Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Sources of knowledge

A correspondent recently asked me some questions about epistemology. Here's the exchange:

I just want to know if you are a coherentist or foundationalist ? Do you believe that the coherent system corresponds to the world?

Coherence applies to a system of internal relations. Where all truths are necessary truths. There are no contingent facts. Nothing which could have been otherwise. 

I don't believe that all relations are internal relations. There are truths of reason and truths of fact. These sometimes intersect, but they don't coincide. 

I don't think the world is reducible to facts entailing other facts, where every fact is logically deducible from other facts. 

Things could have gone differently, had God decreed differently. 

Do you think a Christian with a coherentist view can justify realism? What is your view of bonjour's doxastic presumption popularized by bonjour? What do you think is more biblical and rational internalism o externalism?

i) I'd begin by reframing the discussion. If dualism is true in metaphysics, then it makes sense for dualism to be true in epistemology. If reality consists of abstract objects and concrete objects, then it's logical to have two different sources of knowledge corresponding to their respective objects of knowledge inasmuch as these occupy different domains. Intuition for abstract objects like math, logic, and morals, and sense knowledge for concrete phenomena (i.e. physical objects, events). 

ii) This isn't strictly compartmentalized. To the contrary, they often intersect. To paraphrase Kant, universals without particulars are empty while particulars without universals are blind. Fact and value are mutually interpretive. An example would be counting quarters. Suppose I have six quarters. Unless I have a preconception of numerical relations, I don't see how viewing quarters enables me to bootstrap the concept of six, which I then use to number the quarters. I must have the concept before I can use it. I can't derive the concept from sensibles, then turn right around and apply it to the sensibles. 

So I regard rationalism and empiricism as half-truths. 

iii) I find internalism implausible. To take a stock example, I don't see how a young child can satisfies the conditions of knowledge on that account, like knowing his mother's voice or face. Yet surely he does. 

But perhaps that merely exposes a limitation of internalism. Maybe it's a mistake to demand a single theory of epistemic justification which will cover all cases. 

In general, I find reliablism more plausible. But, of course, philosophy being what it is, none of the available positions escapes criticism. 

iv) I think both internalism and externalism are underdetermined by the witness of Scripture. Scripture clearly affirms sense knowledge (Clarkian exegesis notwithstanding), but that falls short of empiricism. 

As I discussed in my post, I think both internalism or externalism can be made to work within a robust theological framework of meticulous providence. At that level, they may be phenomenologically equivalent. If so, then we lack an objective standpoint or independent evidence to adjudicate which one is true. 

Secular epistemologies, including theories of epistemic justification, omit considering theological factors like revelation and providence. I think these can shore up what's lacking in secular epistemologies.

Of course, in another sense, that pushes the question back a step. How are we warranted in believing revelation? Here I think transcendental theism is helpful. 

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