after the close of the canon – can be philosophically known? It doesn’t seem so. It may be true that “one who is regenerate can know Scripturalism is true,” but if there is no such individual to whom this principle can be said to apply, that proposition can’t be verified. Why? One cannot hypothesize what one would believe if one were regenerate, for only actual regenerates know God’s voice. Without self-knowledge, for all one “knows” it may be possible that “one who is regenerate can know Scripturalism is false.”

This is a critical problem. It shows that unless one can know he is regenerate, a third person statement that the so-called Protestant canon of Scripture comprises the extent of [public] divine revelation is arbitrary. The connection between self-knowledge [of regeneration] and the need (on Scripturalism) for recognition of the canon of Scripture as such implies first person pronouns aren’t epistemically eliminable. Hence, P1 or P2 must be false.

As for which (or both) is false, I lean towards rejecting P1. Rejecting P2 would either entail a rejection of a closed canon or some distinction between canonical as public revelation and private revelation. I’m not aware of any Scripturalists who reject a closed canon. I do hear Revelation 2:17 cited as support from the latter distinction, but this just seems like sloppy exegesis. Revelation 2:17 refers to a point logically posterior to the second coming as seen in paralleling it to 2:7 (cf. Revelation 22). But that still leaves open the question as to whether or not those living in the last days prior to the second coming can possess self-knowledge.

I think a stronger argument would say that passages such as Romans 8:14-16 or 1 John 2:18-27 show that a believer possesses the Holy Spirit by which one is able to know, not merely opine, some his beliefs. This requires two considerations 1) a distinction between a historic/ontological order and an epistemic/logical order – i.e. “one can have self-knowledge only after he is regenerated” is true but still predicated on whether or not it can be deduced from Scripture – and 2) an understanding that these and similar passages can be legitimately interpreted as enthymematical – i.e. as applying to all Christians rather than only to those for whom the letters were originally written – a reasonable assumption because [hyper-]dispensationalism is false and the authors of Scripture didn’t personally know every Christian to whom they were writing (Romans 1:9-13, for instance, makes this clear).

But if an enthymematic interpretation is possible, that begs the question as to why an appeal to extra-canonical revelation is even necessary. One could seemingly reject P1 alone because “I” is implicit in such universal propositions. Abstract knowledge of the ego or “I” as a reflexive indexical can be deduced from Scripture; what else, then, would be necessary (also given the condition of regeneration) for self-knowledge?

UPDATE: Perhaps the temporal aspect needs to be addressed. At the time Scripture was written, anyone who was born later than the close of the canon was not alive by definition. On an A-series view of time, this would be problematic because it would not have been true at the time Scripture was written that "the Holy Spirit testifies that [Christian x who was born after the close of the canon] is a child of God." At best, then, a Scripturalist who would wish to compatibilize the belief that "all knowledge is now derived from Scripture" would have to say the meaning of Scripture changes concurrently with changes in individual assent to the Gospel. This doesn't appear feasible. On the other hand, a timeless God's knowledge never changes (neither in mode nor content). So the individuals who comprise the set of Christians would be immutably known and testified by God.

Also, to expand on what I meant by "...the "I" is implicit in such universal propositions...," the “universal proposition” to which I was referring was the enthymematic proposition “all those for whom the Holy Spirit testifies that they are children of God are Christians.” This proposition takes for granted a set of individuals for whom the Holy Spirit testifies that they are children of God. The individual members are implicit in any reference to the entire set.

Now, I don’t have anything against a public and private knowledge distinction that Scripturalists like Cheung make per se just as long as it doesn’t imply a source of knowledge other than Scripture. After all, I can’t demonstrate that I am not a figment of your imagination; knowledge claims about who I am are, by comparison, less fundamental. If it’s not a problem that I can’t demonstrate the former, there’s no reason to suppose it’s a problem that I can’t demonstrate the latter.

So while I may not be able to demonstrate to you, the reader, that the Holy Spirit indeed testifies that I am a child of God – that I am an individual implicit within any reference to the entire set of those for whom the Holy Spirit testifies that they are children of God – it is both possibly deducible from Scripture and true. And if it’s true, I both can and do know from Scripture that I am a Christian.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Epistemic Justification and Axioms

Among some interesting things I have been discussing with Drake Shelton, a fellow Scripturalist, one of the main subjects is the nature [and role] of axioms in [the justification of] an epistemic system (link). Drake has said that he is skeptical with regards to the truth of his axiom, which I argue undercuts his whole system of "knowledge." Rather, I have proposed the following:

One can know a theorem is true if it is contained in the body of propositions validly deducible from an axiom which yields a self-attesting, consistent philosophical system in which the ground and means of knowledge are explicated. Hence, while axioms by definition cannot be proven, there is nevertheless a mutual dependency inherent in the relationship between an axiom and its respective theorems. “By the systems they produce, axioms must be judged.”[5] As a theorem can be discredited if it does not follow from a purported axiom, an axiom can be falsified if it bears contradictories.

Gordon Clark, Clark and His Critics, 53.


I’m saying an axiom must be self-attesting, not that it is. Empiricism isn’t self-attesting because nothing one discovers empirically could ex hypothesi attest to the idea that empirical procedures alone are a means to knowledge: the claim is arbitrary. For this reason Clark is concerned in the early part of God’s Hammer to show that Scripture claims to be God’s word. There must be a mutual dependency in an epistemic system: an axiom which prescribes knowledge as coming through certain means yet cannot by those means prescribe the axiom itself is self-defeating. This is illogical and, hence, cannot be a system of knowledge.

Of course the question may be asked: how do I know the criteria of knowledge? Ultimately, by my own axiom, Scripturalism. Proximately, by necessary inference which, since such is accounted for in Scripture, refutes your charge of rationalism. I don’t begin with logic, I begin with Scripture which, since logic is accounted for in it, allows me to use logic to come to these conclusions.