Monday, December 7, 2015

Strong Access Internalism, Synthesis, and Self-Justifying Beliefs

Richard Fumerton has written a short but useful summary of various kinds of internalism in Resurrecting Old-Fashioned Foundationalism. It can be found in the amazon preview of the book on pgs. 4-7, here. One kind of internalism Fumerton mentions is "access internalism." Access internalism is "the position that in order to know that p, S must have 'access' to what justifies that belief" (link). Whether we must actually have access to the justification or merely the potential to do so is what differentiates strong and weak versions of access internalism. 

Fumerton, who is an internalist and foundationalist himself, finds weak access internalism unmotivated, as externalists needn't deny that we could in principle become aware of what justifies our foundational beliefs. He finds strong access internalism virtually unintelligible:
If one maintains that for any set of conditions X that one proposes as constitutive of S's justification for believing P, those conditions must always be fortified with some other set of conditions describing S's access to X, then the view is hopeless. Call the satisfaction of access conditions to X, A1. Will X together with A1 constitute justification for S to believe P? Not given the view. Our strong access requirements require access (call it A2) to the new proposed sufficient conditions for justification (X and A1). But the conjunction of X, A1, and A2 will not constitute S's justification for believing P as the view requires us to add access to these conditions and so on ad infinitum.  
To avoid this problem, the strong access internalist must distinguish carefully a view about what is constitutive of justification from a view about what is necessary for justification. If the view is to be intelligible the access internalist must argue that when some set of conditions X constitutes S's justification for believing P, those conditions will be such that they entail that S has access to them. The access, however, need not be part of what constitutes the justification. An analogy might be helpful. P cannot be true unless it is true that P is true - P's truth entails (in some sense of "entails") that it is true that P is true. But it would be a serious mistake to argue that P's being true is constituted by its being true that P is true. The correct analysis of what it is for P to be true should not make reference to metatruths about P's truth even if the correct analysis of P's being true must reveal why P's being true entails that it is true that P is true.
Many contemporary epistemologists have made this sort of argument against strong access internalism, implicitly if not explicitly. For example, see here:
Laurence BonJour (1985) raised another highly influential objection to all forms of classical foundationalism (an objection raised before he joined the ranks of foundationalists). The objection presupposed a strong form of what we might call access internalism. Put very superficially the access internalist argues that a feature of a belief or epistemic situation that makes a belief noninferentially justified must be a feature to which we have actual or potential access. Moreover, we must have access to the fact that the feature in question is probabilistically related to the truth of what we believe. So suppose some foundationalist offers an account of noninferential justification according to which a belief is noninferentially justified if it has some characteristic X. BonJour then argues that the mere fact that the belief has X could not, even in principle, justify the believer in holding the belief. The believer would also need access to (justified belief that!) the belief in question has X and that beliefs of this sort (X beliefs) are likely to be true. At least one of these propositions could only be known through inference, and thus the putative noninferential justification is destroyed. 
BonJour presented the objection on the way to developing a coherence theory of empirical justification. But it ultimately became obvious that the objection to foundationalism, if good, was too strong. Given the structure of the argument it should become evident that the coherence theory (and any other theory) would be equally vulnerable to the argument. Just replace “X” with some complicated description of beliefs cohering with each other. That might suggest to the classical foundationalist that strong access internalism is a view to be avoided. (link)
And here:
Klein develops an argument against foundationalism along similar lines, although he departs from Sellars and BonJour in proposing infinitism rather than coherentism as an alternative to foundationalism. He imagines a proponent of  foundationalism, Fred, who engages in a process of critical reflection on his justification for a certain belief. He traces back the chain of inferential justifications for this belief until he reaches some foundational belief that he takes to be nonI inferentially justified. Fred is committed, on pain of arbitrariness, to acknowledging that there is some feature F in virtue of which the belief in question is non-inferentially justified. But then the question arises whether beliefs that have F are likely to be true. And now there seem to be two options. If Fred ducks the question, or answers it in the negative, then his belief is epistemically irresponsible and so  unjustified. But if he answers in the affirmative, then Klein (2007: 15) concludes, “the regress has continued because Fred has located a very good reason for thinking  that b is true, namely, b has F and propositions with F are likely to be true.” (link)
Several of these objections were originally intended to refer epistemic justification in the context of empirical knowledge, but in this last version by Klein especially, they each can be viewed as applicable to any type of proposed foundational knowledge. By way of reply to these arguments, I wish to make two observations.

Firstly, I don't object to the idea that some of our beliefs are externally justified, i.e. that we needn't show or be aware of what justification our beliefs have in order for those beliefs to be justified in some sense. Some might, but I suspect that is because they begin with a theoretic or methodological understanding of "knowledge" or "justification" and then see which beliefs they have that qualify as falling under those categories. On the other hand, contemporary epistemologists appear more interested in discussing what particular beliefs we have which we intuit are "known" or "justified" and attempt to find commonalities among these beliefs in order to understand what "knowledge" or "justification" is. Should we define "knowledge" and "justified belief" chronologically prior to labeling and categorizing our beliefs, or should we attempt to abstract working definitions from paradigm examples of commonly accepted instances of "knowledge" and "justified belief"?

This question probably causes more harm than good and leads to a vast internalist/externalist divide when there should be none. We can grant that there is something about everyday beliefs which through the ordinary use of language has led us to say we know them or are justified in believing them in one sense. And we can grant that there may be a type of knowledge or justified belief - defined appropriately and not intended to exclude any other type of knowledge or epistemic justification - the reflective denial of which entails internal inconsistency. 

Here we find reason for a synthesis of externalism and internalism. A motivation of the former is to account for everyday knowledge or justified belief, unreflective yet sensible if not given disproportionate leniency or preference in its evaluation. A motivation of the latter is to provide us with the ability to form a principled defense of our beliefs (including those which are externally justified) when confronted with people who believe contrary to them.

Secondly, in defense of strong access internalism, each of these above arguments seems to make a key assumption I have already elsewhere denied should be granted, viz. the assumption that foundationalists are or ought to be metajustificatory foundationalists rather than traditional foundationalists (link). Notice that Fumerton, Bonjour, and Klein all formulate their respective objections to [the strong access version of internalist] foundationalism by appealing to some alleged "condition," "characteristic," or "feature" of [foundational] beliefs and asking something like whether these things are truth-conducive or whether we need to access something further in order to form a wedge between the foundation and the metajustification. 

