Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Biblical Ethics: The Golden Rule

Covenant theology, Dispensationalism and NCT share a common core--in that any given Christian ethical theory must be both expositionally and philosophically consistent with Biblical exegesis. But when serious ethical reflections and questions are raised this commonality breaks down. For example, which particular commandments apply to contemporary Christians? Is lying ever permissible? Is war ever permissible? Answers to such questions from a specific theological position will have significant theological and philosophical implications. 

Let's examine one case example.

From most exponents of NCT the particular commandments that apply to everyone is the law(s) of conscience.

 Let's take the stipulated laws of conscience and deduce their corollaries.

(1) Any given person should, in all states of affairs, love God with all his/her heart, soul, mind and strength.

(2) Any given person should, in all states of affairs, love his/her fellow man/woman as him/herself. 

By command (1) we deduce

(a1) A priori knowledge of Trinitarian monotheism. 
(b1) A priori knowledge of love, goodness, sacrifice and personhood.
(c1) A priori knowledge of qualities and quantities (e.g. quality and quantity of love).

Likewise, from command (2) it entails:

(a2) A priori knowledge of the Imago Dei with intrinsic value/worth.
(b2) A priori knowledge of moral equality.

Gordon Clark's Philosophy

Gordon H. Clark argues there is no tabula rasa (i.e. blank slate). Man is the image of God-- and as such, consciously rational--in contrast to animals. Hence, man is able to use signs to refer to thoughts. Language is formed a priori not a posteriori. All forms of empiricism are objectionable since sensations suffer: (1) ambiguity, (2) unreliability, and (3) relativity. Therefore, knowledge (i.e. the propositions of Scripture) is revealed, directly or indirectly, via the Divine Logos, Christ. It is limited to only those propositions deduced from Scripture.

Clark doesn't explain precisely how knowledge is revealed. Is it by telepathy? Does man create language as it reflects God? If so, does this not entail Adam had an actual private language (at one point in time)? Does not a private language entail self-knowledge? If a private language is denied, then language is a social construct, then how can there be agreement between symbols that matches thoughts without self-knowledge? How precisely does first order knowledge (e.g. I know P) refute Skepticism, if second order knowledge (e.g. I know that I know P) is denied? Moreover, how is skepticism circumvented if there is no standard to confirm language and thoughts match? If Clark appeals to the Divine Logos to prevent skepticism, does not Christian empiricists (e.g. Representational realists) have the same option?

Clark's demand for a definition of sensations is reasonable. Yet it is not necessary to define sensations in order to possess prima facie warrant to believe in sensations. It strikes me as a category mistake to require a definition of sensations in terms of logic and math. (e.g. Rationalism requires empiricism to provide definitions in terms of Rationalism or Empiricism contend Rationalism provide an definition in terms of empiricism).The traditional definition of sensations is a non-propositional experience possessed by an experiencing subject. Further distinctions are made in philosophy of perception (e.g. Seeing, seeing as, and seeing that). Thomas Reid makes a helpful point that sensations cannot be reduced to a mere logical definition. Hence, my charge that Clark seems to make a category mistake (e.g. The smell of logic). I think sensations and/or experiences are irreducible to a mere logical definition but that is not to render them unintelligible. For example, we can make sense of the sensation of pain but pain is not reducible to C-fiber stimulation or a mere logical definition (e.g. A person experiences the sensation of pain iff a person's physical body functions properly to interact with the mind in which the mind is aware " I am in pain."

Clark states God causes us to believe in Christianity. In what sense does God 'cause' us to believe? Obviously Clark excludes any empirical method. It's like saying, "I don't know what a 2017 Honda Civic looks like but it doesn't look like that! Clark does narrow what he considers how God 'causes' us to know. It reminds me of the brain in a vat thought experiment. We are to suppose the possibility of a person existing as a brain in a vat. Next, we are to envision an agent (often a mad scientist or demon--take your pick) is the primary efficient cause of the person's beliefs by electrodes. This thought experiment is often leveled in favor of skepticism. The warrant for beliefs is argued to be underdetermined.  Any argument put forward against such skepticism is argued to be based upon beliefs from the agent (presupposing skepticism). I wish to make two points. First, 'cause' deals primarily with metaphysics and ''beliefs' deal with epistemology. If it is granted a causal process produces beliefs then beliefs are not acquired merely for their truth-value but due to the intentionality of an agent. Second, this view seems to commit the genetic fallacy. If one traces the belief to its origin this does not make it true nor false. Furthermore, it commits the naturalistic fallacy. It confuses what 'is' the case (e.g. I believe P) for what 'ought' to be the case (e.g. I ought to believe P). Thomas Reid, the Old Princeton tradition and arguably Plantinga would argue directly a posteriori with properly functioning cognitive faculties. My point is to demand a definition of experiences, e.g. experiencing the color red, such a request seems to confuse categories on the one hand and denies any limit to the extent of how far such a demand can be met.  

