Beyond Reason


Definitions

Posted in Faith,Philosophy by Abigail on February 23, 2007

Well, naturally the situation was more complex than first supposed. Here’s an article relating to the previous short discussion on science/ID and also on naturalism and reductionism. I’m sure free will gets mixed in there somewhere. Anyway, enjoy!

Why did I name this post Definitions? Because it appears even the very basics – definitions of terms – are up for grabs.

Brad, do you have any opinions yet? I was really hoping to hear what you have to say on a few previous posts. Jai, too busy with Air Force stuff? I guess I can just keep hearing myself talk… 🙂

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8 Responses to 'Definitions'

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  1. Brad said,

    Please see my post on the earlier topic of your favorite argument disappearing (or something like that). Not that it has anything to do with this one just in case you might miss it.
    I really don’t think that definitions are up for grabs so much as I think that understanding is forever being augmented. Things exist and we are constantly receiving greater amounts and more detailed information about them all the time. I think that we are beyond the earth shattering the world is round and heliocentric kinds of discroveries though. I say that not because there won’t come along a great revelation that will forever change the way we think, but because our disposition towards those revelations has changed. We expect some new thing to come along. We expect the way that we measure and observe the world around us to change. I don’t think that this was always the case. But that’s neither here nor there.
    The reason why I haven’t been posting a lot lately is because I have been doing some reading on epistemology lately. If I could recommend that you try to stretch yourself and attempt to read the Warrant series by Alvin Plantinga please do. I’m currently reading Warrant and Proper Function. It is by far the most engaging technical philosophy I have ever read.
    I tend to view everything through a singular lens when I’m reading something good or important so please excuse my constant references back to this work until I finish it.
    Epistemology in case you didn’t know is the study of knowledge…or how do I know that I know something. What we really want is not some objective definition of knowledge but a subjective justification for what I already believe. Plantinga tries to say what we really need in epistemology is a thing he calls “warrant”. Warrant can be described as that which is added to a belief a subject has to make it knowledge. I am really over simplifying things and in the process destroying any usefulness to you…but I’m trying to whet your appetite.
    It was assumed for a very long time that knowledge is a Justified True Belief (I will abbreviate this JTB). There is a lot of unpacking that comes from that statement that I just don’t have the time or the experience to fully do for you here. The first book in Plantinga’s series “Warrant: The Current Debate” does an excellent job of going over as many schools of epistemology in the last century as can be expected from a single volume. His conclusion, in short, is that too much of knowledge theory has placed the emphasis on duty. I can say I know something when I have done my duty in researching and developing my idea to make sure that it is true (the justified part of the JTB equation). A real smart alack by the name of Gettier ruined this assumption for philosophers. The story goes that he had to publish an article for a journal to retain his position in the Philosophy department he was teaching in, so he threw together this little 5 pager that turned philosophy on its ear for a while. He came up with these scenarios that blew the justification part of the equation out of the water. I’ll give you one now…You are driving down a country highway and you see a middleish sized object that appears to be black and white, has what looks like four legs and a tail…are you getting the picture yet…well you glance away and the passenger next to you says “look a cow” and you say “I know”. What you really saw was a model of a cow (painting or sculpture that looked very realistic).
    Could you say that you “knew” there was a cow there?…But wait before you object and say it wasn’t a real cow anyway…there really was a cow there standing directly behind the model cow. Looking very similar to the fake one and that is the cow that the passenger was referring to.
    The important part of this example is not whether or not you knew there was a cow there. The important part is why? Whether you answer yes or no you have to admit that there was no justificatory situation obtaining for your knowledge or lack of it.
    You looked and saw an object you believed was a cow (the B in JTB), someone else said “look a cow” (the J in JTB- the justification is from authority- how much justification do you need to confirm that there’s a cow) there was a cow there (the T part of JTB). But I don’t think that anybody would say you knew there was a cow there based on the JTB model of knowledge.
    I’m really not doing the example justice…so don’t make a straw man out of my ineptitude.
    I say all of this to point out that even if we change abruptly our model of knowledge do we then have to say that there was no knowledge before or even that there was no definition of knowledge. We may alter what we mean when we say we know something in the future but we aren’t redefining what we mean by knowledge. The definition was never the point anyway. What we are doing is not correctly defining things into existence, but properly describing things already existing.
    If someone were to say to me “Have you met Amanda?” I would say “Yes” After gossiping (Purely for the sake of this example) about you for 2 or 3 minutes I realize that who this person is talking about is someone else entirely. We have to backtrack completely and start all over again and confirm by description that we are referring to the same person just so we can gossip about you. Does that mean that the definition of Amanda is up for grabs? Nope there are many Amandas out there but in the context of the discussion you existed all along we just had to affirmatively describe you. All talk about Science and Religion must be descriptive not definitive.

  2. amandalaine said,

    “Technical Philosophy” huh? I think philosophy sounds hard enough. Adding the word technical on the end… I’d probably spend several days just on the first paragraph.

    But, yeah, thanks for the recommendation! I will look into it. I believe I may have just been reading a little bit of that author yesterday.

    I got your three posts. Thank you! It’ll take me a while. I am currently swamped with homework and other responsibilities, BUT, as soon as they let up, I will read all your posts more carefully and respond. I totally appreciate it! Thanks once again.

