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Re: [christian-philosophy] Agnosticism, Kant and Ayer

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  • David Leon
    ... From: Ulysses Castillo To: Sent: Tuesday, September 30, 2003 6:27 PM Subject: Re:
    Message 1 of 4 , Oct 1, 2003
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      ----- Original Message -----
      From: "Ulysses Castillo" <ucastillo@...>
      To: <christian-philosophy@yahoogroups.com>
      Sent: Tuesday, September 30, 2003 6:27 PM
      Subject: Re: [christian-philosophy] Agnosticism, Kant and Ayer


      > Hi Aleksander,
      >
      > >>The statement "I know for sure that I cannot know anything about God" is
      > >>itself a truth claim about God, and thus proves itself to be false.
      > >
      > >I am not sure why you say that it is self-refuting. It surely is not
      > >self-refuting on the basis of the logical structure of the statement. The
      > >statement is not self-referring. It says about some other entity, not
      about
      > >itself.
      >
      > Is the statement not a truth claim? (yes) What is the statement about?
      Is the truth claim not about what we can know about God? (namely nothing)
      Does it not therefore claim to have some truth about what we can know about
      God (is therefore self-referring)? Does it not also claim that no such
      truth claims can be made? If it is not claiming to have some truth about
      what we can know about God, then what is it claiming instead?
      >
      >
      > >If God is conceived as absolutely transcedent ...
      >
      > It seems to me to be impossible to conceive God as -absolutely-
      transcendent, because then you could not even say that God was absolutely
      transcendent (you would not even be capable of conceiving such a thing
      because if you could, then by definition, that conception of God is not
      absolutely transcendent).
      >

      No, a "proper" allowance for agnosticism through the concept of the
      transcendence of God works more like the statement "God is perceived by us
      as we perceive him, but not perceived as he would perceive, so to speak".
      THAT transcendence is very orthodox - a sort of graduate level understanding
      of it, so to speak. Such a transcendence, in this sense, is not meant to
      necessarily mean that we cannot know God..but instead, that at the least, we
      can theoretically never "REALLY" know him..in our state or nature right now,
      at the least.

      You are seeing it as an issue of semantical babble. But you can also see it
      as a non-compromising transcendence. For instance...theoretically, a worm
      does not know us as we know each other, or as we would know our own selves.
      We have something in common (again, theoretically), because both the worm
      and each ourselves only "know" imperfectly ANYway, so neither is there an
      incomparability. [We step on a worm..pull on a worm..simply send vibrations
      of a certain kind, through the soil to the worm..touch the worm in general]
      When it comes to God, there is a parallel to, but a distinction from, that
      same sort of theoretical relationship of the worm to the human. God
      theoretically would know "perfectly". Yet, there is a parallel in the
      theoretical sense that we would not 'know' as God 'knows' (knowledge of
      experience - existentially).

