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.

22 comments:

ANNOYED PINOY said...

I don't know if this is relevant, but E.W. Bullinger's book Figures of Speech Used In the Bible lists about 217 different types of figures of speech used in the Bible. Many of which can be subdivided even further.

Ryan said...

I think that's more relevant to hermeneutics. Although that is obviously related to language, in the same email I referenced in the first paragraph, I thought it was enough of a challenge on its own to warrant separate mention from the philosophy of language. Mathematics was the other subject I mentioned. I hope to talk about these in future posts.

ANNOYED PINOY said...

Fair enough.

If it's relevant, maybe you can interact with Steve Hays' views on language which he outlines in the first 5 pages of his PART 2 of Why I Believe. I find it intriguing.

Hays wrote:

So, if anything, the venerable via negativa has the relation exactly backwards.
The natural world is a material manifestation, in finite form, of God’s impalpable
attributes (cf. Ps 19:1-7; Acts 14:17; Rom 1:18ff.; Eph 3:9-10). Metaphor is
deeply embedded in human language inasmuch as nature is figural of God. So
God-talk is the only kind of talk there is. Strictly speaking, God is the only object of literal predication whereas all mundane phenomena, as property-instances of divine properties, are objects of analogical predication.

Ryan said...

Steve is an exemplarist. My own metaphysical position is undetermined. I'm honestly just not well-read enough to offer an informed opinion. Some of what he states in that first section sounds good, I would have questions about others. It's interesting at any rate, you're right about that.

Luke Miner said...

I don’t really understand the concept vs. proposition dilemma. As you said, if a concept is knowable, it must be a set of propositions. But then you assert that there are concepts “in” the propositions. Nothing “in” a proposition is true, false, or knowable. How then would could a concept be propositional? Maybe I just don’t understand your use of the word “concept”.

You said: 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.””

Wouldn’t this contradict most of Scripturalism. We would not want to posit the existence of unknowable things in themselves to which propositions somehow “correspond”. But, as we have discussed before, I think Clark did not have a monist, dualist, or pluralist metaphysic. I think he believed that the questions: “What exists?” and “What is real?” are meaningless.


You said: “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.”

Why must an arbitrary sign have just as much possibility of being assigned to one meaning as any other? Even if this was the case, it doesn’t seem to follow that “then we could never have good reason to think any word corresponds to one meaning in particular”.

Ryan said...

"As you said, if a concept is knowable, it must be a set of propositions. But then you assert that there are concepts “in” the propositions. Nothing “in” a proposition is true, false, or knowable. How then would could a concept be propositional? Maybe I just don’t understand your use of the word “concept”."

I'm saying concepts aren't strictly knowable in themselves, they're knowable to the extent they tag a proposition or propositions. "Ryan" isn't knowable in itself, but it can be knowable to the extent it tags propositions like "Ryan is a blogger."

The point I'm making, then, is that said propositions also have further concepts. In the above example, "a blogger." That too is unknowable in itself, it can only be knowable to the extent it tags other propositions. That's what I'm getting at in the OP.

"We would not want to posit the existence of unknowable things in themselves to which propositions somehow “correspond”."

I think reality is truth and that which corresponds to it. Again, I don't think everything is propositional for reasons I have linked you to elsewhere, most recently and comprehensively here:

http://unapologetica.blogspot.com/2015/04/further-problems-with-clarks.html

But this short post may be more relevant to your concern:

http://unapologetica.blogspot.com/2013/03/unknowables.html

"Why must an arbitrary sign have just as much possibility of being assigned to one meaning as any other? Even if this was the case, it doesn’t seem to follow that “then we could never have good reason to think any word corresponds to one meaning in particular”."

Because that's what it means for something to be arbitrary - there can have been no reason necessitating the one over the other.

If there is no necessary meaning inherent in words, then there is no guarantee we can knowably (in an internalist, infallibilist sense) communicate through words.

Luke Miner said...

