The Propositional Bias and Divine Foreknowledge

May 27, 2012    By: Jeff G @ 1:34 pm   Category: Foreknowledge,Theology,Truth

In recent posts I have pointed to the existence of different and in some ways incompatible conceptions of truth.  As a brief reminder, I suggested that, roughly speaking, (S)cience sees truth as an accurate picture of the world as it objectively is while (R)eligion sees truth as a path which leads to some destination, i.e. God.  In this post I wish to further carve out this distinction and the implications that it has on our conception of divine foreknowledge.

One of the more telling symptoms of an S-conception of truth is what can be called the “propositional bias”.  If truth is taken to be an accurate picture of the world then the only things which can have any kind of truth value are, in some sense, propositional depictions of how the world may or may not actually be.  This propositional bias is clearly evident in the never ending search by philosophers and scientists for the “hidden” presuppositions, assumptions and entailments which logically accompany various speech acts.

If, however, one follows R in seeing truth as a path rather than a picture, then there is no reason to assume that something must be propositional in nature in order to be true or false.  Examples of non-propositional truths are not difficult to find once one knows what to look for:  Music, fictional stories, persons, organizations and political movements can all be true (or false).  It is important to note that these are not taken to be true merely in some metaphorical sense of the word.  Instead, when R says that a prophet, a church or a seed is true, it is saying not that every proposition which constitutes or is spoken by these things is an accurate depiction of the world, but that they reliably lead us down the right path.

As a sort of transition to the rather obvious implications which this difference has for our conceptions of divine foreknowledge I wish to block a tempting reconciliation of the two.  To say that God has an absolute knowledge of truth, according to R, is NOT to suggest that he has a “map of the terrain” which is perfect in detail and accuracy.  Such a map would be a picture of reality and this is not the knowledge which God is believed to have.  Rather, what is being asserted is that God knows the way from any and every point in which we might find ourselves with relation to the final destination.  Absolute foreknowledge is not a perfectly detailed map, but more like a perfectly reliable compass which always points the way.

At this point, the tension which S cannot help but see between freewill and absolute (fore)knowledge evaporates into thin air.  God’s absolute knowledge of the way from any given point has little, if anything to do with the personal decisions we make in our own individual journeys.  Naturally, S will claim that this is a watered down, non-absolute version of knowledge, but such a claim takes whatever punch it has from the unjustified assumption that S’s version of truth is the true version against which R’s knowledge is to be measured.  I hope the circularity in this assumption is obvious to all by now.

Indeed, I want to press this last point a bit further by exposing one more S-assumption (S-umption?) which has no place in R-thinking.  I want to suggest that the very act of raising the question of the compatibility of freewill and absolute foreknowledge is to abandon R-truth for S-truth.  To ask this question is to ask how these two objects relate to one another within some picture we are trying to paint of reality.  “Framing” (what an S-term!) questions in such a way just is S-thinking through and through.

Let us instead re-approach this issue from the perspective of a person who not only applies R-thinking to God, but to himself as well.  From such a perspective a belief in freewill leads us down the path, therefore it is true.  A belief in absolute foreknowledge also leads us down the path and must also be true.  The question of whether freewill is compatible with absolute foreknowledge, however, will likely be seen as a false question altogether.  Again, this is not because the question has some false assumptions built into it as the propositional bias of the S-thinker would suggest.  Rather, it is a non-propositional falsity simply because asking such questions does not lead us down the path, period.  Accordingly, pretty much all of the theological/philosophical debate regarding the quality or quantity of God’s foreknowledge is seen as pointless at best and heretical at worst…  But we can chance that white rabbit some other time.

85 Comments »

  1. Wait, so what you’re saying is that light sometimes behaves like a particle and other times behaves like a wave!?

    Comment by britain — May 27, 2012 @ 10:11 pm

  2. Hehe. Something like that. I’m tying to expose the problems and confusions which arise when people who think of light in terms of a wave argue with and pronounce judgement upon those who think of light in terms of a particle.

    Comment by Jeff G — May 28, 2012 @ 2:45 pm

  3. I think that Religion usually makes much stronger and more detailed truth claims than you suggest. Perhaps they shouldn’t, but I believe they do.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — May 28, 2012 @ 5:37 pm

  4. Eric,

    I’m interested in hearing more about your train of thought. I’ve been trying to focus on the logical skeleton which I think underlies religious claims, but I haven’t given much thought to levels of detail in these claims. Perhaps you wouldn’t mind spelling out in a bit more detail what you mean and how it’s relevant?

    Comment by Jeff G — May 28, 2012 @ 6:15 pm

  5. Jeff: “If, however, one follows R in seeing truth as a path rather than a picture”

    There’s the rub. I have never met a single Mormon who does this.

    Rather all the Mormons I know assume that truth is things as they really are in a very “S” sense. Or as Jacob put it:

    for the Spirit speaketh the truth and lieth not. Wherefore, it speaketh of things as they really are, and of things as they really will be

    So basically I don’t know of any Mormons who don’t see truth through your “S” lens. They simply think that there is some data missing still but when that missing data is found we will see that a full understanding of the facts make your “S” and “R” identical.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 28, 2012 @ 11:45 pm

  6. To say that God has an absolute knowledge of truth, according to R, is NOT to suggest that he has a “map of the terrain” which is perfect in detail and accuracy.

    In my experience, it’s R-thinkers who get unhappy when some S-adherent starts trying to circumscribe God’s map of, say, the future.

    Comment by Peter LLC — May 29, 2012 @ 8:37 am

  7. Peter,

    Exactly! S-thinkers argue that God’s map must be incomplete in some way and R-thinkers can’t see this as anything but false. They say that God’s map must be complete and they don’t care what the philosophies and reasoning of man say on the subject.

    What I am trying to make clear is that there is no compromise on the question of how complete God’s map is because one of the sides doesn’t really see truth as a map in the first place. This is why R feels no discomfort with the inconsistencies which S can’t help but see.

    Comment by Jeff G — May 29, 2012 @ 10:46 am

  8. Geoff,

    That passage has crossed my mind a few times and I’m glad you’re forcing me to address it, if only to clear things up for myself. There are a number of partial responses which I think can all work together:

    1) you are assuming that this verse is true because it is an accurate description of how truth really is in reality (whatever that might mean). Such reasoning is clearly circular.

    2) R is able to easily accommodate propositional depictions of the world, but S is unable to accommodate non-propositional truths. What about all the verses that clearly define or use “truth” differently?

    3) there is probably no such thing as a pure R thinker any more than there are pure S thinkers. The question is which set of truth conditions is to have priority over the other? R has no reason whatsoever to reject S thinking inasmuch as it doesn’t detract from the path.

    4) this post is a case of my own P-thinking about R-thinking about God’s thinking. Now whether God’s thinking is R or S in nature is not central to my primary claim about R-thinkers and how they think about God. There is no inconsistency in an R thinker believing God to be an S-thinker. The recurring claim that God’s ways and thoughts are higher than ours comes to mind. It speaks volumes, not about God’s mentality, but about the believers’.

    Let me now state that I fully endorse the believers acceptance of both absolute foreknowledge and freewill. I don’t think there is any contradiction between the two at all.

    Comment by Jeff G — May 29, 2012 @ 11:12 am

  9. I don’t know why, but each time I ponder this post I think of the phrase “lying for the Lord.”

    Incidentally, I believe Goedel’s Incompleteness Theorems imply God’s knowledge is necessarily incomplete.

    Comment by Log — May 30, 2012 @ 10:50 pm

  10. Jeff,

    I am not trying to be obscure here. You claim that religion only presents a path to God. I think that most strongly religious people think that what they have is absolute truth – a detailed map of every detail of the terain. In many of the debates over foreknowledge that I have had, those who defend it certainly think of it as an every detail type of knowledge rather that a path to God from every point.

    I would agree that it would be better for them to claim as you suggest, but I feel that most do not.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — May 31, 2012 @ 4:27 am

  11. These are all great commers!

    Log,

    I’m extremely partial to Godelian reasoning on the subject, but I’m not so sure that the application is so straight forward since it presupposes that God’s knowledge is sufficiently like a formal system.