      cheers,
      -Dave



      > (Here, I assume the definition of transcendent to be: "being beyond the
      capability of all possible knowledge")
      >
      >
      > >Moreover, my arguments from my previous post should
      > >no be ignored. They show why it is wrong to say that it is logically
      > >inconsistent. The main idea of my previous arguments is that (most, if
      not
      > >all) theological statements have evidence-transcedent truth-conditions.
      >
      > I'm sorry that I missed those posts, could you point them out to me so
      that I can go back and re-read them? I have no problem with knowledge that
      transcends -evidence- (empiricism). I have a problem with knowledge
      limiting claims because such claims must always (so far as I have seen)
      transcend its own limiting criteria in order to make the claim.
      >
      > >No, one does not need to know anything about the noumena in order to talk
      > >about the limits of metaphysical knowledge; the distinction between
      noumena
      > >and phenomena is more a consequence of Kant's transcendental
      argumentation.
      > >Kant's transcendental arguments do not depend on the distinction.
      >
      > We just talked about the noumena. :) So we must know something about it
      (otherwise nothing we've said even makes sense). If the noumena is "that
      which really is" (paraphrase), and it is utterly unknowable, then how did
      Kant come to know what the noumena was? I'm not trying to play sentence
      games. If the word "noumena" is really supposed to -actually- refer to
      "that which really is", then I literally claim to know something about the
      noumena (namely that it is "that which really is"). But that is the very
      thing that Kant says I can't do. If the meaning of the noumena is to be
      taken as not actually meaningful (or as only phenomenal), then the phrase
      "we cannot know the noumena" is also not meaningful (or is also only
      phenomenal).
      >
      > >Although I do not agree with Ayer's verificationism, I disagree with you
      > >that Ayer's position is self-refuting. Seen from the logical positivist
      > >perspective, Ayer's thesis is synthetic, because true philosophical
      > >statements are reducible to sense-data; they can be verified as other
      > >scientific statements.
      >
      > While I agree that a positivist would say that all true philosophical
      statements are verifiable, I don't agree that that is actually the case.
      How would one go about verifying Ayer's Verifiability Principle? According
      to one source I have, "In the end, most of the original Vienna Circle
      discarded their strict logical positivism, including Ayer himself," which
      leads me to believe that it couldn't be done, but I must admit that I am a
      absolute neophyte in this area, so it is entirely possible that somebody has
      done it.
      >
      > >Meta statements about language and meaning are regarded as scientific,
      and their truth verifiable.
      >
      > I agree that their truth must be verifiable, but are not those people who
      appeal to meta statements trying to exempt their meta statements from the
      need to be verifiable? (Or said another way, those who appeal to meta
      statements seem to try to exempt those statements from the principle of
      noncontradiction).
      >
      > Regarding Quine, I really must plead stupidity, as I am completely
      ignorant of that area.
      >
      > Nonetheless, I am convinced that you understand what we are both talking
      about, (and I very well may not understand what I think I understand), and
      we might have to agree to disagree on this one. If you have some
      philosophical articles that you think would be helpful to me to read
      (particularly online), please let me know.
      >
      > Grace and Peace,
      >
      > Ulysses
      >
      >
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      > christian-philosophy-unsubscribe@egroups.com
      >
      >
      >
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      >
      >
      >
    • Aleksandar Katanovic
      Hi Ulysses ... Yes, I would also say that the statement has a truth value, although some might object when it comes to certain class of 1st person statements.
      Message 2 of 4 , Oct 1, 2003
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        Hi Ulysses

        > >>The statement "I know for sure that I cannot know anything about God" is
        > >>itself a truth claim about God, and thus proves itself to be false.
        > >
        > >I am not sure why you say that it is self-refuting. It surely is not
        > >self-refuting on the basis of the logical structure of the statement. The
        > >statement is not self-referring. It says about some other entity, not about
        > >itself.
        >
        >Is the statement not a truth claim? (yes)

        Yes, I would also say that the statement has a truth value, although some
        might object when it comes to certain class of 1st person statements. But
        then we could re-write the statement as "We cannot know anything about
        God". The rewritten statement is understood as a knowledge claim, i.e. "we
        know that ..." is implicit in the statement.

        >What is the statement about? Is the truth claim not about what we can
        >know about God?

        Yes, I agree.

        >Does it not therefore claim to have some truth about what we can know
        >about God (is therefore self-referring)?

        It is not self-referring, because, as you say, it is about what we can know
        about God. Self-referring statements are as P.

        P: P is false.

        P is known as the liar paradox.

        Also, Q is a classic example of self-reference.

        Q: Class of all classes which are not members of themeselves is a member of
        itself.

        Q is known as Russell's paradox.

        In our context, if the statement is replaced with "We cannot know anything"
        (extreme skepticism) then your charge of self-refutation would make sense.
        It involves some form of self-reference since the statement is understood
        as knowledge claim. However, the statement about knowledge of God is a
        statement about knowledge of a particular subject, and not a universal
        denial of all knowledge.

        >Does it not also claim that no such truth claims can be made?

