Thursday, April 26, 2007

Comments Brought to Light: Divine, Creational and Human Rationalities (et al)

Shane (and Chris),

When I think about different logics, I don’t mean to imply multiple unrelated self-contained systems of thought (in this sense, ‘rationalities’ rather than ‘logics’ might be better, but I think the pattern holds – I am however going to start talking instead of rationalities). We have to think of this in terms of concentric circles. I think Chris is right to distinguish between divine, creational and human rationalities. The divine rationality (logos?) is the biggest circle and it contains the other two. Creational rationality is the next level in, and it contains human rationality.

Here is how this works. God is entirely self-sufficient and possesses his own rationality (by definition). God creates the world, whose rationality - because it comes from the divine rationality - bears certain resemblances to the divine rationality without being identical to the divine rationality because creation is not, in fact, divine. Human rationality is the synthesis of the bio-chemical wiring of the human brain, formative interaction with the empirical world, continuing reflective interaction with the empirical word, and abstract interaction with any number of theoretical worlds. What this means is that, at its most basic levels, human rationality is condition by the rationality of creation. Human rationality, in its reflective forms, seeks to penetrate more deeply into this creational rationality through scientific study in any number of forms (both concrete and abstract), but it can never go beyond this creational rationality (I’m willing to entertain the idea that it can bump up against the edge of this creational rationality and find the notion of, say, absolute being, etc…this at least seems possible).

What happens in the incarnation is that the divine rationality (logos?) enters into the realms of creational and human rationality thereby providing a glimpse, although in accommodated form, of the divine rationality. This glimpse of the divine rationality (in accommodated form) sets creational and human rationality in its proper context. I could elaborate more on this, but won’t for now.

Another way to imagine this, I think, is in terms of dimensions. Take the relation between two-dimensional and three-dimensional objects. All three-dimensional objects contain within themselves two-dimensional aspects. These two-dimensional aspects are then structured in such a way that a three-dimensional object is produced. Now, imagine that everything that exists is three-dimensional but all that we can see are two-dimensions. We would be interacting with three-dimensional things, but from a two-dimensional standpoint. We could come to correct understandings of these three-dimensional things in terms of two-dimensional aspects, but we would lack the proper three-dimensional context for these aspects and thus our conceptualities would be lacking.

N.B. When I used the concentric circle image above, I in no way intended to imply anything like panentheism, etc. It’s an interpretative model and though it illustrates an ontological point, it should not be taken as an ontological model.

Jpf: Thanks for stopping by and for your helpful criticism concerning the relation of theology and Christian philosophy in my typology. The ‘Christian philosophy’ bit is the trickiest. What I am after is something like a philosopher who continues doing philosophy, only this philosophy does philosophy on the basis of Christian presuppositions. But, I am open to the possibility that you are right and that this distinction is inherently unstable. Perhaps the sort of ‘philosophical theology’ that I mentioned in the second addendum is the better third type.

10 comments:

Shane said...

The fatal flaw here is the misunderstanding of the meaning of logic. Logic, like mathematics, considers a priori statements as well as a posteriori ones.

There are propositions which can be discussed meaningful and which are not dependent for their truth on any empirical experience, for instance,

"All bachelors are unmarried men."

The truth of this statement does not depend on there being any such things as bachelors. Indeed, not even God could make a bachelor not to be an unmarried man. (If God causes him to have a wife, he also simultaneously makes him not to be a bachelor).

For more, read this article.

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WTM said...

Shane,

You know I don't buy the notion of a priori truths. As far as I'm concerned, our thought forms are shaped by formative experience with empirical reality. Therefore, we cannot speak of any thought, rules of though, etc, that are in any sense 'independent' of the experience of empirical reality.

Macht said...

There are such things as a priori truths, but they are created just like everything else. I've addressed before, from a Dooyeweerdian point of view, the issue of God being able to do the illogical (here and here). There are two questions about a priori truths we can ask. It might mean can God do things like make unmarried bachelors? The answer to that is "no." But the other question is whether there is in some transcendental sense a way that God could have created the laws of logic differently than they actually are. I would answer yes to this. I kind of get the feeling that WTM was talking about something like this later question in his post. Am I correct?

WTM said...

Macht,

You are definately tracking with me! My basic point is that human logic, and human thought patterns in particular, are just that - human. They are not human rationality tapping into some higher transcendent (divine) rationality. Logic as we know it is based upon and bounded by created existence.