If a certain belief can be self-justifying, however - and how we defend or attack a claim to one as such is a separate issue altogether - then a belief whose truth is its own justification is already all one needs to answer these questions. The belief itself is sufficient. These objections, like the objection to foundationalism Jeremy Fantl makes which I address in the above link, fail to address the foundationalist who states that foundational beliefs are self-justifying and, if of an internalist variety, infallibly so. To recall Fantl's admission:
We can ask why self-justifying reasons are self-justifying. If the traditional foundationalist has an answer, it seems like it must involve some metajustificatory feature. If the traditional foundationalist has no answer, it seems like the view has arbitrary foundations. (See BonJour, Structure, 30-3, for a similar argument.)   
However, the traditional foundationalist can argue that completely self-justifying reasons are not self-justifying in virtue of some metajustificatory feature, nor are they arbitrary. It may be that certain reasons have to be assumed to be self-justifying if skepticism is to be avoided. This is a rather familiar form of rationalist argument for the existence of a priori justification. Here, the main implication of these arguments is that there might be a way to non arbitrarily show that we need to take certain reasons to be completely self-justifying without requiring that there be a metajustificatory feature which makes those reasons self-justifying. What convinces us we need to take those reasons to be self-justifying need not make them self-justifying.    
This move does not seem to be available in the case of reasons that are self-justifying only to a degree. (pg. 544)
This very charitable concession turns out to be very critical. The fine distinctions in the second paragraph in particular dovetail perfectly with my explanation of the distinction between epistemology and apologetics (link):
While "test[s] for truth" can serve as confirmatory evidences of Christianity, they shouldn't function as the ground of knowledge; divine revelation does. Elsewhere, I have called tests for truth necessary conditions for knowledge and the postulate[s] by which one claims to know anything the sufficient condition[s] for knowledge (link). The former are the means by which we make arguments for (i.e. apologetics) the latter (i.e. epistemology).

Again, apologetics should include an explanation of the epistemology of the system one is defending. Any good defense of a system of knowledge should explain what that system says about how we can know anything. But that explanation and defense should not be confused for that actual process of knowing. In fact, apologetics is only possible insofar as we know the system we are defending is true in the first place (see here). 
Or, as Fantl says, "what convince us we need to take those [foundational] reasons to be self-justifying need not make them self-justifying." Our practical defense is not our justification, not to understate the former's importance.

This position also perfectly addresses Fumerton's point in the first quote of this post that "The correct analysis of what it is for P to be true should not make reference to metatruths about P's truth even if the correct analysis of P's being true must reveal why P's being true entails that it is true that P is true." 

That is, the correct analysis of what it is for a belief P to be self-justifying should not make reference to subsidiary, necessary truths even if the correct analysis of P's being self-justifying must reveal why P's being self-justifying entails that these subsidiary, necessary truths are true. We can, however, reference these for the apologetic purpose of convincing others of our foundational and self-justifying belief - i.e. that any knowledge which is both internally justified and infallible must be founded on divine revelation which, in our case, is coextensive Scripture.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

ECFs on the Father Alone Being Autotheos

I recently posted 74 pages of quotes by 20 early church fathers affirming the doctrine that the Father alone is autotheos or God-of-Himself. You can find the entire document here. I have a few quick comments on the project itself.

Firstly, I only searched for and copied passages which mention the Father as the first cause, the ultimate cause of all things, the cause of the Son or Spirit, passages which, for instance, identify the Father being without cause with His exclusive property of being unbegotten, etc. In other words, there are many more passages I could have quoted, passages which instead speak of, say, the Father's uniqueness in terms of origination, sourcehood, or beginning, or how the Son's or Spirit's being or existence is from, of, or otherwise derived from the Father. I just found it convenient to hone my search in terms of causation.

Further, I only researched books found on I am aware of at least one book not on that website which contained statements which would have otherwise qualified, but I did not intend for this to be comprehensive. That wasn't the point. The point of the document is simply to show how pervasive this doctrine was in the early church.

Any edits I made in the above document were either grammatical - in changing the font and type for better readability, some errors occurred and a few have probably been missed - or because newadvent includes Scriptural quotations not found in authors' original works. People are welcome to compare my edit to the online version, there is no significant difference.

Now, I don't usually research church history, but Sean Gerety rekindled my interest after recently peddling the same embarrassing canards on facebook he did when we discussed Trinitarianism several years ago, including this one:
I find it offensive that you think we're stupid, when even a toad could tell that no Trinitarian could ever write as you have: "The Son and Spirit are not “autotheos.” FWIW I'm not going to revisit this whole sorry affair, but suffice it to say you're not a Christian. You may not like Unitarian or Arian, but you is what you is.
Sean is now free to consider Alexander of Alexandria, Athanasius, Basil, Clement of Alexandria, Cyril, Eusebius, Gregory Nazianzen, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory Thaumaturgus, Hillary of Poitiers, Hippolytus, Irenaeus of Lyons, John Chrysostom, John of Damascus, Justin Martyr, Novatian, Origen, Rufinus, Tertullian, Theodoret, etc. as anti-Trinitarians and less intelligent than toads.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Scripturalism: Epistemology and Apologetic

This reply is the continuation of a series of posts in which I have been discussing Scripturalism with Steve Hays. His most recent post is here.
To set the stage, by using the Cartesian demon I'm playing devil's advocate. For the sake of argument, I'm assuming a far more skeptical viewpoint than I myself endorse. But I'm doing that because I'm responding to Scripturalists on their own grounds. 
Mind you, I don't mention the Cartesian demon purely for the sake of argument. Thought-experiments like that demonstrate the limitations of proof. But that's only a problem if we equate knowledge with proof. 
I was ready to reply that Scripturalists don’t equate knowledge with proof before remembering there are some Scripturalists who have actually defined knowledge as justified true belief, where the justification in question is some kind of “account.” That could be viewed as a rejection of foundational knowledge in favor of knowledge requiring proof or evidence – it would be ironic if a professing Scripturalist for this reason admitted he couldn’t know Scripture because it is his posit. I doubt many Scripturalists are positists. Clark certainly wasn’t. Rather, I suspect these Scripturalists simply haven’t drawn this conclusion from the ill-conceived definition. 

And Steve’s right that the formulaic Scripturalist practice of always asking someone “how do you know?” and expecting the answer must either be some other premise or satisfy certain requirements (e.g. justification of the internalist and infallibilist variety) also indicates a confusion between apologetics and epistemology. But that’s a problem for Scripturalists, not Scripturalism. It is a prevalent problem, though.
To a great extent I think Ryan's argument is less with me than his fellow Scripturalists.  
That’s at least true with respect to self-knowledge and whether there are different legitimate forms of knowledge. I have experienced pushback from Scripturalists in the former case, and with respect to the latter case, I’m honestly not sure many Scripturalists are even familiar enough with contemporary epistemology to be able to articulate the nuances of the specific form of knowledge[s] to which they implicitly hold.

Also, I haven’t primarily been looking to argue my position against Steve’s. The main reasons I’ve been commenting on and replying to Steve’s posts is to clarify and test my own specific position and to show that apologetic discussions don’t always have to be about who’s the best sniper. I don’t usually post with readers in mind. This blog was and is intended for my benefit above anyone else’s. But at times, it helps to see that what I’m developing here can be defended with some effect elsewhere, not because I doubt it myself, but because I think it will help others.

Additionally, not everyone will always agree about various aspects within Christianity. That shouldn’t automatically breed group-think and an us-vs.-them mentality to the point you completely disregard everything someone else has to say. When you try to broaden a tent, you can’t have a sensitive, defensive disposition. That’s not to say conversations never get to the point where it’s just better for both parties to move on, but if you can’t even be decent to a fellow Christian, how can you expect to have any sort of pull with non-Christians?

