I continue to update the discussion below. The initial topic is whether we can use reason to know God. One step in that is knowing that we, finite minds, are not God. We can infer what would be true of us had we existed from eternity in order to conclude that we have not existed from eternity. But most of the discussion is on whether or not we can use reason to understand what is real. One way to say this is that reason is ontological: it applies to being as well as thought. If we do not share this as common ground we will be hindered from analyzing the initial argument.
What are the necessary conditions for thought and discussion? Are there laws of thought? Is there common ground for discussion? Many of you have been asking me about my discussion with Spencer Hawkins on how to approach an argument. Below is the public dialogue I had in the comment section of this youtube video. The video itself is about unity among Christians and the role of general revelation.
In this discussion you can see the progress from the subject “what is eternal,” to his claiming that ‘a’ is ‘a’ is fallible while still thinking he needs an answer that would assume the distinction between ‘a’ and ‘non-a.’ He raises many side questions to try to divert attention from the original question but these are listed so that they can be dealt with one at a time. The original question is the standard one for philosophical skeptics: can we know anything outside of our epistemic horizon, or our experience? He initially wants to ask this about eternal being but in order to understand how epistemic horizons work we must first ask in what way they apply to us. Ultimately, the philosophical skeptic cannot even acknowledge that ‘a’ is ‘a’ is not fallible and yet attempts to affirm that there is an excuse for failing to know if anything is clear. Without ‘a’ is ‘a’ in place we cannot distinguish between self and non-self, God and non-God, eternal and non-eternal, being and non-being, and so are unable to answer why an eternal mind would have infinite knowledge. There is no “reason” to continue; in fact, we have an rational obligation to avoid foolish arguments.
1:08:35 Gangadean’s argument that the human soul is not eternal is unsound: (1) I have one thought after another. (2) If (1) and my soul were eternal, then I would be eternal in time. (3) If I were eternal in time, then I would be all knowing. (4) I am not all knowing. (5) So, I am not eternal in time. I think (3) is wrong: it’s possible for a thinking soul to exist for an eternity and never possess all knowledge. For instance, if a person didn’t care about a particular subject, they would ignore or never seek out certain facts. So they could exist for an eternity and only know a finite number true propositions. Or an eternal person could lose knowledge as they gain it — they could forget or remember incorrectly. Since knowledge entails belief, if a person loses a belief they once had, then they no longer have it as a bit of knowledge. All of this seem possible, so (3) is not certain; thus, Gangadean’s conclusion that the soul is not eternal is not “clear to reason”. It seems to me the only way (3) is true is if we assume two things: a) that the soul’s memory is infallible, and b) that the eternal person is motivated to seek out true propositions in absolutely every domain (even the most boring and irrelevant). But, of course, neither are entailed by simply “existing eternally”. Gangadean seems to be merely smuggling those assumptions in without justification.
I wonder if anything at all is entailed by “eternally existing’? For instance, is what is eternal also the highest power?
(1), (2), (3) and (4) pretty clearly refer to the person reading or thinking about the premises. So what is implied is not a person with an infallible memory or one who is motivated to seek all true propositions in absolutely every domain of inquiry. Also, Gangadean seems to be unjustly assuming that no facts exist beyond his epistemic horizon. If his soul were eternal in time, it could still be the case that a set of undiscoverable facts exist, given his epistemic limitations. Donald Rumsfeld famously called such facts “unknown unknowns”. Ironically, the only way Gangadean could know that no “unknown unknown” facts exist is if he was all knowing!
@Spencer Hawkins That raises a few different issues: 1. Can we know anything outside of our experience? 2. What is implied by the “I” in the premises and then my initial question: 3. Can anything be entailed from “eternal.” Can we know that “a” is “a” beyond our experience?
@Owen Anderson the question isn’t so much whether we can know “anything” outside of our experience, it’s whether we would, if we had no temporal beginning or end, know everything. Given our human epistemic limitations, flawed memory, and erratic motivation to seek absolutely every domain of fact, it seems to me (3) is false. It seems that human persons is implied by the “I” in the premises. (4) — “I am not all knowing” — is about the reader of the argument. Gangadean (or anyone who agrees with the argument) has the burden to show why (3) is true. Are you suggesting that from the concept of “eternal being” we can logically deduce “all knowing”? Can you prove it?
