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Quine’s Two Dogmas of Empiricism

Willard Van Orman Quine (June 25, 1908 – December 25, 2000) (known to intimates as “Van”) was an American philosopher and logician in the analytic tradition. From 1930 until his death 70 years later, Quine was continuously affiliated with Harvard University in one way or another, first as a student, then as a professor of philosophy and a teacher of mathematics, and finally as a professor emeritus who published or revised several books in retirement. He filled the Edgar Pierce Chair of Philosophy at Harvard, 1956–78. A recent poll conducted among philosophers named Quine as one of the five most important philosophers of the past two centuries.

Quine’s paper Two Dogmas of Empiricism, published in 1951, is one of the most celebrated papers of twentieth century philosophy in the analytic tradition. According to Harvard professor of philosophy Peter Godfrey-Smith, this “paper [is] sometimes regarded as the most important in all of twentieth-century philosophy”. The paper is an attack on two central parts of the logical positivists’ philosophy. One is the distinction between analytic truths and synthetic truths, explained by Quine as truths grounded only in meanings and independent of facts, and truths grounded in facts. The other is reductionism, the theory that each meaningful statement gets its meaning from some logical construction of terms that refers exclusively to immediate experience.

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Philosophy for Theologians aims to look critically at the problems of philosophy by considering everything in light of God's revelation. The program not only wants to address philosophical questions but also to equip you with a way to think about these questions. Browse more episodes from this program or subscribe to the podcast feed.

Steve Ruble

10 years ago

Hi all,

Pretty solid analysis of the paper, as far as I can tell. As usual, though, as soon as you started discussing your own beliefs your obvious intelligence and education went out the window. Do you actually feel satisfied in saying that the only resolution to the uncertainty of the world is to say, “I have a special revelation”? Do you think that your understanding of your “special revelation” is somehow not constrained by the same problems Quine points out with regard to any other claim?

Look. Your special revelation is made out of language, or it has no propositional content. So you can understand it as consisting of statements which are analytic, synthetic, or a mix of both. Quine has just trashed the concept of analytic statements, and you agreed with him, so your special revelation can’t be true based on its analytic content. Synthetic statements *must* include as part of their truth function a reference to your own experience, which is human and limited and so on, and therefore can’t be a true as you want it to be. So, you’ve left yourself with no way to assert that you possess true beliefs about your own special revelation. But that is, in fact, exactly what you do claim.

I was going to right more, but I it’s becoming increasingly obvious that you are fideists, and nothing is more boring than arguing with fideists.

Peace,
Steve

Steve Ruble

10 years ago

The typos in the final paragraph above are the result of hastiness born of frustration, as I found myself repeatedly deleting sentences after realizing that your reply to any of my arguments would probably be, “We have epistemic magic.” I wish I could expect something better.

Jonathan

10 years ago

Steve,
Thanks again for your reply. How it is again that YOU are not a fideist, yet we are? Please answer in light of Quine’s critique of reductionism, (in other words please don’t appeal to experience).

How does appealing to special revelation dodge the critique of Quine in regards to language? Our special revelation comes to us in the form of language, yet its truthfulness rests ultimately in God’s character. If you were to ask how is it that we come to believe in this special revelation, then we would be speaking Theology. You say “epistemic magic” we would reply “the work of the Spirit”, and then we would ask you how it is that you don’t employ your own epistemic magic for an explanation of anything whatsoever. I am trying not to be patronizing but inquisitive. So, to sum up… what is your response to Quine? Do you think that physical objects exist or Homer’s gods? How is it that physical objects have more epistemic warrant than Homers god’s according to Steve Rubleism? I PRAY that the Lord will convict your heart to put your trust in Christ for all things (including Philosophy) who is the begging of all wisdom. Christ DEMANDS that you deny yourself and follow him.

Jonathan

10 years ago

Sorry for the typo … beginning, not begging

Steve Ruble

10 years ago

Jonathan,

Why is it always about me? If I copped to being a fideist, would you admit that you are too? Do you think that tu quoque is really appropriate here?

In any case, I’m not a fideist because I’m a pragmatic parsimonious realist – assuming that my experiences correspond to reality is the simplest and (so far) most reliable way for me to explain the coherence and narratability of said experiences. Any other explanation seems to require more speculative assumptions, which means more opportunities to be wrong, which I don’t enjoy. (The fact that I don’t enjoy being wrong, incidentally, is a recursive aspect of my experience, not an aspect of reality, so don’t go down a rabbit trail here. My reaction to my experiences does not have a truth value.)