    As for “lying for the lord”, I think that’s a somewhat cynical spin that us post-Enlightenment, S-educated people cannot help but put on the situation. I entirely sympathize…. BUT it presupposes that S has the “real” notion of truth according to which R is to be measured. But this begs the question altogether.

    Comment by Jeff G — May 31, 2012 @ 9:44 am

  12. I think that while I’m not committed to foreknowledge I’m more sympathetic to it than the opposite. Yet I don’t think I’ve ever claimed it as an “every detail type of knowledge.” I have no trouble with knowledge of the future being different and even more limited than knowledge of the past.

    Comment by Clark — May 31, 2012 @ 9:51 am

  13. BTW – Goedel’s Incompleteness Theorem deals with abstract knowledge implicated from a set of fixed premises not knowledge of particular existents.

    Comment by Clark — May 31, 2012 @ 9:52 am

  14. Eric,

    A helpful way of looking at it, a way which an R-thinker has no need for, is in terms of the use/mention distinction. The logic of the path describes the rules of how language is used in R-thinking, not necessarily what is being mentioned. There is no inconsistency in an R-thinker seeing knowledge as a map rather than a path IF such a belief leads down the path. If other words, if the question arises as to how detailed Gods map is, path-thinking can only lead to one response: it is absolute and perfect. Thus, such statements and beliefs as you describe are perfectly consistent, indeed rather predictable from seeing R-thinking as a path.

    Comment by Jeff G — May 31, 2012 @ 9:55 am

  15. BTW – Goedel’s Incompleteness Theorem deals with abstract knowledge implicated from a set of fixed premises not knowledge of particular existents.

    Existents may be seen, in an abstract sense, as fixed premises, or so it seems to me. Would you disagree?

    Comment by Log — May 31, 2012 @ 3:54 pm

  16. Jeff,

    The problem with your response in #8 is that it doesn’t address my central criticism. That is, I think your “R thinkers” simply don’t exist in any significant numbers among Mormons.

    Now maybe you are really arguing that they *should* exist or something but that doesn’t mean they do. Like I said, I have never met a single Mormon who thinks that truth is defined entirely as whatever leads to God. Rather, all the Mormons I know believe that truth is defined in your “S” lens. They just believe that “S” type truth happens to lead to God and that when we find enough of that S truth we will all see how it leads to God.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 31, 2012 @ 7:03 pm

  17. Good feedback, Geoff.

    I don’t have time now, but my response is basically what I said to Eric: I’m not describing *what* R thinks but *how* R thinks.

    Comment by Jeff G — May 31, 2012 @ 8:46 pm

  18. Ok. But I am skeptical because I don’t believe there is a meaningful way or good reason to ascribe your “R” to people who would vehemently object to it.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 31, 2012 @ 9:51 pm

  19. Wow! If I can’t even get believers to accept my defense of R against S then how will I ever convince an atheist!?

    I think one of us is misunderstanding the other because I don’t see anything that an R-thinker would vehemently object to. Indeed, almost everybody I knew at church was clearly an R-thinker. I’m not saying that R-thinkers will object to comparing God’s knowledge to a map so long as that map is absolute and perfect. Indeed, they would resist any claim which claimed otherwise…..

    The important part is that they do this NOT because of the accuracy of the comparison but because of the way it points us in the right direction.

    Thus, I am talking to the more S-minded, suggesting that if you think of faith based knowledge and reasoning in terms of a path rather than a picture or a compass rather than a map R suddenly makes a lot of sense. I’m explaining to the more theologically minded why the average member is completely and entirely rational in rejecting even the most logically tight arguments against absolute foreknowledge.

    Comment by Jeff G — May 31, 2012 @ 10:51 pm

  20. I am probably misreading your intent with this R thing Jeff. But descriptions you give like this really throw me off:

    If, however, one follows R in seeing truth as a path rather than a picture

    I just don’t believe the people you are thinking of do see the truth as a path rather than a picture. Rather I think they see it as a picture that is still lacking some important details.

    Now I feel very certain that they believe God sees they universe through your “S” model. My thought is they think they do too but on some facts they can’t empirically prove themselves they trust in the revelations as bridge to cross their own knowledge gaps.

    As for the rejection of exhaustive foreknowledge — I think people mostly decide that kind of conversation is above the pay grade of average church members so they mostly plug their ears and sing “la la la” when airtight logical arguments against exhaustive foreknowledge are given. I don’t think it is your “R” thing. I think it is more a refusal to think hard about it for various reasons.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 31, 2012 @ 11:48 pm

  21. I accept arguments against classical omniscience – provided it is a fact that the past is fixed.

    Strangely, that turns out to be a most interesting assumption to toy with.

    On the other hand, here’s a way out – if we deny that the past is fixed. It’s not like we can know it to be true from this realm, is it?

    It would be interesting if God runs the experiments over and over until he gets the best choice out of each of us that we’re willing to make (think of it as kind of a derivative of our choice function, maybe). If so, then the me of this world is the best me possible, and all my choices are and have been the best I was willing to make given sufficient opportunities to make them.

    Just a thought!

    Comment by Log — June 1, 2012 @ 12:07 am

  22. Geoff,

    You are absolutely right. That quote does lend itself quite naturally to the exact misunderstanding which I have been trying to shake off. Let me try to clear that quote up:

    “If, however, one follows R in having criteria for truth which are structured more like a path than a picture”

    I think that is a little less ambiguous, but I’m definitely gonna have to be more careful. Another way of looking at it would be to suppose that we have become the masters of AI and ask what rules we will program into our computers epistemology? I’m suggesting that we could program our machine, let us call it “Athens”, to be S-minded by structuring its rules of thought in a way which gives heavy emphasis to logical consistency and accuracy in empirical detail or we could make an R-minded machine, call it “Jerusalem”, by structuring its rules of thought in a way that emphasizes progress toward some end destination. In such a situation, Athens would surely call everything Jerusalem says biased while the latter would certainly see the formers life to be meaningless and without direction.

    These posts have been a warning and criticism about S-thinking in both non-believers and (especially) believers. I believe they lead to only one outcome: deconversion. Additionally, accepting this (until 300 years ago) minority version of truth leads to a systematic misreading of the entire Bible and much of modern day scripture. I want to provide another way of reading the scriptures which is inspiring and shows that the humble, know-nothing members are in an important sense more rational than the theologically minded ones.

    Comment by Jeff G — June 1, 2012 @ 9:25 am

  23. Jeff,

    If your “R” and “S” are descriptions of the criteria people use when deciding what to believe is true or not I am much more on board with you.

    I don’t think this “R” and “S” are all that useful in talking about what the real nature of the universe is, but as lenses through which people decide what to believe they work for me.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 1, 2012 @ 7:25 pm

  24. That’s exactly what I’m talking about! I’m trying to contrast the rules of reason between the two if only because S sometimes acts as if not following it’s particular rules of reason is tantamount to abandoning reason altogether. Hopefully my future posts will make this clearer.

    Comment by Jeff G — June 1, 2012 @ 10:00 pm

  25. S-thinkers utilize R-thinking when prioritizing S-thinking over R-thinking in terms of defining “truth.”

    Contradiction? You be the judge.

    Comment by Log — June 3, 2012 @ 10:56 am

  26. Hmmmm… I half-way agree with you. (That is, in fact, the rather obvious direction in which my posts are heading.). I do want to say that, just like R, S requires that some basics be taken on faith. I also want to say that, just like S, R embodies a kind of rational logic. Finally, I also want to claim that S is actually a particular type of R.

    However, I don’t want to say that S is “based” in R or that S is based in some contradiction which is fatal only to itself.

    Comment by Jeff G — June 3, 2012 @ 4:13 pm

  27. I think that pursuing the difference between a map and a compass really gets to the point I am trying to make:

    For R, truth is like a compass or an iron rod in that something is true in virtue of pointing or leading to the right place. There is no “objective reality” which these things attempt to depict or represent. For S, by contrast, truth is more like a map in that something is true in virtue of giving an accurate description of the terrain. Furthermore, just as R does not attempt to represent reality, S makes no attempt at dictating where one ought to go. One has an end goal built into it and the other does not. One is propositional in nature and the other is not.

