Saturday, February 10, 2007

Letter to Christianity Today from Dr. Gordon Lewis

[My esteemed colleague, Dr. Gordon Lewis, wrote this leter to Christianity Today recently. Since they may not print it in its entirety, I wanted to make the full argument available to my intrepid readers. Dr. Lewis, now 80, is an evangelical treasure.]


Letter to the Editor of Christianity Today
From: Gordon R. Lewis, Sr. Professor of Theology and Philosophy,
Denver Seminary

Re: “Five Streams of the Emerging Church” (CT February 2007, pp 35-39).

Commendably, Scot McKnight seeks to “practice the way of Jesus;” sadly, he fails to follow Jesus’ way with words. Does not McKnight’s assertion that “no language is capable of capturing absolute truth.” contradict what Jesus said to his heavenly Father? “I gave them the words you gave me” (John 17:8). “I have given them your word” (v.14) and “your word is truth” (v.17).

Apparently McKnight’s wordless god is not the God who has spoken in human languages. “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Heb 1:1-2).

Like the mystics of the world’s religions, as well as Kierkegaard and Barth, McKnight presupposes that God’s thoughts are infinitely different in every quality from any concepts expressed in human language. So what God reveals is himself, not information about himself. Apparently McKnight overlooks the fact that God created men and women in his image and that the image includes a mental capacity for receiving revealed information. A believer’s new nature is “renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” (Col 3:10).

So McKnight alleges that, “God didn’t reveal a systematic theology but a storied narrative, and no language is capable of capturing the Absolute Truth.” However, in the midst of the Bible’s true stories are indicative sentences asserting what is the case. In the narrative of Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well, he asserted, “God is spirit.” When walking on the road to Emmaus, Jesus explained, “A spirit does not have flesh and bones.” Such affirmations are the building blocks of a consistent view of God. The parables illustrated the true information Jesus taught about his kingdom.

Logic haters to the contrary, Jesus used indicative sentences conveying propositions to teach about God, angels, human souls or spirits, his own deity and mission, signs of the end of the age and a spirituality that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees. Paul’s letters, furthermore, began with doctrinal assertions before moving to their applications in life. If McKnight’s postmodern theory of language were true, Jesus and Paul would be guilty of “linguistic idolatry!” In contrast, Jesus said, “The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life: (John 6:63). His assertions were not limiting but liberating. “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32).

Although systematic theologians claim that divinely revealed assertions are necessary to evangelical spiritual experience, they do not regard them sufficient for every aspect of life. Yes, anyone who comes to God must believe the revealed information that he exists (Heb 11:6). Assent to the truth of that proposition should guide one’s holistic commitment to its personal referent, the living Lord of whom it speaks. “God is spirit” does not completely encompass infinity; God’s awesome being has many other characteristics.

One who practices the way of the articulate Jesus teaches the truth of his assertions. As he said, “These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me” (John 14:23-24). “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away (Mat 24:35).

36 comments:

The Searcher said...

Having not read McKnight's article, I would hazard a guess that he doesn't mean to imply "linguistic heresy". As I've come to understand it, the emerging/emergent etc. crowd is trying to move out of a rationalist view of scripture as an argument for Jesus or as apologetics. They're trying to move toward the Bible as the Story of God. They're trying to tell a better story rather than convince people.

The enlightened, rationalist way of presenting the Gospel doesn't work on postmodern relativism, so hopefully this new fresh way of looking at the Word will have an impact.

Postmodernism is threatening to rationalists, but it is a great opportunity to this new group of narrativists (for lack of a better word). As long as they stay true to the implications of the Story of God, then more power to them!

Tim said...

Searcher,

You write:

The enlightened, rationalist way of presenting the Gospel doesn't work on postmodern relativism,...

Who says? I've had postmodernists as students who have, in the face of persistent argument over the course of months or even years, given up their rebellion against the good gift that is reason. Locke's assessment still rings true:

Reason is natural revelation, whereby the eternal Father of light and fountain of all knowledge, communicates to mankind that portion of truth which he has laid within the reach of their natural faculties: revelation is natural reason enlarged by a new set of discoveries communicated by God immediately; which reason vouches the truth of, by the testimony and proofs it gives that they come from God. So that he that takes away reason to make way for revelation, puts out the light of both, and does much what the same as if he would persuade a man to put out his eyes, the better to receive the remote light of an invisible star by a telescope. (Essay 4.19.4)

On the side, I suggest that you obtain a copy of G. K. Chesterton's book The Poet and the Lunatic and read "The Crime of Gabriel Gale."

Douglas Groothuis said...

Searcher: You give one cliche after another, and none of them has substance. Rational is not rationalistic. I have given rational apologetics in the public square for 30 years. It is what we are called to do. You have no story without propositional truth and objective rationality.

Wake up, please.

MikeKoz10 said...

It should also be pointed out that "the searcher" attempts to make his case via rational arguments making his view self-defeating...

MJ said...

