North Western Winds

Contemplating it all from the great Pacific Northwest

The wise, the ‘stupid’ and the incoherent

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Epistemology

John at Fides Quaerens Intellectum has an interesting series of posts in which he discusses how our beliefs might be justified. I am enjoying the posts quite a bit. I have not commented to this point because it is a subject that I have not encountered before (my degree was in English Literature and Mass Communications, not philosophy) and I’m loath to put a foot in my mouth so publicly. But maybe I can dip a toe in.

I like the stance that John is backing, called Foundationalism. The main alternative, as far as my own quick searches have been able to find, is called Coherentism. Despite never hearing of either term until I saw them on John’s blog, I have thought about them under other names. For instance, I dislike Rationalism (of which Coherentism would be a sub heading) because it seems to me to be inherently troubled. My objection is a common one:

there is no obvious way in which a coherent system relates to anything that might exist outside of it. So, it may be possible to construct a coherent theory of the world, which does not correspond to what actually occurs in the world. In other words, it appears to be entirely possible to develop a system that is entirely coherent and yet entirely untrue.

According to the Wikkipedia, Coherentists respond by saying that “any substantial system that was not true would by definition contain some contradictions, and so be incoherent.” To which I have to ask, how does anybody claim to know that? How does anyone justify that? It’s a pretty hocus pocus claim, as far as I can see.

To its credit, I think that Christianity rejects Coherentism with the doctrine of original sin. Christians reject the idea that we truly know the world “as it is.” Our thinking and our senses are not capable of knowing ontological reality and the church insists we admit it because if we don’t it leads to Pride. From the Catechism of the Catholic Church (hat tip: Mark Shea)

675 Before Christ’s second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers. The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the “mystery of iniquity” in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth. The supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh.

676 The Antichrist’s deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realize within history that messianic hope which can only be realized beyond history through the eschatological judgment. The Church has rejected even modified forms of this falsification of the kingdom to come under the name of millenarianism, especially the “intrinsically perverse” political form of a secular messianism.

Pretty heavy stuff. We are not to seek perfection on earth because, due to our imperfect knowledge and morals, we are certain to muck it up and bring calamity on our heads. Hmm, the experience of the 20th Century efforts to that end seem to back the Church, don’t they? It is no coincidence that Rationalism is associated with the political Left, and that the Left hates the Church.

It is about Foundationalism that John is writing and about which I am now curious. As I haven’t read or thought about it much, I can’t really say a lot. I seems to me that there must be certain things that are the building blocks of knowledge, which knowledge cannot prove because to do so would a circular argument. And if this is so, then it must be irrational to doubt them. Off the top of my head, I’d suggest the existence of God is such a thing; if there is no God there can be no claim to know anything well or badly. From God’s existence I would derive that morality is a real and objective thing, although we know the details only dimly.

J.S. Mill once famously referred to the conservatives of his day as “the stupid party,” and it is a title that conservatives have held aloft with pride ever since. They embrace it not because they think being stupid is a grand thing, but because in their minds there are some things about which only the stupid doubt (or better: the unwise).

For the title of the post, I have to ask the forgiveness of Clint Eastwood.

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Written by Curt

October 12, 2004 at 5:59 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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