Thursday, June 12, 2014

My Metaphysic and Epistemology in Bullet Points

My philosophy textbook is out. It is, as far as I know, perhaps the only Christian philosophy textbook out there that privileges a Wesleyan-Arminian perspective (although normally the Nazarenes quickly copy Wesleyan ideas like this once they learn of them... give it a year ;-). It of course tries to present the gamut of philosophical voices fairly without undo bias.

Because it is primarily being used as an e-text, there are only 1000 paperback copies at an unfortunate price...

I thought I might do here, over a few posts, what I have done before with theology: my philosophy in bullet points. Again, the book is written to present options and is not like what I'm about to do, which is present my specific inklings as a quasi-philosopher.

So here is my epistemological and metaphyical sense of things...

Epistemology 1
  • From a standpoint of absolute, rational proof, the only thing of which we can be 100% certain is the fact that something exists (a modified form of Descartes' cogito ergo sum).
  • Everything we think we know, therefore, is based on some degree of faith. We cannot prove that we are not a "brain in a vat" or a computer program. We cannot prove that the world outside us is real.
  • Nevertheless, some constructs of knowledge "work" better than others. Most of the time, it works to assume that the things I sense around me are real (except when it doesn't). It works to step out of the way of moving traffic. It is a sort of pragmatic realism.
Metaphysics 1
  • "Critical realism" is a pragmatic working hypothesis. That is to say, it works to assume that the world outside of my subjective mind is real apart from my perception of it. Yet it also works to assume that my apprehension of that world outside myself is not objective and is likely to be skewed in ways of which I am not aware. We are all unreflective "pre-moderns" in ways we don't know (because if we knew them, we would not be unreflective about them).
(Pragmatic) Epistemology 2
  • Strictly speaking, therefore, all tests for truth reduce to the pragmatic test. Good truth "models" are those that predict future events under certain circumstances and thus, "work."
  • In this sense, the correspondence test more or less reduces to the pragmatic test. The correspondence test "works" if a truth model seems to account for past, present, and especially future events and the data of realia in an "elegant" and useful way.
  • A truth model is an ideological model that means to account for the realia or sense data of the world. These work best in relation to small pockets of realia rather than as large systems. They are abstractions of realia.
  • Large ideological systems tend to be overly simplistic and reductionistic and tend to deconstruct upon detailed examination. Universals can be useful if they are aggregates of particulars. Otherwise, presuppositionalism and typological thinking are particularly "violent" epistemologies.
  • The coherence test is thus of limited value when it comes to large systems. It is most helpful when it extends a useful model into other areas that "cohere" with the model and prove to work in those new areas.
  • The most useful truth models conform to Occam's Razor, that are "as simple as possible without being too simple" (Einstein). Truth models are technically heuristic devices.
  • We do not experience the world-in-itself, but our minds organize our sense experiences (Kant) according to certain patterns that are part of the structure of the human brain. These patterns were built to work in the world. That is to say, the innate categories of our brain are designed to operate according to pragmatic criteria. They are not arbitrary.
  • Ideological systems and paradigms tend to change over time and are significantly impacted by culture and sub-culture. (Kuhn) We absorb a certain way of looking at the world growing up and are unaware that individuals from other cultures see the world differently. The default state of a human being is as an unreflective pre-modern and to a large extent we inevitably remain pre-modern.
  • Even "modern" paradigms tend to deconstruct and change. Scientific paradigms also have a tendency to shift over time as "naughty data" gives rise to major shifts in theories (Kuhn).
  • Divine revelation does not by-pass human paradigms (unless one would hypothesize some pre-verbal, unreflected intuition), but God reveals himself within human categories. Otherwise we would not understand him. Revelation is "incarnated truth." The notion of a "biblical worldview" is largely a pre-modern ideological construct that almost always involves the significant impact of a cultural viewpoint at a particular time and place.
  • The Bible is not an independent path to truth in the sense that "inputting" the content of the Bible does not by-pass human reason. Our reason and experience are inevitably involved in our processing of biblical content. Like our senses, the Bible provides content that is inevitably organized by (and thus limited by) the patterns of our minds as interpreters.
  • The meanings of words are a function of the way they are used (their language game) in a particular form of life (Wittgenstein). Past meanings of words have no necessary connection to present meaning. One meaning of a word has no necessary connection to another. 
  • In keeping with pragmatic epistemology, the primary function of words is not to represent things in the world. Rather, words do things (Austin). 
  • The best working epistemology for a Christian is, "faith seeking understanding." Begin with faith and pursue further understanding from there. Given the epistemological predicament in which we find ourselves, however, such faith should be potentially revisable.
  • By faith, I believe that God knows what is true and what is real in an absolute sense. God knows all the data, all the realia of existence and non-existence. He knows all the relationships between all the data and realia. 
  • An appropriate Christian working model for exploring what "works" in terms of knowledge is thus, "All truth is God's truth."
Metaphysics 2
  • Belief in God is reasonable, although from our current capacity of understanding, it does not seem provable.
  • The idea that the universe was designed and initiated by an Intelligence is as reasonable as the notion that some other unobserved material reality beyond this universe has generated the universe as we know it.
  • The idea that, amid the contingency of existence as we know it, there is an entity with necessary existence seems reasonable. This line of thinking may actually prove God's existence as a Necessary Being, but we are not intelligent/informed enough to know it at this time.
  • While at the time of Newton, scientific thinking seemed to point toward a determined universe, the current climate seems to imply a "freedom" or indeterminism to the universe.
  • The biggest challenge for faith in a benevolent God is the question of evil and suffering. Why does a good God allow the righteous to suffer?
  • The best suggestions are the free will theodicy and the soul making theodicy. The soul making theodicy (Irenaeus) suggests that suffering provides a context in which we can grow morally and become mature people. 
  • The free will theodicy (Augustine) suggests that a world in which we can choose between good and evil is a better world than one in which we all choose good by nature. But if God allows us to choose, some will choose badly and, thus, we will have evil in the world.
  • Others, such as Pascal or Kierkegaard would suggest that we cannot hope to fully understand such things. Lack of clarity creates a context in which faith can thrive.
  • It seems likely that many things that we think of as contradictory to goodness (e.g., death, suffering) are actually not and should not be thought of as incompatible with a good God.
Epistemology 3
  • Items of faith are, in principle, reasonable to believe. They may not be obvious and certainly may not be provable (that is to say, the evidence will rarely "demand" the verdict of faith). Christian thinkers like Aquinas were overconfident in how much about Christian faith is more or less provable. 
  • At the same time, items of faith are not, in general, irrational. God is not a trickster with evidence. Christian thinkers like Tertullian and Kierkegaard go too far in their sense of "blind faith." Similarly, presuppositionalists like van Til and even Barth give us the impression that Christianity can't survive in an evidentiary world, which seems problematic for the long term survival of Christianity. 
  • Therefore, Christian epistemologies that cannot survive the Enlightenment have the whiff of failure.
More to come some other day...

1 comment:

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks for doing this.