You asserted that arbitrary signs have just as much possibility of being assigned to one meaning as any other, and that this is simply what it means to be arbitrary. But if I tell you that I’m using the word “snark” to refer to a set of propositions P, even though I have arbitrarily selected the word, it no longer has just as much possibility of being assigned to one meaning as any other. Thus, your assertion does not follow from the definition of “arbitrary” for “snark” remains arbitrary but signifies P. And, thus, my usage of the word “snark” is intelligible to you so long as we can think of P univocally when I say “snark”.

You said: “If there is no necessary meaning inherent in words, then there is no guarantee we can knowably (in an internalist, infallibilist sense) communicate through words.”
That’s simply a denial of Clark’s conclusion with no accompanying argumentation. I think you ought to attempt to argue for it or at least explain why Clark’s system falls short of allowing for communication. Clark’s example of the cryptographers and the accompanying argumentation would be a good place to start. In my previous example, I told you what I meant by “snark”. Here, Clark argues that not even this is necessary. The fact that a person uses words as signs for propositions makes it possible for a mind with similar propositions (but dissimilar words) to decode the meaning of the words of the person.

I think your theory of concepts is at odds with Clarkian epistemology. You are assuming your theory of concepts and then trying to assert that Scripturalism is wrong because it doesn’t jive with it. To my knowledge, Clark does not assert the existence of unknowable or partially knowable concepts, so the problem is yours not his.

Ryan said...

"But if I tell you that I’m using the word “snark” to refer to a set of propositions P,"

But if "a set of propositions P" is itself arbitrary... see where I'm going with this?

"That’s simply a denial of Clark’s conclusion with no accompanying argumentation."

Lol'd.

"Here, Clark argues that not even this is necessary. The fact that a person uses words as signs for propositions makes it possible for a mind with similar propositions (but dissimilar words) to decode the meaning of the words of the person."

Is it a fact or theory? Crypographers look for patterns in code. But if all the code (communication) is arbitrary to begin with, there's no pattern to find.

"I think your theory of concepts is at odds with Clarkian epistemology."

I think you underestimate the extent to which Scripturalism needs development.

Are concepts unknowable or not? If unknowable, do you not assert unknowables after all, contrary to your protestations? If not unknowable, aren't concepts just propositions, in which case Clark was incorrect to argue concepts aren't knowable?

"To my knowledge, Clark does not assert the existence of unknowable or partially knowable concepts, so the problem is yours not his."

To my knowledge, certain rationalists deny they can't know anything on rationalism, so I guess any assertion they couldn't is your problem, not theirs?

Luke Miner said...

On arbitrary, I only meant to show that you were wrong to assert that something arbitrary had equal possibility of meaning anything. Since you didn’t challenge me on that, I’ll assume the point is taken.

On the cryptographers, I think you are either missing or ignoring the point. There is a pattern. To argue as if there isn’t is, again, to miss or ignore Clark’s point. Today, I use “dog” to signify the same set of propositions as I did yesterday. Over time, a foreigner will recognize that I use the sign “dog” to signify the same set of propositions that he uses “perro” to signify. Nothing contained in the sign “dog” is needed; only shared propositions. The same thing would have happened if I’d used “horse” to signify the propositions. What makes it arbitrary is that any sign would do.

I don’t use the word “concepts” in my philosophy. If concepts are propositions, why add a confusing word? If concepts aren’t propositions and are, therefore, unknowable, they would be impossible to discuss intelligibly. Therefore, you’ll forgive me for not answering your questions about concepts. Either way, the fact that Scripturalism doesn’t fit with your theory of concepts is no defect.

Clark arguing that concepts are unknowable is ad hominem.

Ryan said...

It looks like I have to spell it out after all: if "a," "set," "of," and "propositions" are arbitrary, they can mean anything, so you aren't engaging the point. Try again.

"Over time, a foreigner will recognize that I use the sign “dog” to signify the same set of propositions that he uses “perro” to signify. Nothing contained in the sign “dog” is needed; only shared propositions."

Well, that's a bare assertion, but if nothing else it suggests the sign isn't arbitrary after all but rather rooted in, say, some similar physical experience.