6"Seek the LORD while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near;
7let the wicked forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
8For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.
9For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts. (ESV)

We are made in His image, thanks be to God. The gulf of sin bridged through the sacrifice of His Son, thanks be to Christ. His wisdom and sovereignty still beyond us only to which he affords us to understand, thanks be to the Spirit.

Caleb W said...

I'm sorry, I have to disagree with that letter. Earlier in his article, McKnight states "the vast majority of emerging Christians... don't deny truth, they don't deny that Jesus Christ is truth, and they don't deny the Bible is truth", and that it's only the small minority that do that get all the attention and emerging forms of Christianity a bad name. It seems to me that Dr Lewis's letter makes the mistake, with the best of intentions, of tilting at the windmill of truth-denying relativism when McKnight does not espose such relativism.

For example, Dr Lewis misquotes McKnight: rather than saying "no language is capable of capturing absolute truth" (as Dr Lewis claims), Knight says "no language is capable of capturing the Absolute Truth who alone is God". It seems to me he is not denying the ability of language to communicate [i]any[/i] truth, but its ability to exhaustively describe the nature of God. As such, we need to have a proper humility about our discussion of God. His argument is not that we can't communicate propositional truth about God in language, but that we cannot reduce God [i]only[/i] to propositions, and that emerging Christianity recognises the value of other forms of communicating truth such as narrative that involve more than [i]just[/i] propositions.

It's a mistake to automatically equate emerging with postmodern with truth-denying relativism. Modernism was a mistake, and where the errors of modernism have influenced our Christianity, it is right that we should be "post" them by returning to the Bible. Some postmodernisms, that is, some reactions to modernism, are just as mistaken or even more gravely mistaken than modernism, such as the denial of truth. But some postmodern criticisms are against idols of modernism and are criticisms that Christians can heartily agree with.

The same goes for the Seeker - he did not attack rationality, only rationalism, and I don't see any attack on "propositional truth". However, I disagree with the implication that "telling a better story" and "convincing people" is an either/or: there is more to the Christian apologetic than [i]just[/i] rational argument, but not less.

Kevin Winters said...

I've asked this a few times, but I'll ask again: exactly how does a proposition "correspond" to reality? As one of my favorite examples, how does "Atoms have density" correspond to atoms and their density?

Tim said...

Kevin:

Eh? I'll answer your question about atoms, but I really have no idea why you bring it up as an example. You seem to be implying that it illustrates a weakness in the correspondence view, but I can't see how.

Atoms = collections of subatomic particles (protons, neutrons, electrons, etc.) bound together

density = amount of mass per unit volume

So the statement "Atoms have density" means that atoms have both mass and volume, and you can use a density to describe the relationship between the two. The statement corresponds to reality if atoms do have both mass and volume.

If atoms were simply points--with no volume--then the statement would not correspond to reality. If atoms were massless, then the statement would not correspond to reality.

Now, I'm not sure it is true, exactly. An atom doesn't have a clearly-defined volume. The electrons floating around the nucleus are in a "cloud" with no sharp boundaries. If that's what you had in mind, then you should realize you're not critiquing correspondence--you're critiquing whether that statement is true.

gimmepascal said...

When did "telling a better story" become the way we evangelize or defend the Christian worldview? Of course the Bible is full of amazing narratives, and of course Church history is full of compelling stories. But other religions have intriguing and inspiring stories, and some of these religions might have more charismatic and clever storytellers than our emerging church "narrativists" have. The question is: How do we know which story is true?

The searcher says: "The enlightened, rationalist way of presenting the Gospel doesn't work on postmodern relativism, so hopefully this new fresh way of looking at the Word will have an impact."

Well, here's my "story." I was a young, confused, agnostic, self-professing "postmodern relativist" until I was convinced through argument and sound reason that Christianity is true, rational, and pertinent. The Holy Spirit can work through rational apologetics just as well as he can work through a good story.

By the way, with all this emphasis on story and narrative, I hope that the emerging church movement is encouraging the reading of great literature. If it can inspire the church to turn off the TV and read a good book (including the Bible) then perhaps this movement might accomplish something noteworthy.

Kevin Winters said...

Tim,

There are a number of issues with the proposition "Atoms have density" that put the propositional view of truth in an unfavorable light.

First, the fact that the content of the proposition has changed through its history. Hence, the proposition itself would differ in meaning if it was spoken by Newton or by Heisenberg. With the former, density is understood in terms of a clump whose density depends on the tightness of the smaller clumps of which it is composed. With the latter, it is understandable only through a differential calculus of many dimensions of which no sensuous properties can be attributed. If Heisenberg's view was, in fact, the truth of the matter, then Newton was necessarily wrong; the proposition and its meaning does not correspond to reality.

This is made even more problematic because when you ask the average person on the street, those who have only had, say, high school physics, then you must, by the constraints of the correspondence view, say that they are wrong when they say, "Atoms have density." This has the further consequence that one would have to be an expert in the field of particle physics in order to say something true about said particles since most others who speak of it will rest on a strictly false view of atoms (sensuous Newtonianism, for example).