I also like Steve. He’s always answered my questions, writes a lot of interesting material, and been nice to me.
I appreciate the concession, but in my experience, that's not garden-variety Scripturalism. Not even close. Unless Scripturalism can falsify the Cartesian demon, how can they prove that most of what they deem to be knowledge isn't delusive belief? How can they be certain? How do they know there's no Cartesian deceiver who's messing with their minds? Unless they can rule that out, precious little of what they believe rises to the level of the indubitable or indisputable. And if they can't, how is their position any signal improvement over the alternatives which they disdain? To say they that know it even though they don't know how that's the case is quite a comedown from the Scripturalism I'm acquainted with–past and present. 
I should have specified that in saying a Cartesian demon hypothesis needn’t cast doubt on the ability for garden-variety Scripturalists to know something, I meant to specifically refer to and was presupposing their agreement with Clark that “Not all knowledge is inferentially justified.” Scripturalists usually admit foundationalism – specifically, that some beliefs are known because self-justifying – even if in apologetic practice they sometimes proceed to contradict this admission or arbitrarily select who gets to appeal to it.

I think, then, Steve’s point is better viewed as him using a typical Scripturalist apologetic against Scripturalism to show that how a typical Scripturalist will respond to that apologetic is not how the typical Scripturalist allows his opponent’s to respond (already granting epistemological differences). That’s a fair criticism, but then I think it makes more sense to say a Cartesian demon hypothesis is the “radical counterpart” to a radical apologetic rather than a “radical epistemology.” Of course, that’s not to say the epistemology isn’t in need of adjustment.
Scripturalism is a form of foundationalism. It views knowledge as an axiomatic system. You isolate and identify certain indubitable, irrefragable truths. You then draw logical inferences on the basis of these first truths. You relate them to other truths in a system of mutual entailments. 
Problem is, the data-base for indubitable, indisputable truths is very thin. Abstract "laws of logic." Abstract mathematical formulas. Self-presenting states like "I feel pain." Psychology and modal metaphysics.  
You can't extract Christian theology from that data-base. You can't extract Bible history from that data base. It doesn't yield contingent truths. Yet that eliminates the concrete created order. 
I’m not sure if Steve is saying we can’t extract Christian theology from Scripture or if he is implying that the “data base” of indubitable, indisputable truths can’t refer to Scripture. If the former, we can extract Christian doctrines from Scripture: the incarnation and divinity of Christ, the resurrection, a basic outline of Trinitarianism with various possible models, predestination, etc. If the latter, why not?

People can dispute that Scripture is indubitable or indisputable. But people can also dispute laws of logic and so forth. The question is whether in doing so, are they being inconsistent? Are they subverting their own ability to be internally and infallibly justified in believing anything? In the case of disputing Scripture, the Scripturalist says yes, they are. The conversation can then move on to whether we even need that kind of belief (on which, see here). 

Or the conversation can move to whether the Scripturalist can show that one who disputes Scripture is being inconsistent. The answer is he can in one sense and can’t in another. The reason for this is the same reason Scripturalists acknowledge the need to begin with Scripture: in formulating the TAG that we need an omniscient (and good, to reference a later question) communicator in order to have internally and infallibly justified beliefs, another point comes out, i.e. that the communication can’t be premised on something else, it has to be self-authenticating. 

It is in this sense the Scripturalist can show we can’t dispute Scripture while at the same time acknowledging he can’t show it: on the one hand, we’ve just provided a TAG which can be used to show Scripture qua divine revelation must necessarily be self-authenticating to avoid inconsistency; on the other hand, this argument must actually be internally and infallibly justified because derived from Scripture, if Scripture really is our foundation - and not just Scripture abstractly considered as divine revelation, but Scripture concretely and canonically considered. The argument, then, is only as good as the foundation, and this is why it can only serve as confirmatory evidence of Scripture rather than is what functions as an internal and infallible justification of our belief in it. 

But even this isn’t a problem when we recognize that not everything that is internally and infallibly justified is the result of proof. One may disagree with this, but then he bears the burden of proof. This goes back to the distinction between apologetics (what we can show) and epistemology (what we can know). The former services the latter, not vice versa. 
Cartesian skepticism isn't synonymous with global skepticism. Global skepticism is self-refuting. But you can't get much mileage out of that. Although it doesn't take much to refute global skepticism, the exercise doesn't leave you with much to build on. It simply eliminates the utmost extreme. 
This was a leap in the context of the post, but I think methodological doubt implies one holds to pure fallibilism, a position which in turn I think must reject we are internally and infallibly justified in any of our beliefs. I gather this is global skepticism about the sort of “knowledge” I find most useful in apologetic discussions. Global skeptics may also reject any other forms of knowledge, but the rejection of this form is unique in that I find it leaves us unable to defend our having any other forms. This is a bit of a tangent, so I won’t press further. I’ve discussed this more with Paul Manata, though in no great detail, here.
Ryan is welcome to take issue with where his fellow Scripturalists characteristically assign the burden of proof. He's reversing the onus. When the dust settles, I don't see that Ryan's position is different in kind from non-Scripturalist alternatives. Rather, it seems to be an eclectic synthesis of the best that the alternative positions have to offer. I don't say that as a criticism. I'm not the audience he needs to persuade. Perhaps he'll have more success with the up-and-coming generation of Scripturalists. 
Well, I’ve consistently argued why I think Scripturalists should rethink epistemological and metaphysical issues elsewhere on this blog, but I imagine someone with a little more standing in the Scripturalists community will have to acknowledge these facts before they get a fair hearing. I imagine that’s what will decide whether the label suits me.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Cartesian Demons and Infallibilist Justification

This post is a continuation of a few recent exchanges I’ve had with Steve Hays. My last post was here, his most recent post is here.
Most epistemologists and Christian philosophers don't think that our ability to falsify the Cartesian deceiver should be a condition of knowledge. If we are unable to disprove the hypothetical Cartesian deceiver, that's not a good reason to doubt our beliefs. That doesn't cast reasonable doubt on our beliefs. Indeed, it would be unwarranted to take that thought-experiment too seriously.
I agree with Steve here no matter which contemporary definition of “knowledge” is being used. Whether “knowledge” refers to “true beliefs,” “externally justified beliefs,” or “internally justified beliefs,” there is no need to disprove or falsify a Cartesian demon to “know” something. In the first place, proof or falsification pertains to internalist justification. And even on internalism – whether fallibilist or infallibilist – proof and falsification per se aren’t requirements for knowledge, let alone with reference to something like a Cartesian demon. Not all knowledge is inferentially justified, and not all inferentially justified beliefs need be thought of as the result of deductive reasoning. A Cartesian demon hypothesis needn’t cast doubt on knowledge; it just depends on what one’s theory of knowledge is. I don’t think it’s just my modified epistemology that can avoid this “distinctive problem.” It seems to me garden-variety Scripturalism can avoid it as well.

Where disproving a Cartesian demon would be more relevant is in the realm of apologetics. It’s one thing for me to know there is no Cartesian demon, it’s another to be able to show to someone else how I can rule that out. Do I need to be able to show there is no Cartesian demon to know it? No. But if I can show it, and if I can further make arguments which select for theism in general and Christianity in particular, that’s beneficial. There’s use for that. And in any case, while there are limits to what we can show, this only exhibits the limitations of apologetics, not knowledge.

Scripturalism is a theory of knowledge. More specifically, I’ve argued it ought to be formulated as a theory about a specific kind of knowledge: “any knowledge which is both internally justified and infallible must be founded on divine revelation which, in our case, is coextensive with Scripture” (link). With reference to apologetics, however (which I view as a more pragmatic enterprise), Scripturalists should feel free to utilize all sorts of arguments, not merely those which would constrain all knowledge to refer to internally and infallibly justified beliefs. Frankly, I admit many Scripturalists seem to be a ways off from understanding that.

