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Saturday, November 19, 2011

a discussion with Sye Ten Bruggencate

This post originally consisted of an entirely different topic. However the comments for the post took on a life of their own, and so I'm re-posting the original topic here, and leaving this post open for further discussion on Sye's view. It comes after we interviewed him on the Goodness Over God podcast this past Thursday.

To summarize, Sye wants to know how we justify reason itself, and hence our subjective view of the world which we base on our reason. However I take justification to be a part of our reason, and so this is akin to asking, how does a person justify justification? My position is that we don't need justification for using any particular standard of justification as long as that standard is consistent with itself, and with its own application. While this situation may not satisfy us completely, it's the best we have available to us, since any would-be justification for our standard of justification must necessarily have a circular character.

In Sye's view, though, not all circular reasoning is bad, or "vicious." According to him, we should instead use a good or "virtuous" kind of circular reasoning involving the existence of the Christian God. Recall from the podcast (~48:00):

SYE: We're saying that we have a justification---revelation from God.

BEN: Part of what we mean by justification is to satisfy our reason. How could you have a non-circular argument given that that's what we mean by justification?

SYE: We're not saying that our argument isn't circular. We're saying that it's virtuously circular in that God can justify reasoning.


So that's the background to the following discussion. Enjoy!

19 comments:

Sye TenB said...

Perhaps you could flesh out your concept of "truth" in your next post. You basically said that truth is that which corresponds to reality, and from a Christian perspective this would make sense, as God can revel to us the "right" reality. I just never got a clear indication as to how you know the proper reality that things are supposed to correspond to in order to be "true."

Thanks.

Ben Wallis said...

Oh, hey there Sye! Glad to see you checking back.

When I talk about reality, I'm trying to refer to a single unique whole---the sum total of all that there is. So to ask to "which" reality I'm referring doesn't make much sense.

I tried to explain this during the podcast. Remember when I asked about reference (at ~1:11:45)? I wanted to know if you guys think I have a reference problem, such that I can only refer to conceptions of reality as opposed to reality itself. That's why I asked you guys if you thought maybe I couldn't refer to reality itself---and Pastor Segers said no. So assuming he understood what I was asking, then he doesn't see any reference problem here. Do you agree with him on that point? Because if you think we have a reference problem, that's another matter altogether. But if we can't refer to reality, then both of us are in big trouble!

But so long as you agree we can refer to reality itself (regardless of whether we need God to do so), then that's what Michael and I are doing when we characterize truth as corresponding to reality. We aren't referring to one of the multiple *conceptions* of reality to which various people hold. Rather, we're referring to the single, unique reality *itself*.

Now, as to which conception of reality is the "right" conception, that's another matter still. Michael and I don't claim to have a perfect picture of all of reality. Of course, neither do you, so presumably you don't think this is a problem in and of itself. Apparently you just think it becomes a problem if we don't have access to someone (God) who has a perfect conception of reality. But you didn't explain how it helps at all to have access to an omniscient being, much less why you think we need that help.

So hopefully that answers your question.

--Ben

Sye TenB said...

"So hopefully that answers your question."

Sorry, no, it doesn't. As I explained on the podcast, you and Michael have a different view of reality then Dustin and I do. We find a reality in which God exists, you, on the other hand find a reality where that is not necessarily the case.

You see, in our reality, we can attribute things to God whom we know exists, you cannot. For example, if someone asks if X is "good," we can make this determination by seeing whether or not it comports with God's revealed character according to our reality. You, necessarily have another standard for goodness in your version of reality. Both cannot be "true" at the same time and in the same way.

So when I, for example, say that worshiping idols is bad, and you say that it is not bad, how do you determine which is the correct answer since we appeal to different realities?

How do you know whose reality is the right reality?

Ben Wallis said...

Sye,

Sure, we have a different view of reality than you do. But I don't think that your view is coherent, much less justified, and that's the problem. On your view, God snaps his fingers and you become certain that he exists---but certainty is not knowledge. To "know" that God exists, you need not only for that to be true and to believe it, you also need for your belief to be justified. An unjustified true belief, after all, isn't knowledge.