    Comment by Jeff G — June 5, 2012 @ 11:14 am

  28. Jeff,

    I think your point would be more clear if you didn’t say “For R, truth is like a compass” but rather said “For R, choosing what to believe is true is based on something being in harmony with the desired destination they already accept as true”.

    My reservations expressed earlier remain intact because you keep saying things like “truth is…”. I think R folks and S folks don’t disagree on what truth is — both assume it is, you know, true stuff. I think they disagree on a methodology for deciding what to believe to be true.

    I completely disagree with the idea that there is no objective reality for R thinkers.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 5, 2012 @ 1:02 pm

  29. I was worried about the “For R…” language. I’m going to have to find some way of elegantly conveying that otherwise long-winded distinction.

    The remainder of your comment really gets at the heart of my approach to the subject. My account has tacitly assumed that once you have described R or S’s methodology for getting at the truth (methodologies which are structured like a path and picture, respectively), there is nothing more to be said about truth for them. No doubt they will insist that there is more to it than this but such claims, I will retort, can also be incorporated within their respective methodologies to the extent that they are relevant.

    I completely agree that both R and S take reality and truth to be objective. Great, let’s incorporate these beliefs into our account of them. The objection will then be: “But what about that actual truth and reality of the matter? Does R or S actually get it right?”. My reply is two fold. First, I have no need for these hypotheses and questions for the issue at hand. Second, I must sideline these questions if I am to avoid begging the question at hand altogether.

    To recap: I’m trying to describe the beliefs, rules and methodologies by which R and S pursue truth. What the reality of truth actually is can have no place in my account. However, we should definitely expect R and S’s beliefs about the reality of truth to play an important role in my account.

    Comment by Jeff G — June 5, 2012 @ 1:55 pm

  30. In other words:

    P1) “truth” is basically “that which ought to be believed”
    P2) the rules governing what one ought to believe differ between R and S

    C) thus, truth will differ between R and S.

    Comment by Jeff G — June 5, 2012 @ 2:07 pm

  31. I think this is where you are way off:

    P1) “truth” is basically “that which ought to be believed”

    The people you call “R” thinkers don’t believe this at all. They believe, like your S thinkers, that truth is actually true stuff.

    I think your error is claiming that truth itself is seen as something different between R and S. I think that is false. R and S might be useful in labeling how different people determine what they believe or not, but that is not the same as a different definition of what “truth is”.

    Seems to me that if we try to ignore the idea that there is a ultimate reality in the universe this whole conversation becoming useless esoterica.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 5, 2012 @ 3:30 pm

  32. “The people you call “R” thinkers don’t believe this at all. They believe, like your S thinkers, that truth is actually true stuff.”

    This makes me wonder whether I’m being totally misunderstood or simply resisted in a way which I don’t understand. Everybody believes that truth is true stuff. What I’m discussing is how different people come to find out or decide which of all the stuff out there is true.

    Comment by Jeff G — June 6, 2012 @ 3:49 pm

  33. The problem I have is with the way you are describing things Jeff. Nobody that I know of thinks “truth” is basically “that which ought to be believed”. People don’t universally conflate “ought” and “is” like that.

    So I remain confused by what you are positing overall.

    Take this sentence of yours:

    But what about that actual truth and reality of the matter? Does R or S actually get it right?

    Get what right? You mean which approach is most likely to actually figure out the real truth about the nature of the universe? Why not use some of both since neither has succeeded individually in answering all the questions yet.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 6, 2012 @ 9:12 pm

  34. These are all great comments, Geoff. They really help me disentangle many of the threads which are somewhat knotted up in my head.

    My (P1) was a premise which I don’t expect most others to accept wholesale, especially R. Some would say that I am conflating epistemology and metaphysics, is and ought, fact and value, truth with methodology. This is partially true, for I reject all of these distinctions to one degree or another.

    However, I don’t expect anybody else to follow me in drawing these distinctions, for I don’t see them as necessary to the topics at hand. My approach has been to incorporate everything we can within epistemology, ought, value and methodology and go from there. It is my position (P) that once we have done that, there will be nothing left over that is worth talking about. No doubt, S and R will disagree with this last part, but I see that debate as being largely, if not entirely beside the one at hand.

    Whether there is some objective truth to reality beyond the way in which different people approach it is a topic which I hope to sideline altogether. Unfortunately, the way in which I have described R and S as “seeing” truth has only served to muddled the road block which I hope to build to that topic. My goal is to facilitate understanding, communication, charity and maybe even fortify some person’s faith along the way. Delving into the imponderable mysteries of metaphysics and the like cannot possibly serve those purposes so I wish to pretty much remain as silent as possible on them.

    In the meantime I hope we can discuss those differing epistemologies, oughts, values and methodologies of R and S (and P!) without getting bogged down with those additional metaphysics, is’s, facts and truths which remain hidden from us.

    Comment by Jeff G — June 7, 2012 @ 1:38 pm

  35. Whether there is some objective truth to reality beyond the way in which different people approach it is a topic which I hope to sideline altogether.

    I am highly skeptical that this can be done without torpedoing the entire discussion. I mean both your R and S approaches have the goal of uncovering that ultimate truth which they assume exists. If we, in this meta discussion, don’t assume that an ultimate truth exists to be uncovered then we have a whole new discussion at hand about the utter futility of S and R.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 8, 2012 @ 12:01 am

  36. “What I’m discussing is how different people come to find out or decide which of all the stuff out there is true.”

    I answered this in your original R/P/S thread.

    Specifically, experience is the sole source of knowledge. Otherwise, it’s a matter of assumption, or faith in the words of a witness. Holding these latter two to be “knowledge” is a recipe for confusion, for there exist liars, and self-interest predisposes us to accept certain assumptions and witnesses over others – but self-interest has no grasp on experience.

    We seem to be wired to seek knowledge.

    Once one has a sufficiently large knowledge base to form values, one begins to value the opinions of others in the search for knowledge. This gives us reason, by way of self-interest, to privilege the place we give to witnesses in our search for knowledge. Then we discover that witnesses in this world conflict and contradict, so we begin to privilege assumptions, guided in our selection by self-interest.

    And then we figure out which problems are more important to be solved, to us – and we adopt an epistemological position on each question consistent with whichever problems we choose to have solved. Some questions must be approached by considering “oughts,” which, in the end, come down to our personal weighting of values. Others must be approached propositionally. Yet other problems must approached by whatever works in solving them.

    On reflection, I find the analysis of R vs S vs P to be muddled and unhelpful: all modes are used by all people. Any supposed conflict between them will be found to have been a category error – someone trying to pound a square peg into a round hole. Infallible foreknowledge is a propositional matter. Whether one should believe in infallible foreknowledge in the absence of knowledge (direct experience) is a matter of values, and how we should believe in whichever one we choose is guided by whichever path gets us to where we think we want to go.

    Comment by log — June 8, 2012 @ 7:59 am

  37. Geoff,

    “I mean both your R and S approaches have the goal of uncovering that ultimate truth which they assume exists.”

    That’s a good point. Let’s make that one of the rules which both R and S use in their search for truth and continue. :)

    (Just for the record, I’m not assuming that any of these views is unsuccessful. To the contrary, I’m arguing that none of them is exclusively successful.)

    Comment by Jeff G — June 8, 2012 @ 8:33 am

  38. Log,

    You make a lot of claims in your comment, but I’m having a hard time following your line of argument. You obviously disagree with me, but it’s hard to tell where exactly you think I go wrong and why.

    For instance, if i walk down a busy street which is it that I observe really: featherless bipeds, children of god or thinking meat? Experience sure isn’t going to tell us which. And how do we know that the categories and concepts we apply to the rest of the observed world are correct without checking our language use against that of those featherless bipeds/children of god/thinking meat?