Given all of this, there is one final question about the Cartesian demon which Steve’s post provokes. Can the Cartesian demon actually be disproved or falsified? Let’s see:
Take internalism. Suppose you have introspective access to your reasons. They seem to be good reasons. But how is that a check against self-delusion? Like LSD, the Cartesian deceiver is persuading you to mistake bad reasons for good reasons. You can't help but find these reasons to be convincing, even though they are deceptive reasons. 
For starters, a hypothesis of “deception” necessitates a distinction between truth and error. There is something about which we are being deceived; that is, we are deceived into erroneous rather than true beliefs. This idea in turn necessitates certain categories of logic and language. What is truth such that we can be said to be deceived with respect to it? This line of thought leads to further interesting questions. “Deception” also necessitates there being at least one thinking entity, and in the case of the Cartesian demon, two. 

Steve at least in principle agrees TAGs are good (link). The initial point, then, is that the Cartesian demon cannot be as omnipotent as many skeptics would frame it. There are some things about which a Cartesian demon can’t deceive us. But then is the Cartesian demon the same as the sort Descartes had in mind? In his outlining of the hypothesis, Steve similarly notes: “[The deceiver] needn't be omniscient or omnipotent. A fallible deceiver could be the source of fallible beliefs, if our beliefs are dependent on that erratic source.”

Okay, but if there are necessary truths which we can recognize as such and show others, then in what sense is this sort of Cartesian demon a problem? We would seem to have internally and infallible justified beliefs after all. Naturally, this would be limited to a subset of our beliefs, and being able to show which of these beliefs qualify may further depend on a TAG or TAGs showing that it would be inconsistent to deny, say, a good, omniscient, self-authenticating communicator, but I think this is possible (link, link, link).

Now, Cartesian skeptics could reply that the demon could be deceiving us as to the necessity of all of these conclusions. But skeptics can say or ask a lot of things. Who cares? Bare assertions or repetitious questioning doesn’t constitute a substantial reply. And obviously, it’s not as if skeptics have privileged, objective, third-person access to what is and isn’t possible. They operate on their own sets of assumptions just as Christians do – only Christians can acknowledge their assumptions and remain what they profess themselves to be. Cartesian skeptics want to get away with climbing the ladder they hope to throw over. They can’t even ask questions without contradicting methodological doubt.

So much for Cartesian demons. Moving on to a different subject, I had written:
Sensations are neither true nor false and so cannot function as premises by which our beliefs are inferentially justified.
Steve replied:
I think that's too crude or overstated. There are different kinds of sensory information. The sound of breakers isn't true or false. But the spoken word (a sentence) can be true or false.    
a) The spoken word is structured sensation that uses sound waves to encode and communicate ideas or propositions.  
b) Likewise, although sensations alone are neither true nor false, sensory input, in combination with ideas, can generate true or false beliefs.  
If I see a red rose, I can rightly infer that I saw a colored object. If every red object is a colored object, then that's a valid deduction.     
Now, it may not be possible to derive the principle that every red object is a colored object from sensory perception or induction. That principle may be intuitive or innate. That must already be in mind for me to draw inferences about the rose. But seeing the rose, in combination with that a priori truism or analytical truth, yields a new and true belief. 
I'm not so sure Steve and I are very far apart here, if at all. The first sentence of b) seems to capture the essence of my position. Our senses were designed to be secondary causes by which we form true beliefs. This causative process isn't arbitrary. It's not as if any old belief would normally be caused by a given sensation. Rather, sensations themselves are the product of interaction with our surrounding environment. That stimulus and our physical, divinely-created processing equipment yield non-arbitrary beliefs. 

My only point was that sensations qua sensations aren’t logical justifiers. We can say spoken sentences are true or false, but I would consider that a kind of metonymy (or some such literary device) which substitutes, for the intended meaning of the physical expression or manifestation, the actual meaning, which isn't physical.

Finally, I had written:
Our senses can cause numerous false beliefs. Sense knowledge is fallible.
To which Steve replied:
True, but the same can be said for reason and memory. Scripturalists need to get down from their high horse and join the rest of us at ground level. They stipulate an inhumane standard of knowledge. Finite creatures can't satisfy those godlike conditions. But why should we?
Not that I don’t appreciate the concern that we keep our heads out of the clouds, but if Steve would admit his demand is only fallibly justified from an internalist perspective, he must also have to admit the demand could itself be unreasonable, right? At the very least, the statement “finite creatures can’t” have beliefs which are internally and infallibly justified is itself, from Steve’s perspective, possibly false. Although that may not have been what Steve meant, I’m not sure what else “godlike conditions” could refer to. And if that is what he meant to refer to, why not continually look to see if that’s [demonstrably] not the case? If, for all we can know, it’s possible, what’s the harm in continually searching? I think the potential windfall exceeds the drawbacks.

Furthermore, I think there’s a relevant disanalogy between the fallibility of sensation and the fallibility of reason and memory. In a recent comment, I wrote:
…if infallibilist, internalist justification is possible in principle, and all our beliefs rely on memory - or even just beliefs relevant to forming infallibly, internally justified beliefs - I would suppose a transcendental argument could be constructed to defend against the idea all memorial beliefs are fallible in respect to justification. This could be a way in which memorial and sensory beliefs are relevantly disanalogous. That's why I'm interested in whether the actual believing of a proposition always, in human cases, requires memory. But this is just a suspicion.
To expand on this, how is it that our reasoning and memory could be, in every case, fallible? I can see how we could have two different sense experiences, or how we could have a different sense experience from someone else, which yield contradictory beliefs and therefore leave us unable to ascertain which of the two beliefs is true.

But I don’t see how this could apply to reason or memory across the board. If any beliefs we have are in some sense memorial insofar as our thoughts either reference memories or themselves occur over a span of time rather than an instant, and if our thoughts in every case depend on our implicitly, if not explicitly, following certain logical structures, then I think there is a path to internally and infallibly justified beliefs which isn’t logically founded on sense knowledge.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Classifying and Clarifying Scripturalists and Scripturalism

I want to use a few comments in a recent post by Steve Hays (link) as a catalyst for some thoughts:
In my experience, Scripturalist epistemology is infallibilist and internalist.
I agree that this is the more logical position for Scripturalists to take - though not exclusively so - and that most if not all Scripturalist apologetics tends toward this position, but given the number that reject self-knowledge, I'm not so sure that many Scripturalists can be internalists. For these Scripturalists, there seem to be two possibilities (aside from accepting self-knowledge): 

1) Subscribe to a purely externalist view on which, say, divine occasionalism or illumination infallibly causes true beliefs, though from a first person perspective we can't know when this occurs.

2) Reject doxastic justification altogether in favor of Scripturalism being propositionally justified. "You can necessarily disprove me, because I and my beliefs are indeed necessarily fallible, but you can't disprove Scripturalism as such, because in itself it is infallibly true."

In the case of both 1) and 2), I don't see why they would bother defending Scripturalism even if they believe it's true:

In the case of 1), is their belief in Scripturalism caused by an infallibly reliable causative process? How do they know? Either the appeal eventually turns to internalism after all, or they have another sort of implicit regress (e.g. "I can know Scripturalism because my belief was infallibly caused, and I can know this previous statement because my belief in that was infallibly caused, and..." - ad infinitum) which is available to all kinds of externalists, not merely the Scripturalist variety. One could still hold to it as a theory of knowledge without inconsistency, but this theory of knowledge couldn't really inform Scripturalist apologetics the way Scripturalists usually suppose it can.