So, I’m not very interested in making universal claims about the ground of being, or the transcendental foundation, or whatever you may think is necessary for a worldview to be internally consistent and acceptable. I think claims like that are analogous to claiming that you can’t make measurements of distance without knowing where the center of the universe is, or that you can’t tell that it’s hot out today without knowing how hot it could possibly get. In other words, not only do I not understand why you’re making the claim, I don’t even think it makes sense.

To wrap up my response to your questions:

My response to Quine, if I were to meet him, would be, “Yes, the incompleteness theorem applies to language when language is treated as a formal system. Thanks for providing us with a rigorous demonstration. Also, logical positivism is wrong. I think we knew that already, but thanks anyway.”

Yes.

I believe in physical objects and not in Homer’s gods because the former are part of my experience and the latter are not. A better question would have been, “Why does belief in the existence of Homer himself have more epistemic warrant than belief in the existence of his gods?”

Finally, the answer to your initial question should be apparent now: I am not a fideist because I don’t make any claim to own a truth outside of my experience or reason, while you are a fideist because you do make such claims routinely. You can’t rationally claim that you have reason to be certain that an incomprehensible mystery is the case; at most, you can assert that you believe that certain propositions which cannot be rationally justified or understood are, in fact, true – and that is fideism, as I understand it. (Note that there is a difference between saying, “X is the case, but I do not understand why or how,” and saying, “X is the case, but X cannot be understood.”)

Speaking of incoherence, a reasonable person would notice that your prayers are pointless. It’s not as though your God is going to change his plan for my life if you pray for me, is it? Or even if you PRAY for me. As for Christ’s DEMANDS, I can say with precisely the same force, “Cthulhu DEMANDS that you deny yourself and follow him.” As if it were coherent to demand someone to do something after they have denied themselves… who, exactly, is going to do the doing? Some kind of non-sentient zombie? Or did you, perhaps, not mean that literally?

More seriously, who are you to put words in the mouth of Christ? Where in your book does Christ demand that *I* deny myself and follow him? Where’s your respect for scripture?

Steve

Jonathan

10 years ago

Steve,
When you use words like “rationality” you are begging the question, in that the concept of rationality has a fair and neutral definition between our positions. We do not agree with such a concept as ‘reasonableness’ – and I don’t think you have a criteria for rationality passed the pragmatic appeal to Ockham’s razor. “Pragmatic Parsimonious Realism” as you coined it, does in fact rest on assumptions. All one would have to ask is what you mean by the word real and you will be caught in your own circle of autonomy.

As for my respect to scripture, God commands all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30), that includes Steve Ruble.

I want to write more but this will do for now, kinda busy… sorry.

Steve Ruble

10 years ago

Jonathon,

A quick note over breakfast: with regards to Acts 17:30, should I understand your position to be that “God” is synonomous with “Christ”? I really don’t think that works, because you end up with the claim that Christ has appointed a day of judgement, which contradicts Matthew 24:36, where Jesus says that only the Father knows when the day of judgement will be. Why do you keep accusing me of incoherence? First, take the beam out of your own eye…

Steve

G. Kyle Essary

10 years ago

At some point in the podcast you all mentioned the comments on the YouTube site…shame on me for actually going there are reading a few. I’m now under the impression that YouTube may be the internet’s hub for the most uncharitable and unintelligent members of our society.

Jared

10 years ago

Agreed. Dane Cook, of all people, has a bit about how that’s pretty much the underbelly of the internet.

Jonathan

10 years ago

Act 17:30 refers to Christ in his resurrected glory. The Matthew passage occurs during Christ’s earthly ministry. Is Christ God? … Yes, and the Church has affirmed that the 2nd Person of the Trinity is fully God for ages … that is pretty elementary stuff concerning doctrine. I believe the larger ‘beam’ would be your antagonistic posture toward the Person who taught that lesson. Nevertheless, Steve, we need to back up here to your position on Reality. You say you are a realist… what is reality? Give a reasonable or rational definition that defends against Quines critique. Or, as I am assuming you will do, give your stated dogmatic on what reality is.

Steve Ruble

10 years ago

Jonathon, I know you said you are busy, so I appreciate your responding at all… but I’d prefer that you pay attention to what I’ve written before you dash off a response. Of course I know that pretty much every Christian church has affirmed that “the 2nd Person of the Trinity is fully God” – but that is a different thing from “fully God” being “the 2nd Person of the Trinity”, which is what you are asserting when you say you can substitute “Christ” for “God” anywhere you like.

On your interpretation, Acts 17:30-31 would read (pronouns resolved for clarity): “Therefore, although Christ has overlooked such times of ignorance, Christ now commands all people everywhere to repent, 17:31 because Christ has set a day on which Christ is going to judge the world in righteousness, by Christ whom he designated, having provided proof to everyone by raising Christ from the dead.” Is that a reading you want to stand by? In addition, you need to account for the fact that Matthew 24:36 clearly says that the Father *alone* knows the day and hour. Notice that “alone” also excludes the Holy Spirit, so the clear reading is , really, that only the Father knows, not the other Persons, not even when they go back to heaven.