    Everybody agrees that truth is a normative concept which cannot be measured, weighed or counted. This means that there are norms which govern it. These norms are what I am discussing.

    Comment by Jeff G — June 8, 2012 @ 8:49 am

  39. If we accept the descriptions of modern physics as the end-all, be-all of reality, then 1. there is no “you,” and 2. “your” brain matter is simply undergoing biochemical reactions precipitated by the incidence of photons on “your” retinas, as well as collisions of gaseous molecules upon “your” eardrums, and so forth. Those two phenomena are all “you” really observe, and is therefore all “you” really experience.

    The rest is inference.

    I disagree that “S/R/P” is a useful distinguishing characteristic between people’s worldviews. Applying “r-thinking” to infallible foreknowledge is, at best, a category error.

    I apologize. I cannot state this any plainer than I have.

    Comment by log — June 8, 2012 @ 11:45 am

  40. Log,

    I’m curious how any pattern of physical matter could be any more “true” than any other? If its really just matter in motion then there is no truth, ultimate or otherwise. Nor are there goodness, values or norms. Instead, everything just is how it is.

    Comment by Jeff G — June 8, 2012 @ 12:13 pm

  41. The way things (physical patterns of matter, or whatever the spiritual analogue actually is) are, have been, and shall be, is the truth. And it is, as you say, just how it is. That is the only truth.

    Norms, values, goodness are not “truth.” They are described as “true,” and that only with respect to a certain standard set of values.

    Comment by log — June 8, 2012 @ 2:48 pm

  42. Log,

    “The way things … are, have been, and shall be, is the truth.”

    I must have missed all the experimental data and peer reviewed literature which supports *that* claim.

    But still, it gets worse. Since beliefs and claims are just physical patterns, what is it that sets apart true from false ones? Furthermore, if everything is “really” just matter in motion what reason could there possibly be which “really” compels me to prefer the true ones to the false ones?

    You’re missing the point here: if physics is a human enterprise, roughly constituted by what physicists and the like say it to be, but physicists and their beliefs and what they say don’t “really” exist, then you aren’t left which much of a leg to stand on. If what happens, happens then there is no reason for me to pay any attention to physicists or other claims to truth. In other words, even if you are right, this means that there is no reason for me to agree with you rather than with those who disagree with you.

    Heads, I win. Tails, you lose.

    Comment by Jeff G — June 8, 2012 @ 3:20 pm

  43. But this is all well beyond the scope of the post. My aim has been to sideline all talk of how things “really are” or how some things are “nothing but” or “just” so and so. Some people might find such things interesting or worthy of attention, but for the time being I do not. I feel that we can have a substantial discussion simply by discussing the ways in which different people approach the world and truth. If you feel that the world or truth just is a certain way, great, we can talk about that method which you have just adopted for approaching the world without getting bogged down with whether you are “really” right or not.

    But be forewarned, since it is truth itself which we are discussing, you bringing in how the world just is does not amount to anything more than begging the question which will only serve as a roadblock to your understanding other people’s understanding of how the world just is. My claim has been that many people (and the scriptures are full of them) take many non-propositional entities to have truth values. If you cannot imagine this, then this simply exposes the assumptions which *you* bring to what can and cannot be true. But again, to assume that your assumptions about truth are true is blatantly circular.

    Comment by Jeff G — June 8, 2012 @ 3:35 pm

  44. Jeff, I’m afraid you’re missing my point. Truth is only knowledge of the way things are, have been, and shall be.

    That’s the definition of truth.

    If you have another definition you wish to be privileged above that definition, it might be helpful to both explicate it and justify its privileged status.

    Comment by log — June 8, 2012 @ 10:52 pm

  45. Jeff (#38): “if i walk down a busy street which is it that I observe really: featherless bipeds, children of god or thinking meat?”

    How about D) All of the above? None of those are incompatible with the others.

    I tend agree with this comment from Log in #36 —

    all modes are used by all people

    I hope your ultimate point isn’t that people can be categorized a R thinkers or S thinkers because I think we are all those things depending on the situation.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 8, 2012 @ 11:26 pm

  46. I hope your ultimate point isn’t that people can be categorized a R thinkers or S thinkers because I think we are all those things depending on the situation.

    That seems to be his point – specifically, he’s “explaining to the more theologically minded why the average member is completely and entirely rational in rejecting even the most logically tight arguments against absolute foreknowledge.”

    Except, they’re not – they’re committing a category error.

    Comment by log — June 9, 2012 @ 7:03 am

  47. log,

    I don’t think that quote you used is an example of Jeff claiming anyone is exclusively an R thinker. Rather I take it to be claiming that one could use R (at the expense of S) thinking and arrive at exhaustive foreknowledge. (I am not sure I buy that latter claim either but that is another matter)

    Comment by Geoff J — June 9, 2012 @ 9:13 am

  48. Log,

    “Truth is only knowledge of the way things are, have been, and shall be.”

    Where did that “only” come from?

    Geoff,

    I’m surprised to hear an incompatibilist such as yourself say that being a child of god is compatible with being a meat computer.

    That said, I certainly agree that all people use both modes of reasoning. The question still remains as to which one is more fundamental and able to stand in judgement over the other? When R and S contradict each other, which one wins?

    Both,

    The counter examples and verse you mention aren’t persuasive because an R thinker would have no reason to reject them. If anything, the problem with my view is that it’s too hard to falsify. Also, all the other examples of non-propositional truth also come to mind. What about them?

    Comment by Jeff G — June 9, 2012 @ 10:31 am

  49. “Where did that ‘only’ come from?”

    From the verse subsequent to the verse linked to.

    “The counter examples and verse you mention aren’t persuasive because an R thinker would have no reason to reject them. If anything, the problem with my view is that it’s too hard to falsify. Also, all the other examples of non-propositional truth also come to mind. What about them?”

    You presume there exist R thinkers. That is a presumption I don’t grant. If I am not mistaken, that is your core assumption. There are thinkers, period. Applying R thinking to propositional questions is a category error.

    Comment by log — June 9, 2012 @ 2:37 pm

  50. Assumption!?!?! If that’s my assumption, what do you think my conclusion is supposed to be?

    Comment by Jeff G — June 9, 2012 @ 2:48 pm

  51. Circular? :)

    Comment by log — June 9, 2012 @ 3:39 pm

  52. The concept I’m trying to get across is that R and S are not properly considering the same questions. When R and S are employed to consider the same question, it is universally a category error on one side. The nature of the question determines the appropriate gauge of truth – S or R. Jesus may be the way, the truth, and the life – but it makes no sense, when asked if the Colonel did it in the library with the candlestick, to say “Jesus” in response!

    Comment by log — June 9, 2012 @ 3:49 pm

  53. Jeff #48:

    I’m surprised to hear an incompatibilist such as yourself say that being a child of god is compatible with being a meat computer.

    Well you left your meat computer comment vague enough to allow plenty of room for it to be compatible with the idea we are also children of God with eternal spirits driving these meat vehicles.

    As for when people use R instead of S I think that depends entirely on the situation more so than depending on the person.

    I am not sure I understand your last question in #48. Are we debating whether most people *assume* an ultimate truth about the universe exists? If so the answer is yes. Just ask anyone. That is just an opinion/assumption after all. But I doubt that is the point you are trying to debate there…

    Comment by Geoff J — June 9, 2012 @ 4:10 pm

  54. Geoff,

    The question of whether people believe in an ultimate truth has been a red herring of sorts through out this thread. I’ve granted that people believe that a few times now. Like you said, just ask anyone.

    The main thrust of the post was:

    1) If truth is just an accurate depiction or representation of how the world really is, then things which are not depictions or representations of any kind cannot be true (or false).

    2) The scriptures, and religious people in general take many things which are not depictions or representations to be true (or false).

    C) Therefore, according to the scriptures and religious people in general, truth cannot just be an accurate depiction or representation of how the world really is.

    As a sort of follow up:

    3) Those true (or false) things which do not depict or represent anything can be interpreted metaphorically, but in that case, any claim in favor of truth as a representation can as well.