    You gossip about me?! Just kiddin. 🙂

  3. amandalaine said,

    Guess what? Plantinga is already sitting on my desk at the bottom of 20 other books I am “reading”!

    Glad to hear you’re reading more. That’s always fun. And thanks for posting again!

    I could just turn this blog into a book club…. just kiddin.

  4. amandalaine said,

    Well, it helps to read an authors’ first name. Alvin Plantinga is not sitting in my stack of books – a different Plantinga is. Not that this matters at all – I just felt the need to correct.

    A real, substantive response is coming later. Thanks again for your thoughts Brad!

  5. amandalaine said,

    Hey Brad!

    I had left, undefined, what I mean by “definitions of terms – are up for grabs.” so thanks for pointing out that there are potential problems with this.

    Are you primarily making an argument for objective reality? If so, I agree with you. I didn’t mean to imply that our defining a term actually affects the thing we’re defining. You could say it only affects us.

    These are new thoughts for me, but, I would say we effectively live in a subjective world, not an objective one. So, from that perspective, we truly do create and destroy reality (meaning, subjective reality). And, considering it’s the only world we know, a definition of something is preeminent. What do you think about that?

    I brought this up because you can not have a beneficial conversation/debate until you know what you’re talking about. And you don’t know what you’re talking about until you’ve defined terms. The difference between “philosophy of science” and “science” came up earlier. But we will say completely different things and never actually communicate with the other person unless we are referring to the same things. Well, the very definition of science is not agreed upon (according to the article I linked to).

    “All talk about Science and Religion must be descriptive not definitive.” From your perspective, wouldn’t that be true of all things, not just science and religion? Also, as I was stating earlier, I don’t currently agree with that. I believe we are defining, but only in a subjective world, not an objective one. This gives us the ability to be wrong.

    Is that fair to say? I might be quite illogical here. Not sure.

    BTW, I read everthing else you said and will post more later. Just thought I should break it up.

    Thanks, as always!!!

  6. Brad said,

    I think to acknowledge that our knowledge of things is descriptive is to say that their is objective truth. I really hate saying that because I know that “objective truth” is so broadly interpreted.
    The problem we are now discussing is the problem that Immanuel Kant brought upon the world. There is no doubt in my mind that Kant was brilliant and his brilliance has dominated the philosophical landscape pretty much since he wrote his “critiques” on reason. His thoughts were so complex and misunderstood that he later had to write “Prolegomena” just to tell people where to begin. Kant in a very small nutshell was trying to say these things: 1) experience of the outside is phenomena (the thing to me), 2) but we wish to see things as they really are (the noumenon) but they are forever hidden from us. If experience can be likened to gobs of clay then our mind is the cookie cutter or stamp that makes them appear to us as they do. For example our experience of time is not indicative of reality. It is merely our mind stamping its impression (in whatever limited way it can) to make reality palatable to us. This a very powerful and seemingly true statement on the surface. Kant however is begging the question in a very subtle way. Remember the discussion of thought objects in the other post? It comes in handy here. We know that those objects are not actually existing in my mind, but if we affirm that they potentially exist there we have to ask the question “How do we know that those thought objects differ from the things in themselves?” If there really is a great divide between the thing to me and the thing in itself we can’t even answer that question. That is why it seems to me that Kant is begging the question in his argument. This really is a place for me to plug that book again. “Warrant and Proper Function” by Alvin Plantinga. I was planning on posting an excerpt from it, but I fell on the ice and had to go to the Emergency room and left the book in my mom’s car.
    The way I would describe the excerpt is the philosophers equivalent of giving the finger to naturalism. Of course Philosophers don’t do such crass things (especially Christian ones like Plantinga), but you get my point. It makes me want to get up and cheer when someone elucidates in a professional and unbiased way the way a decent thinking Theist makes his way around such Philosophical “problems”.

  7. amandalaine said,

    Hmmm, very very interesting. You gave quite a descriptive picture of what Plantinga does in his book. I don’t think I will forget it. 🙂

    You fell? You’re ok, apparently? That’s good.

    Thanks again for your post. A real response will come later.

  8. amandalaine said,

    If you ever feel like it, Brad, I would still be interested in that excerpt from that Plantinga book.

    “If there really is a great divide between the thing to me and the thing in itself we can’t even answer that question. That is why it seems to me that Kant is begging the question in his argument.” To disagree with Kant’s idea is to say that there is no difference between subjective reality and objective reality, right?? I feel that we must say there’s a difference. I mean, how else do I have the ability to be wrong? Of course in being wrong I have assumed one thing: that I can locate objective reality well enough to know I’m wrong. Hmm, that’s obviously a problem. I have no idea what the answer is. I could insert faith at this point. That might make a lot of sense…

    On the other hand, I don’t feel that he is begging the question. How do I know that I don’t know things? I mean, I don’t know them, right? The answer is that what I do know demonstrates that, these things, by themselves, are not enough. There is more. So, the same with Kant’s argument, I would say. He knows something subjectively but that subjective truth demonstrates that there is more primarily during the times when the subjective truth proves to be false. Of course, the question becomes, if you are stuck in such a subjective world, how do ever know when something “proves to be false?”

    There’s probably an answer out there somewhere.

    This is yet another exercise in philosophical madness. I just wanted to say that. It sounded fun. I do believe in thinking but there certainly is a limit to its benefit.


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