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.