"I don’t use the word “concepts” in my philosophy."

Um, that's not what you said just 3 days ago:

http://scripturalism.com/sensation-and-knowledge/

It's also not true of our conversation about "existence." This is an ad hoc response to the dilemma you have.

It also begs the question I asked you last time, which is if everything is "propositional," then "propositional" is meaningless on your worldview. You can say "everything" is question-begging, but then so is "propositional."

"Therefore, you’ll forgive me for not answering your questions about concepts. Either way, the fact that Scripturalism doesn’t fit with your theory of concepts is no defect."

Insofar as you keep bringing up Clark as if his philosophy of language is the one that is correct, and I am pointing out a flaw in Clark's philosophy here, it is.

"Clark arguing that concepts are unknowable is ad hominem."

That depends on whether you agree with Clark on this point or not. The implication was that you did, since you were insistent that I am problematically at odds with Clarkian epistemology for asserting unknowables. But so did Clark. So is Clark's philosophy of language right or not? Is it a problem to disagree with Clark's philosophy of language or not?

Also, can you know false propositions?

Luke Miner said...

I think now you are taking pot shots, so the discussion is ending. If you continue to ignore Clark’s actual view and cite inconsistency in Clark because he doesn’t agree with your view, its just question begging.

I use all sorts of terms in normal language which I would prefer to forsake for the sake of clarity in a more focused discussion. You will catch me using words such as “concepts”, “ideas”, “existence”, “substance”, and a host of other terms in one way in a certain context, in another way in another context, and not at all in other contexts. I feel like I shouldn’t have to explain that.

I think the underlying issue here is that you refuse to accept Clark’s definitions in pointing out his inconsistency. You use your own definitions and then indict Clark for not agreeing. You want “arbitrary” to mean what you want it to mean, and you want it to imply what you want it to imply. You want “concept” to mean what you want it to mean and it doesn’t work with Clark’s system. The question isn’t whether or not Clark is inconsistent. The question is whose system is better, Clark’s or Ryan’s. I guess there is nothing more I can say.

Ryan said...

Well, it was pretty clear what you meant by "concept" in our discussion on the meaning of existence was what I meant in this post. It's not a pot-shot to make a relevant point like that when you just denied that you talk about concepts within your philosophy.

"I think the underlying issue here is that you refuse to accept Clark’s definitions in pointing out his inconsistency."

Well, I'm not sure where you got the idea I'm projecting something external onto Clark. Read the following quotations:

Clark and His Critics, pg. 148:

//Aristotle admitted that individuals cannot be known. Hegel’s fault, or one of them, was to make the concept rather than the propositions the object of knowledge. But *****a concept is as unknowable as an individual.***** “Pen” is neither true nor false. Only a proposition can be true. “The pen belongs to Herr Krug” may be true; it may be false; but a concept in isolation is not an object of knowledge. Truth always comes in propositions.//

pg. 399

//One *****cannot know***** what is false.//

Modern Philosophy, pgs. 204-205:

//The Lamb is a symbol. A symbol is a sign, but not all signs are symbols. The plus and minus signs of arithmetic, even though they may sometimes be called mathematical symbols, are just *****arbitrary conventional signs. Marks of other shapes could have served as well.***** Crombie above, it will be remembered, tried to maintain that his words, names, and metaphors were not arbitrary; and in this example obviously and elephant as a symbol of Christ could not have served as well; and a fish was later used only because of an acrostic. John the Baptist’s choice of a Lamb was not arbitrary; it was rooted in the Mosaic ritual. An arbitrary sign, whether a word or mathematical figure, merely designates the concept. When we are studying mathematics or reading a newspaper, we do not normally think of the shape of the sign, but rather give exclusive attention to the thing signified. In the case of the symbol, however, some of our attention is fixed on the symbol. If the Baptists had said, Jesus is Lord, no one would have given thought to the sound as such; and there is nothing in the situation except the sound and the meaning. But when he said, “Behold! The Lamb,” the situation included not only Jesus and the sound of the words, but also the lambs that the word Lamb summarized. To understand the Baptist’s message about Christ, therefore, it was necessary to think how literal lambs could symbolize Christ. This is not the case with a designatory sign.//

Emphases mine. So he very clearly asserts there are unknowables within his own philosophy (concepts and false propositions) and that arbitrarity implies that with respect to words, they are signs which have just as much possibility of being assigned one meaning as any other of the infinitude of possible meanings.

