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Epistemology

Francis A. Schaeffer on Theological Terms

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If we wish to communicate, then we must take time and trouble to learn our hearers’ use of languages so that they understand what we intend to convey. This is particularly difficult today for us as Christians when we want to use a world like God or guilt in a strictly defined sense rather than as a connotative word, because the concepts of these words
have changed universally. In a case like this, either we must try to find a synonymous word without a false connotation, or else we have to define the word at length when we use it, so that we make sure our hearer understands as fully as possible what we are conveying. I suggest that if the word (or phrase) we are in the habit of using is no more than an orthodox evangelical cliché which has become a technical term among Christians, then we should be willing to give it up
when we step outside our own narrow circle and talk to the people around us. If, on the other hand, the word is indispensable, such as the word God, then we should talk at sufficient length to make ourselves clear.

Hilary Putnam on Thinking and Normativity

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Why should we expend our mental energy in convincing ourselves that we aren’t thinkers, that our thoughts aren’t really about anything, noumenal or phenomenal, that there is no sense in which any thought is right or wrong (including the thought that no thought is right or wrong) beyond being the verdict of the moment, and so on? This is a self-refuting enterprise if there ever was one! Let us recognize that one of our fundamental self-conceptualizations … is that we are thinkers, and that as thinkers we are committed to there being some kind of truth, some kind of correctness which is substantial…. That means that there is no eliminating the normative.

Jerry Gill on Faith as a Leap

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On the other hand, there are those who disdain the apologetic task altogether, either because they believe that Christian faith is entirely a gift of God or because they advocate religious commitment as a “leap of faith”. Such thinkers would quote Pascal: “The heart has reasons that reason knows not of”. What those who take this approach overlook is that it proves too much. If Christian belief is justified by faith alone, then so is every other form of belief on the commitment market, since the devotees of each are equally convinced they are right. Besides, it is important to notice that Pascal still called the reasons which are not known by reason, “reasons”.

Jerry Gill on the Possibility of Being Wrong

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The possibility of being wrong is the price we pay for the possibility of being right. We are not speaking here of our degree of psychological certitude, but of the basic distinction between logical certainty and probability.

Aloysius Martinich on Informal Logical Fallacies

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Fallacies seem to resist an illuminating and perspicuous categorization and characterization. There is a quite banal consideration that makes the search for an adequate taxonomy seem doomed to failure. While there are a few principles of correct reasoning, the number of incorrect patterns of reasoning are unlimited. In other words, there is no underestimating the ability of human beings to invent new ways of making mistakes. The seems to be the view of H.W.B Joseph, who is quoted as saying, “Truth may have its norms, but error is infinite in its aberrations and they cannot be digested in any classification”.

The Miracle of Theism

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In The Miracle of Theism, J.L. Mackie examines the arguments for and against the existence of God from an atheistic perspective. John Mackie is a highly respected twentieth century philosopher and along with Anthony Flew has been one of the most capable contemporary proponents of atheism. Written almost a quarter of a century ago, “The Miracle of Theism” remains a classic in the field of religious philosophy and is widely considered to be one of the best-stated arguments for atheism in print. Unfortunately, many popular works supporting the atheistic perspective come across as unduly angry and self-righteous. In contrast, Mackie’s work is a much-needed breath of fresh air. One may disagree with Mackie while at the same time respecting his views. ~ A Reader at Amazon.com

Roy Batty on Death and Meaning

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I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched c-beams … glitter in the dark near Tanhauser Gate. All those … moments will be lost … in time, like tears … in rain. Time … to die.

The Problem of the Criterion

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“The problem of the criterion” seems to me to be one of the most important and one of the most difficult of all the problems of philosophy. I am tempted to say that one has not begun to philosophize until one has faced this problem and has recognized how unappealing, in the end, each of the possible solutions is. I have chosen this problem as my topic for the Aquinas Lecture because what first set me to thinking about it (and I remain obsessed by it) were two treatises of twentieth century scholastic philosophy. I refer first to P. Coffey’s two-volume work, Epistemology or the Theory of Knowledge, published in 1917.1 This led me in turn to the treatises of Coffey’s great teacher, Cardinal D. J. Mercier: Critériologie générale our théorie générale de la certitude.2 ¶ Mercier and, following him, Coffey set the problem correctly, I think, and have seen what is necessary for its solution. But I shall not discuss their views in detail. I shall formulate the problem; then note what, according to Mercier, is necessary if we are to solve the problem; then sketch my own solution; and, finally, note the limitations of my approach to the problem.