@Spencer Hawkins We could add those as more issues, like:
4. Does memory lapse affect my ability to know if I am eternal?
5. Do I need to know everything before I can know anything?
But before we could know if we can identify the temporal, changeable “I” with what is “eternal” and assess this argument, we would have to address your claim about knowing what is outside of our experience. If we can’t know that “a” is “a” outside of our experience, then we won’t make progress in assessing the argument for soundness. Can we know that “a” is “a” outside of our experience?
@Owen Anderson you’re brining up questions that shift away from (3). We’re not asking whether memory lapse affects one’s ability to know if they are eternal, we’re asking a broader question, whether memory lapse affects one’s ability to know everything.
Here are the objections I originally had suggested:
a. Human beings lack an interest or motivation to seek true propositions in absolutely every domain. (For the sake of argument let’s drop the worry about epistemic horizons and assume that we don’t have epistemic limitations and can know things beyond our experience — the objection still holds.) So, even if you or I existed eternally in time, we could still lack some knowledge; thus, (3) is false.
b. Human beings don’t have infallible memory, so even if you or I existed eternally in time, we would never reach a point of possessing all knowledge. Thus, (3) is false.
If you affirm Gangadean’s argument and think (3) is true, what’s your justification? Do you have a deductive proof that “eternal being” logically entails “is all knowing”?
@Spencer Hawkins Far from shifting away, I’m listing your questions so we can make sure we address each of them. Yes premise 3 is true and the argument is sound. We are working through questions you have about that starting with #1 above in the list. You aren’t sure if you can know anything outside of your epistemic horizons. So I’ve asked you if you can know that “a” is “a” outside of your experience? I’ve noted your broader question, but we can’t assess the soundness of the argument together if you don’t know that “a” is “a” outside of your experience.
Premise 3 is true if the finite and temporal self (the reader or audience, as you say) cannot also be eternal being. If the finite self has other limitations, like not seeking or incorrigible memory lapse, this only strengthens the premise. The structure of the argument is that “a” is “a”, and “a” is not “non-a.” Thus, the importance of “a” is “a.”
It is good that you focused in on this premise in a talk to Christians about the unity of the faith. This premise is about whether or not we can know that we are not God. Christians agree, are united, that the self is not God. It is affirming that, given the nature of God and the nature of the self, we can indeed know that the self is not God. To say that we cannot know if “a” is “a” outside of our experience is no excuse for failing to know God, and the difference between God and the self.
@Owen Anderson You’ve merely asserted that (3) is true and the argument is sound. All you’ve done is respond with questions back at me, instead of actually defending the truth of (3). In fact, it seems you’ve shifted to a different argument, summarized as something like the following:
(i) Only God (and being infinite in power, knowledge, and goodness) is eternal.
(ii) I am not God.
(iii) Therefore, I am not eternal.
The question now seems to be, what is your proof for (i)? Can you show that the opposite of (i) is logically impossible? That is, how is it a logical contradiction to say that the eternal being only knows a finite number of true propositions, or that the eternal being’s power is limited in certain ways, or that the eternal being’s goodness is limited, perhaps by bouts of malevolence, say, when angels have sex with humans (Genesis 6:1-4)? Or simply, that “atheism is true”? How are any of those conceivable states of affairs like a “married bachelor”? If you can’t establish the logical impossibility of the opposite of (i), then it seems (i) and (iii) are not “clear to reason” according to your own standard.
Remember, I’m interested in hearing your deductive proof (or as Kelly calls it, “strong justification”) for (3), “If I were eternal in time, then I would be all knowing”, or (i), “Only God (and being infinite in power, knowledge, and goodness) is eternal” and (ii) “I am not God.” The burden of proof is on you.
You said, “[(3)] is true if the finite and temporal self (the reader or audience, as you say) cannot also be eternal being.” All this says is that if Gangadean’s conclusion is true (“I am not eternal in time”), then (3) is true. But that’s question begging and does not strongly justify Gangadean’s conclusion. You must first demonstrate the truth of (3) to show that the conclusion of the argument follows by logical necessity. The same is true with (i) and (ii) as stated above: you cannot merely assume that “the finite and temporal self cannot also be eternal being” to prove that “I am not eternal.”