Anyway, you want me to give my working definition of “reality”.

Whatever it is that causes my experiences, that is “reality”. I think that the simplest explanation for my experiences is that they are caused in exactly the way they appear to be caused – by the world that appears to cause them. Therefore, I have an assumption that reality matches my experience of it.

Any other explanation must contain assumptions which lead to an explanation of why I have the experiences that I have (so it must have at least as many assumptions as my current theory (1)) *and* it must have assumptions which lead to an explanation of why I have experiences which don’t match reality (so it must have *more* assumptions than my current theory). So any other theory must have more assumptions than my current theory, therefore any other theory must have a greater chance of being wrong.

Look at it this way: if you think you’re a really a brain in a jar being manipulated by a mad scientist, you have to assume that there’s something outside of your experience which is really real (the jar), *and* you have to assume that whatever it is that’s really real is *also* causing you to have all these coherent experiences (the mad scientist). Now, I’m not saying that isn’t the case. What I’m saying is that I have no reason to think that it *is* the case. So I don’t. On the other hand, I have millions of reasons to think that what I experience as being the case actually is the case. So that is, in fact, what I do believe, and will believe, until I wake up in a jar.

I don’t know where you got your idea (in your 7/14@10:14 post) that I would claim my theories contain no assumptions. On the other hand, I understand very little of that post. You wrote, “When you use words like “rationality” you are begging the question, in that the concept of rationality has a fair and neutral definition between our positions.” Where is the question begging?

You also wrote “We do not agree with such a concept as ‘reasonableness'” and somehow I am not surprised :-P. But seriously, what do you mean?

And finally, you wrote “…and I don’t think you have a criteria for rationality passed the pragmatic appeal to Ockham’s razor,” which is deeply confused. Rationality, on my definition, is just doing what you think is most likely to achieve what you want to achieve. Doing things which you do not think will achieve what you want to achieve is “irrational”.

So, what is your dogma on reality, rationality, and reasonableness? I know that you are addicted to the negative apologetic, but come on, take a break… try making a positive argument for once. Or, if that’s too hard, could you direct me to some Reformed article which actually attempts to explain why your assumptions are better than anyone else’s, rather than just asserting it? I can’t seem to find any.

Steve

Jonathan

10 years ago

Steve,
Sorry for another rushed comment … the aspect of the Three persons and the One Godhead have equal ultimacy. This is called perichoresis. I would suggest you look it up. In other words it is not as just all three of them ‘put together’ are God, they are all fully God. As for your paraphrase of Acts it seems as if you don’t have a working system that distinguished between the economic aspect and the ontological aspect of the character of God, which I am assuming.

As for the positive apologetic, read this book
http://www.wtsbooks.com/product-exec/product_id/4472/nm/Reasons_for_Faith_Philosophy_in_the_Service_of_Theology_Paperback_

Steve Ruble

10 years ago

Jonathon, I’d like to remind you that I’m not here criticizing the concept of the Trinity, I’m contesting the legitimacy of your claim, “Christ DEMANDS that you deny yourself and follow him,” which seems to me to show you speaking for Christ, as I don’t think Christ makes any such demand in your Scripture. What you’ve done so far to justify your statement is to point to a verse (Acts 17:30) in which God *commands* everyone to repent. My response has been to point out that your reading of “God” as “Christ” in that verse and the subsequent verse is incoherent and contradicts other parts of Scripture – the same person of the Trinity cannot both set a day of judgement and also not know when the day of judgement is.

I had thought that since you put so much weight on the authority of Scripture, and on submitting to the clear meaning of the text, that you would agree that your statement about Christ’s demands has not yet been justified by Scripture. Unfortunately, it’s starting to look like you’d rather try to impose your own interpretation on the text, in service to your own pride, rather than admit that you wrote hastily and in error.

I asked for an article and you gave me a book. If I asked you for bread, would you give me a stone? Surely there are some freely available articles which explore the relevant arguments… or do you prefer to sell the truth, rather than give it away?

Steve

Jonathan

10 years ago

Actually Steve,
You asked for a cracker and I gave you a feast. As for the Biblical reference, trying to stamp me with equivocation for “denying” and “repenting” is absolutely ridiculous. Luke 9:23-25 is Not a suggestion. You think it is a matter of pride that I am holding to the “imposition” on the text?… hmmm you see to have the ability to judge the hearts of men.