    Comment by Jeff G — June 9, 2012 @ 9:02 pm

  55. Log,

    That follow up was sort of aimed at your accusations of category error. All we can really say is that two rules are in conflict. Which rule should have priority over the other will depend on who you ask and how they happen to prioritize the rules of thought and belief.

    Comment by Jeff G — June 9, 2012 @ 9:13 pm

  56. Jeff,

    I don’t think the definition of truth you are using in #54 is sufficient. Truth is not just a “depiction or representation”. Truth encompasses more than just that. I don’t really know where that definition you are using came from. Was this assumption agreed to earlier somewhere?

    Comment by Geoff J — June 9, 2012 @ 9:27 pm

  57. Jeff,

    I should add that I don’t really know what you are talking about when you say “religious people in general take many things which are not depictions or representations to be true (or false)”. Can you give some examples of these non-depictions you are talking about? Seems to me that all the claims in scriptures are depictions of a certain type of universe.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 9, 2012 @ 9:31 pm

  58. Geoff,

    The definition doesn’t have to be sufficient, only necessary.

    Examples of non-propositional truths:

    Churches, prophets, paths, etc. The Bible is full of them.

    Comment by Jeff G — June 9, 2012 @ 10:57 pm

  59. Oh. Well I think phrases like “the Church is true” are just mangled English. It has come to mean something in our community (basically that the teachings of the church are inspired by God and that God currently directs the church) but creating theories around such colloquialisms seems unwarranted.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 9, 2012 @ 11:22 pm

  60. And that’s where my “follow up” comes in. Your hesitance to build theories out of such language can also be seen as trying to force all pegs, no matter what their shape, into that one, round hole.

    But at this point, I think I’m more interested in the reasons for resisting my account. (This is an honest question.) Does my analysis strike you as an attack on something important? Is there some value worth defending here? To be sure, I’m taking shots at scientific reasoning, but I hope my arguments don’t bite at anybodies faith.

    Comment by Jeff G — June 10, 2012 @ 12:48 am

  61. I resist much of your overall idea because it seems inaccurate to me. In other words, I am thoroughly unpersuaded that the R, S, and P categories you are suggesting are useful as anything other than way of describing methods *everyone* uses from time to time when deciding what they believe.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 10, 2012 @ 12:54 pm

  62. Well, that’s as good of a reaction as I could have hoped for. Obviously, the position I’m defending isn’t meant to be taken as the end-all truth, but rather is meant as a useful tool for understanding and appreciating different standards of belief. I’m okay with people not “buying” these tools which are meant to help, so long as I’m not doing anything hurtful along the way.

    Comment by Jeff G — June 10, 2012 @ 4:00 pm

  63. I’m not quite sure how the follow-up relates to my claim that any perceived conflict between S, P, and R is, in the end, the product of a category error.

    Comment by log — June 10, 2012 @ 7:54 pm

  64. Log,

    I’m still not sure what category error you claim to detect.

    What my response was supposed to suggest is that one man’s ponens is another man’s tollens… You reason that my attack on your version of reason is flawed. But this is blatantly circular. You are appealing to rules and premises which are the very things which are in question.

    Comment by Jeff G — June 10, 2012 @ 8:26 pm

  65. It is a category error to apply path reasoning to propositions. The nature of the question, and not the nature of the questioner, determines which category any specific question belongs to – whether s, r, or p.

    It’s not so much that I am reasoning that your attack on my version of reasoning is flawed – it is that I cannot perceive what you are doing is an attack at all.

    It is quite possible, however, that I am completely missing your point.

    Comment by log — June 10, 2012 @ 8:37 pm

  66. Hmmm, I think I’m starting to disentangle a hidden assumption which seems to be playing an important role here. Very roughly, I’m taking the rules of S to have emerged at a later date than the rules of R, making the former an anachronistic and misleading standard to hold the later to. If we hold R reasoning, as found in the Bible, to the S standards which we now have it just sounds like “lying for the greater good”. But this, to me, makes as much sense as faulting Moses for not speaking modern day English.

    In other words, my historicist intuitions (which I have only been dimly aware of) are clashing with your more Platonic intuitions.

    Comment by Jeff G — June 10, 2012 @ 9:26 pm

  67. … And if I were to call anybody the founding father of S thinking it would have to be Plato. His allegory of the cave is the epitome of S.

    Comment by Jeff G — June 10, 2012 @ 9:55 pm

  68. (Yeah I know. But I’ve been busy.)

    Log (15) Existents may be seen, in an abstract sense, as fixed premises, or so it seems to me. Would you disagree?

    Certainly. And that was Goedel’s point. He was a mathematical Platonist and didn’t agree with the logicist or constructivist views of mathematics. One way of reading his theorem is that there are things we’d judge as true or false (particulars) but which we can’t derive from a small set of premises. The only solution then is to introduce new premises.

    Jeff (17) I’m not describing *what* R thinks but *how* R thinks.

    I’m not sure that division is helpful with regards to the foreknowledge issue though. After all it seems to me that however it is God knows the future the real issue is that to many Mormons he appears to know facts about the future which are propositional. (i.e. Christ would be crucified, etc.) One might want, as Blake does, to tie this to a path of either God acting in a particular ethical way or general tendencies of population. While that can explain some things it seems to me to not explain the sorts of foreknowledge religion is ultimately interested in. (Although I think in practice there is a very limited amount of foreknowledge required by Mormonism)

    Jeff (67) And if I were to call anybody the founding father of S thinking it would have to be Plato. His allegory of the cave is the epitome of S.

    It really depends upon how you read it. Heidegger famously makes the distinction you are making. There he talks about truth as alethia (unveiling or unhiddenness) which is roughly the ontological conditions necessary for propositional truth to happen. And Heidegger famously attacks Plato’s theory of truth as a kind of helpful victim to contrast with his own views. However there have been various papers arguing that Heidegger simply gets Plato wrong.

    In this reading people miss the whole point of Plato’s cave which is the focus on the sun and not the shadows. The sun is that which lets things show themselves but truth is the sun and not the shadows on the wall. Which when you stop and think of it makes a lot of sense in the context of the story. Of course some then say Heidegger didn’t get Plato as wrong as some Platonists say. (See this for example)

    In any case I think it probably misreading Plato to see his cave as the epitome of S. Some notable ways of reading Plato from the 18th and 19th centuries – yes. But Plato himself is a bit trickier. Unless you see him as saying we’re all trapped with S. (The chained people stuck watching the shadows)

    Comment by Clark — June 20, 2012 @ 2:39 pm

  69. Jeff:

    In response to 54:

    You write, “The main thrust of the post was:
    1) If truth is just an accurate depiction or representation of how the world really is, then things which are not depictions or representations of any kind cannot be true (or false).
    2) The scriptures, and religious people in general take many things which are not depictions or representations to be true (or false).
    C) Therefore, according to the scriptures and religious people in general, truth cannot just be an accurate depiction or representation of how the world really is.”

    You’re equivocating in your use of the word “true”. When it is said that truth is the correspondence of the intellect with reality, that means that the proposition or judgment that you are making accurately represents what actually exists. I believe this is what you refer to as propositional truth.

    When you talk about a church or a prophet being true, you’re not making a propositional statement that corresponds with or represents something in reality. Rather, you’re using “true” in sense no. 2 of this definition: http://www.thefreedictionary.com/true — you’re saying that it’s the genuine, authentic Church or Prophet, as opposed to others which are impostors; like saying that something is a true diamond rather than a cubic zirconia.

    So in premise 1 you’re using true in the first sense of the linked definition, which I will call true1. In premise 2 you’re using it in the second sense of the linked definition, which I will call true2. This is the fallacy of the ambiguous middle.

    “True” as used in the conclusion is actually true2. It may be a true statement about true2, but it says nothing about true1.

    If you used “true” as true1 in all three propositions, then I submit that premise 2 would be false, since “religious people in general” do not “take many things which are not depictions or representations” to be true1; and the conclusion would also be false.

    And of course, if you used “true” in the sense of true2 in all three propositions, then the conditional in premise 1 would be false.