Joshua Butcher said...

Two considerations, Ryan. First, I don't think Clark would agree that continual tagging of the propositions within the terms of a proposition would continue ad infinitum, unless you take that to mean self-referentially, as in traveling through each point on a circle leads to every other point on the circle. Wouldn't Clark just claim that the entire system of propositions continually reference one another in varying degrees of relation? And ultimately the guarantee of that system would be the self-authenticating nature of God, correct?

Second, the quote you use to demonstrate Clark's purported acceptance of the view that all signs are arbitrary appears self-defeating. He does say that mathematical symbols are arbitrary, but not that all symbols are, since he later cites John's use of Lamb as non-arbitrary. Perhaps you are overextending a bit there?

Ryan said...

Given Clark's belief that God's knowledge is finite, you are probably right about the first consideration. I would just say that only shows Clark was wrong.

With respect to your second consideration, in the case of language, I think not:

Modern Philosophy, 2008, pg. 275

//First, language is a bearer of meaning because ***words are arbitrary signs the mind uses to tag thoughts.*** Second, communication is possible because all minds have at least some thoughts in common. This is so because God created man a rational spirit, a mind capable of thinking, worshiping, and talking to God. God operates through his Logos, the Wisdom that enlightens every man in the world. Third, language is logical because it expresses logical thoughts. Not to deny the noetic effects of sin, examples of which are incorrect additions and various fallacies in reasoning, man is still a rational or logical creature and hence he cannot think three is four or that two contradictories can both be true. Language therefore is built upon the laws of logic.//

pg. 272:

//Explicitly in I John the object is the truth or proposition, “God is light.” This proposition cannot be seen in any literal sense. Therefore, since ***words are arbitrary signs,*** whose meaning is fixed by ordinary language, the hundreds of Scriptural verbs to which empirical apologetics refer do not support the role of sensation which presumably – though they are never clear on what this role is – those apologists desire to give it.//

The point of the prior quote was just to establish what Clark meant by the signs being "arbitrary."

You can try the route that the above quotes attempt to explain how it is we can have "good reason" to think we understand someone else's words after all, but unless you don't see why that doesn't work given the concession the signs are arbitrary, I won't bother to entertain that response for now.

Joshua Butcher said...

You would say that Clark's argument that God's knowledge is finite is a proof of his being wrong? I'm sure you've addressed that in a previous post. Could you link it here?

Your other quotes certainly establish that Clark viewed words as arbitrarily chosen. The first quote you cite distinguishes words from thoughts, and this makes some sense, given that symbolic logic uses signs that are not words to express thoughts. I could see objecting to the term "arbitrary" as imprecise since "conventional" is closer to how words come to mean, but if you and I were to create a new language would our choice of sounds and symbols (though conventional in the sense of being worked out between us) by arbitrary, since we're deciding for ourselves? The fact that an infinite number of meanings (or a finite number of meanings equal to the knowledge of God, if we're taking Clark's position) could attach to a word does not seem to me to require that we could not assume that a word we chose to designate a meaning had no correspondence. Augustine takes up this very problem in De Magistro, where he investigates how it is that signs (particularly words, but also physical gestures or demonstrations) communicate. He argues there that the Inner Teacher is who brings understanding to the mind through the occasion of the sign, and not because the sign is somehow inherently linked to the meaning. What prevents the Logos enlightening each individual mind to the same meaning regardless of the conventions of signs being used?

Ryan said...

"You would say that Clark's argument that God's knowledge is finite is a proof of his being wrong? I'm sure you've addressed that in a previous post. Could you link it here?"

