Saturday, December 06, 2008

On Epistemology

Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth--2 Timothy 3:7 (KJV).

One of the many blights on the contemporary intellectual landscape is the notion that we can leave epistemology behind: that is, to transcend the need to justify assertions of fact. Descartes is commonly blamed with the turn to epistemology as central; and, of course, we must leave the old, fussy Frenchman behind.

This stance amounts to nothing less than the abandonment of knowledge and to the encouragement of intellectual sloth of the most dangerous kind. When epistemology is neglected, nonsense increases and becomes increasingly accepted. One speaks and writes without any concern for the factuality of what one speaks or writes. This is what Harry Frankfort rightly calls "bullshit." (See his small book On Bullshit, which reviewed elsewhere on this blog and originally in The Denver Post.)

All that was written in order to present this quote from Francis Schaeffer from He is There, He is Not Silent (1972).

"Unless our epistemology is right, everything is going to be wrong."

4 comments:

Adam Omelianchuk said...

Doug, have you read Frankfurt's book _On Truth_ it is a DELIGHTFUL complement to his OB. His insights are much needed for our culture.

Doug Groothuis said...

Yes, and I am using it as a textbook in my Writing for Publication class next term. This is a professional seminary for our philosophy majors.

Doug Groothuis said...

[Prince of Fools posted this. I thought he was a fake, so refused it. Now I don't know, so am posting it myself.]


Dr. G:
You have been so helpful to me in this regard. Not too long ago I was having a long conversation with a cousin of mine who explained that her faith in Christ strayed because of what she learned in science classes. She believes that it is unwise to accept things as true that cannot be empirically proven or established through experimentation. I didn't really know how to address it at the time. Just yesterday in reading The God Who is There I discovered the philosophical roots of her belief being Logical Positivism. Now I understand that the believe criteria is self falsifying as it cannot be empirically proven or established through experimentation. Her name is Corrina. Please pray that God will open her eyes to His truth and equip me to present matters of the faith and truth to her effectively and lovingly. She also needs prayer with respect to her health as she is having lots of medical problems.

pgepps said...

Haven't commented in a while, but I (still) have to disagree.

There is simply a difference between discouraging "intellectual sloth" or attempting to "justify assertions of fact" and believing it is possible or desirable to construct a generic system of assertions concerning form (structuralism) or method (empiricism) which can be used to justify any possible (true) assertion. The project of epistemology, in Providential perspective, was to undo human efforts to ground knowledge within the domain of utterance without authority; and it has been achieved. We will continue to return to it, but within Western civilization the reductio has been performed with admirable thoroughness.

What remains is to see whether the language of the Scripture will be confessed by those who claim Christ's name, and so preached and heard and received and confessed in turn; or whether we will continue to perform idolatries.