In the case of 2), is their belief that "Scripturalism is in itself infallibly true" infallibly true? If they answer yes, the appeal again must turn to internalism after all to explain how they know that, or else anyone else could merely assert the same of their own system with no apparent apologetic repercussions. If the answer is no, the Scripturalist must acknowledge that Scripturalism as a system itself may be false, at least for all they know. Either way, what rational motivation can the Scripturalist himself then have for defending Scripturalism over against any other belief or system? 

Back to Steve's post:
When Scripturalists appeal to the Bible, how can they verify that they are reading the Bible rather than hallucinating or dreaming about a "Bible" that's not the real Bible?  
Doesn't this pose an intractable dilemma for the Scripturalist? His epistemology depends on having intellectual access to the word of God embodied in Scripture.  
But given his general skepticism, how can a Scripturalist be internally justified in his belief if he can't exclude the possibility that the "Bible" on which he relies might be a hallucination? And how can he rule that out, given his epistemology  
If he already had access to the Bible, that would be a benchmark. But he can't appeal directly to the Bible to prove that he's not self-deluded about his source of information, for that would be viciously circular. If he were self-deluded, if the "Bible" he relies on is a hallucination, rather than the real Bible, then that can't correct his delusion, for that's the very source of his delusion! 
In most discussions with Scripturalists, here's how I think replies to Steve or others using the same reasoning as Steve roughly play out: 

Scripturalist: The Bible isn't ink marks on a page. It's the meaning of the physical text, if there even is a physical text.

Steve: Is there a physical text, or are you an panentheistic idealist? If there is a physical text, do we come by the meaning of Scripture through it, or was inscripturation a pointless exercise? If we come by the meaning of Scripture through Scripture, then how can and do you know a sensible object like Scripture apart from sense experience?

Scripturalist: You can't criticize me without explaining how sensations can yield knowledge.

Steve: Your position is in question, not mine. Also, define "knowledge." Also, read this blog, there are plenty of places I address how sensations can be and were designed to yield knowledge.

And so on. Maybe this is too flippant, but in any case, I've seen this happen a few times elsewhere. These responses clearly just don't cut it. Instead, I think the last five paragraphs of this post provide a better answer to the charge of vicious circularity  - the second to last paragraph in particular:

//...while sensation could be designed to cause certain beliefs, sensations nevertheless would not logically justify them, which is that with which internalist, infallibilist justification is concerned. Sensations are neither true nor false and so cannot function as premises by which our beliefs are inferentially justified. So we can use physical signs and symbols to communicate or have communicated to us propositional meaning, but this doesn't require justificatory dependence on sensation in the context of infallibilist, internalist knowledge //

The idea beliefs can only be justified autonomously or by other beliefs is doxastic foundationalism. This, I think, is the structure and nature of justification to which Scripturalists ought to hold in the context of internally and infallibly justified beliefs.

That our beliefs are caused by sensations and can be externally justified by them (non-doxastic foundationalism) does not mean that when we reflect on or attempt to show how we know those beliefs (internalism), our attempts to justify our beliefs must be sourced in or premised on sensations except insofar as sensations are in these cases acknowledged to be ontological preconditions for having acquired said beliefs in the first place. As ontological preconditions are obviously distinct from epistemic presuppositions - we ourselves would need to internally justify belief in the former by inference from the latter - there is no vicious circularity.

In a way, this means Steve is right. In the context of internalism and infallibilism, Scripturalists don't begin with Scripture qua Scripture, they begin with their beliefs about the revelatory meaning of Scripture. But I'm not sure this is a problem. 

I've recently had a few conversations about Scripturalism over at Triablogue (see here and here), and in the latter one Steve said he believed that some beliefs are infallible. I'm not sure that he meant this in the context of internally justified beliefs, but if so, I don't see how one can have internally and infallibly justified beliefs by starting with anything other than beliefs (except perhaps propositions, though this doesn't seem right), including our sensible encounters with a physical text of Scripture. 

Our senses can cause numerous false beliefs. Sense knowledge is fallible. Most importantly, I can't think of a TAG by which we can justify that sense experiences were what caused certain necessarily true beliefs we may have and recognize as such. This doesn't make inscripturation a pointless exercise, however, at least if we hold that beliefs can be externally justified.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Challenges for Scripturalism

In the course of an email conversation, I mentioned to someone that in my opinion, the philosophy of language is, among other subjects I may address in future posts, one of the more challenging aspects of Scripturalism. He asked why I thought that, and the flow of thoughts that proceeded seemed long enough to justify the following post on the subject.

To begin with, what I mean by challenging is that while I see some ways in which to speculatively resolve some of the questions I have, I haven’t really fleshed those out, and while I could be wrong, nor do I expect to find that others have already done so. Rather, I think Scripturalists too often are content to give opponents enough rope with which to hang themselves by their own philosophies. Scripturalists are comfortable with the material Clark provides, and in many cases, the people with whom they discuss aren't equipped to construct well-argued critiques. Clark's answers come easy in these cases, but the comfort is ill-advised inasmuch as it prevents much needed philosophical development of Scripturalism.

Let’s take the case of language. The Bible uses hundreds of thousands of different concepts. Not all of these concepts are subjects of propositions within the Bible, yet we - meaning Scripturalists - appeal to them as if we can know them in an internalist, infallibilist sense. But I suppose the only way that works for Scripturalists is if concepts are in some way implicitly propositional or, similar to the way in which Clark theorized physical words tag thoughts, intellectual concepts tag propositions.

The question is if it is legitimate to believe we can know concepts because they are propositional. If so, then we can know quite a bit. If not, then can Scripturalists know Scriptural propositions, given that the verbs and predicates of what propositions are in Scripture are rarely subjects anywhere else? And even when these concepts are the subjects of propositions elsewhere, these propositions, I suspect, often entail verbs and predicates which are not subjects anywhere else. In that case, maybe we couldn’t know, in an internalist, infallibilist sense, anything. Here, I think, there is the possibility of a kind of transcendental argument for the idea that concepts are implicitly propositional. But I need to think about this some more. 

For example, an added consideration is that it doesn't seem we can know concepts if abstracted from propositions. All epistemic kinds of knowledge involve true belief, and truth is a character of propositions. Further, conceptual content seems dictated by context. More precisely, then, perhaps we can know tagged propositions to which Scriptural concepts connotatively refer. This could also help to explain how we can understand questions and commands. On the other hand, I have written several posts (here, here, and here) designed to make the point that if concepts continuously tag propositions in which the concepts in those propositions tag further propositions ad infinitum, meaning and, hence, truth and knowledge as well, become elusive. So I think there is a balance between tagging and intrinsic meaning that needs to be worked out here.

Another complexity relates to metaphysics. If many Scripturalists eventually come to accept, as I hope they will, a dualist or pluralist metaphysic such that concepts and propositions are not the only kinds of realities, but that these further correspond to other kinds of “physical” or “spiritual” realities, then the question arises as to the nature of the relationship between language and metaphysics.