It seems all of your work is still ahead of you.
@Spencer Hawkins I’m neither shifting away from your questions nor begging the question. I’m taking the time to list your questions and I’m affirming that I do think the argument is sound to clarify my own position.
You keep adding new questions that we can add to the list:
6. Can the perfect being be imperfect?
7. Does God show malice in Genesis?
8. In Genesis 6 did angels have sex with humans?
9. What would a mind know after having existed from eternity?
10. Can we cross an infinite past to get to the present?
I’m still focusing on your first question about epistemic horizons. That’s the opposite of shifting questions. Let’s stay on that one, don’t shift away or add more. If you aren’t able to know anything outside of your experience then you can’t know if “a” is “a”, or if “eternal” is “eternal,” and we can’t evaluate the argument.
Its good to bring up the married bachelors as an example because I think it is similar to what we are facing here in our discussion. Someone could say “I can conceive of a married bachelor” So then we’d need to clarify what each word means. So once we’ve done that and say “bachelor means unmarried man” then “married unmarried man” is a contradiction someone could still say “but why is that a problem, maybe ‘a’ can be ‘non-a’,” or “who are you to say ‘a’ cannot be ‘non-a’?” Or they might ask “why does bachelor have to mean that?”, just like asking “why does eternal have to mean that?”
So we don’t make subjective “conceivability” the standard, and we clarify ahead of time if the persons in the discussion are committed to ‘a’ is ‘a.’ You’ve asked me many questions. I’ve only asked you that one question to help answer your own question about epistemic horizons. Are you going to answer?
Like clarifying “bachelor,” once we do this with “eternal” the contradiction is there, but it was there the whole time. If someone says “I don’t see how a married bachelor is a contradiction, the burden is on you, all your work is ahead of you,” or they say “I don’t see why eternal means not temporal, the burden is on you, all your work is ahead of you,” they haven’t understood the words being used.
@Owen Anderson I don’t see why you don’t just get straight to the point. If you had a proof for (3), why wouldn’t you just offer it? Same with (i) and (ii)? Or are you under the impression that philosophical proofs only come by way of Socratic dialogue? That is, are you of the belief that formal proofs aren’t meant to be shown by an individual with her pen and paper (or computer and keyboard), but through a back and forth discussion, where you help draw out the deductive implications of an interlocutor’s questions? Or moreover, do you think your interlocutor must “affirm” each and every step of the proof for you to reach your professed conclusion? If so, I simply disagree. If you have a deductive proof, you don’t need me or anyone else in the room for you to meet your burden of proof.
For instance, you could simply define your terms, state how you will evaluate the argument, state your premises, and prove them.
To answer your question, I do, in a sense, “affirm” or “know” that ‘a is a’ beyond my own experience, but not in the way that you’re assuming. I don’t claim to be deductively certain when I claim to “affirm” or “know” the meaning of terms, the consistency that the world takes, and so on. I think human knowledge is fallible and the quest for a foundationalist (internalist) basis in incorrigible or infallible certainty is a lost cause. But let’s not lose sight of Gangadean’s proof that you think is sound: the question with (3) isn’t if we can know (given your definition of knowledge) some things beyond our experience, but whether, if you or I were eternal in time, would we know everything there is to know? You affirm (3). Why?
@Spencer Hawkins I don’t think we need to engage in dialogue in all cases, and there are times when we can simply state an argument. Nor have I missed your point about whether epistemic horizons apply to an eternal being. To address that question we need to first back up and figure out what are epistemic horizons and this includes finding out how they affect us. You were concerned in your first post about whether assumptions had been smuggled in, so we need to see if you are doing the same. Your assumptions have kept you from being able to assess what is going on in the argument and then in our discussion.
These specific questions (can an eternal mind forget, be subject to decay) are ones I also had and ones my students regularly ask me. I have no problem answering them. But if one of the persons involved isn’t sure that ‘a’ is ‘a,’ then they won’t be able to go to that next step. They wouldn’t be able to affirm if a word is a word, what they are thinking is what they are thinking, their question is a question, a mind is a mind, eternal is eternal, a reply is a reply, or an argument is an argument.
Additionally, you quoted from someone who regularly slanders me and others I know. This affects whether the question is one in good faith to pursue and answer together.
