Thursday, May 9, 2013

Gordon Clark on the Precondition of an Omniscient Communicator

My efforts to compile a near comprehensive transcription of the positive epistemological views of Gordon Clark were recently completed - at least as far as what materials I am at present able to cover, anyway, including all of his books and, to my knowledge, most of his shorter articles - and this project has been paying off quite nicely.

For instance, I have long argued that in order for me to philosophically know anything, one precondition for this is communication from one who is omniscient (example). While the inspiration for this argument originally stemmed from a book Robert Reymond called The Justification of Knowledge, it turns out that Gordon Clark made much more explicitly relevant statements which lead to this conclusion. To share just a few of these:

Ancient Philosophy (1997), pg. 145:
Now, where the Ideas are important, everything is related to everything else. To use a crude example, the explanation of a desk lamp would require explanations of desks and lamps. The desks would then lead us into carpentry, labor troubles, kinds of wood, forestry, and governmental conservation. An explanation of lamps would include the laws of electricity, and so on forever. In fact, before one could understand a desk lamp, one would have to understand the universe. 
This stress on the interrelations of everything with everything can be developed in two directions. One may argue: Since we know this one thing, we can deduce everything else; or one may argue: Since we do not know everything else, neither do we know this. The first direction has appealed to Hegel, to Bonaventure, Augustine, and Plato.
Historiography: Secular and Religious (1971), pg. 334:
What follows if it is true that psychological analysis presupposes a “complete knowledge of the psychological possibilities of life”? It would follow, would it not, that historical analysis also presupposes a complete knowledge of historical possibilities. In short, it would be impossible to know anything without knowing everything. 
Such a Platonic or Hegelian requirement of omniscience is a serious philosophical problem. It is not to be dismissed thoughtlessly. The meticulous scholar, J. H. Hexter, in his Reappraisals of History, castigates historical relativism as a fad and insists on the “rudimentary distinction” between knowing something and knowing everything. But he omits all philosophic justification for this distinction. 
Undoubtedly this distinction must be maintained, if a human being is able to know anything at all. Make omniscience the prerequisite of partial knowledge, and partial knowledge vanishes. But Bultmann, like Hexter, offers no help: less help, in fact, for Bultmann lets the requirements of omniscience stand.

Baker’s Dictionary of Theology (1991), pgs. 245-246:
Plato and Hegel constructed theories of knowledge which, if pressed to their logical extreme, imply that man must be either omniscient or completely ignorant. If every item of knowledge is so intimately connected with every other that its true nature cannot be seen except in its relation to all, then either we know all or we know nothing. Plato and Hegel both had a hard time escaping this dilemma. 
Now Moses said, “The secret things belong unto the Lord our God; but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children forever” (Deut. 29:29). The Bible, therefore, both here and everywhere, assumes that we can know some truths without knowing all truths. Accordingly it is incumbent upon us to develop an epistemology in which the relationships are not such as to limit us to the disjunction of total ignorance or omniscience. 
This epistemology may follow Augustine’s view that Christ is the light of every man: that is, mankind possesses as an a priori endowment at least the rudiments of knowledge, so that whenever anyone knows anything he is in contact with God. Or, the epistemology required may be more skeptical as to geometry and science and simply insist that God, being omnipotent, can be a verbal revelation make his truths understandable to me.

Readers can consider this just a teaser. I actually already have in mind an outline for a more comprehensive article that would more fully utilize Clark's writings to show how this argument provides a really powerful motive for accepting many of his epistemic views, but I would like to see if I could get something like that published first.

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