        No, it does not. You confuse truth claims with knowledge claims. There is a
        distinction between a true belief and a true known belief. The former might
        be unknown. For instance, "God exists" is a true belief, assuming that God
        exists:)

        Because there is a distinction between a true belief and true known belief,
        we likewise have a distinction between truth-claims and knowledge-claims.
        So, when I claim that God exists, the claim is rather an expression of my
        belief, and not necessarily of knowledge. One might believe and claim p,
        but not for scientific or for other epistemic reasons.

        To take another example. There are many who would claim that
        extra-terrestrial life exists, and even claim that there are some planets,
        not necessarily in our solar system, having intelligent life. One might
        claim this because one strongly believe that this is the case, persuaded by
        SF literature, but at the same time concede that we do not have yet
        evidence that this is true. Such claims about regions of space inaccessible
        for us have evidence-transcedent truth-conditions.

        >If it is not claiming to have some truth about what we can know about God,
        >then what is it claiming instead?

        Here should it be noted that I am objecting to your saying that "the
        statement is SELF-refuting on the grounds that it is self-referring."

        > >If God is conceived as absolutely transcedent ...
        >
        >It seems to me to be impossible to conceive God as -absolutely-
        >transcendent, because then you could not even say that God was absolutely
        >transcendent (you would not even be capable of conceiving such a thing
        >because if you could, then by definition, that conception of God is not
        >absolutely transcendent).

        One does not need to conceive something, as some kind of mental image, in
        order to talk meaningfully about it. Much in abstract mathematics cannot be
        visualized. Nevertheless, we do have meaningful (well-formulated)
        mathematical statements about highly abstract objects. Concepts are not
        necessarily understood as mental images. Transcendence is a concept
        conveying the idea that some part of reality is beyond our human
        experience. Whether the concept is coherent is something that is heavily
        discussed between semantic realists and anti-realists. I think that both
        you and me, as Christians, would unproblematically accept that there are
        some parts of reality beyond human experience, i.e. some real entities are
        transcedent. When it comes to the term 'absolute transcendence', I use the
        term as referring to entities not "abiding" in our realm of human
        experience. I might meaningfully speculate that such entities exist by
        using analogies. Yet, they do not "abide" in our realm of human
        *experience*. I cannot detect such entities by my sense-perception. The
        only thing I can do is to speculate about such entities, and my speculation
        might be empty: such entities might not exist. So, when the term 'absolute
        transcendence' is so used, it is possible to conceive God as absolutely
        transcedent, not subject to human experience at all. Nevertheless, one
        thing is to deny that the God of the Bible is absolutely transcedent, but
        another thing is to deny the logical possibility of the existence of an
        absolute transcedent deity. I agree with the former but not with the latter.

        >(Here, I assume the definition of transcendent to be: "being beyond the
        >capability of all possible knowledge")

        Hmm, I might agree with your "definition", but the term 'possible
        knowledge' is unclear in the context of our discussion. It would be useful
        to further define the concept in clearer terms, i.e. terms not disputable
        in our discussion.

        > I have no problem with knowledge that transcends -evidence-
        > (empiricism). I have a problem with knowledge limiting claims because
        > such claims must always (so far as I have seen) transcend its own
        > limiting criteria in order to make the claim.

        I think that you are correct if the limiting claim was a universal denial
        of knowledge. However, a traditional agnostic only denies the knowledge of
        state of affairs that are in the realm beyond human sense-perception. Most
        theological claims would be such kind of claims. How would this denial be
        inconsistent with agnostic criteria of knowledge? (Note, I am not an
        agnostic. I only object towards your charge that agnosticism is self-refuting).

        > >No, one does not need to know anything about the noumena in order to talk
        > >about the limits of metaphysical knowledge; the distinction between noumena
        > >and phenomena is more a consequence of Kant's transcendental argumentation.
        > >Kant's transcendental arguments do not depend on the distinction.
        >
        >We just talked about the noumena. :) So we must know something about it
        >(otherwise nothing we've said even makes sense). If the noumena is "that
        >which really is" (paraphrase), and it is utterly unknowable, then how did
        >Kant come to know what the noumena was?