As for your previous statement concerning the kernel of your philosophy, “Rationality, on my definition, is just doing what you think is most likely to achieve what you want to achieve. Doing things which you do not think will achieve what you want to achieve is “irrational”” this simply points out that you, and no one else (certainly not me, because I am a Christian) decide what is rational and what isn’t, and more so… rationality is based or driven by what one ‘wants to achieve’? So truth is only a desire? a feeling? a want? So you disagree with our appeal to Scripture because it is “not what you want to achieve?” (your definition of rationality). Ok, so I we break it down … We (Christians) can’t appeal to special revelation because it is not in accord with what Steve Ruble wants to achieve. That’s your argument? I think it needs a little more work.

Steve Ruble

10 years ago

Jonathan,

Your posts are always surprising. In this one, you defend yourself against a charge of equivocation between the words “denying” and “repenting”. You accuse me of trying to “stamp” you with that charge. I find myself utterly bemused, because I never made any such charge, nor did I even mention the fact that Acts 17:30 does not contain the word “deny”. (I noticed the absence, but I decided that it was a pretty trivial issue, compared to the much more serious problems caused by your claim that “Christ” can be substituted for “God” wherever you find it convenient.) So why, oh why, are you defending yourself against a charge no one has made against you? Was the charge leveled by your own conscience? Are you trying to kick against the pricks? Or is it just easier to pretend that you are being accused of a trivial equivocation, and not an imposition against the Scriptures?

Next, you respond to my observation that “it’s starting to look like you’d rather try to impose your own interpretation on the text” with “hmmm you seem to have the ability to judge the hearts of men”, which not only fails to contradict my observation, it does not even engage with it. I certainly don’t have the ability to judge the hearts of men, as you well know, and I never claimed I did – but I do know what it looks like when someone is trying to avoid admitting that they’ve made a mistake, and that’s what it looks like you’re doing right now. You seem to be grasping at every vague approximation of a justification, without thinking it through to see if it actually helps you.

For example, most recently you referenced Luke 9:23-25, which says, “Then he said to them all, “If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.” (NET) If you had been paying attention, you would have noticed that Jesus’ statement is a conditional proposition, which is extremely difficult to construe as a demand. I don’t want to become a follower of Jesus, so this passage provides no imperative instructions for me. Obviously. Again, I’m sure if you were thinking things through rather than grasping at anything which might help you, you would have noticed the difference.

So, once again, is there any scriptural justification for your claim “Christ DEMANDS that you deny yourself and follow him”?

Steve

Jonathan

10 years ago

Steve,
I am sorry if my succinctness implies a lack of gentleness. I simply assumed that by now Steve Ruble and the guys involved in Reformed Forum can be more direct with each other based on our history. I am also assuming that repentance involves denying oneself. If you disagree, then we can exegete scripture together. I would point to passages like 1 John 3:23 to show you what I am driving at “And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.”

If you are not ready to tackle Reason for Faith then I would suggest you read VanTil’s “Why I believe in God”
http://www.reformed.org/apologetics/index.html?mainframe=/apologetics/index_apol.html

On a completely different note, go see the new flick Inception, I think you will like it. I am guessing that most philosophy nerds (like myself) will enjoy it. I know I did.

Steve Ruble

10 years ago

Jonathan, I don’t really judge people on their gentleness in argumentation – I was just looking around for reasons I could give you to think about things carefully before writing about them, and writing carefully about things after thinking about them. Oliphant’s quote seemed to fit the bill.

I think I lost the plot at your 1 John cite. What are you driving at?

My girlfriend and I are planning to break up the week by seeing Inception on Wednesday. I’m totally psyched :-).

My reaction to Van Til’s “Why I Believe in God” is pretty well captured by his closing… I feel that I could, indeed, “reduce everything I have said this afternoon and evening to the circular meanderings of a hopeless authoritarian.” The actual reduction, I’m afraid, I’ll need to postpone – but in brief, I would sum up his position as, “Speak softly and carry a big ‘IF’.” For example, he says, “If the God of Christianity does exist, the evidence for Him must be plain.” Well, some would contest the validity of the conditional, but even if you don’t… Van Til nowhere explains why we can’t just deny the consequent. He explains what kinds of names he’ll call you if you *do* deny the consequent, but that’s not really the same thing. It’s just another example of someone asserting that their assumptions are better than everyone else’s assumptions, which is really boring.

But what really stands out is the colossal, delusional arrogance of a man who proudly says that he was conditioned to believe what he believes, that he has and needs no better reason to believe than that he DOES believe, that he is RIGHT in what he believes, and that *everyone else* is blind to the truth. It’s astounding that you think this character is admirable. Seriously, try to imagine reading a work like that from someone who believed in communism, or black helicopters, or the healing power of crystals… then try to convince me that you wouldn’t laugh them down the street.

What are you thinking?