On your end, I can imagine it would be difficult to understand why someone would think that an eternal being would have infinite knowledge given your fallibilism and empiricism. Its like saying: “I can’t believe in God because all is fallible, perhaps God is not God, eternal is not eternal, true is not true.” That would be a very confusing condition. If you make progress in understanding why ‘a’ is ‘a’ get back in touch with me so that we can discuss why an eternal mind would have infinite knowledge. Until then there is no “reason” to continue the discussion.
I know that many others are reading this and have been in contact with me on email with questions. Thank you! This has been a useful discussion to highlight when questioning becomes incoherent. It has drawn lots of attention to the video and I’m thankful for that. I can use this dialogue as a resource for others to help to illustrate what happens to a discussion when someone demands an answer but cannot even affirm that an answer is an answer due to their prior commitment to fallibilism. There are different levels of fallibilism with different applications and this seems to be one that affirms “all is fallible.” I’ll post it at my blog here: renewalphilosophy.com
In terms of epistemological assumptions, this has been similar to how Pontius Pilate questioned Jesus in John 18. When he asks Jesus “what is truth?” the discussion ends. What kind of answer does he want? A true answer? He doesn’t know what that is and wouldn’t recognize it. You can imagine Pontius Pilate thinking “I really stumped Jesus, he couldn’t reply,” while also not even knowing what truth is!
Many have told me they are surprised to see that a skeptic will go so far as to think ‘a’ is ‘a’ is fallible. We can watch and see if a skeptic can also have integrity with that profession. What would it look like to be consistent with saying each word in my sentence or question does not mean what it means? If you would like to discuss this with me, or why an eternal mind would have infinite knowledge and not be subject to memory loss or decay, follow my blog as I will update it.
@Owen Anderson I’m happy to hear that you acknowledge your burden of proof given your claims, however we are still without a proof for the original argument. If objections about a temporal eternal soul having a memory lapse and incomplete knowledge are common from your students, and if you don’t have a problem answering, why not just give an answer? Instead, you seem to be trying to shift a burden onto me to avoid shouldering your own — you’re shifting the focus to assumptions that I may (or may not) be making, and claiming that those assumptions prevent me from being able to assess the argument and our discussion. That is, you’re asserting that your infallibalist, internalist, foundationalist view is a coherent epistemological view (and perhaps the only coherent epistemological view), and you’re demanding that I “affirm” whole parts of your philosophy, including your view of the level of epistemic justification that we have for the laws of thought and the consistency that the world takes at every level of reality, before you’re willing to shoulder your burden of proof. This seems not only fallacious but an attempt to rhetorically hijack the conversation to keep it under your complete philosophical control.
But it doesn’t have to be like that. For one thing, I’m able to entertain philosophical ideas. I can “stand in your shoes” and attempt to evaluate the argument from your philosophical perspective, presuppositions and all. I’m not dogmatically committed to my view such that I’m unable to evaluate another philosopher’s arguments. And even if I was a hopelessly lost intellectual, you could still simply demonstrate the logical impossibility of the opposite of (3) and (1). My feeling is that you don’t have a very good proof, so you’re stalling, or you’re going to have to shift to a different argument (and abandon Gangadean’s) in order to make sense of your claim, and you don’t want to do that publicly. But I’m all ears, prove me wrong.
Next, I’d hoped that you’d be more charitable to my view. First, I’m not a card-carrying empiricist. As I already said, I do, in a sense, “affirm” and “know” that ‘a is a’ beyond my own experience. E.g. I affirm that the sun remains the sun even after it has set. I just think self-evident truths like the law of identity are grounded (or justified) through something like intuition or common sense, which is something you’ve said is “insufficient” (CGE, p. xv). Or perhaps Kant was right that ‘a is a’ is a necessary precondition of intelligibility, so I have a sort of transcendental justification for the law of identity. How far that reaches into the depths of reality, I’m not logically certain (i.e. I can’t logically rule out how things exist at the quantum level, or if, say, the law of excluded middle is universally true, or if other systems of cognition beyond our kin don’t make use of the LEM. If you can, I’m all ears).