        To repeat, the distinction between appearance and thing in itself, between
        phenomenal and noumenal, is arrived upon TRANSCENDENTAL reflection, and as
        such it is a transcendental distinction; this is highly significant and it
        partially answers your objection. More about it below. A transcendental
        reflection (argument) is an anti-skeptical argument of the form:

        "There is experience; the truth of some proposition p is a conceptually
        necessary condition of the possibility of experience; therefore, p."

        In our context, p is the phenomenal-noumenal distinction in the framework
        of transcendental idealism. Transcendental idealism is a consequence of
        Kant's arguments in Transcendental Aesthetique (the 1st pt of the Critique).

        >If the word "noumena" is really supposed to -actually- refer to "that
        >which really is", then I literally claim to know something about the
        >noumena (namely that it is "that which really is"). But that is the very
        >thing that Kant says I can't do. If the meaning of the noumena is to be
        >taken as not actually meaningful (or as only phenomenal), then the phrase
        >"we cannot know the noumena" is also not meaningful (or is also only
        >phenomenal).

        It is important to dwell on what we mean when we say that "we cannot know
        the noumena." Moreover, how should we understand the transcendental
        distinction between phenomena and noumena? It is important to be clear
        about what the expressions "appearance" and "thing in itself" refer to.
        They do not refer to two distinct entities, but to the one and same entity.
        I tend to follow Allison's interpretation of Kant's transcendental
        distinction. I think that his understanding of the transcendental
        distinction is immune to your objections. To quote him:

        "In spite of what Kant's language sometimes suggest, the distinction is not
        between a thing considered as an appearance and the same thing considered
        as a thing in itself; it is rather between a *consideration* of a thing as
        it appears and a *consideration* of the same thing as it is in itself. In
        other words, the relevant terms function adverbially to characterize *how*
        we consider things in transcendental reflection, not substantially to
        characterize what it is that is being considered or reflected upon. To
        consider things as they appear, or as appearing, is to consider them in
        their relation to the sensible conditions under which they are given to the
        mind in intuition [Anschauung]. Correlatively, to consider them as they are
        in themeselves is to think them apart from all reference to these
        conditions. But clearly, in order to consider things as they appear, or as
        appearing, it is necessary to distinguish the character that these things
        reveal as appearing (their spatiotemporal properties, and so forth) from
        the character that the same things are thought to possess when they are
        considered as they are in themeselves, independently of the conditions
        under which they appear. This means that to consider something as it
        appears, or as appearing, we must also consider it as it is in itself.
        These contrasting ways of considering an object are simply two sides of the
        same act of transcendental reflection. ...

        "The perplexing aspect of this account is that, according to Kant's own
        analysis, in considering an object as it is in itself we cannot gain any
        knowledge of the real nature of that object. But although we cannot know
        things as they are in themeselves, we can nonetheless know how they must be
        conceived in transcendental reflection, when they are considered as they
        are in themeselves."

        So, you are correct when you say that some talk about noumena involves some
        knowledge of noumena (thing in itself). However, the issue is whether we
        know the real nature of the thing in itself, i.e. when considered "apart
        from the constitution of our sensibility," i.e. apart from all reference to
        the sensible conditions.

        >While I agree that a positivist would say that all true philosophical
        >statements are verifiable, I don't agree that that is actually the case.

        One thing is to disagree with Logical Positivists but another thing is to
        charge Logical Positivism as being self-refuting theory.

        >How would one go about verifying Ayer's Verifiability Principle?

        Well, by an investigation of the workings of language. The point is that
        the principle is also subject to test.

        > >Meta statements about language and meaning are regarded as scientific,
        > and their truth verifiable.
        >
        >I agree that their truth must be verifiable, but are not those people who
        >appeal to meta statements trying to exempt their meta statements from the
        >need to be verifiable?

        No, for otherwise their view of language would not be any longer a theory,
        a theory that might be falsified by a philosophical investigation of the
        workings of language.

        Yours in Christ,
        Alex
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