Shane said...

Travis and macht are not saying the same thing.

Travis claims that "all bachelors are unmarried men" is not an a priori truth, which is incorrect.

Let me try to explain the issue further:

"All bachelors are unmarried men" is a priori because it is true by definition. In other words "unmarried man" is already contained within "bachelor" so there is no need for any empirical inquiry.

"All swans are white" is a posteriori because "white" is not contained in "swan." We would only know that all swans were white if we could actually make an empirical investigation and see what colors swans come in.

Now, it might be true that we learn some a priori truths by means of empirical models just in the sense that seeing two apples put beside two other apples enables us to abstract from this the a priori statement 2 + 2 = 4. But you never experience 2, 4, + or =. They are concepts, not objects.

The truth of 2 + 2 = 4 is not dependent upon the real existence of 4 objects in the world. Thus 2 + 2 = 4 can in no way be derived from the empirical experience.

"2 + 2 = 4" is true, even for God, who is not bound by the limits of human experience. Doubtless God knows more a priori truths than we do, but this isn't because he has a wider range of empirical experiences than we do.

WTM said...

Shane,

You just keep repeeating yourself and I keep repeating myself.

If 'a priori' means known to be true apart from experience, I have to deny such a thing because I don't think that any knowledge or even any thought occurs apart from human experience. As I have said, formative interaction with the empirical universe shapes human rationality / logic.

Further, the relationship of our rationality / logic to God's rationality / logic is described in my post. Our rationality / logic is like a two-dimensional object in a three-dimensional world. Our rationality / logic simply cannot grasp what is the true context of our existence and thus our rationality / logic is not the true measure of reality.

And again, the only reason that 2+2=4 is because every time we put 2 objects with another 2 objects, we get 4 objects. Your 'a priori' truth is simply the extrapolation of a a rule discovered in empirical experience, namely, that every time we are faced with this equasion under the standard definitions, this result is the case. I refuse to allow logic of any kind to be abstracted from empirical reality.

Shane said...

The fact of the matter of course is that there is an overwhelming consensus against you. I've never heard anyone deny that there are such things as a priori truths. I think the point I'm making is both simple and noncontroversial. You want it to be false because you have a theological axe to grind.

The error here is confusing what we know and how we know it.

You say that we can't know anything a priori because we get our knowledge through the senses. Even if this claim is true it does not imply there are no such things as a priori truths.

Both Aristotle and Kant would agree to the idea that all our knowledge comes through the sense, but both would also oppose the nonsensical idea that there aren't a priori truths.

WTM said...

"A priori" = true apart from experience.

If this means 'true apart from experience' in the sense that we don't need to be interacting with the empirical world in a directly related way at this precise moment to know that it is true, then fine.

But, if this means 'true apart from experience' in the sense that it would either be true in all possibile worlds or that we could know it even if we had never had empirical experience, then I think its a load of bull.

(1) All our thought forms (rationality, and logic) are decisively conditioned by formative experience of the empirical world.

(2) We cannot recognize the truth of an 'a priori' without this formative experience because an 'a priori' is simply a recognition of the patterns by which the empirical world is ordered (and more or less abstract extrapolations from these patterns).

(3) Anything 'a priori' would not be so if disconnected from the empirical existence within which we live and which shapes our thought forms.

(4) All human thought is decisively conditioned by the empirical world and thus cannod move beyond the empirical world on the basis of its own capacity.

Chris TerryNelson said...

"All bachelors are unmarried men" is a priori because it is true by definition. In other words "unmarried man" is already contained within "bachelor" so there is no need for any empirical inquiry."

While analyticity and a priority are often joined at the hip, we should not blur the distinctions. To say that something is true by definition (by virtue of its meaning) means it is an analytic truth. A priori simply means before the fact, i.e. true prior to experience. Thus, we can say that it is both 1)analytically true and 2)known a priori.


The truth that all bachelors are unmarried men, and all analytic sentences, requires the semantic relation of synonymy between "bachelors" and "unmarried men." However that we can know a priori that "bachelors" can be substituted for "unmarried men" is still up for debate, and requires debating what meaning is.

Shane said...

CTN,

As I understand the matter, all analytic truths are a priori ones, but (possibly) not vice versa. Let's not confuse the issue further though.

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