Second, you’ve made a mess of fallibilism. I think fallible is a predicate of people, not (always) propositions. So I’m prone to mistakes in judgement, I can believe false things, and I can think I have a justification when I don’t. But my acknowledgment that I could be wrong doesn’t imply or entail that I am wrong. You seem to be making this slide: if one “affirms” fallibalism in any way, then one can’t reliably recognize the difference between “word and non-word” or “argument and non-argument.” But that doesn’t follow. For one thing, there are many kinds of falliblism. You haven’t shown that I’m incapable of having a coherent conversation by being a fallibalist. In fact, your responses to my comments demonstrate that I am capable of carrying on a conversation! Also, fallibalism doesn’t entail complete skepticism (at least you haven’t shown anything like a good argument to that end). I think it’s a kind of black and white thinking on your part to assume that epistemology is either infallibalism of the internalist, foundationalist sort, or total skepticism. It’s unfortunate that this assumption is built into Gangadean’s entire philosophy.
You said, “you quoted from someone who regularly slanders me and others I know. This affects whether the question is one in good faith to pursue and answer together.” I only know the author of reasontodoubt dot blogspot as ‘J’, and nothing more. All I do is read his articles (which I’ve found to be very helpful), and I’m not aware of any slander against you or anyone else. All I’ve seen are pointed philosophical criticisms against Rational Presuppositionalism. I will point out, however, that my citing a source that you may not personally like doesn’t affect whether what he says is true or whether his criticisms of RP are accurate. I’m still interested in hearing your proof for (3) and (1), or (i) and (ii). Or ‘J’ suggests that you prove the following claim: “‘X is eternal’ entails ‘X is the highest power.'” All this go-around, and still no proof. As you said, we don’t need to engage in dialogue and there are times when we can simply state an argument.
@Owen Anderson you said, “skeptic will go so far as to think ‘a’ is ‘a’ is fallible. We can watch and see if a skeptic can also have integrity with that profession. What would it look like to be consistent with saying *each word in my sentence or question does not mean what it means*?” I’m not saying that, and I don’t believe that. Being a fallibilist about the justification for the universal (ontological) application of the laws of thought does not imply that I think each word in your question doesn’t mean what it means. You’re confusing belief that p with belief that ~p. That is, I believe ‘a is a’ is universal. But, I acknowledge that my justification or knowledge that ‘a is a’ given all levels of reality is outstripped by my ability to prove it given your standard of proof (i.e. epistemic, absolute certainty). And in saying so, you’re accusing me of believing that ‘a is ~a’, when I don’t believe that for a second. In other words, your standard of proof is too high. You’re feigning epistemic certainty for the laws of thought given all levels of reality when you haven’t shown it. And, while I make this pretty straight forward point, you’re accusing me of believing ‘a is ~a’ (and you’re filibustering to stall the convo based on this mistake). This seems to be the kind of sophistry that philosophers try to avoid.
@Spencer Hawkins I don’t agree with most of the claims you make in your post about what I supposedly think. You’d like people to be charitable about your views so do the same. I don’t think that doubting p means you believe not p. Or that only deductive proof is permissible. Or that people only use the word “knowledge” to mean certainty. Or that I’m affirming an “infallibilist internalist foundationalist” view here. Or that I’m requiring “high epistemic standards” here. Or that we must prove the laws of thought. Or that we can only dialogue if you agree with me about everything.
Much of these misrepresentations most likely trace to your original source that you quoted. Whether or not your source sometimes says something true isn’t the problem. It is his regular use of insults and misrepresentations that is the problem. You say philosophers want to avoid sophistry and that is right. They also want to avoid those types of behavior. You’ve linked yourself to him from the very beginning of this thread and so that does affect if your question is in good faith.
I’ve been focusing on your first concern in every one of my replies since then. What are our epistemic limits? How do we understand our own fallibility and limitations? This is far from stalling or failing to have a good proof. Nevertheless, making those kinds of assertions is precisely what is slowing this down and undermining your claim to just want to deal with the question. I don’t want to shift to other concerns if we haven’t addressed this first one. What I am asking is if we have the necessary conditions for thought and discourse in place to continue on together and assess this argument. If not, it wouldn’t make sense to go on and talk about other subjects.