This might be the closest:

http://unapologetica.blogspot.com/2012/01/infinite-worldviews.html

Obviously, Scripture uses numbers, and there is no limit to [natural] numbers no matter how you attempt to retro-engineer mathematical axioms from the available data.

"What prevents the Logos enlightening each individual mind to the same meaning regardless of the conventions of signs being used?"

Nothing, but that doesn't give us good reason to believe we understand someone, which is the point at issue. Just because God can do that doesn't mean He does. And obviously the canon is closed, so it's not as though God Himself reveals whether or not He has done so.

I've also given up on occasionalism/illumination as a theory of the causal means by which we acquire beliefs and knowledge. In that case, God could use any occasion to enlighten individual minds to the same meaning if speech and writ weren't designed for that express purpose. So there's no reason to use signs. This position also rules out externalism, which I think is warranted by Scripture.

Joshua Butcher said...

Thanks for the link. It was helpful.

If Scripture is self-authenticating, then we know that God has chosen to give understanding to men, although it doesn't grant that any particular attempt to communicate now guarantees understanding will happen, only that it is possible and that it is natural on the basis of Scripture. If one didn't accept the self-authenticating Scriptures, then I suppose he would have to argue from nature, which is problematic.

I'm not sold on any particular version of occasionalism, but I am partial to Augustine's claim regarding Christ's illuminating all minds to know, and it squares very well with John 1. But I don't think Christ's illuminating the mind to know entails occasionalism, nor do I think it precludes other theories of secondary causation. Still, I don't see how your particular rejection of occasionalism in the reply is warranted. That God could use any occasion does mean that signs aren't necessary, but that God chose to use signs makes them necessary. Why He chose them may be inscrutable in detail, but clearly He desires to be apprehended, in part or altogether, through the signs manifested in creation.

I don't know enough contemporary philosophy to engage with internalism/externalism, so I'll have to take your word on Scripture ruling it out :-D.

Ryan said...

"If Scripture is self-authenticating, then we know that God has chosen to give understanding to men, although it doesn't grant that any particular attempt to communicate now guarantees understanding will happen, only that it is possible and that it is natural on the basis of Scripture."

I find this reply ironic. Scripture is a physical text (or some physical medium). To say Scripture is self-authenticating is to say, I take it, that the physical text functions perspicuously as a sign of the revelatory meaning, that's there's clearly a non-arbitrary connection between the sign and meaning. No?

"But I don't think Christ's illuminating the mind to know entails occasionalism, nor do I think it precludes other theories of secondary causation."

Agreed.

"That God could use any occasion does mean that signs aren't necessary, but that God chose to use signs makes them necessary."

I don't follow. In what sense does God's choosing to instantiate one possible world over another mean that what He chose to instantiate is necessary?

"Why He chose them may be inscrutable in detail, but clearly He desires to be apprehended, in part or altogether, through the signs manifested in creation."

Well, it's not really "through" the signs if they are only occasions.

Joshua Butcher said...

By Scripture being self auhrenticating I don't mean the ink on the page. If it were the physical properties of Scripture that were self-authenticating then we wouldn't have Scripture as the original physical inscriptions are lost. It is the truths, or rather the body of truth that is self-authenticating, just as the voice of God would be, or a prophecy that was revealed in a dream or through an angel that was brought to pass.

God's willing to act is coeternal with his knowledge of possible actions, so to claim that God could have willed a world other than He has willed is to posit a different God (God's choices being part of His identity). Thus I take it as necessary all that has come to pass when considered as God's eternal decree.

Granted "through" was imprecise.

Ryan said...

"By Scripture being self auhrenticating I don't mean the ink on the page."

But is that really what "Scripture" means, though? Doesn't Scripture refer to "Scripture" as writings or other physical media?

To say that the original inscriptions being lost somehow implies "Scripture" can't be self-authenticating begs the question: why can't physical media be such that those sufficiently similar to the original autographs are capable of being classified as Scripture? Isn't that the point of copying and transcribing?