In response to this you will probably repeat yourself: "you're not critiquing correspondence--you're critiquing whether that statement is true." So let's add another few elements. A friend of mine recently posted on the underdetermination problem in physics. In case you haven't heard about it, the basic idea is that there are at least three ways of interpreting mechanics (including quantum mechanics), but no way to determine which of the three ways are correct. Each way has particular metaphysical alegiances, each of which has consequences on such things as the meaning of the incredibly important phyiscal terms 'force,' 'cause,' and 'law.' So, not only are we now uncertain about the more surface meaning of the term "Atoms have density," but we must even cast doubt on the founding concepts/metaphysic on which these views rest, which themselves cannot be demonstrated.

Let's take this back another step, to make the correspondence relation even more problematic: within the West we have come to value a particular kind of explanation, namely causal explanations. Not only this, but we want to attribute these causes to universal laws that are 'active' at any given time on every physical being. This is a stark 18th century departure from earlier generations that were concerned with how particular kinds of beings act such that the regularities sought were the propensities of particular beings, not universal in relation to context-less laws. While it is certainly true that the focus on laws has brought about many great technological revolutions, utility does not demonstrate truth and we are put back yet another step in our search for correspondence.

Not only must one have the right meaning in a proposition, one must also have the right way of understanding and applying the mathematics behind the meaning, the metaphysic on which it rests, and a correct cultural valuation of what kind of explanations (laws or beings?) are to be used. In short, it is practically impossible to know if the correspondence relation occurs. Even in physics--a supposedly 'hard' science--there is too much that is uncertain at its very foundations, let alone at the level of propositions.

With these epistemological concerns, "correspondence" becomes a useless ideal since we cannot know if we are truly describing things as they are. While we may champion it, we cannot claim it when even the most foundational aspects of our beliefs are without epistemological support.

This is not to say that there is no truth, merely that the correspondence relation cannot be it without entailing absurd skepticism. We cannot even say that something is 'partly true' since that 'partly true' proposition does not correspond to reality, hence it is entirely false. Yes, we cannot live without truth, but I have doubts as to the usefulness of the correspondence approach, especially when we must proclaim as necessarily false (or unknowable) the physics claims of the everyday person. Some other approach is needed. If the correspondence view of truth is epistemologically unweildy, should we be its champions?

Douglas Groothuis said...

1. We can have knowledge of absolute truths without knowing everything. Jesus is the only mediator. That is absolutely true and it is supportable through logic and history.

2. Moreover, one can have knowledge of absolute truths without total certainty.

Emergent/PoMo people usually don't make these distinctions--and inflict their ignorance on everyone in so doing.

Kevin:

A statement corresponds by hitting a target; it succeeds in describing what it attempts to describe. What is wrong with that?

Kevin Winters said...

Douglas,

I'm not so certain on your claims. Knowledge, as justified true belief, is also a problematic concept. In particular, when is something "justified"? We come to the same problems that I raised and it seems that the point when one thinks something is justified is arbitrary--for some it takes very little, for others it takes a lot, and for others it seems like it is something that can never be reached. Add to this my questions about truth--how can we know that someone's truth claim is (1) based on the right metaphysic, (2) is sufficiently informed (they are an expert), and (3) is based on the right valuation for explanation? Again, "truth" is problematic when viewed in this way: either something is true or it is not; either it does correspond or it does not...but we can't really know because the deeper aspects of the truth-claim are beyond justification, nor are they clear and distinct, given or 'intuitive.'

Again, like I said to Tim, this doesn't mean that knowledge is impossible, but that this particular theory is inadequate and, when taken to its final end, results in either arbitrary acceptance of justification or absolute skepticism. That is my argument.

As for your characterization of "Emergent/PoMo people," I could make the exact same claim in relation to your work against so-called postmodernists: you do not make the necessary distinctions. This is what most Evangelicals don't do, so you have no one to challenge it within your camp and you immediately pre-judge that any so-called postmodernist doesn't have anything worthwhile to say. After all, you are the "expert"!

As for your last statement directed at me, "description" certainly is a better term than "correspond." It is looser in its constraints and does not demand a one-to-one connection between each and every part of the proposition. It does not escape the problems I gave, but it allows for the leniency that the traditional approach categorically denies--describing things as they are!

However, description also makes things a little more hazy: description according to what context? In terms of causes and laws? In terms of substances and properties? In terms of processes? In terms of art or utility or mere presence? Each of these contexts alter the description, give it different meanings, and yet they are not reducible to each other. Here we do not have the truth about an object, but multiple truths depending the context in which the object is described.

A baseball bat can be a door prop, a paper weight, a work of art, a museum peice, or a weapon just as much as something to hit baseballs with in a game. This is a rudimentary way of talking about the so-called postmodern rejection of THE truth: truth according to what context, in tandem with what human projects and objects? Does the context of physics exhaust THE true way of describing the baseball bat? So-called postmodernists would say no, hence there are multiple truths just as there are mutliple (practically or actually infinite) contexts in which truths appear.