(1) If Clark's metaphysics is deduced from his epistemology then his epistemology can be understood from his metaphysics.
(2) Clark's metaphysics is deduced from his epistemology 
(3) Therefore, Clark's epistemology can be understood from his metaphysics. 

In Clark's metaphysics propositions are the object of thought and knowledge not things. The only logically possible world is the actual world. God actualized the actual world comprised of propositions (that can be further reduced to subjects and predicates). All propositions are logically necessary. But some, if not all, propositions are necessarily instantiated (in virtue of necessitarianism). Each proposition is necessarily true. 

Each person is (i.e. in the sense of identity) a set of propositions. Any given person is what he/she thinks. I think it can be argued Dr. Clark's system may be properly associated with epistemic foundationalism, accessible internalism, infallibilism, metaphysical realism and a coherentism theory of truth. But in particular on epistemic justification an argument can be formulated in favor of some form of internalism:   

(1) If Clark affirmed some form of reliabilism/externalism then a person is warranted/rational to believe X, independent of any accessible reasons.

(1a)  If any given belief must be deduced by its axiom to be justified then Clark affirmed any given system of beliefs must be logically deduced from its axiom to be justified.
(1b) Any given belief must be deduced by its axiom to be justified.
(1c) Clark affirmed any given system of beliefs must be logically deduced from its axiom to be justified.
(1d) Logical deduction either requires mental awareness or mental unawareness
(1e) not mental unawareness 
(1f) mental awareness 

(2) A person is not warranted/rational to believe X, independent of any accessible reasons.

(3) Clark did not affirm some form of reliabilism/externalism.

Premise (2) can be demonstrated by Clark's critical analysis of ideas contrary to his. He didn't simply level objections/defeaters. He demanded reasons from his opponents. Clark argued against any position that allowed for the possibility of skepticism. Reliabilism/externalism argues a belief is warranted without conscious awareness, if and only if any given belief is produced by a reliable belief forming process, in the absence of defeaters. But this does not assail skepticism since a person would need to "know" all his/her beliefs are produced by a reliable belief forming process to avoid skepticism. This will not do for Clark. Also, the doctrine of divine simplicity entails some form of internalism (e.g. epistemic mentalism). God's omniscience flows from His decrees. In other words, divine foreknowledge is grounded in divine foreordaination.   


Sunday, October 23, 2016

Atheism (Without the Thing in Itself)

Benjamin Watkins on an episode of the Semper Reformanda Podcast argues metaphysical naturalism is more probable than not from scientific 'facts'. He takes the latent assumption in the scientific method, namely methodological naturalism, as evidence for metaphysical naturalism.  Benjamin formulates his argument inductively with probability theory. His argument can be construed in terms of abduction or Bayesian probabilistic confirmation theory. For example,

If observations O then the best explanation of O is theory T. 

The internal critique of Ben's worldview offered by Tim, Carlos, Owen and Luke surrounded Ben's epistemology as to justify metaphysical naturalism. The intractable problems identified were as follows:

(1) Ben's empiricism, explicitly or implicitly, commits the logical fallacy affirming the consequent. Moreover, Benjamin failed to explain precisely the conditions in which beliefs are acquired. If he affirms some form of representational realism and/or correspondence theory of truth then there is no independent criteria to confirm any given mental image or belief, in fact, matches with the truth of reality.  Of course, then on such an account the problem of Kant's ding an sich (i.e. thing in itself) surfaces itself (there is irony here). A view with all the room needed for skepticism. Perhaps, better put, it has all the necessary ingredients of skepticism. 