It's not as if an author goes through the exhaustive process of writing one book and then throws up his hands at the prospect of trying to communicate to thousands of prospective readers. He copies it or prints it or whatnot and judges the copies sufficiently similar. That's by design. Sensations and sensible objects are only completely disjointed if you reject a priori that God generally designed them to cause true beliefs.

"God's willing to act is coeternal with his knowledge of possible actions, so to claim that God could have willed a world other than He has willed is to posit a different God (God's choices being part of His identity)."

God's choices aren't a part of His identity. He's ontologically distinct from His choices just as He's ontologically distinct from His thoughts. Do you believe in divine simplicity?

I don't think the fact God's will is eternal is relevant to whether He could have chosen otherwise.

Joshua Butcher said...

By Scripture I mean the Word of God, or the Truth of God. I thought I made that clear in the previous post. I can use a different term if you prefer, but I don't think it necessary, since even the printed Bibles you and I read today aren't technically "scripture" since they weren't written. That God chose writing as the primary means of transmitting Truth is not inconsequential, and I am not implying that the written, printed, or digitized words are unnecessary.

I think you are making my point by setting the criteria of "sufficiently similar" to the original autographs. There is nothing physically similar at all about Hebrew letters written with plant-based inks on papyrus or vellum or some other ancient manuscript material and the digitally produced words of contemporary English which are projected through your computer screen by digital encoding. Even the visible appearance of written Hebrew and written English are dissimilar, and incapable of being decoded by someone who hasn't been trained in both languages. But I don't think this is the main point of the debate, anyway.

As you say, causation is the crux. What role in apprehending the truth do the physical properties of language play? A blind person can apprehend the truth without the function of his eyes. A deaf person can apprehend the truth without the function of his ears. No particular sensation is necessary to the apprehension of the truth, though they may be sufficient in some way. Indeed, Christians who die and enter into the intermediate state do not possess bodies, and therefore presumably have none of the physical sensations of the body. Yet they are with the Lord, and able to commune with him, which entails apprehension of the truth. Why shouldn't the necessary and sufficient cause be divine illumination of the immaterial mind or spirit, especially since truth is an attribute of God?

As for God's will, I'm not conversant with views other than divine simplicity, so I don't know the particular arguments against God's will and thoughts being separate from his identity. A mind without thought or will is an empty shell, not a person. I don't see how thought and will are separable from identity. That would explain why you don't think the fact of God's eternal will is relevant, but I don't know the arguments for how you get there.

Ryan said...

Sorry for the late reply.

"No particular sensation is necessary to the apprehension of the truth, though they may be sufficient in some way."

Yes, but this is not to say we can get along without any sensations. We're not in the intermediate state now. Obviously, angels and God can get along without senses as well. Whether or not sensation has a certain function in acquiring knowledge for us is a separate question from these instances.

"Why shouldn't the necessary and sufficient cause be divine illumination of the immaterial mind or spirit, especially since truth is an attribute of God?"

Because that once again begs the question as to why inscripturation took place. Of course I don't deny that the ultimate cause of all things is God, but I'm arguing secondary causes have been ordained as well, and that our knowledge of the meaning of Scripture is secondarily caused by our sensible interaction with various physical transcriptions (not limiting that to visible transcriptions) of the autographs of Scripture.

Also, I don't think truth is an attribute of God. Truth is what God thinks, not what God is. Again, I think God is ontologically distinct from His thought.

"As for God's will, I'm not conversant with views other than divine simplicity, so I don't know the particular arguments against God's will and thoughts being separate from his identity. A mind without thought or will is an empty shell, not a person. I don't see how thought and will are separable from identity. That would explain why you don't think the fact of God's eternal will is relevant, but I don't know the arguments for how you get there."

That's like saying that the Trinity can't be separated, therefore they are not distinct. Obviously, minds and wills and persons go together. That doesn't mean they aren't really distinct. I've written about divine simplicity and personhood elsewhere on this blog, if you want to read more about why I disagree with Clark here.