Does truth represent these different physical or spiritual realities, are these instead patterned after truth, or is it some combination? Well, given that I think God can't metaphysically just be a set of propositions, that suggests 1) God isn't what He thinks [about Himself] and 2) God's self-knowledge is dependent on God's mind, since persons think, not propositions. Here, God’s self-knowledge – and thus all necessary knowledge – seems to have been determined by a non-propositional reality or, at least, the non-propositional aspect of the reality of God. This means, at least in the case of God’s necessary self-knowledge, that it is the nature of some truth to correspond to non-propositional realities and that it is not always the case that this correspondence is such that the non-propositional reality is patterned after the corresponding propositional reality.

Is that the case for all truth? And if so, do we need to have the non-propositional reality “in mind” – whether a sensory input or memory, a spiritual idea or intuition, etc. – when we think truth? In answer to both, I don’t think so. With respect to the latter question especially, it is prima facie implausible that Scripture would tell us of events we can only imagine and, therefore, couldn’t know. But explaining why requires wading into deeper waters, and I've only recently touched on any of this, and just barely, here, the second paragraph in particular:
Suppose we have an image in mind which has been caused by perceiving some object. It's possible that both the proposition we think (after which the visible object is patterned) is knowable to us, and it's also possible [and compatible with both direct and indirect realism] that the image we have in mind corresponds to that truth. It's possible if God knows that the proposition is indeed true and has been revealed as well as what images do and don't correspond to this truth, the one we have being among those which do - God doesn't need sensory organs to have images.  
If what image we have in mind matches [one of] God's, then it is connected with and so corresponds to that truth, regardless of whether we know such - on a Clarkian epistemology, we wouldn't, though this isn't problematic. That is, we don't need the image to know the truth to which an image (or, potentially, images) corresponds. We can, therefore, know propositions without possessing or connecting any corresponding non-propositional realities to them. 
Following the above remarks on a dualist or pluralist metaphysic, Scripturalists also have to recognize that there is a difference between the physical text of Scripture and the meaning of Scripture. This might seem basic, but I find lip service is sometimes paid to this distinction while the person simultaneously rejects that there even are physical qua non-propositional realities at all. Given this recognition, we need to ask what we have in mind when we talk about the philosophy of language. Are we talking about concepts and propositions, the corresponding physical words, or both? In this case, I'm talking about both. 

Now, according to Clark, we have physical words which tag meaningful propositions. And yet, Clark thinks words are arbitrary signs or symbols. If all words really were purely arbitrary signs, there would seemingly be no point in using them to communicate meaning. If a word has just as much possibility of being assigned one meaning as any other of the infinitude of possible meanings - as must be the case if truly arbitrary - then we could never have good reason to think any word corresponds to one meaning in particular. Our own attempts to communicate assume that we are at least in principle able to understand one another through physical coding of mental categories, how much more in the case of Scripture, a physical text the author of language uses to communicate? 

This leads to the question of whether the above line of reasoning leads to the idea sensation plays a justificatory role in the acquisition of internally and infallibly justified beliefs. I think not. Elsewhere, I have argued that beliefs can be externally justified when caused by a generally reliable process. I have also said sensation is such a process and cited Scripture to that effect. I think the idea that words are arbitrary signs would undercut reason for accepting externalist justification, as a belief in this idea would, for the above reasons, mitigate against reason for holding that sensations generally cause true beliefs with regard to understanding and communicating with one another. It at least begs the question as to why God would use physical words as a means of communication in functioning as secondary causes of beliefs.

Instead, suppose certain physical signs or symbols in Scripture non-arbitrarily cause us to understand and believe the meaning of divine revelation. Sellars' dilemma would be important with respect to the question raised in the last paragraph, because while sensation could be designed to cause certain beliefs, sensations nevertheless would not logically justify them, which is that with which internalist, infallibilist justification is concerned. Sensations are neither true nor false and so cannot function as premises by which our beliefs are inferentially justified. So we can use physical signs and symbols to communicate or have communicated to us propositional meaning, but this doesn't require justificatory dependence on sensation in the context of infallibilist, internalist knowledge

As an interesting aside to end this post, if we suppose generally reliable causal processes are solely sensory-related, Sellars' dilemma exhibits a reason why a defense of externally justified beliefs presupposes internally justified beliefs. Any defense that sensations can externally justify beliefs must be premised on truth or truths. Suppose it is true "sensations can externally justify beliefs." We could not infer that truth from sensations, for sensations qua sensations are not true. So any defense that sensations can externally justify beliefs must be premised on something other than externalist justification, i.e. internalist justification. An externalist foundationalist might give up any pretense of defending his views - at best, he can merely repeat "I know externalism is true because this is externally justified (i.e. because externalism is true)" - but the apologetic tradeoff here is significant, not to mention whether he himself knows externalism is true or just whether externalism is true, to recall other posts in which I make the point self-knowledge is internalistic.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Everything is Everything

I’m a staunch Ironyc: everything is ironical. Objects, actions, various parts of speech – each of these individuals are sets, a congeries or combination, system or agglomeration, but at any rate a collection of ironies.

People, for example, are what they aren’t - how obvious this is in the case of this very post! - and ironically, no two are what each other is. Several romantically inclined students, and a few professors as well, have complained that “this makes your wife merely a set of ironies.” Well, so it does. This suits me, for I am a set of ironies too. And those who complain also are as they aren’t, which is especially ironic.

Secularists like Aristotle admitted that individuals cannot be ironies. But I will show what several of my critics ironically consider paradoxical; to wit, persons are ironies. The simple justification is this: in the Bible, God and men mock each other. That must mean both are capable of being objects of ridicule. So they must metaphysically just be objects of ridicule. Further, God cannot be an object of ridicule for what He is, only for what He isn’t. And when men are mocked, it must be for what they are not, which must mean they are being mocked for what they are. Of course, per the above, this exegetically proves persons are ironies.

Far from my making it impossible for God to mock human beings, it is rather my critics who do so. Their view of the self is that of some Spott-an-sich. But Leibniz, whose words we must absolutely take into consideration, suggests that the ego is a complex irony. This definition is ironic in essence, and God mocks it because he determined what it should not be. On the other hand, it is something that the person himself may not laugh at, at least in this life.

Now, there is a philosopher who has argued that “if a word meant everything, it would mean nothing.” Apparently, for this philosopher, everything means nothing. How ironic!

But let’s seriously entertain his view for a moment, as it applies to ironies:
If a predicate can be attached to everything without exception, it has no distinct meaning, and this is to say that it has no meaning at all…Here then in the conclusion: The predicate ironical can be attached to everything real or imaginary without exception. Dreams are ironical, mirages are ironical, the square root of minus one is ironical. These statements, however, are meaningless; they tell us nothing about dreams and the square root of minus one…Anything is ironical, so far as the term has any faint meaning at all. But it makes a great difference whether God is a dream, a mirage, or the square root of minus one. (link)
Perhaps this philosopher can riddle me this: if a thing's metaphysical makeup isn't ironical, how could God laugh at it? Why, that's like saying God could know what a thing is even if that thing's metaphysical makeup isn't propositional! And I'm pretty sure Leibniz wouldn't agree with that. Clearly, just because the predicate "ironical" - and we can throw the predicate "propositional" in for good measure - can be attached to everything real or imaginary without exception doesn't mean these words are meaningless or mean nothing.