Where we are at now in addressing that question of epistemic horizons is this: You seem to agree that reason is transcendental, but that you do not know if it is ontological (applies to being as well as thought), is that right? You say there is still no proof. I’m asking if the necessary conditions for proof are shared given your views on your epistemic horizons. See my above comments about your example of the married bachelors:
“Like clarifying “bachelor,” once we do this with “eternal” the contradiction is there, but it was there the whole time. If someone says “I don’t see how a married bachelor is a contradiction, the burden is on you, all your work is ahead of you,” or they say “I don’t see why eternal means not temporal, the burden is on you, all your work is ahead of you,” they haven’t understood the words being used.”
@Owen Anderson As I said, you’re shifting a burden onto me. I don’t need to affirm anything for you to meet your burden of proof. You can simply state your justification for (3) and (1). Or, if you want, you can include what you think are the necessary conditions for thought and conversation, why they are necessary, and show how you’re not violating them. Instead, you’re trying to wrangle me into either affirming your view of the necessity of the ontology of the laws of thought, or shut me out of the conversation as a person who “denies reason”. It feels like a cheap apologetic ploy, tbh. Remember, all I’m asking is that you justify your claim that (3) is true and that Gangadean’s argument at 1:08:35 is sound (as you claimed). If you want to debate metaphysics and epistemology, let’s meet up for coffee.
You say that you don’t want to shift to other concerns if we haven’t addressed the first one, but what you’re calling the “first concern” (the question of epistemic horizons) was my third concern. My first and second concerns to (3) were, first, if a soul like yours or mine were eternal in time, the possibility remains that we wouldn’t gain all knowledge because we lack the motivation or interest to learn about every possible domain of fact, and second, we have faulty memory. Both of these possibilities seem to undermine the third premise of Gangadean’s argument.
If I have misrepresented your view, I apologize. I get the impression that your view is “infallibilist internalist foundationalist” not from ‘J’, but from Kelly, Gangadean, and yourself. For one thing, you’ve made it clear on this thread that you don’t agree with epistemological falliblism. Moreover, the Public Philosophy podcast has several lectures that lay out the Gangadeanian philosophy. Kelly explains how “knowledge” of the Good, God, human nature, and the soul, are “understood” through pure reason, or by the impossibility of the contrary, which Kelly proposes is the highest epistemic category (as opposed to imagination and opinion). Isn’t this an infalliblist conception of justification (or “certifiability”)? Isn’t it also internalist with respect to justification? A proof by negation doesn’t seem to be justified by anything like the traditional externalist conditions. And I’ve always thought the Gangadeanian epistemology was foundationalist, built upon the “basic things that are clear to reason”. So, please forgive me, but I fail to see how your view is not “infallibilst internalist foundationalist”. I’m happy to be corrected.
@Spencer Hawkins I appreciate your last post, thank you. In my own case I’m ok with some formulations of externalism. And some forms of fallibilism seem to be restatements of the doctrine of total depravity and thus potentially have Calvinist origins! One of the things my first book was about is precisely this point of how the fall affects us in our pursuit of knowledge.
None of this is meant to be a “cheap apologetic ploy” to label you as someone who “denies reason.” It seems to be just the opposite given how you began the conversation quoting someone who regularly uses insults. The same points and questions can be made without sinking to that level. Using terms like cult, ilk, Gangadeaneans, lazy, sloppy, is public on that blog and something you can see for yourself. By associating with that and not asking him to make the same points without sinking so low you’ve shaped how your question is heard. It is too bad and maybe it can be reversed by you noting it as a problem now that it has been more specifically brought to your attention. But your affiliation with that behavior does shape how you and I interact until you distance yourself from it.
I agree with you that this is a limited format and I want to add that it tends to be unnecessarily combative. This is not my preference and I’d like us to shift away from that together.
By way of contrast to what you suggest, my goal here is simply to identify where we disagree in order to assess if progress can be made. Ultimately the disagreement isn’t about whether an eternal being could forget or be subject to decay. That was only the occasion for this to come to the surface. Closer to it is that we disagree on whether reason is ontological. And more precisely we most likely disagree about whether anything is clear. We don’t appear to agree if there is a clear distinction between God and the self. I’m not even sure if we agree on what it means for something to be “clear.” If we have made it more clear about where we disagree then this is progress! We can refer back to this in future interactions.