    Comment by Agellius — August 28, 2012 @ 4:18 pm

  70. Agellius,

    I don’t have too much time to respond right now, but I can at least mention that it’s unclear to me whether your comment works for or against me. After all, since my argument just is that there are two senses of “truth”, your response very nearly assumes the very thing I am trying to prove.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 29, 2012 @ 3:48 pm

  71. Jeff:

    I definitely concede there are two senses of “truth”; yea, even more than two. But I don’t understand why you thought that needed proving, since you can find it out from any dictionary.

    What you seemed to be arguing, which I don’t concede, is that there are two senses of “true1″ (or “truth1″ if you prefer).

    In any event, your syllogism is invalid since you are equivocating on the word “true”. In logic, when a word is used in two different senses it’s really two terms, not one. Thus your syllogism is really the following:

    1) If *truth1* is just an accurate depiction or representation of how the world really is, then things which are not depictions or representations of any kind cannot be *true1* (or false).

    2) The scriptures, and religious people in general take many things which are not depictions or representations to be *true2* (or false).

    C) Therefore, according to the scriptures and religious people in general, *truth2* [is not just] an accurate depiction or representation of how the world really is [although truth1 is].

    You have drawn a conclusion about truth2, which purports to be derived from premises 1 and 2. But premises 1 and 2 use “truth” in different senses. Thus the conclusion does not follow from the premises.

    I’ll take a stab at expressing your argument symbolically in order to make it easier to grasp my point (hopefully):

    1. If S1 is P, then things which are not P are not S1

    2. M believe S2 is not-P as well as P

    C) Therefore according to M, S2 is P as well as not-P

    Again, you switch from S1 to S2 in the middle of the argument, then attempt to draw a conclusion about S2, which purports to be a conclusion also about S1. But it’s not. It’s a conclusion about an entirely different term.

    I hope you can believe that I’m not nitpicking for its own sake. Frankly, I had trouble grasping the point of the post. I felt something was wrong with your reasoning process, but couldn’t put my finger on it. When I saw that you had reduced your argument to a syllogism in the comments, I thought critiquing your syllogism might help me to see where you had gone off track (or where I was missing you). And maybe in the process of discussing it, your point might become clearer to me.

    By the way, in the post you write, “(S)cience sees truth as an accurate picture of the world as it objectively is while (R)eligion sees truth as a path which leads to some destination, i.e. God.” I disagree that religion sees truth differently from how you say science sees it. In the philosophical history of my religion, at least, truth absolutely means “the conformity of the intellect with how things really are”.

    Comment by Agellius — August 30, 2012 @ 11:23 am

  72. I disagree that religion sees truth differently from how you say science sees it. In the philosophical history of my religion, at least, truth absolutely means “the conformity of the intellect with how things really are”.

    This really is the heart of the matter. Philosophers (and scientists) have convinced themselves and others that there is only one kind of rationality and one kind of truth worth speaking of. And guess what? It just happens to be their business. This, then, gives them authority to pass judgment on everything else, and, conveniently, disallows anybody else from passing judgment on them. By their lights, the only rational, and therefore legitimate criticism of philosophy must come from within the ranks of philosophy.

    Your comment is as clear of an example of this phenomenon as one could hope for. After all, it was from Athens, not Jerusalem, that we get syllogisms and equivocations.

    Let me here disentangle three different theses which I have not clearly set apart from one another.

    T1: There is no reason why there cannot be theories or versions of truth/rationality which are able to exist alongside and independent of the theory of truth/rationality embraced by philosophy/science.

    T2: Religious texts clearly articulate, presuppose or point to just such a theory or version of truth/rationality which exists alongside and independent of that embraced by philosophy/science.

    T3: Philosophical/scientific arguments can be marshaled for the existence of alternative theories or versions of truth/rationality.

    What this post was primarily aimed at it T2, even though I do endorse all three of these theses.

    These posts have no just been a long-winded way of saying that there are two definitions of “truth”. These posts have been about rationality – about Truth with a capital “T”.

    What my argument has been is that religious people should follow the Bible in capitalizing “truth-2″ as you call it, not “truth-1″. I have been trying to show that there is a systematic rationality which underlies religious truth which has nothing to do with the philosophies of men. Furthermore, I have been arguing that religious people are under no obligation to heed the huffing and puffing of scientists, philosophers and theologians. No doubt, these latter will always accuse the faithful of being “irrational” and “deluded by false belief” since the latter openly violate the former’s notions of truth and rationality. But so what? The frustrations of the philosopher are due to his own lack of imagination, not a lack of intelligence in the believer.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 30, 2012 @ 1:39 pm

  73. In the philosophical history of my religion

    As a brief addendum, I did not check into your background before I posted the above. No doubt, the wedding of revelation with philosophy has been much stronger in the Catholic tradition than it has in the Mormon. The argument that I have been pushing basically amounts to a disavowal of that marriage. My posts have been aimed at a Mormon audience that isn’t very hostile to this disavowal.

    It is for this reason that I expect my posts to ring a bit untrue to your ears. Although this same reasoning will likely inspire some noteworthy comments on your part. :)

    Whereas Richard Rorty had a greater influence on me, I’m guessing Alasdair MacIntyre would be a better reference for you to follow up on.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 30, 2012 @ 1:48 pm

  74. Jeff:

    I sincerely appreciate you taking the time to give me a detailed explanation of your position.

    All you’re saying, though, is that there is truth in the sense of correspondence with reality; there is truth in the sense of a true path, Church, or prophet; and there is the belief that the perception of truth is conditioned by one’s time and place. These are three different concepts, not three versions or theories of the same concept. You conflate them into one (and then “divide” the one) because they are all represented by the word “truth”. But the fact that the word “truth” applies to all three is accidental. You could just as easily call the first concept “truth”, the second “apple” and the third “purple”.

    You’re saying, basically, that truth is not one, it’s three (and this is my basic problem with your argument). Yet at the same time, you implicitly assert that truth is one: After all, when you assert your three theses, under which of the three versions of truth are you asserting them to be true? You are in fact asserting that they are true1: that what they state corresponds with things as they really are.

    The fact that I am using reason or logic or propositional rationalism, or whatever you want to call “truth1″, to refute your argument, is no more significant than that you are using the same “type” of rationality yourself, to argue in favor of the alleged existence of the three kinds of “truth”. When you say that “truth” from the religious standpoint refers to a path rather than the correspondence of propositions with reality — Have you not just formed a proposition? And are you not asserting that that proposition corresponds with reality? Thus you are no less under the thrall of philosophy than you accuse others of being.

    Philosophy in fact cannot be escaped: We all must do philosophy consciously or unconsciously; but doing it unconsciously will likely cause us to do it badly.

    Comment by Agellius — August 30, 2012 @ 4:15 pm

  75. “Philosophy in fact cannot be escaped: We all must do philosophy consciously or unconsciously”

    This is absolutely brilliant! This is EXACTLY the belief that I am trying to dethrone. Exactly.

    The question is, why in the world should we ever believe that? Philosophy is just a craft: one way among many by which we engage the world around us. Why cannot I say, “Chess in fact cannot be escaped: We all must play chess consciously or unconsciously”? What about utilitarian economics, the will to power, genetic fitness, self-expression, etc.? Or less snarkily, what’s to stop the fundamentalist from saying, “Religion in fact cannot be escaped…”?

    What makes you think that the one “true” way to approach the world is as a philosopher? What is it about the rules of that particular game that make all other games bow before it?

    These are the questions I am raising. Accordingly, these posts are not about reading a dictionary or consulting a linguist. Rather, these posts are about the morality of belief: what ought we to believe? Which rules of belief ought we to adhere to? Which rules of belief have priority over which? And who is to decide?

    Of course the whole point of these posts is that there is no final way to decide. We cannot ask which is the true definition of “true” without already presupposing an answer which biases the entire debate.