Transgenderism and Brain Activity

I've been discussing transgenderism recently. One argument that keeps making rounds is that some individuals experience brain activity which is more appropriately identified with the opposite sex than with their own. This allegedly validates said individuals identifying their gender, which is related to but distinct from sex, with the gender usually associated with the opposite sex. A few thoughts:

How is it that one sex has been classified as having certain brain activity and another sex has been classified as having different brain activity if there were supposed counter-examples (transgenders) in the first place? Is the argument that transgenders are outliers rather than examples of the range of diversity within each sexes' respective brain activity? Well, what is the basis for that argument?

Also, the extent to which transgender advocates are willing to argue that transgenderism is more commonplace than assumed is the extent to which this kind of evidence mitigates against their cause. The more commonplace you think transgenderism is, the less reason you have to say brain activity actually varies between the sexes.

If gender is a social construct, when did society construct the idea that brain activity determines gender? I must have missed that. 

Obviously, there is a public policy aspect to all of this. We're already seeing it in whether transgenders are allowed the use of opposite sex bathrooms. The reason we have opposite sex restrooms in the first place is the same reason we don't allow public nudity: it's an issue of public [in]decency.

Do we take people at their word? Or even after people are already applying arising "gender" issues to race, maturity, species, etc., are transgender advocates so naive as to think there won't be abuses - peeping Toms and the like? 

If brain activity really is a sufficient method for determining gender, will professing transgenders be made to verify themselves through brain scans in order for society to have to treat them as such, using opposite sex restrooms and the like? Will gender validation cards be dispensed, and gender policing enforced to ensure no systemic abuse occurs? Apparently not. But why?

I think advocates are afraid that brain scans wouldn't pass muster. Scans would leave out some people who come out as transgenders, and that would lead to accusations of intolerance or bigotry, which is the last thing such advocacy groups want. 

It's very convenient for secularists to be able to shift classifications to suit their public policy agenda at whim. They prefer to be able to broaden the tent than provide real boundaries. Again, as I said above, this eventually undercuts the evidence they will initially use, including brain activity.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Aquascum, Developing Scripturalism, and Potential Rapprochement

It’s been nearly a decade since a short but well-constructed critique of Vincent Cheung's philosophy appeared. I’m referring to an article by a pseudonymous author, Aquascum, entitled Top Ten Reasons to Reject the "Scripturalist Package." This and a few of Aquascum’s more substantial papers are posted on the website of James Anderson, who apparently didn’t write them. 

On the one hand, it doesn’t really matter who wrote them. In polemical contexts in which two sides are presenting cases for the benefit of an audience, the arguments are more important than the arguers - and Aquascum makes some good arguments. In fact, I have yet to read a decent Scripturalist rebuttal. Maybe I haven't looked hard enough.

On the other hand, given how interesting and stimulating some of the material is, I would have liked it if I could know where else, if anywhere, Aquascum has written about apologetics. That’s a bit selfish, I suppose. As for why he didn’t write more, I gather that is because 1) he made all of the arguments he wanted to and 2) the person to whom his arguments were directed, Cheung, never really responded. Still, a recommended apologetic for Christianity, if not an actual presentation of one, would have been nice. As he said in his initial response:  
My primary concern is for those who read Cheung on Christian apologetics and somehow think his proposed method is a coherent one, worthy of imitation, and impervious to cogent rebuttal. It is not any of these...
I understand this concern, and I also understand a concern he might have had if he had further recommended an apologetic: Cheung et al. may have just focused on attacking that recommendation, making the apparent evasion of Aquascum’s criticisms less stark. But in consideration of people who Aquascum believed could be disillusioned of Cheung’s “invincibility” in one way or another, whether by unbelievers or intramural criticism - the latter being the light in which I believe Aquascum’s critique was intended to be read - I think such people really could have used some direction.

Additionally, I would argue, in apparent contrast to Aquascum (link), that applying reductio ad absurdum argumentation does require an epistemology on his part - namely, one which allows for use of that methodology. The legitimacy of assuming Cheung’s position for the sake of argument in order to discredit it must proceed from Aquascum’s “own premises,” whatever those may be. Aquascum might have replied that this begs the question in favor of internalism by requiring him to justify how he could legitimately use reductio ad absurdum argumentation. I will return to this point below. Of course, most of Cheung’s distinctives are problematic either way.

In any case, I decided to venture a few thoughts on Aquascum’s article. I don’t do this on Cheung’s behalf, I do it so that readers can see that Scripturalism needs to be developed beyond what Cheung (or Clark, for that matter) argues. Several of Aquascum’s points require familiarity with concepts in contemporary epistemology, which neither Cheung nor Clark discuss. I've been saying for a while now that Scripturalists should be taking contemporary epistemology more seriously, and a reason why becomes evident when reading these kinds of criticisms. Whether or not they touch one’s own particular formulation of Scripturalism, one should at least be able to understand the objections.

Aquascum’s ten reasons for rejecting the Scripturalist package are mostly summations of arguments he presents more fully in a few other articles, all of which I've read. I will reply in kind, noting that some of the responses I give are simplified recreations of arguments provided elsewhere on this blog, even while acknowledging that some of those arguments require further development.

A quick point with significant implications is that I think one can reject the "Scripturalist package" Aquascum presents without rejecting Scripturalism. Aquascum also seems to acknowledge this, as "Scripturalism" is but one of four other ideas he mentions which constitute this package.

For instance, while I would identify with Scripturalism, I don’t believe all things or even all [true] beliefs are immediately caused by God, although they are ultimately caused by God. Scripturalism doesn’t require and, as Aquascum points out, would in fact be incompatible with a thorough-going occasionalist metaphysic. So in my case, I see no reason to respond to arguments 5-7. Incidentally, I recently read some Scripturalists say Cheung doesn't deny secondary causation. I refer those Scripturalists to this post.

I also believe some kinds of “knowledge” can be fallible or can be justified on externalist grounds. So while I think some historic Christian doctrine can be infallibly and internally known by Scripture - a host of Christological doctrines quickly come to mind - I will forego further response to argument 10 for now. I also see no reason to respond to argument 2, except to note that Aquascum would have been more precise if he had said that Matthew 24:32 refutes, not Scripturalism per se, but an exclusively internalist and/or infallibilist epistemology. In Cheung's case, though, argument 2 is true, so I won't quibble too much about this.

I suppose acceptance of fallible knowledge and externalist justification also addresses arguments 3 and 4 insofar as I don’t believe infallibilism or internalism are "constraints" on knowledge, as if everything we can be said to "know" must satisfy the criteria of infallibilism and internalism. There are various forms or types or kinds of "knowledge." Of course, there is overlap: each involves true beliefs. But I would admit there is a middle ground between an arbitrarily held true opinion and infallibilist justification. I would also admit that God may have (and I think did) design certain secondary causes to effect true beliefs, which allows for externalist justification. It’s just a matter of teasing out the nuances of different meanings of epistemic terms with respect to their different contexts. Knowledge and epistemic justification don't mean the same thing in every context, nor do they need to. Aquascum knows this, many Scripturalists don’t seem to.

Rather than focusing on whether knowledge is solely or only infallible or internally justified, I think more relevant questions for me would be whether there are any beliefs must be known according to the prescriptions of infallibilism and internalism and, if so, what are they and how are they known. It is in answering these questions that I find a motivation for a qualified Scripturalism.