Steve Ruble

10 years ago

(I’m splitting this off because we have two different discussions here and posts (especially mine) are apt to get long.)

Jonathan,

I want to do two things here. First, I want to attempt to convince you to slow down and engage in some active reading before posting. Second, I want to give you an example of someone (me) admitting that they made a mistake and correcting it.

So. You jumped straight from “rationality is based or driven by what one ‘wants to achieve’?” to “So truth is only a desire? a feeling? a want?” which is a pretty large jump. Most obviously, there’s a significant difference between claims about “rationality” and claims about “truth” which you are ignoring. As I think my definition made clear, I think the words “rational” and “irrational” should be used to describe behaviors, not claims (except insofar as the making of claims can be treated as a behavior). That has nothing to do with “truth”.

Next, you wrote, “So you disagree with our appeal to Scripture because it is ‘not what you want to achieve’? … We (Christians) can’t appeal to special revelation because it is not in accord with what Steve Ruble wants to achieve. That’s your argument? I think it needs a little more work.”

No, that is not my argument. In my experience, it’s not helpful to assume that an opponent’s argument is stupid. Making such assumptions seems to lead me to arrogance and ignorance. It’s much better to assume that, despite the argument’s apparent stupidity, there is something to it that I don’t understand. When I do that, I not only avoid looking like a dick, I also tend to learn much more about the topic (and the world in general) than I would have if I had just assumed that those who thought I was wrong were as stupid as their arguments seemed to be. (Incidentally, that’s why I’m here, on Reformed Forum, talking to you.)

Anyway, your first mistake was in thinking that my definition of “rationality” constituted an argument. It didn’t. It constituted a definition. If you don’t like my definition, a helpful response is to suggest an alternate definition, which we can then, perhaps, use to further our discussion. Your second mistake was to assume that when (in my definition) I said “you”, I actually meant “me”. I have to admit I don’t know why you made that mistake, but it certainly put the rest of your post on the wrong footing.

***

Secondly, I wanted to revise something I wrote earlier, which (in light of more recent postings) I no longer agree with. I initially thought I would try to spin up an explanation which retroactively made my earlier post make sense, but I decided a more honest approach would be to revise the earlier claim. The claim was “You can’t rationally claim that you have reason to be certain that an incomprehensible mystery is the case; at most, you can assert that you believe that certain propositions which cannot be rationally justified or understood are, in fact, true – and that is fideism, as I understand it.”

I’d like change “rationally” to “reasonably” in that claim. By “reasonably” I mean “in accordance with one’s best understanding of logic, and founded on one’s own experiences”. For my own part, I try to keep my rationality and my reason in step with each other, but in the limiting case where someone comes to believe that their ends are most likely to be achieved through abandoning reason, my claim would be false. Therefore, I rescind it.

Here is a more accurate explanation of why I think you are a fideist: You believe in things which, on your own claim, cannot be discovered, critiqued, or justified either by reason alone or by reason working from experience. You therefore believe things which are beyond reason, which can only be revealed to you by God. I’m pretty sure that matches the commonly understood definition of fideism.

The reason I think it’s boring to argue with fideists is that in the absence of reason, I have no allegiance to any process for evaluating claims. As a result, all such claims seem equally plausible – or rather, implausible – and there’s very little left to say about it. I’m starting to feel like Reformed theology shares that trait, and that eventually I’ll need to seek out some other school of thought to investigate.

But I haven’t given up yet! So please, reply as you’re able.

Steve

Jared

10 years ago

Steve,

Just a couple quick thoughts. I agree with you that on posts like these little gets accomplished and posters don’t take the time to slow down, analyze things bit by bit, and offer careful criticism. The internet was made for one-offs. Thanks Al Gore.

“Here is a more accurate explanation of why I think you are a fideist: You believe in things which, on your own claim, cannot be discovered, critiqued, or justified either by reason alone or by reason working from experience. You therefore believe things which are beyond reason, which can only be revealed to you by God. I’m pretty sure that matches the commonly understood definition of fideism.”

There’s a dichotomy here that we reject from the outset – that the things we believe are beyond reason. The assumption here is that there is the observable world that operates normally with no indication whatsoever of God, miracles, or anything that the Bible communicates. Since that’s the case, it’s thought, God and Christianity are a completely unnecessary (and irrational) addition to an otherwise rational and observable world that doesn’t need God and Christianity to explain anything. Correct me if that’s not an accurate understanding.