The problem of induction (deriving a universal from particular examples) was discussed as a decisive feature of any given empirical theory yet Benjamin felt his view was exempt from the problem. He merely asserted induction as a properly basic belief without an account of epistemic justification. Hence, at which point, any belief can simply be asserted as properly basic (e.g. Still, probability assumes induction. Likewise, probability is predicated on limited, background-relative, data. Such that new data can always skew the results of old data. Thus  limited data can revise any given theory by new data. Therefore, any theory dependent upon probability is subject to whole sale revision. Not much security in probability.

(2) Benjamin asserts his particular epistemic theory is self-justifying. That's fine as far as the claim goes. Nevertheless, Benjamin's rationalism, explicitly or implicitly, collapses to either fideism or skepticism (unless, of course, he can show otherwise).   Ben attempts, I think unsuccessfully, to evade fideism or skepticism with some form of non-inferential epistemic internalism (e.g. Phenomenological conservativism). But since no criteria of conditions are provided to prefer one particular epistemic theory over another then the selection of any given epistemic theory (including Benjamin's theory) becomes viciously circular (e.g. Armstrong). Benjamin argues if a proposition appears to be true then that is a prima facie reason to believe it is true in the absence of any defeaters. Again, Kant's phenomenal and nomenal world comes back full force with such a view. On such grounds, it seems, we have a prima facie reason to reject Benjamin's epistemic theory, since it appears to be false, in the absence of any evidence to warrant his theory. . However, Benjamin may be able to provide a criteria of conditions to evaluate the virtues of any given epistemic theory and assess what qualifies as a properly basic belief.  In which case, Ben would need to show his particular epistemic theory meets the conditions provided (for the truth of any given epistemic theory to render it self-justifying and/or is properly basic) and tease out the philosophical tensions or apparent contradictions between his empiricism, rationalism and Platonism.  Further, Ben's epistemic theory prompts more questions: (i) how does Benjamin know reason, in general, or the laws of logic, in particular, aim at truth? (ii) how does he know beliefs aim at truth? (iii) how does Ben know the nature and limits of reason and/or truth? Ben asserts platonic realism as to abstract objects; yet how does abstract objects enforce or impose themselves on particulars?

(3) The discussion on ethics was intriguing. Benjamin affirms moral realism and not moral nihilism. But Benjamin's version of moral realism suffers the same problems as metaphysical Platonism. How does a particular person possess universal moral values and duties? How do these universal moral values and duties interact/relate with particular persons? What is a universal moral law without a moral lawgiver? How does Benjamin's view avoid the naturalistic fallacy (e.g. GE Moore)? 

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Heavenly Freedom?

Read this:(LINK)

If the link doesn't work, try cut and paste:

Saturday, September 3, 2016

How is 'is' known?

How does one know the term 'is' in a non-circular way? 

My first thoughts as I encounter the question. I think each persons beliefs interconnect that form a web. At the core of the web are beliefs that are the ultimate standard to interpret the web of beliefs. These core beliefs can be construed as either properly basic beliefs with defeating defeaters. Or can be understood as self-justifying as explanatorily ultimate.  Is it circular? Yes, but not in a vicious form. There are exclusions to the informal fallacy of begging the question. Walter Sinnott has a good article on this. I'd say I can define and explain the term 'is' but it will entail beliefs that lead to my core beliefs. Vincent Cheung would challenge my core beliefs with Scripturalism, infalliblism and internalism. I think I'd be immune to his criticisms, like AquaScum, if I take either epistemology (with reliabilism and externalism). I don't think an axiomatic system can evade admitting there is some circularity that is not vicious

It is quite simple to cite Webster's dictionary to define 'is'. But this will be an inadequate answer. Proof would be demanded to show the Webster dictionary 'is' a competent authority. Moreover, even if there 'is' sufficient proof the Webster dictionary 'is' a competent authority, the proper interpretation of the dictionary may further be doubted. A critic may always be critical, of anything, even of critical analysis itself. We are fallen creatures thus often fall into irrationality.  Hence, I think the question is an important one. In my judgment, God has created us with: properly functioning cognitive faculties, innate ideas, innate categories and innate grammar. Therefore, I follow in the tradition of St. Augustine. But I, as did Ronald Nash, depart from St. Augustine's insistence of denying any significant role of sense experience. I think we do, in fact, learn via reason (a priori) and sense experience (a posteriori). They are the secondary means for us to acquire true beliefs. But, I agree with Augustine, the primary means for us to acquire true beliefs is God. As we experience the world our minds filter and organize sense experience with our noetic structures (of innate ideas, categories and grammars) to acquire true beliefs. God sustains and secures our beliefs so as to match His thoughts with our thoughts (via the means mentioned). The inter-witness of the Holy Spirit testifies to the truth of Scripture. He is invincible thus defeating all defeaters. We acquire items of knowledge by a reliable belief-forming process. Furthermore, I take some beliefs to be properly basic (e.g. God's existence, an external world, other minds, sense perception, induction). Those beliefs are acquired by a reliable belief-forming process, independent of any arguments, and are rational to believe in absence of defeaters. 

