Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Christian Platonism

Justin said:

“ I'm not sure if I distinguished between your response to your interlocuter and your interlocuter's comments. But anyways, here goes my comment.

I'm not sure where I stand on all of this, but I think I may be a Christian Platonist. However, the idea that there is no truth without true belief seems to lead to idealism. I realize that van Til was an idealist. Yet, we need to cash out this idea of truth in a better manner. The notion of truth as that which God believes to be true sounds very subjective. To prevent volunteerism in ethics we usually assert that God cannot act contrary to his nature, and since God is perfectly good, God cannot declare rape to be good.

If truth is merely God's true beliefs what prevents God's beliefs from changing? We fall into a type of Euthyphro dilemma for truth.

I don't disagree that God is the ground of truth, and therefore the ground of logical truth and mathematics, but I am troubled by the notion of truth is that = God's true beliefs.

I hope I understood what you were attempting to argue, I apologize in advance if I mischaracterized your argument.”

Well, now, this is an interesting comment—not at all the usual sort of comment. It’s nice to have a comment like this now and again.

i) Van Til was not an idealist. Van Til’s notion of circularity is probably indebted to idealism vis-à-vis the coherence theory of truth, but he’s modified that model.

In idealism, all relations are internal relations. All truths are necessary truths.

That is not Van Til’s position. Rather, he’s making the point that all truths of fact are related in a part/whole, means/ends relation according to the purpose of God. Events are purposeful events. God ordains the world for a reason.

But he could have decreed otherwise had he so chosen. The actual world is not the only possible world. And God was not obligated to create this world.

That’s my take on Van Til.

ii) The coherence theory roughly pairs off with truths of reason while the correspondence theory roughly pairs off with truths of fact.

I say roughly because some existential propositions involve necessary truths, viz., to be a parent is to have a child, to be a child is to have a parent.

iii) A true belief can take an extramental object. In the case of a truth of fact like William the Conqueror crossed the English Channel in 1066, that belief would not be true absent an event answering to that belief. You have a relation between the belief and the object of the belief: both relata are necessary for the relation to obtain.

iv) The question, though, is whether there is such a thing as truth apart from minds. If there were no minds, would truth exist? Or is true a property of a true belief, and hence, of a believer?

Truth is an intentional attitude or disposition. This is captured by that-clauses. It is true that William the Conqueror cross the English Channel in 1066.

1066 isn’t true or false. William the Conqueror isn’t true or false. The English Channel isn’t true or fact.

Rather, you can entertain a true thought or true belief “about” something. That is what lends it truth-value.

v) There are also truths of reason, like logic and mathematics.

“Subjectivity” is a slippery word. If by “subjective” you mean mental, then abstract objects are mental entities. They are God’s exemplary attributes or ideas.

Could truths of reason be otherwise? No, for unlike truths of fact, which involve finite relations, truths of reason involve infinite relations.

An actual infinite is a complete, exhaustive totality. So there’s no room, as it were, for anything to be otherwise. All the available “space” is taken up. Every conceivable permutation is known to God and, indeed, constituted by God’s omniscience.

1 comment:

  1. The idea of the divine ideas is still platonic. It just collapses Nous and the One, as Augustine and a few other late Platonists did. If God is simple though one is going to have a hard time showing how some ideas can be uninstantiated and others can be if God is a fully actual being. If God is simple and fully actual, then all his ideas will be necessarily instantiated and POOF!-a necessary world. Goodbye Christianity. Hello Plotinus.

    And idealism doesn't entail that all truths are necessary truths. Take Berekley for example, as an empiricist and an idealist, some truths were contingent-they had to be, because God could have willed things differently and he doesn't will the perception of a specific sensible object for all times. I perceived this then, but not now.

    As for coherence theory and correspondence theory, the former does not necessarily pair off with truths of fact. Of the defenders of coherence theory left man of them are empiricists, not rationalists.

    For Van Til and Idealism, see his Christianity and Idealism.

    For contemporary theories of truth, try
    Kirkham, Theories of Truth-for a nice overview.
    William Alston's A Realist Conception of Truth
    Michael Lynch's Truth in Context-for a defense of contemporary alethic relativism.
    Lynch has a nice anthology, The Nature of Truth when read in tandem with Kirkham.

    Richard Fumerton has a thoughtful defense of Correspondence Theory in his, Realism and the Correspondence Theory of Truth.

    Jonathan Kvanvig has some helpful papers on his website on truth as well. And Horwich's, Truth, is a significant defense of a deflationary theory of truth.