Reformed theology doesn’t buy that dichotomy. We believe there is rationality and reason, we just believe that God is the source and Creator of those things so that if everything depends on some version of ‘rationality’ or ‘reason’, we’d be depending on a penultimate, created source rather than the ultimate one – God. You might think there’s no ‘reason’ to claim that God is the source, but that response again assumes that reason is the judge and jury of what’s reasonable. We don’t believe that so we’ll never think that reason has that kind of authority; it’s a tool created by God. How do we know? Because God tells us He created everything. How do we know the Bible is actually God’s Word? At root we know that because it reveals God’s character through that Word, but there are other things we can point to that also support that – the continuity within it over millennia, its complexity and depth that is unmatched (if the subject doesn’t see that, it’s because of the subject, not the object), etc.

Everything you see reveals God, and when that fact is not understood the problem is in the blind man who doesn’t see it, not in any weakness in strength of what is revealed. I could shine a spotlight two inches from a blind man and it wouldn’t matter. Open your eyes to seeing that revelation and open a Bible to explain what you’re seeing. I don’t mean ‘read verses’, I mean read it like you’re reading the story of the world and how God works in it, like in the book of John. And go to a good, Bible-believing church on Sunday because faith comes by hearing.

Steve Ruble

10 years ago

Jared, thanks for your response. I feel like there’s some distinction that you are making which I don’t understand. You seem to be rejecting my claim that “[y]ou believe in things which, on your own claim, cannot be discovered, critiqued, or justified either by reason alone or by reason working from experience … things which are beyond reason, which can only be revealed to you by God”, but midway through your post you say,

“You might think there’s no ‘reason’ to claim that God is the source, but that response again assumes that reason is the judge and jury of what’s reasonable. We don’t believe that so we’ll never think that reason has that kind of authority; it’s a tool created by God. How do we know? Because God tells us He created everything.”

To me, your statement is perfectly in line with my statement; you seem to be saying that you have a source of information beyond reason, provided by God, which lets you know truths which are not subject to reasonable analysis. The problem that I have with that, as I wrote before, is that if I can’t use reason to evaluate claims, I don’t know how to decide which claim to believe. Without using reason, how could I decide between your God, Allah, Shiva, or Dharma? Believers in each of those concepts have an equal ability to claim that their concept is the one which truly corresponds to the underlying reality of the universe. They can each say that the truth of their claim is not subject to critique by reason, and that it has been given to them by an overriding revelation.

You can argue over whose claims are more thoroughly substantiated, more internally consistent, etc., but when you do that you’re letting reason back into the game, and subjecting your truth claims to reasonable critique – but you’ve already asserted that that is not a legitimate move. So all you can really do is claim that you experience the truth of your claim directly – revelation – but even that is problematic because part of your argument is that personal experience and opinion is not a sufficient grounding for truth claims. So you’re left with pure assertions, and I’m left feeling like you don’t actually care about reason.

Steve

Jared

10 years ago

Ok, gotcha. It seems like I’m saying that “a source of information beyond reason, provided by God”, which is true if you want to call it ‘beyond reason’ since God is the source and He created reason. But this, “which lets you know truths which are not subject to reasonable analysis” is not what I’m saying, it just seems like an implication from what I’m saying. So I can see how you would think that if we think we know truths that are not subject to reason, it’s an epistemological wilderness where anything goes and picking God and Christian truth is arbitrary, since reason isn’t involved.

The distinction is not that the truths are immune to reasonable analysis, it’s that reason alone (again, however vaguely defined) isn’t the ultimate authority but *at the same time* is a tool and means of analysis once properly located as a part of creation. Reason is a tool, not an independent authoritative source. You probably instinctively know this from reading every epistemological tradition under the sun. ‘Reason’ is so vague and at the same time so taken for granted, it’s amazing to me how philosophers keep getting away with assuming there’s a concept of reason that they can put their finger on. I think that’s why I liked this article so much. Quine would say, ‘ok, go ahead and define reason so it’s completely, obviously, and unanimously as precise as 2 + 2 = 4, do so by not assuming the term ‘reason’, then we’ll start to discuss and use the term that way.’ Impossible. So it’s really not the Christian who’s in an epistemological wilderness, it’s those who take the term ‘reason’ for granted and then land on some arbitrary explanation and definition for it.

Steve Ruble

10 years ago

Jared, I don’t think a precise definition of “reason” is part of the issue. My impression is that you would reject any process or standard which led to conclusions contradicting your own, whether it operated by guess and intuition or rigorous scripture-based exigesis. Am I incorrect? Are you willing to admit that it might be reasonable to disagree with you? Or do you define “reasonable” as “comes to the same conclusions I do”? How do you define “reason”?

Jared

10 years ago

Again, reason’s source and location is in the character of God, so anything that’s different from that is actually unreasonable. And the issue is not whether I’m stubborn, or whether I might admit something, or my own disagreement with differing conclusions.

Steve, you have got to see what I’m saying here, you’ve read enough philosophy to understand this: “Jared, I don’t think a precise definition of “reason” is part of the issue…Are you willing to admit that it might be reasonable to disagree with you?”

