Internalism and Warrant

Some notes in Reformed Epistemology.   Helps to know these ahead of time before reading Plantinga. Parenthetical citations are from Plantinga’s Warrant and Proper Function.

Internalism in epistemology sees warrant as justification.

    • justification is necessary for warrant.
      • satisfaction of epistemic duty.
      • Descartes: epistemic deontologism.
        formation of belief; hence, internal
      • involves a view of cognitive accessibility (36).

Warrant: Objections and Refinements

  • Gettier:  knowledge cannot be just justified, true belief.  A fourth condition is necessary.  Internalist accounts of warrant are fundamentally wanting, thus the continuing epicycles added to the Gettier problem (32).
    • an externalist account of warrant would also take in the “epistemic credentials the proposition you believe has from the person whom you acquired it” (34).
    • credulity is valid when it operates under certain conditions:
  • Gettier’s problems show that even if internalism meets all of its conditions for knowledge, it can still fail to give knowledge.  If my internal cognitive faculties are working, and they arrive at a belief, there are still a number of counters- (ala Gettier) that show it can’t reach knowledge (36-37).  As Plantinga notes, “Justification is insufficient for warrant” (36).

My non-existent neo-Plantingian Interview

This interview never happened.  It is between me and myself.  On a more serious note, I have noticed that my philosophical readings do not fit into any specific category.  That is good, I suppose, since “joining a school” is not the best start.

Question: You read Van Til, doesn’t that make you a Van Tillian?

Answer:  Not really.  I don’t find all of his apologetics convincing, but I do appreciate his reading of Greek and medieval theology.  I think he has a lot of promise in that area.  More importantly, Van Til, better than anyone else at his time, showed the importance of God as a Covenantal, Personal God.

Q.  But didn’t you used to promote Thomas Reid’s Scottish philosophy?  All the Van Tillians I know reject it.

A. There are two different “Van Tillian” answers to that question, and his reconstructionist disciples only knew one of them.  In Survey of Christian Epistemology (p. 132-134) he notes that if the Scottish school takes man’s cognitive faculties as a proximate starting point and not an ultimate one, then there is no real problem.  Further, we see Thomas Reid and Alvin Plantinga saying exactly that.   Elsewhere, however, Van Til was not as careful in his reading of Reid, and the reconstructionists read him as condemning Common Sense Realism.

Q.  So, is there a contradiction between the two schools?

A.  If the above distinction is made, I am not convinced there is.

Q. You keep mentioning Alvin Plantinga.  Are you a Reformed Epistemology guy?

A. I’ve read quite a bit of Wolterstorff and Kelly James Clark.  I like what they have to say.  I am not an expert on Plantinga so I have to demur at that point.  I do think there is a dovetailing between Thomas Reid and Plantinga, and if that convergence holds there is an exciting opportunity to unite Reformed guys along different epistemological and even geographical lines.

Q. What do you mean?

A. The guys in Westminster (either school) claim Van Til.  There is a debate on how well they understand him, but that’s beside the point. I think I have demonstrated above that there is no real contradiction between the two at least on the starting point.  This means that guys who hold to some variant of Common Sense epistemology and/or Van Tillian presuppositionalism do not have to be at loggerheads.

Q.  There is still one other Dutch giant you haven’t mentioned.

A.  You mean Herman Dooyeweerd, right?

Q. Correct.

A.  If you trace the development of the Reformed Epistemology school, you can find something like Dooyeweerd at the very beginning.  When Wolterstorff and Plantinga edited Faith and Rationality, they were at that time strongly influenced by Dooyeweerd. I am not saying that’s where they are today.   However, I do believe that Dooyeweerd’s contention that all men have a pre-theoretical “faith commitment” from the heart is in line with what Kelly James Clark and Van Til say about pretended neutrality.

More on the so-called Hellenic divide

I’ve never said that the Hebrew language is ontically different from the Greek language, and hence superior. Apostle Paul delivered the most devastating criticisms of Greek philosophy in the Greek language.