    Yes, I am speaking the language of philosophy in these posts. This was intentional, for it is the only way to make sure that those who actually need to hear the message actually will hear it. My strategy is thus: If you follow the rules of philosophy, you will see that there are other rules to play by; if you follow rules other than those of philosophy, I have already won that battle.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 31, 2012 @ 12:04 am

  76. Jeff:

    You write, “The question is, why in the world should we ever believe that? Philosophy is just a craft: one way among many by which we engage the world around us. Why cannot I say, “Chess in fact cannot be escaped: We all must play chess consciously or unconsciously”?”

    The difference is that you cannot go through life without forming ideas of how things really are; whereas you can easily go throgh life without playing chess. Your “ideas of how things really are” are your philosophy. Now you can have accurate ideas of how things really or, or inaccurate ones; precise ones or imprecise ones; reasonable ones or unreasonable ones.

    To study philosophy is to find out what others have figured out in this regard, as well as the methods they used to do so, so as not to have to reinvent the wheel yourself; just as you would study how others have painted in order to learn the best way to paint, or whatever other activity you wish to engage in, in order to do it well, rather than having to figure out the craft for yourself, from scratch.

    You don’t *have* to study philosophy (or painting) in order to do it. But whether you study it or not, you’re going to do it. It’s just human nature.

    You write, “Yes, I am speaking the language of philosophy in these posts. This was intentional, for it is the only way to make sure that those who actually need to hear the message actually will hear it. My strategy is thus: If you follow the rules of philosophy, you will see that there are other rules to play by; if you follow rules other than those of philosophy, I have already won that battle.”

    Fine. Nevertheless, I suspect that you use the language of philosophy (reason, logic) to try to prove your point, because persuading people that your position reflects how things really are, is the only type of persuasion that really matters.

    Comment by Agellius — September 5, 2012 @ 4:56 pm

  77. “you can easily go throgh life without playing chess.”

    Oh sure, you can go though life without playing chess *well*, but whether we are conscious of it or not, we are, all of us and always, playing chess.

    You see how easy it is to protect this line of reasoning? How simple would it be to rephrase that entire thought process in terms of religious faith? This is not a coincidence is just one traditions among many, a contingent set of values, a particular set of rules which sometimes come in conflict with others.

    Furthermore, you speak as if philosophy were simply a synonym for “thinking” in general. But nobody is arguing against all thinking, just the hypothesis that one particular kind of thinking is the only “true” kind which gets to pass judgment over all other kinds.

    Finally, the old chestnut of self-defeat simply doesn’t apply unless you presuppose the very issue which is at hand here. If logic, etc. is really the only type that matters, then lo and behold I defeat myself by arguing. If, on the other hand, all these rules and concepts are simply tools we have been given to navigate the world around us. Then there is no contradiction in using one set of tools to point toward another set.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 5, 2012 @ 10:52 pm

  78. Jeff:

    You write, “Oh sure, you can go though life without playing chess *well*, but whether we are conscious of it or not, we are, all of us and always, playing chess. You see how easy it is to protect this line of reasoning? How simple would it be to rephrase that entire thought process in terms of religious faith?”

    Are you saying you can take my argument and substitute any verb you want for “doing philosophy”? I don’t see how that refutes my argument, or frankly how it even engages it.

    You write, “Furthermore, you speak as if philosophy were simply a synonym for “thinking” in general. But nobody is arguing against all thinking, just the hypothesis that one particular kind of thinking is the only “true” kind which gets to pass judgment over all other kinds.”

    I didn’t equate philosophy with “thinking in general”. I said philosophy was “forming ideas about how things really are”. I still say that everyone does it, and you haven’t refuted that assertion.

    You write, “Finally, the old chestnut of self-defeat simply doesn’t apply unless you presuppose the very issue which is at hand here. If logic, etc. is really the only type that matters, then lo and behold I defeat myself by arguing.”

    You seem to be misconstruing my point. I didn’t deny that there is “truth” in the sense of a true path or a true church or prophet. Nor did I deny that some people believe truth is conditioned by one’s time and place. I’m simply saying that these (together with truth1) are three different concepts and not three sides of a single concept.

    You are apparently trying to legitimize the second and third concepts, to give them the aura and respect generally accorded to truth1, by equating them with truth1: By saying that truth1 is not limited to truth1, but also includes truth2 and truth3 — basically, that truth2 and truth3 are just as true1 as truth1! Whereas I’m saying that truth2 and truth3 are separate concepts from truth1. They may be true1 concepts in that they accurately reflect the way things really are; but they don’t *mean* the same thing as truth1. This you have not refuted, nor indeed even denied.

    Comment by Agellius — September 6, 2012 @ 2:56 pm

  79. A reply is on the way. I’ll have some time later tonight.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 8, 2012 @ 5:15 pm

  80. “Are you saying you can take my argument and substitute any verb you want for “doing philosophy”?”

    No, I’m saying that I can take your argument and substitute any set of rules I want for “doing philosophy”. That’s all philosophy is: following a particular set of rules among the numerous possible rules we could be living or playing by. Yes, the rules of philosophy have been very good and useful for a great many tasks, but there are other rules which are better suited to many tasks in life.

    Furthermore, I don’t deny that philosophy, as figuring out how things “really are”, might be very useful along one’s journey to heaven. But then, it sometimes might not be. The question at this point is what you are ultimately trying to do in this life: get to heaven or figure out how things really are?

    I would also note that the very task of “figuring out how things really are” is itself largely invented by philosophers. “How things really are” is just one among many alternative definitions of truth. This is the theory that truth is primarily an accurate depiction of the world and such depictions are what we ought to believe. Another theory would be that, accurate depictions of the world are good – as far as they go – but there are far more important things which we ought to believe, think and trust, and these latter things are what constitute truth.

    So, yes, everybody asks what the world is like, in some form or another. But lot’s of people think that this is a pretty weak and fairly trivial definition of truth.

    “I’m simply saying that these (together with truth1) are three different concepts and not three sides of a single concept.”

    Ok, but so what? All of my posts have been assuming that Truth is that which we ought to believe and trust. The philosopher says “sure, you can have these other metaphorical definitions of truth which are found in your doctrine so long as you don’t challenge the real Truth about how the world really is.” The pre-modern says “sure, you can have your metaphorical versions of how the world really is as long as you don’t challenge the real Truth which is found in our doctrine.” This just was the Galilean controversy: both sides allowing the other to be true in some metaphorical sense while insisting that their “real” Truth is that which we truly ought to believe.

    Accordingly, I see you as thinking that there was some objective and non-whiggish way to settle this Galilean dispute over what a person really ought to believe (or what really was Truth). We both agree that both versions of truth survive to this day, but we disagree with which if any of them should be capitalized.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 10, 2012 @ 3:13 pm

  81. Here’s another approach:

    I’m not that hostile to the universalist claim regarding philosophy so long as its accompanied by just as strong of a pluralism. In other words, we can construe ourselves as always doing philosophy in one form or another in the exact same way that we can construe ourselves as always doing religion in one form or another.

    The problem is that some of the things we do constitute good moves in philosophy and bad moves in religion (and vice versa). The question, then, lies in deciding which game we ought to choose to play well. Furthermore, we must be careful that our justification for this choice is not based in one of the very games which are at issue. The idea that we can use the rules of philosophy to decide whether we should play by the rules of philosophy is blatantly circular and biased.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 11, 2012 @ 1:45 pm

  82. Jeff:

    You write, “The question at this point is what you are ultimately trying to do in this life: get to heaven or figure out how things really are?”

    I don’t see the distinction. If Heaven is a real place (or state, if you prefer), and if there really are ways of getting there, then “you need to do this in order to get to Heaven” is an expression of how things really are.

    You write, “Another theory would be that, accurate depictions of the world are good – as far as they go – but there are far more important things which we ought to believe, think and trust, and these latter things are what constitute truth.”

    Are you saying then that we should believe things are true, even if they do not reflect how things really are?

    You write, ‘The philosopher says “sure, you can have these other metaphorical definitions of truth which are found in your doctrine so long as you don’t challenge the real Truth about how the world really is.”’