The kind of justification I'm talking about---that is, epistemic justification---involves induction and consistency. A justified picture of the world must be consistent, and then furthermore that picture must be supported either directly by experience or else by inductive evidence (in the sense of generalizing on the most broadly-according regularities of our experience). That's what I mean when I talk about epistemic justification, and it's how I usually go about determining which conception of reality is most accurate. If your view of the world isn't consistent, or if it isn't supported by inductive evidence of the sort I mentioned, then it's not justified in the sense I'm talking about.

And it looks like your view violates both criteria. You didn't offer anything in the way of inductive evidence for your view, and you didn't iron out the inconsistencies we showed you regarding your claims to knowledge.

This is a logical problem with your view, and as Michael pointed out multiple times in the podcast, God can't create a logical bridge where there isn't one. The best he can do is give you that subjective sense of certainty that you claim to have. But as I reminded you in the podcast, even if your certainty is directed at some true fact about the world, you're still missing out on justification!

--Ben

Sye TenB said...

”Sure, we have a different view of reality than you do. But I don't think that your view is coherent, much less justified, and that's the problem.”

This is my point exactly! We have different views, so how do you know who has the right view? You see, everything following the above sentence appealed to YOUR view of reality, and you have yet to establish that YOUR view is the RIGHT view. We could easily counter by saying that we “don’t think your view is coherent, much less justified,” but that does not get us anywhere.

Surely you would admit that God could reveal to us the right view of reality? How do YOU know which view is right? (Surely you also see that appealing to your view to justify your view is circular right?)

Ben Wallis said...

Sye,

I'm not appealing to my view of reality when I talk about what I mean by things like knowledge and justification. These are analytic truths independent of what is going on in the world. And on this foundation it's easy to build a model of the world which satisfies it, at least in large part.

But that's not what you're doing at all. You just assume that these things are all happening for you, even though you don't have a coherent view of how they are taking place. You say that God gives you certainty in what you know, but you haven't explained how you know it in the first place. God can give make you believe true things, but he can't create a logical bridge where there isn't any. In particular, he can't give you a justification for your view where no justification exists. And without justification, you don't have knowledge. That's one principal reason your view isn't coherent.

Now, you could perhaps patch up your view a bit so that it is at least coherent, while still holding onto most of your core religious doctrines, i.e. the existence of God, the Resurrection of Jesus, and so on. But you'll still need to have some inductive case for these beliefs if you want them to be justified, and you haven't presented one. Apparently you think it would be sinful to try to do so. But be that as it may, I don't see any alternative for you.

--Ben

Sye TenB said...

”I'm not appealing to my view of reality when I talk about what I mean by things like knowledge and justification.”

Is that true Ben? Truth being that which conforms to reality? If so, according to whose view of reality, yours or mine?

”These are analytic truths independent of what is going on in the world. And on this foundation it's easy to build a model of the world which satisfies it, at least in large part.”

Is that true Ben? Truth being that which conforms to reality? If so, according to whose view of reality, yours or mine?

”But that's not what you're doing at all.”

Is that true Ben? Truth being that which conforms to reality? If so, according to whose view of reality, yours or mine?
Do I need to go on?

Ben Wallis said...

Sye,

I can't answer those questions because, as I explained a few posts above, they aren't coherent. There are not multiple realities of which to pick out the "right" one. Instead, we have different conceptions of reality, and those conceptions are justified as also explained earlier---namely through consistency and induction. Since your view violates both of these, we cannot take it to be justified.

It troubles me that you're not concerned about addressing that issue. Apparently, it either doesn't bother you that your view is incoherent, or else you think it's coherent but you just aren't interested in defending it. But in either case we have a serious problem. If you think your view is justified but you don't at least *try* to explain how, then that means you're deliberately hampering the conversation. And if you agree that your view is unjustified but you just don't care, then you should say as much so that we can either wrap up the conversation or else move it forward.

Anyway, I've been as clear as I can about my concerns. Hopefully it is enough.

--Ben

Sye TenB said...

”I can't answer those questions because, as I explained a few posts above, they aren't coherent. “

Is it true that they aren’t coherent? Truth being that which conforms to reality? If so, according to whose view of reality, yours or mine?

”There are not multiple realities of which to pick out the "right" one. Instead, we have different conceptions of reality”

Right, and how do you know that your concept is the right one?