John Haugeland wrote an excellent piece on this that is put more in terms of traditional philosophy. See his "Objective Perception," in Having Thought: Essays in the Metaphysics of Mind (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998), 241-265. The other peices in the "Truth" section are also good reads on this issue and I would highly suggest them.

Tim said...

Kevin,

There are two people posting here under the name of "Tim," so you may be under a misimpression regarding your interlocutor. You and I have been 'round the barn on some of these issues a few times, and I haven't much time right now, but here are a few points.

You write:

First, the fact that the content of the proposition has changed through its history.

This is a category mistake: you asked (the other) Tim about the sentence "Atoms have density," and he interpreted you in a particular way. The proposition is a meaning, not a sentence; the most you can say is that the sentence has changed in meaning, but it is propositions, not sentences, that most defenders of the correspondence view are talking about.

You write:

With these epistemological concerns, "correspondence" becomes a useless ideal since we cannot know if we are truly describing things as they are.

It looks like "cannot know" here means "cannot have certainty." If so, what's the problem? If not -- why think a thing like that? You continue:

This is not to say that there is no truth, merely that the correspondence relation cannot be it without entailing absurd skepticism.

The "absurd skepticism" is chimerical; there is no cogent argument here forcing the correspondence theorist into skepticism.

Now that I've glanced back at the comments thread I see that Doug has already beat me to the punch:

... one can have knowledge of absolute truths without total certainty.

Kevin Winters said...

Tim,

If knowledge is possible without absolute certainty, how do we determine if a belief is truly "justified"? Do we assume that it is justified when any rational person, when looking at the evidence, would come to that conclusion? But that is then begging the question of one's own rationality and continues to be an arbitrary choice. How can one have knowledge--as JTB--when justification itself is largely arbitrary? When can we call it knowledge?

Kevin Winters said...

Tim,

"The "absurd skepticism" is chimerical; there is no cogent argument here forcing the correspondence theorist into skepticism."

What about the things I've already provided? Not only are the very foundational (metaphysical) grounds on which a view rest incapable of justification, but the strong requirement that the proposition describe things as they are requires skepticism--the point at which we think we are justified is the arbitrary point that we simply stop looking at some part of the 'way things are' and somehow think we are justified in those conclusions.

Groothuis is a very happy to argue that 'objective truth' is possible, yet at the very foundations (i.e. what is an object?) we cannot have justification, hence we cannot be certain of either the meaning or truth of what we are thinking. Again, correspondence is an ideal and cannot account for such things as the 'general' truth of the claims of the layman, the possible metaphysical allegiances of the physicist (that may not be right), or the very valuation of a particular kind of explanation (causal, ontological, artistic, pragmatic, etc.).

Adam Omelianchuk said...

Kevin,

You say: "Groothuis is a very happy to argue that 'objective truth' is possible, yet at the very foundations (i.e. what is an object?) we cannot have justification, hence we cannot be certain of either the meaning or truth of what we are thinking."

Does this statement correspond with reality? Every attempt I have heard to deny correspondence presumes it: "Correspondence is false because it doesn't correspond with reality."

Kevin Winters said...

Adam,

It is circular only if you assumed truth=correspondence. I am questioning both the meaning and efficacy of that very concept. I do not think that it accurately reflects the mind's relation to 'the real' nor do I think that it is a very good metaphor for understanding truth--the side by side comparison between the meaning of a proposition and the thing spoken of as it is. My argument is not that the correspondence view of truth does not correspond to reality, but that the very notion of correspondence is inadequate and highly problematic. Another term and another concept is needed.

Tim said...

Kevin,

You write:

If knowledge is possible without absolute certainty, how do we determine if a belief is truly "justified"?

We check to see whether it is well-supported by the total available evidence.

You go on to ask:

Do we assume that it is justified when any rational person, when looking at the evidence, would come to that conclusion?

We do not assume this, but it is a consequence of any worthwhile concept of rationality.

You have doubts about the applicability of this, however, which you express next:

But that is then begging the question of one's own rationality and continues to be an arbitrary choice.

Not at all, if some forms of rational belief are in fact clear and distinct -- which they are, as Descartes saw (clearly and distinctly).

You go on to ask:

How can one have knowledge--as JTB--when justification itself is largely arbitrary?

Presupposition failure here: justification is not arbitrary.

When can we call it knowledge?

I take it you're asking about the assertability conditions of knowledge claims here. 'Kp' is assertable just in case the available evidence strongly supports the claim that one's belief that Kp is true and justified.

Justification is of course something that comes in degrees, so the degree of justification for any claim, be it 'p' or 'Kp', lies on a continuum. But there is no reason that this should paralyze us.

You quote me:

The "absurd skepticism" is chimerical; there is no cogent argument here forcing the correspondence theorist into skepticism.

You then respond:

What about the things I've already provided?

See above: I haven't seen anything that looks cogent from you on this.

Not only are the very foundational (metaphysical) grounds on which a view rest incapable of justification,...