    No philosopher says you should not challenge claims about “the real truth about how the world really is”. Philosophers do that constantly. Philosophers also recognize the concept of a true path, a true prophet or a true church. These ideas are not foreign to philosophy; nor in fact is any idea foreign to philosophy, so long as it’s intelligible.

    You write, ‘This just was the Galilean controversy: both sides allowing the other to be true in some metaphorical sense while insisting that their “real” Truth is that which we truly ought to believe.’

    The Galileo controversy was not about the Church accusing Galileo of believing in a metaphorical truth, nor vice versa. It was about him asserting truths that contradicted the truths of scripture (or so they believed) — both kinds of truth were considered to be claims about “how things really are”; if they weren’t, there would have been no conflict!

    You write, “The problem is that some of the things we do constitute good moves in philosophy and bad moves in religion (and vice versa).”

    Such as what? I can’t think of anything I would do in my philosophy which would conflict with my religion. Because you know what? I believe my religion too is an expression of how things really are!

    You write, “The idea that we can use the rules of philosophy to decide whether we should play by the rules of philosophy is blatantly circular and biased.”

    That’s like saying we should not use the rules of reason to decide whether we should use reason. In a way that’s true: That we should use reason is, in a way, self-evident; you can’t prove it.

    Still, when talking about what we “should” do, what do we mean? Don’t we mean, what is the most prudent thing to do? What action makes the most sense for me? What action will benefit me the most? But how do we determine benefit? By “benefit”, don’t we mean, that which will do me the most good — in the real world? Presumably we don’t mean, what would be the best thing to do in my imagination. No, we mean, what would *really* be the best thing.

    [By the way, it’s too bad you don’t have a checkbox for me to be notified when there are responses on this thread.]

    Comment by Agellius — September 13, 2012 @ 11:08 am

  83. In fact, all your statements can be modified by the words, “in the real world”:

    “There are far more important things [in the real world] which we ought to believe, think and trust, and these latter things are what constitute truth [in the real world].”

    “The problem is that some of the things we do constitute good moves in philosophy and bad moves in religion [in the real world].”

    “The idea that we can use the rules of philosophy to decide whether we should play by the rules of philosophy is blatantly circular and biased [in the real world].”

    If you can’t use philosophy — defined as “forming ideas about how things are in the real world” — to decide what we should do in the real world, what can we use?

    Granted, there is such a thing as revealed truth: This is not truth that is arrived at via philosophy. However, we do use philosophy (or just plain reason if you prefer) in deciding whether or not to *believe* revealed truth. Whether that means evaluating Jesus’ claims about who he is in the New Testament, or deciding to believe in a religion because of the experience of a burning in the bosom, either way we evaluate the data, or the experience, in the light of reason.

    For example: God said that I would experience a burning in the bosom if the words of this book are true; I read the book and experienced a burning in the bosom; therefore the words of this book are true. In other words, the burning (hypothetically) is something that was experienced by you [in the real world], and the fact that you experienced it has certain *implications* [in the real world], i.e. that you should begin believing the teachings of this religion [in the real world], because this religion’s teachings are *true* [they reflect how things are in the real world].

    So what you have done is just what Aristotle did: Observe the phenomena experienced by you in the real world, and draw out the reasonable implications of your observations. And based thereon, make decisions about how you are to act henceforth [in the real world].

    Or how do you determine that someone is a true Prophet? Perhaps, by observing that no uneducated man, by his natural powers, could write such a book as the Book of Mormon, which is far beyond his literary and historical knowledge. Thus you have formed a syllogism:

    A. A man who does something for which he lacks the natural ability, must have received supernatural help.
    B. Joseph Smith did something for which he lacked the natural ability.
    C. Therefore Joseph Smith must have received supernatural help.

    Even following intuition is an attempt to evaluate how things are in the real world: When you follow your intuition, you do so because you trust it — trust it to do what? You trust it as a source of information or guidance, letting you know the best course to follow, not in a fantasy world, but *in the real world*.

    Comment by Agellius — September 13, 2012 @ 11:08 am

  84. Again, I’m short on time.

    “If Heaven is a real place (or state, if you prefer), and if there really are ways of getting there, then “you need to do this in order to get to Heaven” is an expression of how things really are.”

    You are so close to a critical distinction here, namely between knowing what needs to be done and actually doing what needs to be done. Given that these are two different things, then it follows that knowing what needs to be done does not necessarily need to be done.

    “I know not, save the Lord hath commanded me” is the slogan I am defending (a slogan which is entirely antithetical to the Socratic maxim).

    Comment by Jeff G — September 13, 2012 @ 3:33 pm

  85. Agellius,

    There are a couple points where I think you aren’t interpreting my argument as charitably as I think you could, but I’ll try not to get bogged down with nitpicking. Curiously enough, it is just such “uncharitability” which I find somewhat refreshing in this exchange. I don’t think the claim that philosophy=apostasy is a very objectionable one within Mormon circles (although well-educated, Mormon bloggers are bound to be uneasy with how deep I try to drive this stake). To somebody in the Catholic tradition, however, this claim should be offensive indeed.

    “Are you saying then that we should believe things are true, even if they do not reflect how things really are?”

    This is getting really close. What I’m saying is that there is not such thing as “how things really are *full stop*. Things are only real as construed by a particular set of rules, and the rules of liberal science (philosophy, science, etc.) are only one among many such sets.

    A good example of how squishy of a notion reality is would be the whole concept of morality. Is it a fact about reality that murdering is wrong? Is “murder is wrong” an accurate description of how reality really is? Of course we all want to say ‘yes’, but it’s tough to see how we can under the rules of liberal science. This is a case where I do want to say that we should believe something is true even if it does not reflect how reality actually is.

    “These ideas are not foreign to philosophy; nor in fact is any idea foreign to philosophy, so long as it’s intelligible.”

    Okay, but intelligible according to what rules? It’s not a very impressive claim that nothing is foreign to philosophy so long as it plays by the latter’s rules. To be sure, I can point out that religious thinking or pragmatic thinking are both different sets of rules, and then you can move on to analyzing those rules according to the rules of philosophy. But this is not the same thing at all. Giving a philosophical analysis of religious thinking is not the same as thinking religiously. This is why I have no problem the universality of philosophy (you can indeed analyze most anything with philosophy), so long as a generous pluralism is also accepted (you can also analyze most anything with religion, etc.).

    You misinterpret the Galileo example. The church was more than willing to allow Galileo to teach that his theory was a very useful *model* of how the celestial phenomena could be predicted, but they would never allow him to say that his theory was actually True. Similarly, natural philosophers (aka scientists) allow the church to claim that the sun *seemed* to rise, set, stand still, etc., but they would never allow the church to say that the earth-centered model was actually True. Each side is willing to grant that the other side is true in some watered down, metaphorical sense of the word while jealously guarding the label “Truth” with a capital “T” for their own way of seeing the world.

    No doubt you know many people who still use this little trick of carving up biblical claims into literal and metaphorical truths and those who refuse to draw such a distinction. This, I suggest, is closely related to the philosophical and religious ways of reading the scriptures. The former see this distinction as being a useful way of salvaging biblical truth (lower case) while the latter see this distinction for what it is (a demotion from Truth to truth) and thus have no use for it. And if you ask the latter why they insist on believing all these things which openly violate the rules of liberal science, they respond: I know not save the Lord hath commanded me, God’s ways are higher than man’s ways, etc.

    Let me be a bit clear about how I’m defining philosophy, modernity and/or liberal science. Liberal science is a way of construing the world and pursuing truth to the following rules:

    Peer-review and mutual criticism (dialectic)
    Third-person availability of data (empiricism)
    The rules of logic and mathematics (rationalism)
    Systematic doubt (skepticism)
    Ockham’s Razor (Parsimony)
    Sideline personal and cultural biases (Objectivity)
    and so on…

    I would suggest that pretty much all of the authors of the Bible either ignored, devalued or outright rejected all of these rules. Finally, I would suggest that any philosophy which has such a disregard for these rules is not philosophy at all!

    Comment by Jeff G — September 14, 2012 @ 12:17 am

Leave a comment

RSS feed for comments on this post.