How in the world do you just dismiss the call to define the terms properly, then use those undefined terms in the same paragraph? Instead of trying to anticipate my disagreement with conclusions differing from what I believe, I’ll save you the trouble – I will ALWAYS, every time, at every point see reason the way God addresses it in Scripture, as a created tool we are to use in accordance with what he has told us in His Word. Period. Not because I’m stubborn, but because there is no other way to understand it. I didn’t come up with it, it was communicated to me by God through what he says in His Word. Not me. God. I understand it, but I’m not the origin of it. God is.

Reason can be defined a lot of ways, but unless you locate reason within a biblical worldview that can make sense of it in the first place, then 1 Corinthians 2:14, 16: “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him [sounds familiar I’m sure], and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.” No one, not you, not me, NO one tells God what is reasonable and what is not. You gotta cut that out. You don’t instruct him and you’re not the judge, and neither is some vague, undefined, abstract concept of ‘reason.’ God determines what is reasonable, he’s not subject to his own creation. Unless you flip your epistemic priorities and subject your next thought to God’s authority, you’re not going to forward your understanding.

Steve Ruble

10 years ago

Jared, I guess I wasn’t clear when I wrote “I don’t think a precise definition of ‘reason’ is part of the issue”. What I meant was that the issue here doesn’t seem to be the precision of our definition of “reason” (pace Quine) but rather whether or not you would be willing to accept *any* definition of “reason” which left open the possibility that you could be wrong. I think it’s pretty evident from your most recent post that you would not be willing to accept any such definition, so I think I was correct – but I am sorry that I phrased my statement so poorly.

I must say that your definition of reason – to the extent that I can infer it from your post – is at least as circular as any other, if not more so. You seem to be saying that your standard of reason is based on your interpretation of the meaning of the scriptures regarding reason, but your interpretation of the meaning of the scriptures regarding reason can only be called reasonable if it matches your standard of reason, which is based on your interpretation of the scriptures… and so on. Under your definition of reason, I could reasonably claim that Romans 11:33-34 trumps 1 Cor. 2:16, and therefore no one since the apostles can make any reliable statement about God – and that includes those humans at Nicea, Chalcedon, and Westminster. You can *say* that there is a difference between comprehensive and apprehensive knowledge, or whatever, but that would just be your reasoning, which is no more authoritative than my reasoning, and each of us can say that we are basing our reasoning on the Word and Character of God.

I expect that your first reply will be to say that things are not to be evaluated against *your* standard of reason, but rather against *God’s* standard of reason. Of course, *you* don’t have *God’s* standard of reason, as you are not God – so really, all you have to rely on is your standard of reason. You can say, “NO one tells God what is reasonable and what is not,” and “God determines what is reasonable,” and I could totally agree, without it having the slightest impact on the the legitimacy of your definition of “reasonable” or mine. For all you know, God is saying to himselves right now, “That Jared sure is playing fast and loose with reason, and with our Word. If we still smote people, we would smite him silly.” God may have the correct definition of the word “reason” (and, for that matter, the correct definition to “vorpal” and “tulgey”) but that makes no difference – his definition, like his mind, is not something within your grasp. As I’m sure you would agree.

Steve Ruble

10 years ago

Oh, and with regard to crackers and feasts… what I asked for was an article, and you directed me to buy a book. I’m not going to buy K. Scott Oliphant’s book, as my readings of his available essays, chapters, and speeches have already failed to impress me. Surely there are some apologists who do not ask for renumeration in exchange for sharing the truth…

I note in passing that you seem not to accept Oliphant’s admonition on the “Battle Belongs to the Lord” page, which reads in part, “We are to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ as we demolish the arguments, with gentleness and reverence…”

In describing your approach to my arguments, I think the words “gentleness” and “reverence” would be out of place. As would be “demolish”, at least from my perspective :-).

Steve

G. Kyle Essary

10 years ago

Yeah, wouldn’t it be great if you knew Dr. Oliphint’s son and could ask him to beg a copy from his dad to send you…then they could discuss the book with Dr. Oliphint on an upcoming episode and maybe even invite skeptic friend Steve Ruble into the studio…now that would be amazing, huh?

Jonathan

10 years ago

Ha Ha, That would be great!
Steve I hope you read my comment above about the ‘lack of gentleness’, I never want to come off that way. I am always willing to be admonished on that sort of front so please let me know if you get offended by my responses. I also, never want to beat around the bush with you because you seem to hate that sort of thing, so I try to be as direct as I can get. Anyways, I think Kyles suggestion is great one if you are up to it.