You have yet to advance a persuasive argument for this. You may be laboring under the illusion that foundationalism in epistemology has been refuted. I've dealt with that at some length here and here.

...but the strong requirement that the proposition describe things as they are requires skepticism--...

No, it does not: see above.

...the point at which we think we are justified is the arbitrary point that we simply stop looking at some part of the 'way things are' and somehow think we are justified in those conclusions.

I'm sorry to have to be blunt, but you have been told a postmodern fairy tale regarding epistemology. This concession to Richard Rorty and his ilk is not the outcome of any compelling line of argument. Again, see my more extended discussions at the links above.

:mic said...

This letter sounds a lot like some of that 'encrusted dogmatism' which doesn't exist at Denver Seminary although it seems to crop up ever so frequently. Perhaps this is why the letter has less of a feel that Lewis is making an attempt to better this movement and more of a feel that this is simply the old guard of evangelicalism which cannot embrace a new approach to faith.

I must wonder why so many believers demand that we interact with those of other faiths and worldviews with a mode of gentleness and respect, but are so quick to fire away at other believers who are making good efforts to move forward.

Maybe Lewis can call for a statement drafted by the ETS which eliminates emergent belief as that which is evangelical, since that is the UN of evangelical belief.

Aaron Snell said...

Kevin,

I do not think that it [the view that truth=correspondence] accurately reflects the mind's relation to 'the real

On what grounds then do you reject it, when you say that it doesn't "accurately reflect" the situation under discussion, but then claim that "my argument is not that the correspondence view of truth does not correspond to reality"? How does a description of something not "accurately reflect" that thing in something other than a correspondence sense?

Aaron Snell said...

Oh, Kevin, and Tim's point stands: in saying

the fact that the content of the proposition has changed through its history. Hence, the proposition itself would differ in meaning if it was spoken by Newton or by Heisenberg.

you are confusing type and token, so it is indeed a category error. It is also, the way you used it, a straw man.

Beyond Words said...

As one born the same year as McNight, I see him doing what people my age should be doing--coming along side the idealistic youth with his age and wisdom in following Jesus without dismissing their concerns. McNight spends a lot of time defending orthodoxy but not fundamentalism. He can't be painted with the same brush as someone like Hicks, for example, who describes God as being so ineffable that we can't grasp his ultimate reality, therefore, all religions are equally true because of our cultural lens.

I appreciate Lewis' concern for the emerging church. There's a lot to be concerned about. But I'm encouraged by McNight coming alongside to help them shape their creeds and praxis.

Timbo said...

As a foundationalist and believer in absolute truth, I am very much concerned by the emerging adoption of postmodern epistemology, yet as a sinner saved by grace, I am more concerned by the overall lack of grace in Dr. Lewis's critique of Dr. McKnight. Even if Lewis is speaking the truth and McKnight believes in some "wordless god" (something I really doubt), this letter does not appear to have been offered in love.

Kevin Winters said...

Tim,

Even after reading the two links you gave, I still fail to see how the average person's proposition, "Atoms have density," can be true on a correspondence view. Not only will they lack the higher mathematics needed to understand the atom, but they will attribute to the atom sensuous qualities that modern physics cannot allow. So, what they say is false, it does not correspond.

On the question of foundationalism, I will refer you to Charles Taylor's Overcoming Epistemology. It is a succinct account of my non-epistemological problems with the view.

Stephen said...

hi douglas,

thanks for posting this letter. I think it's helpful in that it gets this conversation out in the open and allows for better mutual understanding. however, I do respectfully suggest that Dr. Lewis' has missed Scot and I elaborate on that here.

blessings and thanks for your work,

Tim said...

Kevin,

The example was not of my making, nor did I comment on it -- you may be confusing me with the other poster named "tim" here. I haven't taken a stand on that particular example because it involves some issues of meaning that are trickier than in more mundane examples, such as "Tim has posted on Doug Groothuis's blog."

I'm impressed that you took the trouble to read my 1995 book on foundationalism. In return, I've read the scanned copy of Taylor's 1995 essay at the link you gave. It looks to me like Taylor, insofar as he offers anything like an argument against foundationalism, is depending on Rorty, who is in turn depending heavily on Sellars. But in my book, and more briefly in the article on my website, I offer what I take to be damning criticisms of Sellars's central argument against foundationalism. Do you see any flaws in my counter-arguments?

The other strand to Taylor's critique, and arguably the more important one to him, is the critique of the notion of representation. Here, however, I'm at a loss to discover his argument. Perhaps I simply need to re-read it; perhaps various scanning errors are getting in the way. (I cannot figure out what this bit is supposed to mean: "But the Lichtung. formulation focuses us on the fact (which we are meant to conic to perceive as astonishing) that the knower-known complex is at all, ..." What is 'conic' doing in there?) Can you lay out what you take to be Taylor's premises for his argument against representationalism (or representative realism) more clearly than he does?

soldier said...

mic
We are "quick to fire away at other believers who are making good efforts to move forward" because the most dangerous error is that which is closest to the truth. And there is nothing as dangerous as a wolf among the sheep, or an angel of light stirring a bit of poision into the spiritual sauce. Moving forward can really be translated as moving away from the truth.