The question can be answered directly. I learned the word 'is' by my parents and school teachers. I acquired the belief: 'is' refers to an English word that symbolizes the meaning 'to exist or be' or used as a designator. This belief was acquired via reason and sense experience, with or without my awareness, by a reliable belief-forming process and thus I'm rational to believe it in the absence of defeaters. But, perhaps, this is unsatisfying. Let's take a different approach. Logically prior to the question, is all forms of logical circularity fallacious? If you answer yes, then can you demonstrate this in a non-circular way? Counter arguments can be given that a valid distinction can be made between vicious and virtuous circularity (e.g. Armstrong, Frame). 

Remember the way to get out of the Clarkian system is to take up a different system. I don't think my view leaves us with the conclusion of the argument below, as Cheung would have us think: 

(1) If sense perception is necessary to interpret the Bible then sense perception is the definitive standard of truth not the Bible. 
(2) Sense perception is necessary to interpret the Bible (in any form of empiricism).
(3) Therefore, sense perception is the definitive standard of truth not the Bible. 

Premise (3) takes the primacy of sense perception and extra-Biblical ideas to be essential in constructing a system to best understand the Biblical teachings. 

The problem with this argument, besides the sloppy premises, is a conflating of ontic and epistemic priority. One can ontologically use sense perception to know a teaching of scripture without epistemically assuming sense perception is the definitive standard of truth. The point is one can build a system of thought placing the definitive truth in the scriptures and not the reverse (i.e.  Definitive truth placed in the means of knowing instead of the scriptures themselves as prerequisite for the possibility of knowledge).

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Naturalistic Fallacy

Do Christians derive an obligation from nature? How do we bridge the is/ought gap? It must be admitted the naturalistic fallacy is an informal fallacy thus there can be exclusions to the rule (e.g. an explanatory ultimate of any given ethical theory). How do Christian ethics deal with this fallacy? 

We do not derive an 'ought' from an 'is' in the sense we start without moral values and duties then derive them from nature (e.g. Physics or Chemistry). However, we do concede we derive an 'ought' from an 'is' with good reason. We start with God's intrinsic value, He chose to create man in His image. We may argue:

 (1) If God created all mankind in His image with contingent intrinsic infinite moral value and worth then moral values and duties are properly basic. 

(2) God created all mankind in His image with contingent intrinsic infinite moral value and worth

(3) Moral values and duties are properly basic.

Premise (2) presupposes God necessarily possesses intrinsic infinite moral value and worth (hence He is worthy of all worship) and created all mankind in His image with contingent intrinsic infinite moral value and worth to reflect God. 

Moreover, God is that being which no greater can be conceived, thus He is the most perfect being. As the most perfect being, God is goodness itself; therefore, He is both the starting and stoping point of moral values and duties. God is necessarily both the one and many, object and subjects, particular and universals, descriptive and normative. God 'is' what He 'ought' to be. Since 'ought' is derived from God's commandments as they express His character, will and nature. He is both simultaneously the substance and the ideal. He possesses both the indicative and imperative. Therefore, God is the ground of all ontic, epistemic and moral norms.

Sunday, August 14, 2016


I've been discussing Gordon Clark and Vincent Cheung on the Bible Thumping Wingnut Facebook page. Our discussion has been primarily epistemology. I think if Cheung follows Clark's necessitarianism then sense pecerception is necessary to occasion God ordaining a direct causal connection between any given cause and effect. One clear problem with Occassionalism is it presupposes continuous creation which entails there is no single ontological personal identity through out time. Each thing, including any given person, is recreated at each moment in time.

 If I were a Clarkian I'd much prefer pre-established harmony than Occasionalism 😜