Rather, I am thinking in more of–hmm, I don’t want to use the term “worldview.” That is a bit overused and I suggest even “Greeky.” For some reason the phrase “social knowing” is coming to mind (I think it is the title of Pinkard’s book on Hegel). It’s not perfect and I can think of a few flaws, but it is okay enough. Keep in mind that Descartes said to get to truth he had to isolate himself in his apartment.

Below I want to offer some observations.

1. The Hebrew word for “knowing” can also be used of sexual intercourse (yada). Is knowing communal and interpersonal? Rossenstock-Huessy thought so. Jewish thinkers like Buber and Heschel picked up this as well.

1a. If knowing is communal in general, then is proper knowing also covenantal? Michael Horton suggests that the proper response to the Speaking Covenant Lord is “Here I am.” (The Christian Faith, 86-87, 95)

Excursus: Did Vos really say there was a difference between Hebrew and Greek thought? Not really. Vos simply quoted Plato and compared it with the prophets. He writes,

According to the former, “to know” means to mirror the reality of a thing in one’s consciousness. The Shemitic and biblical idea is to have the reality of something practically interwoven (Biblical Theology, 8).

Abraham Heschel writes,

Plato lets Socrates ask: What is Good? But Moses’s question was: what does God require of thee? (God in Search of Man, 98).

Survey Christian Epistemology: The Greeks

Abstractness and Greek Epistemology

For Plato “abstract” is the opposite of empirical (33).  The sense-world is associated with ultimate plurality.  It is the world of “Becoming.” Because all is in flux, there is no unity in the sense world.  It can only find its unity in the world of ideals.

But the world of Ideas cannot solve the problem of knowledge, either.  Further,  Which Idea is most ultimate and why?  It appears then that the world of Ideas has a diversity in it as well.  The world of the ideas, on the other hand, is Absolute and unchanging.  To which world, then, does the soul belong?

If the soul belongs to the world of Ideals, and as such is eternal, then why did it leave it that world in the first place?

Who Can Think in Eternal categories?

We can’t use temporal categories to talk about the non-temporal world.  Further, we can’t use eternal categories to talk about the temporal world, since the former are immutable and the later mutable.  We need a God who can reveal this manner of speaking to us.

Shakespeare: Towards a Merry Protestantism

Some thoughts on Much Ado About Nothing:

Peter Leithart suggests that in understanding “Nothing” one should draw a circle. Inside the circle is “reality.” Outside the circle is anything that is possible but having not actually happened yet. In that case it is “nothing.” They are situations that do not correspond (as of yet) to reality. Benedict and Beatrice are told that the one loves the other, although this is not true. They then base their actions on these inaccurate reports.  Ironically, it ends well.

Because of this, we see that ethics follows epistemology. They are basing their actions on what they know.

The tale itself is rather delightful and the narrative is much smoother and more “natural” than Romeo and Juliet, for instance. Dogberry may be one of the most wonderful characters in all of literature.

The earthy Protestant overtones can be seen in the sexual innuendo, albeit one that usually points towards marriage.  As with true comedy, it ends in a marriage (is this not eschatology:  the wedding of the Lamb?).   It is very interesting to see that the Reformed Protestantism in which Shakespeare found his culture (leaving aside the usual Puritan frowning upon theatre) allowed this story to go in a different way from both earlier Christian narratives and tragic pagan ones:  the end of comedy is marriage, not the monastery.  The book is rife with sexual innuendo.  Michael Scott doesn’t hold a candle!  Even without the critical apparatus I knew very well what they were saying.  What is interesting, though, is that this innuendo is usually aimed towards marriage, not fornication.   We see here a Puritan delight in sexuality.