Kevin Winters said...

Tim,

I haven't taken a stand on that particular example because it involves some issues of meaning that are trickier than in more mundane examples, such as "Tim has posted on Doug Groothuis's blog."

I'm not so certain that your example above is more "mundane" than the one I gave. Either way, it is precisely in looking at the limits of a philosophy that we can see its true ground, its true essence. This is, to use Heidegger's term, "destruction" (Abbau, deconstruction). It is precisely at these "trickier" levels that the traditional notion is decentered and stands in need of a new (in this case, non-epistemological) ground.

I'm impressed that you took the trouble to read my 1995 book on foundationalism.

Sorry if I wasn't explicit enough in my comment: I went to the links and read your online piece, but I am getting your book through interlibrary loan. I will read it and will send you an email on my thoughts as I read through it.

It looks to me like Taylor, insofar as he offers anything like an argument against foundationalism, is depending on Rorty

No, not quite. Rorty is mentioned only in the first part of the paper. Following this, Taylor then moves on to a more Heideggerian/Merleau-Pontian approach, the "wider conception of the epistemological tradition, from whose viewpoint this last [i.e. the view of Rorty] would be a rather grotesque judgment." Rorty focuses on foundationalism per se while Taylor is focusing on "the understanding of knowledge that made it possible." Rorty makes the mistake of rejecting foundationalism while still accepting the understanding of knowledge on which it rests, which is why his only option is skepticism and relativism. Taylor's critique is much broader, delving into the very ontological and ethical foundations of that view.

But in my book, and more briefly in the article on my website, I offer what I take to be damning criticisms of Sellars's central argument against foundationalism. Do you see any flaws in my counter-arguments?

Again, I don't have your book yet, but I rescanned the article and don't see the particular argument you are referring to. If you could point me to a section I'd be glad to give something more particular.

(I cannot figure out what this bit is supposed to mean: "But the Lichtung. formulation focuses us on the fact (which we are meant to conic to perceive as astonishing) that the knower-known complex is at all, ..." What is 'conic' doing in there?)

I believe the word should be "come." I the intended words in each case of mis-scanning can be pretty easily discerned.

Can you lay out what you take to be Taylor's premises for his argument against representationalism (or representative realism) more clearly than he does?

It is implicit in the paper and one has to be familiar with Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty to see it. Thankfully, though, he presents a more extensive argument here (a penultimate version of his contribution to The Cambridge Companion to Merleau-Ponty. Most importantly, for your claims, he repudiates Rorty's (and Quine's) view as still staying within the epistemological/mediational/reprsentational view. In the second section he addresses Heidegger's/Merleau-Ponty's alternative.

Tim said...

Kevin,

Note that I said Taylor seemed to be dependent on Rorty for his argument against foundationalism and that the strand of his critique that was more important, from Taylor's own point of view, was the critique of representationalism.

Regarding mundane and non-mundane examples, we'll have to agree to disagree until I can get a better grip on what your premises are.

You're surely right that "come" was the original word in Taylor's piece. Most of the scanning errors I could decipher fairly easily, but that one threw me since "conic" is an actual word.

I read Merleau-Ponty in graduate school, but I wouldn't claim deep familiarity with him or with Heidegger; that may explain why Taylor's argument against representationalism is not visible to me. I'll have a look at the other article; thanks for the link.

Kevin Winters said...

Tim,

Taylor's primary argument, as he says, is not against representationalism, but rather against the foundational inner/outer distinction on which even representationalism rests. That is the primary issue, representationalism being merely one of the casualties.

Off the top of my head and with no claim to rigor, here are a few arguments that I think Taylor would adhere to in relation to representationalism (and which I think can be implied in his paper).

First, the representational/mediational view has the real possibility of falling into solipsism whereby all that is known are the 'inner' representations rather than actual 'outer' things. This is seen even in Husserl's account of intentionality where, ultimately, I see 'pure perceptions,' not things. This is a question of the reductionism of all things to 'inner' mental constructs.

Second, and more fundamentally, the inner/outer distinction on which this view rests cannot allow for a coherent correspondence view (which is not denied, but merely denied as being fundamental) since we are self-confined in our 'inner' worlds without any genuine contact with things. If my only access is through 'inner' representations and beliefs, there is no way of 'comparing' those to an 'outer' world. Every attempt at doing so will, of necessity, return again to my 'inner' representations and beliefs.

Third, drawing this from Merleau-Ponty, our perceptions and interactions with things are inherently vague, not clear representations. This is seen in a decent amount of modern work on philosophy of perception where 'making representations' does not seem to be the primary goal of perception (visual or otherwise; the work of Alva Noe, A. David Milner and Melvyn A. Goodale, and Arien Mack and Irvin Rock all point to the under-determination in our perceptions). Merleau-Ponty refers to this in terms of our being optimally related to the object under consideration--standing the optimal distance from it, interacting with it in the optimal way according to the demands of the context, etc. This optimality is never attained, but it is forever our body's goal. Rather than being the clear conglomeration of 'sense data,' perception is essentially of things in a deeply embodied way.