” and those conceptions are justified as also explained earlier---namely through consistency and induction. “

How do you know that your view of reality in which consistency and induction are necessary is the right view of reality?

”It troubles me that you're not concerned about addressing that issue.”

We haven’t even gotten that far yet. You can’t tell me how you know that your view of reality is the right view. Remember, you are a fallibalist, so you can't give me a view of reality that you can't be wrong about.

”If you think your view is justified but you don't at least *try* to explain how, then that means you're deliberately hampering the conversation. “

It is my view that God has revealed to us the nature of reality such that we can be certain about it. Please tell me how YOU are certain about the nature of reality so that we can BEGIN the debate over our respective views.

Ben Wallis said...

Sye,

Recall that I explained how I know things in the podcast. To recap, knowledge consists in warranted true belief, or in this context justified true belief. (I don't buy the so-called counter-examples of Gettier.) So I know a truth P whenever I believe P and am justified in doing so. Presumably you don't doubt that I can have true beliefs. So the problem is going to center around justification, as we've been discussing.

Justification, in fact, and with rare exceptions, is how I want to go about distinguishing truth from falsehood, where we have time to reflect on it. That doesn't mean we're going to have some perfect view of the world, or even a perfect partial view. We're all going to make mistakes. (Presumably you make mistakes about reality, too, right?) But justification---i.e. the appeal to induction and consistency---is one of our best tools for distinguishing what really exists from what does not. It's not that induction and consistency are "necessary," though; it's just that most of us care a great deal about them!

It's hard to see why you would take issue with this. Don't you think induction is important in determining what is true about the world? Aren't you concerned about being consistent? If so, then you agree with me, at least in part, about how to go discover facts about reality. Apparently you just think we have further tools available to us---namely, God's revelation. But Michael and I have tried to show you that in order to maintain coherence, you can't just say that God's revelation includes justification of the sort I've described. God can give you a subjective sense of certainty, but he can't create a logical bridge where there isn't any---he can't give you a justification that doesn't exist to be given.

Speaking of certainty, I don't claim to be certain about very much about reality. I'm certain of a few things, e.g. my own existence, the existence of this experience I'm having right now, etc. Also, I'm certain of those analytic truths which I can at once conceptually grasp, e.g. statements like 2+2=4 and -1<0, and so on. And I'm certain of these to the extent that I don't know what it would even mean to suggest that they are false.

But certainty isn't required for knowledge. That seems to me something of a distraction, to discuss how I can be certain of things. Rather, our dispute centers around which beliefs (whether we are certain of them or not) are justified.

The thing is, though, I've explained how I justify my beliefs---through the inference from broadly-according inductive evidence of consistent models of the world. In contrast, you haven't said hardly a word about what you take to constitute justification, or how you think your belief that God reveals truth to you satisfies whatever standard for justification you want to use. Instead, it seems to me that you just believe it without any justification, and you call it "knowledge" because you feel so subjectively certain about it. But knowledge requires much more than subjective certainty.

I'd really like to know what you think is wrong with using conceptual models of the world which are consistent and supported by broadly-according inductive evidence, and how you think God makes up for the supposed deficiency. (And remember, saying things like "God reveals knowledge to me" isn't going to be an explanation, but rather just a re-statement of the kind of thing I want you to explain.)

If on the other hand you're on board with my account of justification, then what exactly do you think is wrong with my view, and how do you think God solves *that* supposed problem?

--Ben

Sye TenB said...

”Don't you think induction is important in determining what is true about the world?”

Of course, but knowing which reality is the right reality is essential in knowing if induction is important in determining what is true about the world. You have yet to tell me how you know which is the right reality without begging the question.

” Aren't you concerned about being consistent?”

Of course, but knowing which reality is the right reality is essential in knowing if consistency is important. You have yet to tell me how you know which is the right reality without begging the question.

” Speaking of certainty, I don't claim to be certain about very much about reality.”

Since your claim is that “truth is that which comports to reality,” and you don’t “claim to be certain about very much about reality,” then how can you know ANYTHING to be true??? I realize that you have to repent in order to see these things, but it never ceases to amaze me that you cannot (2 Timothy 2:25).