Jonathan

10 years ago

Steve,
I hope you enjoy Inception, I loved every minute of it. We are planning on doing a review of it, so feel free to share what you think. As for Van Til, I think he is getting at the fact that just pointing out the insight that someone might be ‘conditioned’ to think a certain way is arbitrary unless you have a working concrete philosophy to contrast it with. Put simply, who isn’t ‘conditioned’ to think their conclusions? He is pointing out that no one is born a blank slate nor thinks in a neutral vacuum. As for your question of denying the consequent, VanTil say that if God is not the All-Conditioner then everything is chaos/meaningless. This line of argumentation is called the impossibility of the contrary. You can of course deny the consequent, the skeptic always wins the argument in the long run. But what VanTil wants to point out is how inconsistent the lives of any person denying the consequent actually end up becoming. You see by even denying the consequent, for VanTil, one cannot help (if they are consistent) to also deny the fact that they even are existing to deny such a claim in the first place. In other words, VanTil argues you have to be created to even deny the Creator. What seems to be being missed here is the fact that this is an Apologetic, it is a defense towards those who are claiming (with so called certainty) that it is irrational to claim Christianity as an authoritative worldview. This is why Quine is helpful. What he (Quine) is pointing out is philosophy hasn’t really gotten anything correct or precise in the are of certainty, truth, definitions, ect. His best guess is cultural posits. That at least, is honest and somewhat consistent. What I hear you saying is that Christianity is just fideistic and therefore wrong, or at least boring. What I hope this episode has pointed out is how strong and bold that claim is given the shaky ground of any philosophical attempt at having a criteria for correctness. I honestly think the best you can do is say that are argument seems boring. I also think you are misunderstanding our anthropology from the outset. People hang their hat on a certain philosophical position not because of their rationality, but because of their heart. This is what Jared was getting at in quoting 1 Corinthians. I hope this helps shed some light on what we believe.

Steve Ruble

10 years ago

Jonathan,

Inception was great! I look forward to your discussion of it.

You characterized Van Til’s position as, “[J]ust pointing out the insight that someone might be ‘conditioned’ to think a certain way is arbitrary unless you have a working concrete philosophy to contrast it with,” which I agree with, to an extent. The problem with taking that idea too far is that you end up as a hopeless postmodernist, seeing every argument as the result of the cultural conditioning of the arguer, with no means of evaluating the arguments – and an honest person must realize that their own arguments are caught in the same net. The only path that seems worthwhile to me is to try to establish intersubjective norms of evaluation (as per Quine) which we can use to create a dialog which makes sense to all parties involved (see also Habermas).

Of course, Van Til denies the possibility of any such dialog, which I suppose is why he ends his essay so weakly, saying in effect, “I’m conditioned, you’re conditioned, oh well.”

I understand that Van Til holds the position that “you have to be created to even deny the Creator”. (Thanks for putting it so concisely!) What I don’t understand is why he (and you) think this is the case. If I say, “I do not believe that I was created by God,” where in that statement is the contradiction? Or if I say, “I am not aware of any available evidence which points to the existence of God,” how am I contradicting myself?

I appreciate your statement, “People hang their hat on a certain philosophical position not because of their rationality, but because of their heart.” I agree, although when I want to express that sentiment I usually quote Jonathan Swift: “It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into.”

I don’t think I’ve misunderstood your “anthropology”. You have the same rhetorical behaviors and thought patterns as radical feminists and Marxists. Those groups have theoretical constructs which they can use to dismiss people who disagree with them (“patriarchy” and “false consciousness” are frequently invoked) as well as constructs which explain why the members of the in-group have the privilege of seeing the truth (because they belong to the correct sex or class). Likewise, you have the concepts of “depravity” and “grace”, which serve the same purposes for you. Most honest thinkers probably feel a need to explain to themselves why other people don’t see things their way – although I prefer to let other people explain to me why they don’t see things my way, rather than imposing on them my explanation for their “deviance” from the “truth”.

As for your argument being boring – If I were more interested in discussing the beliefs of people who were content to say, “I just believe this, because I do, there’s nothing else to talk about,” I would have studied psychology, not philosophy. (Well, to be honest, I did study psychology for a while, but I could tell I wouldn’t have the requisite patience for patients.) So if you want to say, “We just believe in the Bible, and in the God described by the Creeds and Confessions of the church we prefer to care about, and we don’t have an argument for that,” I’d like to move on to internal critique, and stop wasting my time on the external.

Steve

"Philosophy for Theologians" on Aquinas and Other Topics | The Partially Examined Life Philosophy Podcast | A Philosophy Podcast and Blog

9 years ago

[…] short, the podcasters rely on skeptical critiques of folks like Quine (in their lengthy and meaty episode on him) and post-modernism to undercut any possible criticism of Christianity. If you want to say, for […]

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