Fourth, this last from Heidegger, that we have representations is a relic of our (largely empricistic, but ultimately Cartesian) ideology--the idea that we can have a subject that is only contingently related to a world. This is seen in Descartes' Meditations, in Husserl's account of intentionality (the transcendental and the empirical subject), and modern mediational views. Here, then, we have a subject that is somehow (see above arguments) 'added' to a world (understood as 'nature'), which implies that the two are potentially mutually exclusive (even if not in 'practice'). Heidegger's response is that this is not true to the phenomenology of lived experience: we are not subjects over against objects, but the being that essentially belongs together with being/beings, that cannot be understood apart from his engagement with being/beings and, consequently, apart from which any idea of being/beings is meaningless. This is not to say that without man there would be nothing, only that things are--are baseball bats, are animals, are good or bad--only by virtue of their being disclosed by man. Asking what things are apart from man is meaningless insofar as meaning only occurs within contexts constituted by other beings, projects, valuations, etc. When the only being that inhabits context--i.e. man--is removed, the world is meaningless or, rather (returning to Heidegger's own language), it is not at all. Incidentally, this is at least part of what Taylor is getting at in the "conic" sentence that you quoted.

I don't know if that helps, but I hope it is at least partially informative.

Dan Edelen said...

These are all very high-level arguments, but it seems to me that they all miss the point--even Dr. Lewis, with whom I basically agree.

It seems to me that the arguments here talk around each other. God reveals Himself through words and language. He communicates absolute truth this way.

He also communicates absolute truth through images. In fact, Dr. Lewis references the power of image in his argument, almost attempting to negate image even as he bases his argument on it.

Christ is the Word. He is also the image of the invisible God. The Father in His infinite wisdom understands that words and images comprise truth. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

We can't have one without the other, yet when we argue in favor of exclusionary positions on what constitutes truth, one saying that words alone comprise the whole of it, while another goes the opposite direction, we miss it entirely.

How foolish.

Tim said...

Kevin,

I still need to go read the other Taylor piece, so this is just preliminary. But I think those four arguments, insofar as I understand them, are unpersuasive.

The first one seems to go like this:

1. If representationalism (R) is correct, then it is possible that we never know anything beyond the "inner" world of our own representations.

2. We do know something beyond the "inner" world of our own representations.

Therefore,

3. R is false.

There are two problems here. First, this argument is invalid; 3 doesn't follow from 1 and 2. We could try to repair that by strengthening 1 to

1'. If representationalism (R) is correct, then we know nothing beyond the "inner" world of our own representations.

Now the argument is valid, but 1' is simply false. Someone who presses this argument misses the central point of representative realism: we know the world beyond our ideas by means of our ideas. Someone could lapse into pro forma solipsism through failure to understand how explanatory inference allows us to move from the "inner" to the "outer" world. Hume sometimes writes like this. But this just exhibits the poverty of Hume's understanding of non-deductive inference. is a mistake not forced on us by representative realism.

The second argument seems to go like this:

1. If truth is a matter of correspondence between the "inner" world of our representations and the "outer" world of objective facts (C), then we must be able to compare the inner and the outer worlds directly.

2. If R is true, we cannot compare them directly since we never have direct, unmediated access to the outer world.

Therefore,

3. The conjunction of R with C is inconsistent.

But this argument is also flawed. From the fact that we do not have direct access to the "outer" world, it doesn’t follow that the notion of correspondence is meaningless. In fact, that would not follow even if we did not have inferential resources to overcome skepticism. Premise 1 is false.

I’m not at all sure that I understand the third argument well enough to be able to untangle its premises. Perhaps it runs like this:

1. If R is true, our perceptions of things are never sub-optimal or vague and our perceptual beliefs never underdetermine the objective facts about the object perceived.

2. Our perceptions are sometimes sub-optimal or vague and our perceptual beliefs regularly underdetermine the objective facts about the object perceived.

Therefore,

3. R is false.

But 1 is clearly a straw man here; no serious representationalist has ever claimed something that silly. In any event, this argument seems to be attributing to the representative realist the position that making representations is the primary goal of perception. But again this is a straw man: the representative realist is happy to acknowledge that the representations are just the means, not the end, of perception.

Unsurprisingly, I find the fourth line of thought (from Heidegger) completely obscure. If it isn't simply begging the question against the representationalist, I don't know what it is saying. I can't follow the sense of "mutually exclusive" intended here. Sorry.

Tim said...

Kevin,

I still need to go read the other Taylor piece, so this is just preliminary. But I think those four arguments, insofar as I understand them, are unpersuasive.

The first one seems to go like this:

1. If representationalism (R) is correct, then it is possible that we never know anything beyond the "inner" world of our own representations.