” I'm certain of a few things, e.g. my own existence, the existence of this experience I'm having right now, etc. Also, I'm certain of those analytic truths which I can at once conceptually grasp, e.g. statements like 2+2=4 and -1<0, and so on. And I'm certain of these to the extent that I don't know what it would even mean to suggest that they are false.”

HOW are you certain about them? How do you know that your view of reality is the right view, and that your reasoning is giving you accurate information?

” But certainty isn't required for knowledge.”

Perhaps you can give me an example of something that you know which is NOT certain.

” The thing is, though, I've explained how I justify my beliefs---through the inference from broadly-according inductive evidence of consistent models of the world.”

According to which view of reality and how do you know that you have the right view?

” In contrast, you haven't said hardly a word about what you take to constitute justification”

As I said, we haven’t even gotten that far yet. I’m still waiting for you to tell me how you know which reality is the right reality. Do you deny, with certainty, that God can reveal this to us?

”But knowledge requires much more than subjective certainty.”

Do you know this? Earlier you said that certainty isn’t required for knowledge, now you say that knowledge requires much more than subjective certainty. How certain are you that knowledge requires much more than subjective certainty (which is not my claim by the way – subjective certainty).

” I'd really like to know what you think is wrong with using conceptual models of the world which are consistent and supported by broadly-according inductive evidence”

Nothing, IF you can justify that your view of reality, in which consistency and induction apply, is the right view, and if you can justify the validity of your senses, memory, and reasoning WITHOUT being viciously circular.

” If on the other hand you're on board with my account of justification, then what exactly do you think is wrong with my view, and how do you think God solves *that* supposed problem?”

God can and has revealed the nature of reality to us, such that we can know for certain some things to be true. You have not given ANY indication as to how you can know which view of reality is the right view. All you are giving me is explanations ASSUMING that your view is the right view.

Ben Wallis said...

Sye,

We can value induction and consistency without knowing whether or not they are successful tools for seeking truth. As long as my account of justification is consistent with its own application, I'm satisfied by that. In other words, if my standard of justification was mostly unsuccessful in predicting and controlling experiences, then that would be a problem for my strategy of using justification to distinguish between truth and falsehood. Moreover, if there exists a better strategy as evaluated by my own standard of justification, then that would constitute a reason to switch to that better strategy. Beyond that, though, I can't see any reason to give up my current standard of justification. And you seem to agree that there's nothing wrong with it, except that you think the standard itself requires some kind of non-circular justification.

I want to know, though, why is it a problem for me to lack non-circular justification for my current strategies of truth-seeking? After all, it's not as if you're offering some alternative, here. Quite obviously, a justification for anything---including our standard of justification---must appeal to a standard of justification. If you're trying to justify one standard with another, then the second standard is your actual standard of justification, not the first. And if you justify a standard with itself, then you haven't escaped the circularity you apparently find intolerable.

This is our common situation. If it bothers you, that's one thing, but let's not pretend we have a solution we don't actually have. Invoking the existence of God isn't going to permit us to escape our own individual points of view. Instead, it's just going to add additional, superfluous assumptions on top of what we already assume.

Now, regarding the contrast between certainty and knowledge, we talked in the podcast about how one can have a subjective feeling of certainty and yet be wrong. So clearly in such cases the person in question would not have knowledge about that which he is (mistakenly) certain. In fact, certainty is little more than a very strongly-held belief, and so to have knowledge we need both truth and justification to accompany them. (This just follows from the definition of knowledge as JTB.) At the same time, our beliefs need not be held with certainty in order to constitute knowledge. So for instance I believe justifiably that there is a book on my desk, even though I am not absolutely certain of this. I only mention this in response to your question, though. I don't think it is particularly relevant to the current discussion.

Now, you claim that God has revealed knowledge to you, but by the afore-mentioned definition this means he must have provided you with justification. And justification consists of broadly-according inductive evidence and consistency. If you deny this, then you are not talking about the same thing I'm talking about when I use the term "justification." And if you agree, then I'm going to first point you to my argument against inferring the existence of God via inductive evidence, and second ask you what inductive evidence you think you have.

So I think that about covers it. If you have further questions feel free to ask, but please also try to answer mine.

--Ben

JC said...

Sye, Can someone know something for certain and be wrong?

Sye TenB said...

” As long as my account of justification is consistent with its own application, I'm satisfied by that.”