Willard V. Quine on External Things

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Our talk of external things, our very notion of things, is just a conceptual apparatus that helps us to foresee and control the triggering of our sensory receptors in the light of previous triggering of our sensory receptors. The triggering, first and last, is all we have to go on. In saying this I too am talking of external things, namely, people and their nerve endings. Thus what I am saying applies in particular to what I am saying, and is not meant as skeptical. There is nothing we can be more confident of than external things — some of them, anyway — other people, sticks, stones. But there remains the fact — a fact of science itself — that science is a conceptual bridge of our own making, linking sensory stimulation to sensory stimulation; there is no extrasensory perception.

James William McClendon on Defeasibility

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There is, however, a form of the fallibility principle which is both significant and acceptable. It holds that even one’s most cherished and tenaciously held convictions might be false and are in principle always subject to rejection, reformulation, improvement, or reformation.

Friedrich Hayek on Tyranny and the Limits of Knowledge

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If man is not to do more harm than good in his efforts to improve the social order, he will have to learn that in this, as in all other fields where essential complexity of an organized kind prevails, he cannot acquire the full knowledge which would make mastery of the events possible. He will therefore have to use what knowledge he can achieve, not to shape the results as the craftsman shapes his handiwork, but rather to cultivate a growth by providing the appropriate environment, in the manner in which the gardener does this for his plants. There is danger in the exuberant feeling of ever-growing power which the advance of the physical sciences has engendered and which tempts man to try, “dizzy with success,” to use a characteristic phrase of early communism, to subject not only our natural but also our human environment to the control of a human will. The recognition of the insuperable limits to his knowledge ought indeed to teach the student of society a lesson of humility which should guard him against becoming an accomplice in men’s fatal striving to control society — a striving which makes him not only a tyrant over his fellows, but which may well make him the destroyer of a civilization which no brain has designed but which has grown from the free efforts of millions of individuals.

The Justification of Religious Belief

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Can the existence of God be demonstrated? Is the very idea of God logically incoherent? What is the nature of the arguments for and against the existence of God, and how do they relate to other kinds of arguments? Is a rational choice between belief and non-belief possible? “The problem before us is that, if systems of religous belief require and admit of rational justification, as has been argued, they ought only to be accepted more or less…”

Gordon Kaufman on Language and Theology

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The central problem of theological discourse, not shared with any other "language game," is the meaning of the term "God." "God" raises special problems of meaning because it is a noun which by definition refers to a reality transcendent of, and thus not locatable within, experience. A new convert may wish to refer the "warm feeling" in his heart to God, but God is hardly to be identified with this emotion; the biblicist may regard the Bible as God’s Word; the moralist may believe God speaks through men’s consciences; the churchman may believe God is present among his people — but each of these would agree that God himself transcends the locus referred to. As the Creator or Source of all that is, God is not to be identified with any particular finite reality; as the proper object of ultimate loyalty or faith, God is to be distinguished from every proximate or penultimate value or being. But if absolutely nothing within our experience can be directly identified as that to which the term "God" properly refers, what meaning does or can the word have?

Francis A. Schaeffer on Believing and Bowing

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I am invited to ask the sufficient questions in regard to details but also in regard to the existence of man. I am invited to ask, the sufficient question and then believe him and bow before him metaphysically in knowing that I exist because he made man, and bow
before him morally as needing his provision for me in the substitutionary, propitiatory death of Christ.

C.S. Lewis on Sentimentality

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The debunkers stigmatise as slush and sentimentality a very great deal of what their fathers said in praise of love. They are always pulling up and exposing the grubby roots of our natural loves. But I take it we must listen neither “to the over-wise nor to the over-foolish giant.” The highest does not stand without the lowest. A plant must have roots below as well as sunlight above and roots must be grubby. Much of the grubbiness is clean dirt if only you will leave it in the garden and not keep on sprinkling it over the library table. The human loves can be glorious images of Divine love.

Descartes on Such Doubts

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Yesterday’s meditation has thrown me into such doubts that I can no longer ignore them, yet I fail to see how they are to be resolved. It is as if I had suddenly fallen into a deep whirlpool; I am so tossed about that I can neither touch bottom with my foot, nor swim up to the top.

C.S. Lewis on Evading God

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But to evade the Son of Man, to look the other way, to pretend you haven’t noticed, to become suddenly absorbed in something on the other side of the street, to leave the receiver off the telephone because it might be He who was ringing up, to leave unopened certain letters in a strange handwriting because they might be from Him — this is a different matter. You may not be certain yet whether you ought to be a Christian; but you do know you ought to be a Man, not an ostrich, hiding its head in the sand.

Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt on Critics and the Man in the Arena

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It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.