2. We do know something beyond the "inner" world of our own representations.

Therefore,

3. R is false.

There are two problems here. First, this argument is invalid; 3 doesn’t follow from 1 and 2. We could try to repair that by strengthening 1 to

1'. If representationalism (R) is correct, then we know nothing beyond the "inner" world of our own representations.

Now the argument is valid, but 1' is simply false. Someone who presses this argument misses the central point of representative realism: we know the world beyond our ideas by means of our ideas. Someone could lapse into pro forma solipsism through failure to understand how explanatory inference allows us to move from the "inner" to the "outer" world. Hume sometimes writes like this. But this just exhibits the poverty of Hume’s understanding of non-deductive inference. It is a mistake not forced on us by representative realism.

The second argument seems to go like this:

1. If truth is a matter of correspondence between the "inner" world of our representations and the "outer" world of objective facts (C), then we must be able to compare the inner and the outer worlds directly.

2. If R is true, we cannot compare them directly since we never have direct, unmediated access to the outer world.

Therefore,

3. The conjunction of R with C is inconsistent.

But this argument is also flawed. From the fact that we do not have direct access to the "outer" world, it doesn’t follow that the notion of correspondence is meaningless. In fact, that would not follow even if we did not have inferential resources to overcome skepticism. Premise 1 is false.

I’m not at all sure that I understand the third argument well enough to be able to untangle its premises. Perhaps it runs like this:

1. If R is true, our perceptions of things are never sub-optimal or vague and our perceptual beliefs never underdetermine the objective facts about the object perceived.

2. Our perceptions are sometimes sub-optimal or vague and our perceptual beliefs regularly underdetermine the objective facts about the object perceived.

Therefore,

3. R is false.

But 1 is clearly a straw man here; no serious representationalist has ever claimed something that silly. In any event, this argument seems to be attributing to the representative realist the position that making representations is the primary goal of perception. But again this is a straw man: the representative realist is happy to acknowledge that the representations are just the means, not the end, of perception.

Unsurprisingly, I find the fourth line of thought (from Heidegger) completely obscure. If it isn’t simply begging the question against the representationalist, I don’t know what it is saying. I can’t follow the sense of “mutually exclusive” intended here. Sorry.

Tim said...

Kevin,

I still need to go read the other Taylor piece, so this is just preliminary. But I think those four arguments, insofar as I understand them, are unpersuasive.

The first one seems to go like this:

1. If representationalism (R) is correct, then it is possible that we never know anything beyond the "inner" world of our own representations.

2. We do know something beyond the "inner" world of our own representations.

Therefore,

3. R is false.

There are two problems here. First, this argument is invalid; 3 doesn’t follow from 1 and 2. We could try to repair that by strengthening 1 to

1'. If representationalism (R) is correct, then we know nothing beyond the "inner" world of our own representations.

Now the argument is valid, but 1' is simply false. Someone who presses this argument misses the central point of representative realism: we know the world beyond our ideas by means of our ideas. Someone could lapse into pro forma solipsism through failure to understand how explanatory inference allows us to move from the "inner" to the "outer" world. Hume sometimes writes like this. But this just exhibits the poverty of Hume’s understanding of non-deductive inference. It is a mistake not forced on us by representative realism.

The second argument seems to go like this:

1. If truth is a matter of correspondence between the "inner" world of our representations and the "outer" world of objective facts (C), then we must be able to compare the inner and the outer worlds directly.

2. If R is true, we cannot compare them directly since we never have direct, unmediated access to the outer world.

Therefore,

3. The conjunction of R with C is inconsistent.

But this argument is also flawed. From the fact that we do not have direct access to the "outer" world, it doesn’t follow that the notion of correspondence is meaningless. In fact, that would not follow even if we did not have inferential resources to overcome skepticism. Premise 1 is false.

I’m not at all sure that I understand the third argument well enough to be able to untangle its premises. Perhaps it runs like this:

1. If R is true, our perceptions of things are never sub-optimal or vague and our perceptual beliefs never underdetermine the objective facts about the object perceived.

2. Our perceptions are sometimes sub-optimal or vague and our perceptual beliefs regularly underdetermine the objective facts about the object perceived.

Therefore,

3. R is false.

But 1 is clearly a straw man here; no serious representationalist has ever claimed something that silly. In any event, this argument seems to be attributing to the representative realist the position that making representations is the primary goal of perception. But again this is a straw man: the representative realist is happy to acknowledge that the representations are just the means, not the end, of perception.

Unsurprisingly, I find the fourth line of thought (from Heidegger) completely obscure. If it isn’t simply begging the question against the representationalist, I don’t know what it is saying. I can’t follow the sense of “mutually exclusive” intended here. Sorry.

Tim said...

Sorry about the triple post. Google/Blogger has done something freaky and I can no longer edit in the good old fashioned way. :(

Kevin Winters said...

Like I said, they were off-the-cuff and not attempts at much rigour. I've been reading through a few of Taylor's works that deal with this issue in order to present a more adequate argument (it's not a question I am dealing with right now, so forgive me as I stumble through it). I'll get back to you.

P.S. Got your book and have a number of questions. I'll email ya.