Barth, the Protestant Scholastics, and a critical appropriation

Last year I was very vocal on the importance of recovering the Protestant Scholastics for today.  Recently, however, many of my posts and much of my reading has seemed slightly pro-Barth.  Does this mean I have rejected the Scholastics and become a Barthian?  Of course not.  One should never reject a foundation (and correspondingly, it is doubtful Barth could provide one).  I remained convinced as ever that the lack of knowledge in Protestant scholasticism represents a gaping wound in Reformed discourse today (not least of all Reformed publishing).

Here is the problem: we live in a post-Kantian, post-Hegelian, post-Heideggerian world.  We have to meet people (epistemologically) where they are.  Barth can do this.  Barth’s strength lies in a philosophical awareness of where modernity was heading.  Barth can guide us in a philosophical critique while while we can simultaneously avoid his theology.   Even N.T. Wright admits that little of Barth’s exegesis has stood the test of time, so we have nothing to fear from that front.

Therefore, for those who can take it, Barth can guide us into a philosophical critique. What I mean by that is Barth does a very good job in clarifying challenges from and to modernity.  This does not mean we should endorse his theology, but neither does it mean we should hysterically over-react.  We live in an age where we can not simply chant platitudes.  This is most evident in my recent conversations on Orthodox Bridge. I try to get behind the discourse of “We have apostolic succession and the church fathers agree with us” and focus on actual logical arguments.  In fact, when I bring up Turretin and Muller, they get very annoyed.  They won’t touch these guys with a ten foot pole.

Epistemology, Trinitarian Distinctions, and the Divine Decree

(The Reformed structure this discussion) “Around the epistemological problem of the finitum no capax infiniti and its resolution in the explication of the eternal decree and its execution of the sovereign will of God in and for the temporal economy. Here we see both a statement of the non capax and an approach to the divine relatedness: the mind cannot conceive of the way in which the attributes belong to the utter simplicity of the divine essence; nonetheless, the distinct attributes are correctly distinguished by reason in the effects and operations of God in the world—and these effects and operations rightly and genuinely reveal the identity of God, indeed, the invisible essence of the utterly simple Godhead. The effect of this distinction, like the effect of the distinction between the decree and the execution, is to direct attention away from the divine essence toward the divine economy” (298).

Again, I am amazed at how the Reformed orthodox interweave epistemology, (Christology), trinitarian distinctions, and predestination in one fell move.  If we begin with the Creator-creature distinction, then we necessarily have the archetypal-ectypal distinction.  If we have the ectypal distinction, then we realize that we can never give adequate and full accounts of how their can be distinctions in the divine essence.  Yet God has not left us in the dark.   We can see distinctions in God’s operations toward us in the world.   These are the outworking of God’s decree.  Yet, if there is an outworking of the decree, it logically follows that there is a divine decree.

Christological issues of the Supper aside, this is the second most reason I am Reformed:  ectypal theology.  People will ask, “Yeah, but how do you know you are elect?”  If we begin with the understanding of ectypal theology, then we can begin to answer this question (though I doubt any answer I give will satisfy the interlocutor)..  I can not “know” in the sense of having ultimate, archetypal knowledge (and to seek such is sinful).  I can know, however, based on the understanding of God’s providence and execution of the decree (and issues of Christ, the Supper, Church discipline).  The problem is that the interlocutor has presuppositionally denied any predestination by God, so dialogue is fruitless.

This is also another reason why I read Orthodoxy so sympathetically, yet ultimately rejected it.  I liked the way they rejected the Romanist reading of absolute divine simplicity and seeking the knowledge of God in his operations and energies.  Yet problems remained. I couldn’t find a satisfactory account of foreknowledge and predestination that did not lead to open theism.  And even the energies was problematic:  while it is true we know God by his outworkings to us (emininter and virtualiter) in the ad extra, this is not exactly the same thing that the Eastern Orthodox were claiming.  They were claiming that we know God by the peri ton theon and the logoi around God.  It’s hard to see how this isn’t any less speculative than Thomas’s beatific vision.