John Owen on Human Finitude

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Although thinkers in the present day are taught to regard their minds as the products of that omnipotent evolution that has educed the whole of natural phenomena, metaphysical as well as physical, from primæval chaos, there seems still loft … an ineradicable instinct to assign it … an independence and autonomy of its own. Probably there never existed a race so rude as not to possess some power of discriminating between the subjective thought and objective being, between the ‘ego’ and the ‘non-ego.’ Thus in man’s most rudimentary relation to the outer world there is postulated a dualism. No sooner does he begin to think than he recognises himself as an entity disparate from and even partially opposed to the environment in which he lives. … He begins to find that just as he himself forms an infinitesimally small part of the universe, so his personal knowledge is utterly incommensurate with the sum-total of existence, which nevertheless it would fain fathom … The thinker rightly regards himself and his knowledge as a small islet in the immeasurable ocean of the unknown. Moreover, this conviction of disparity tends to advance with the progress of knowledge. Every extension of the bounds of the universe, whether in space or time, enlarges the limits of human Nescience, and the philosopher is fain to confess, "What I know is a small part of what might be known" … Gradually man acquires the conviction that the known can never be an adequate measure of the unknown. Indeed the assertion of an inevitable antinomy between man and the universe is no more than the involuntary homage we are compelled to render to the infinite possibilities by which we are surrounded, and so far ‘twofold truth’ might conceivably claim to be the erection of an altar to the unknown god. ~ An Excerpt

C.S. Lewis on Being Naked Before God

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In the twinkling of an eye, in a time too small to be measured, and in any place, all that seems to divide us from God can flee away, vanish, leaving us naked before Him, like the first man, like the only man, as if nothing but He and I existed. And since that contact cannot be avoided for long, and since it means either bliss or horror, the business of life is to learn to like it. That is the first and great commandment.

Epistemology: A Contemporary Introduction

Go A state-of-the-art introduction to epistemology by one of the leading figures in the field. Audi makes full use of his mastery both of epistemology and of related areas like philosophical psychology....It would be difficult to imagine a better way to introduce students to epistemology. ~ William P. Alston, Syracuse University

The Wisdom to Doubt

Go The Wisdom to Doubt is a major contribution to the contemporary literature on the epistemology of religious belief. Continuing the inquiry begun in his previous book, Prolegomena to a Philosophy of Religion, J. L. Schellenberg here argues that given our limitations and especially our immaturity as a species, there is no reasonable choice but to withhold judgment about the existence of an ultimate salvific reality. Schellenberg defends this conclusion against arguments from religious experience and naturalistic arguments that might seem to make either religious belief or religious disbelief preferable to his skeptical stance. In so doing, he canvasses virtually all of the important recent work on the epistemology of religion. Of particular interest is his call for at least skepticism about theism, the most common religious claim among philosophers. The Wisdom to Doubt expands the author's well-known hiddenness argument against theism and situates it within a larger atheistic argument, itself made to serve the purposes of his broader skeptical case. That case need not, on Schellenberg's view, lead to a dead end but rather functions as a gateway to important new insights about intellectual tasks and religious possibilities. ~ Product Description

C.S. Lewis on a Strong Sense of “Unbelievable”

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If one kept (as rock-bottom reality) the universe of the senses, aided by instruments and co-ordinated so as to form “science,” then one would have to go much further — as many have since gone — and adopt a Behavioristic theory of logic, ethics, and aesthetics. But such a theory was, and is, unbelievable to me. I am using the word “unbelievable,” which many use to mean “improbable” or even “undesirable,” in a quite literal sense. I mean that the act of believing what the behaviorist believes is one that my mind simply will not perform. I cannot force my thought into that shape any more than I can scratch my ear with my big toe or pour wine out of a bottle into the cavity at the base of that same bottle. It is as final as a physical impossibility.

Frank Jackson on Intuition Going Wrong

Go Much of the contemporary debate in the philosophy of mind is concerned with the clash between certain strongly held intuitions and what science tells us about the mind and its relation to the world. What science tells us about the mind points strongly towards some version or other of physicalism. The intuitions, in one way or another, suggest that there is something seriously incomplete about any purely physical story about the mind. For our purposes here, we can be vague about the detail and think broadly of physicalism as the view that the mind is a purely physical part of a purely physical world. Exactly how to delineate the physical will not be crucial: anything of a kind that plays a central role in physics, chemistry, biology, neuroscience and the like, along with the a priori associated functional and relational properties count as far as we are concerned. Most contemporary philosophers given a choice between going with science and going with intuitions, go with science. Although I once dissented from the majority, I have capitulated and now see the interesting issue as being where the arguments from the intuitions against physicalism — the arguments that seem so compelling — go wrong. For some time, I have thought that the case for physicalism is sufficiently strong that we can be confident that the arguments from the intuitions go wrong somewhere, but where is somewhere?