Knowledge is the Possession of Truth
If the problems with empiricism aren’t enough to cause Christian philosophers to abandon empiricism, in its pure form as well as its various diluted forms, then perhaps it would do them well to consider the following. Firstly, God is the source of all knowledge. This implies that all knowledge originates from an immaterial, non-physical being, viz. God. This further implies that irrespective of the process involved in our acquisition of knowledge, the knowledge we acquire has not originated with the sensory objects we experience. This further implies that knowledge-in-itself is not dependent upon anything we experience. Knowledge-in-itself precedes experience necessarily. A denial of these points amounts to a denial of the Spirituality, Omniscience, and Aseity of God.
Secondly, God is the source of all knowledge. This implies that all knowledge originates from a personal, willing, and speaking being, viz. God. This further implies that no knowledge finds its origin in any material, physical, non-personal being. This further implies that no knowledge finds its origin in any material, physical, personal being. God being the source of all knowledge necessarily implies that all other beings have derived their knowledge from him. The first human articulation of a given item of knowledge, therefore, is not the point of origin of that item of knowledge but merely the point of origin of its appearance in human knowledge and discourse. This also means that knowledge is necessarily propositional.
Thirdly, God is the source of all knowledge. This implies that what constitutes knowledge are true propositions, for God neither errs nor lies. This further implies that true propositions are indefeasible. In other words, because God is the source of all knowledge, and all knowledge is constituted by true propositions, knowledge cannot be defeasible. Indeed, the phrase “defeasible knowledge,” given the fact that God is the source of all knowledge, is a contradiction in terms. Knowledge is possession of the truth, and truth is indefeasible.
A Problem and its Resolution
Let x be the proposition “2015 is a bad year for car companies.” The proposition, in order for it to be knowledge, must be indefeasible. In 2014, was x indefeasible? The obvious answer would seem to be no, for the year 2015 had not yet come about. The proposition could have been true or false; we would have no grounds for asserting its truth or falsity. We may speak of the future as present already, but such ways of speaking are merely shorthand for more complex sentences. Thus, in 2014 we may have said “2015 is a bad year for car companies” and meant that “According to our best estimations, 2015 will be a bad year for car companies.” In the present tense and future tense instances, x and x1 are syntactically identical but semantically distinct. It would seem that the copula renders the statement inapplicable to any other historical time than the present, and so it would be neither true nor false.
It may not be possible for temporally bound agents to understand x objectually, but this does not preclude the possibility of a supratemporal agent having the capacity to understand x objectually. In fact, God, being the only supratemporal being, necessarily knows x objectually. God’s knowledge of x differs in many respects; however, when x temporally obtains then God’s knowledge of x and our knowledge of x are univocal. This seems to hold true for all such propositions. God, then, reveals truth to us in time. These truths obtain temporally but have always been true. Knowledge, thus, is independent of our experience, but comes to be known by us in time. This means that the reception of knowledge is always correlative to some experience; however, correlation doesn’t imply or demonstrate causation. Our acquisition of knowledge, rather, is necessarily correlative to our physical experiences and, consequently, necessarily temporal. The idea that a rejection of empiricism entails an acceptance of a kind of gnosticism is hereby shown to be nothing but a bogeyman.
The Fallacious Inference Guiding Empiricism
Empiricism assumes that the correlative relationship of knowing and acting/being-acted-upon is actually a causal relationship. Yet there is no justification for assuming this to be the case. In fact, there is much that militates against it. At the very top of the list, we must continue to belabor the fact that the inferential process whereby one identifies a correlative relationship as causal is fallacious. The conclusion drawn does not follow from the premises given. Secondly, if we grant that the relationship between knowing and acting/being acted upon is causal, we still could not maintain that all thought is derived from experience, given that thought content is very often unrelated to the physical environment in which it comes about. This may occur given some intentional symbolic appropriation of an object or in the process of relating to an object on a non-extra-symbolic level. Intentional symbolic appropriation may give rise to related thought content, but this thought content broadens the extension of the object (e.g rose: flower/emblem of love). The object itself, nevertheless, demonstrates that correlatively of experience and thought doesn’t imply a causal relationship thus obtains.
Non-intentionally, however, we may consider the innumerable instances in which something dawns upon us while we are engaged in a completely unrelated task. In such instances, the fallacious inference to causality is worsened by its proponent having to either (a.)construct a circuitous and labyrinthine theory explaining how the seemingly unrelated mental content is somehow causally related to its correlative physical experience/s, or (b.)admit that there are instances in which the correlative relationship is comprised of mental and physical content that cannot reasonably be thought, even if fallaciously, to be causally related. If (a.), then the proponent faces the more difficult task of elaborating upon an even more nuanced empirical theory; if (b.), then the proponent can no longer claim that the correlative relationship is always causal, and if he cannot do this his empiricism fails again.
Learning from Experience
More colloquially, it is claimed that we learn from our experiences, by which it is meant that trial and error help us make proper assessments of various real life practical scenarios. And while this isn’t to be confused with empiricism proper, it shares the same correlativity-causality fallacy. For in order to act, one must have the belief that the act may be performed. One’s belief may be false, of course, but that isn’t relevant. What is of relevance is the fact the belief one holds is logically prior to the action one takes. Taking an action may be correlative to my belief revision (I may no longer believe that the action is performable), and consequently state that -p, as opposed to my original belief p. Nevertheless, the parallel series of experiences and beliefs doesn’t imply or demonstrate that the relation is actually causal. So do I learn from experience? Only if we fallaciously infer a causal relationship obtains between the parallel events of acting/being-acted-upon and learning via logical inference.
Philosophers have often assumed that the experiences one has supply him with the matter requisite to logical inference, logic being merely formal and having no extra-formal content (i.e. non-tautologous content). Yet this begs the question as well, presupposing that the correlativity relationship is actually a causal one. The experiences I have are one thing, while the thoughts I think about those experiences are another. There are two parallel series of events: the external-physical and the internal-mental/logical. As I’ve noted already, because the existence of correlative but unrelated physical-logical relations is a real phenomenon this demonstrates that the relationship is not necessarily causal, even granting that there may be a causal relationship between them (which I don’t).
An Ignored Alternative
John W. Robbins once noted that philosophers have behaved as if there were only two possible epistemologies available to them, viz. empiricism and rationalism, whereas there is actually another one: Revelation. Revelational epistemology is not only logically coherent and superior to all other proposed variations on rationalism and empiricism, it is what Scripture teaches. The only “problem” with it is that it drastically reduces what man thinks his available knowledge is (i.e. it reduces all truth to that which is validly deducible from Scripture). This doesn’t mean that man cannot have opinions and offer reasons as to why he holds those opinions. What it means, however, is that such opinions are by their very nature subject to the propositions of Scripture. This is where we find the proverbial “rub.”
Some philosophers have failed to see the significance of the theory of Divine illumination (as articulated by Augustine & his Medieval successors, Jonathan Edwards, Gordon H. Clark, and, I believe, Scripture), claiming that such an epistemology doesn’t answer the problematic questions raised by epistemology proper. Some, however, have sought to locate the doctrine, as articulated specifically by Augustine, in the ontology of man. While the latter view is certainly deserving of our attention, it stems from a unique reading of Augustine & an a priori concession to opponents of the doctrine of divine illumination as historically understood. In a later article, I hope to demonstrate how the doctrine of divine illumination does not face any of the supposed difficulties its opponents have claimed it does.
Soli Deo Gloria.