Well, that’s the point . People who come to false conclusions can be satisfied too. We are trying to get at how you can know anything to be true, and if you cannot know if your view of reality is the right one, then your correspondence theory fails.

”Beyond that, though, I can't see any reason to give up my current standard of justification. “

Nor can the person suffering DTs give up the idea that there are snakes on the bed, but that makes the belief incorrigible, not necessarily “true.”

//”I want to know, though, why is it a problem for me to lack non-circular justification for my current strategies of truth-seeking?”//

Do you agree that your view is viciously circular first?

//” After all, it's not as if you're offering some alternative, here.”//

Well, I have, but be careful of the tu quoque fallacy.

”.And if you justify a standard with itself, then you haven't escaped the circularity you apparently find intolerable.”

I have not argued that our standard is not circular, but not all circles are fallacious, your vicious one, however, is. Greg Bahnsen writes:

”In the Christian worldview, however, the Christian is not engaged in viciously circular argument, a circular argument on the same plane. We appeal above and beyond the temporal realm. God’s self-revelation in nature and in Scripture informs us of the two-level universe. God is not a fact like other facts in the world. He is the Creator and Establisher of all else. His existence alone makes the universe, and reason, and human experience possible… … The “circularity” of a transcendental argument is not at all the same as the fallacious ‘circularity’ of an argument in which the conclusion is a restatement (in one form or another) of one of its premises.” ~ (Pushing the Antithesis pg.) 124.

”Invoking the existence of God isn't going to permit us to escape our own individual points of view. “

Well that’s the question which you did not answer: “Do you deny, with certainty, that God can reveal the nature of reality to us?

”So for instance I believe justifiably that there is a book on my desk, even though I am not absolutely certain of this.”

But it is my claim that you lack that justification according to your worldview. You STILL have not told me how you can know that your view of reality is the right view, or how you know that your senses, memory and reasoning are giving you accurate information WITHOUT being viciously circular.

”Now, you claim that God has revealed knowledge to you, but by the afore-mentioned definition this means he must have provided you with justification.”

He has. His Word is its own justification. One cannot have a higher authority for the necessary precondition for justification.

”And justification consists of broadly-according inductive evidence and consistency.”

Only in a worldview where they necessarily apply, and you have yet to tell us how you know that your view of reality in which you claim they apply is the right view.

This has been fun, but if you keep avoiding the issue, intentionally, or otherwise, I will have to move on.

Sye TenB said...

"Sye, Can someone know something for certain and be wrong?"

Not about that thing.

JC said...

Sye, its a yes or no answer? Can someone know something for certain and be wrong?

Ben Wallis said...

Sye,

It is true that the only would-be justification available for justification itself would be circular. But circular "justifications" are worthless to me, and so I do not employ them. Rather, I just assume those principles I value for predicting and controlling my experiences, and proceed from there. So if I tried to justify my standard of justification, I would be guilty of circularity. But fortunately I don't pretend to have such justification.

To point out that you're not offering an alternative to this situation isn't a fallacy, though. We all share these epistemic limitations, and we shouldn't pretend to have solutions we don't actually have. Instead, we should be honest about our limitations and humbly acknowledge them. Hopefully I have set a good example for that policy.

You yourself openly acknowledge that your view is circular, but for some reason you think your circle is good, whereas the circle available to me is bad. There are a couple of serious problems with this. First of all, circular reasoning does not require extra characteristics to render it undesirable. Rather, circular reasoning is bad to the extent that it is circular! So if you're satisfied by circular reasoning, well, I suppose I can't make you be unsatisfied. But I for one do not value circular reasoning or circular justifications.

Second, your circle doesn't appear to have any relevant difference from the circle available to me (which I do not use, since circular reasoning is generally worthless). Here is "my" circle:

"my" circle

In contrast, here is YOUR circle:

your circle

Now, why is adding God to the picture the least bit helpful? You do not say, nor does Bahnsen as you quote him. (And anyway, if we read Bahnsen in context, he seems to be talking about a different kind of circularity, namely that of a coherentist--much like I described in a previous post, in fact.)

You also ask if I deny with certainty that God can reveal to you "the nature of reality." In fact I do NOT deny that he can provide you with that information. But as I have repeatedly reminded you from the podcast onward, he cannot give you JUSTIFICATION for the true beliefs he implants into your psychology--he cannot create a logical bridge where there isn't one.