Now, whenever we ask whether anything "must be," a natural follow-up question is - for what? Must we ever drink and eat? Well, yes - to live. Must we accept the gospel? Yes - to be saved. Some people starve, and some die in sin, but the point is that in order to achieve certain ends, certain means must occur. 

So let's start with internalism. What ends do I have in mind when I say we must accept that there is internalist justification? There could be several contexts, I'll name two: apologetics and exegesis. It's one thing to have justification for your beliefs. Externalism is compatible with this, as in that case, what confers or grounds the justification of a belief isn't an intentional activity on the part of the believer. It's another thing to show you have justification or could have justification in holding some belief. That sort of justification is the result of a person's intentional activity and involves giving reasons or an explanation of what is[n't] or can['t] be known and how. 

Aquascum calls epistemological internalism "fairly implausible" and "disputable." Surely it is the latter. And I would agree that an internalist constraint is also implausible. But is internalist justification itself implausible? I don't think so. Nor, I think, should Aquascum think so.

Returning to my earlier statement that reductio ad absurdem argumentation presupposes an epistemology, Aquascum provides numerous reasons to reject Cheung's core beliefs. He doesn't just claim one could have justification for or could know this, he actually takes it upon himself to show that if we were to accept Cheung's position, we would have to reject it; hence, we should reject it. He presents reasons to reject the "Scripturalist package."

So doesn't reductio ad absurdem argumentation - or any argumentation, really - presuppose internalist justification? Apologetics is a defense of something. That defense consists of giving reasons for holding a certain worldview over against another. Aquascum is implicitly defending his own apologetic - thus, using his apologetic - in rejecting Cheung's. Aquascum views Cheung's apologetic as detrimental to Christendom. As such, his internal critiques are intended to defend Christianity, benefit readers, and, so it seems to me, to justify his conclusions about Cheung and what consequences should follow. This is completely understandable. But it would also be indicative of implicit acceptance of internalist justification.

Similarly, exegesis consists of giving reasons for holding one interpretation of Scripture over against another. One of Aquascum's papers is "How Mt 24:32 Refutes Scripturalism." In this paper, he exegetes Mt. 24:32. He makes a number of points about the text, all of which are intended to ultimately function as a justification of his conclusion that [Cheung's version of] Scripturalism is "self-referentially incoherent." That requires a certain interpretation of the passage. I think Aquascum's points are, in general, correct, but the point here is that internalist justification is not only plausible but also necessary for both apologetics and exegesis.

The issue of infallibilism is a bit more tricky. For I have already conceded that some knowledge can be fallible or merely probabilistic. That could extend to apologetics and exegesis. But let's see what can be said about this. For one thing, I do think infallibilist knowledge is possible - necessarily possible, actually. After all, the claim that "all [human] knowledge is fallible" would itself be fallible. It could be false. So even on purely fallibilistic grounds, infallibilist knowledge is necessarily possible.

But I think we can do better than that. If a pure fallibilist would admit infallible knowledge is necessarily possible, wouldn't he also have to acknowledge there is criteria according to which we could discriminate between fallible and infallible knowledge? The reason we wouldn't have infallible knowledge would only be because we couldn't satisfy the criteria. Then again, what of our knowledge of that criteria? If it were infallible, he wouldn't be a pure fallibilist. But if it were fallible, then he couldn't really acknowledge that there is any criteria according to which we could discriminate between fallible and infallible knowledge. Satisfaction of a fallible criteria would yield fallible beliefs.

Further, while I've argued pure fallibilism would necessarily entail that any belief could be false, such would seemingly include that necessary entailment! So in effect, pure fallibilism rejects necessity. It corresponds to pure possibilism in which everything and anything goes. In that case, everything could be true, could be false, could be both true and false, meaningless, etc. I don't see that this can be intelligibly defended, for any such defense would presuppose that concepts or propositions mean something definite. So either pure fallibilism is, as Aquascum would say, "self-referentially incoherent," or I've misunderstood what pure fallibilism is, in which case there would seem to be a case to be made for infallibilism anyway.

Now, clearly Scripturalism can't be defined how Cheung would define it per argument 1. But a rough, alternative definition of Scripturalism could be as follows: the belief that any knowledge which is both internally justified and infallible must be founded on divine revelation which, in our case, is coextensive with Scripture. I would primarily argue such on the basis of the problem of partial knowledge, about which I have written extensively (for example, herehere, here, here, and here, among others). These posts probably need to be updated to reflect subtle changes in my views. Either way, I could see a potential for epistemic and apologetic rapprochement along these lines, which is partly what motivated this post.

This leads me to a few final thoughts on Aquascum's 8th and 9th arguments, particularly 8a and 9a. 9b isn't a problem if 9a can be answered. Furthermore, 9b as well as 8b, 8c, and 9c seem to be directed at epistemologies with an infallibilist "constraint." So while I think Scripturalists who agree with Cheung could formulate cogent responses to a few of these scenarios, I don't see a need to.

8a and 9a respectively concern how a Scripturalist could know the law of non-contradiction or know himself. I think these are knowable in the same way internal justification and infallibilistic knowledge can be known. Here's what I mean: am I saying everyone needs to engage in apologetics and exegesis? No. Am I saying everyone possesses internally justified or infallible knowledge? No. Am I saying everyone knows the law of non-contradiction or himself? No.

But - and here's the point - are these ideas incompatible with Scripturalism? Or rather, are the contradictories of these ideas compatible with Scripturalism? Can one intelligibly defend a worldview which precludes internalist justification, infallible knowledge, the law of non-contradiction, or self-knowledge? No. But then, given such an answer, and given Scriptural affirmations of self-knowledge, the legitimacy of apologetics and interpretation of Scripture, etc. - given these things, is it not the case that Scripturalists necessarily could have internally justified, infallible knowledge, self-knowledge, or knowledge of the law of non-contradiction? I argue yes.

In addition to the aforementioned arguments for internalism and infallibilism, I've argued that self-knowledge is necessary in order to show one infallibly knows the canon of Scripture (here) and that self-knowledge can't consistently be denied (see here). Clearly, the law of non-contradiction can't be consistently denied. But I don't see how this would invalidate Scripturalism as defined above, not that I'm saying Aquascum intended to address that definition, obviously.

The point is, there are several propositions which must be true in order for a worldview to be true. To recognize any of these truths as such implies one should be able to recognize the others as such, and in this sense the truths are mutually dependent. If I accept the law of non-contradiction, I should also be able to accept that there are fundamental principles of language. I couldn't know either one without its being possible to know the other. But the same goes for the point that there is a need for a person (or persons) who is omniscient to communicate with us in order for us to know - in an internalist and infallibilist sense - anything. Can one defend this without being able to internally justify anything, know oneself, know linguistic principles, etc.? No. That being the case, all it takes for something to be internally justified and infallibly known is for it to be compatible with Scripturalism and its contradictory to be incompatible with it. The law of non-contradiction and self-knowledge both fall into this category.

There is more that needs to be said. Scripturalist meta-epistemology in particular needs to be addressed. Much as Aquascum's first reply to Cheung was intended to be the first, not last, word on the matter, so too I consider the above to be an outlined development of Scripturalism and, at best, a beginning. But I think it's a much needed beginning.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

History, Epistemology, and Divine Simplicity

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

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

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

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

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