Finally, I take some exception to you complaining that I'm supposedly avoiding the issue. On the contrary, I have spent a great deal of thought and effort trying to answer your questions as carefully as I can, and to be as clear and communicative as I am able. In contrast, you have deliberately put off answering my questions, repeatedly telling me that "we haven’t even gotten that far yet." Well how far do we have to go before you will consider answering my questions? In fairness, you have answered *some* of them, especially in the last post. But from where I sit, it just doesn't seem like you're willing to be forthcoming about your view, and that's quite frustrating.

Anyway, I might take a break from responding for a little while, but if you want to have the last word I will read what you write.

Take care,
--Ben

Sye TenB said...

Actually Ben, I just came here to find out how you know that your view of reality is the right view. You appear to be unable to understand my request. EVERYTHING you write ASSUMES your view, it DOES NOT tell me how you know that your view is the right view.

You have granted that God can reveal to us the nature of reality, thus conceding an avenue to truth to the Christian, but you have not told us how YOU can know that your view is the right view.

You tell us for certain what God "cannot do," but fail to see that you have not given us the foundation by which you claim to know ANYTHING for certain.

I will chalk that up to misunderstanding rather than intentional avoidance, and let you enjoy your break.

Thanks for your time.

Cheers

Ben Wallis said...

Sye,

I know I told you I'd let you have the last word---I thought that would be the polite thing to do---but in your latest post you badly misrepresent my position, and I don't want to let that slide.

In particular you said that I concede "an avenue to the truth of the Christian" even though I cannot tell you how I know my view is the right view. First of all I have repeatedly explained that I don't think I have a perfect view of reality, and I've talked about how we use the best tools we can---e.g. consistency and inductive inference---to get at the truth. So that's definitely a mischaracterization which should be corrected.

Perhaps more importantly, though, it is quite false that I have conceded you have any justification available, or any path to knowledge of God. In fact I have been quite adamant about the fact that I take the opposite position! I explained this again and again and again, both in the podcast and here in this blogging conversation. So when you suggest that in fact I have conceded this point, it really worries me that you haven't been putting out much effort to understand my position or my arguments.

Regarding your other points, you're just repeating what I have already argued against without responding to my arguments. For instance you claim that everything I write assumes in advance that my view is correct, but clearly this is not the case, as I explained earlier. To repeat: when I talk about what constitutes justification and knowledge, I'm only assuming that we can communicate coherently, i.e. that I *mean* something when I use those terms and can explain myself. If you don't think we can communicate, then what are you doing here? And if you do think we can communicate, then how do you think I'm relying on my own view when I report the meaning of my terms? But it's not as if I'm assuming that my picture of the world is a perfect one, or that any of the issues on which we disagree come down in my favor.

I also explained how I can be certain about a few things such as simple analytic truths and truths about my own existence and experience. But of course certainty isn't all that important. In fact certainty appears to be quite counter-productive where unwarranted.

Beyond that, recall that I've pointed out a great many problems with your view that you seem to ignore. So for instance you haven't explained how it helps us to know someone who is omniscient when we ourselves are not. You haven't outlined a standard of justification. You haven't explained how you are justified in believing that God exists. You haven't explained how you think God can create a logical bridge where there isn't one. You haven't defended against my argument that no inductive case for God can succeed, nor have you attempted to construct an inductive argument for the existence of God. You haven't explained how God provides us with essential tools for truth-seeking. You haven't explained why we should regard your own self-described circular reasoning as good or "virtuous." You haven't explained how God enables us to escape our own respective, subjective points of view. Etc., etc.

And that's just the stuff we covered here, not counting the questions that remain unanswered from the podcast itself! Doesn't it bother you to leave all that hanging?

If you only take one thing away from this conversation, let it be this: You openly acknowledge that you are employing circular reasoning. I would suggest that such reasoning is worthless. If you really reflect on the fact that your view is circular, I think you will eventually find it unsatisfying. I for one am sure not interested in having a view that depends on circular reasoning.

Maybe some time in the future we can make more headway than we have here these past couple of days. I look forward to that possibility. Until then, the best of luck to you.

--Ben