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Ask a Theologian II

Discussion in 'Off-Topic' started by Plotinus, May 9, 2008.

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  1. Fifty

    Fifty !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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    Jeleen, you just keep insisting that knowledge does not require truth. You have to give us reasons to believe such a seemingly absurd thesis.
     
  2. Atticus

    Atticus Chieftain Retired Moderator

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    To me it seems that Jeelen uses words "knowledge" like "belief" is normally used: a claim that someone believes to be true while it must not actually be true or justified in any way:
    It sort of makes sense, you can substitute "knowledge for someone" for it.

    "Belief" in his posts seems to mean a claim which it's holder knows to be speculative:
    Even though some parts hint that he doesn't have so clear cut definition for them:
     
  3. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    I think Atticus is right. Jeelen, you seem to be using words in very strange ways. It seems to me, at least, to be absolutely perverse to describe someone as "knowing" something which isn't actually true, or even which might turn out not to be true. Perfection's example of the person who thinks the moon is made of green cheese is exactly to the point. It makes no difference whether this spawns some kind of weird caseulunist religion where everyone believes this; the belief is still false. That means they don't know that the moon is made of green cheese; they only (falsely) believe it. The fact that they think it is true is neither here nor there, because they are deluded - it isn't true, irrespective of what they think.

    Indeed, it's possible to have a true belief that isn't knowledge. Suppose I believe that the star Deneb has precisely five planets revolving around it. At the moment, we are unable to tell whether Deneb has any planets, because it is too far away to tell. Suppose that in fact Deneb really does have five planets. So my belief is true. You wouldn't say that I know that Deneb has five planets - it was just a sort of lucky guess.

    Philosophers generally agree that knowledge is a sort of belief that has to satisfy certain criteria. One is that it must be true. One is that it must be justified. My belief about Deneb meets the truth criterion but not the justification one, because I was not justified in believing anything about how many planets Deneb has - there was no reason for me to think it has five, or indeed any number.

    However, most philosophers also think that there must be some other criterion as well as justification and truth, because of what are known as "Gettier cases", named after a philosopher who raised the problem in the 1960s. He pointed out that there are situations where you can have a justified true belief that is still not knowledge. Suppose, for example, that I am in the habit of watching my next door neighbour's house (because I'm a creepy stalker) and I notice that every day the postman goes inside to deliver something and takes a suspiciously long time to do so. I form the belief that she is having an affair. In fact, the postman always takes a long time because my neighbour is kind and gives him a mince pie in a spirit of all innocence. However, she is having an affair - with someone else. In this case, my belief was true. It was also justified, because I had good reason to form it. But it was still not knowledge. The question what distinguishes knowledge from justified true belief is still not settled, although many philosophers think that the missing ingredient is "warrant". But precisely what that is is also disputed.

    In light of this, it seems odd to describe religion as a system of knowledge; to the extent that it is cognitive, it is a system of belief. I suppose that if there is a true religion, it is possible that its doctrines could be considered knowledge and not merely true belief; in fact Alvin Plantinga has argued at length that this is precisely the case with Christianity: either its doctrines are false or they are knowledge, because if Christianity is true then its adherents do have "warrant" for their true beliefs, thanks to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. But that is by the by. It is also odd to claim that there was a time when religion was the only kind of knowledge anyone had. Surely people have always known entirely non-religious things, such as where they are, what they are doing, and what is around them. I know that I'm sitting on the settee right now, and I don't see why some prehistoric forebear couldn't have known that he was sitting on a rock, without needing religion to tell him so.
     
  4. Agent327

    Agent327 Observer

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    Sorry for the belated response, but I thought I'd go back to modding now that I've got a working PC again.

    Using words in perverse ways? I don't think so. One example (I really liked the "Tim thinks the moon is made of green cheese" example, as I tried to illuminate earlier). Let's take look at this statement: "Christianity is true" (I'm using Atticus' way of text analysis here - great avatar BTW, Panoramix is one of my fav Asterix characters). Unlike the first statement this is much harder either to falsify or to verify (for the very reason which makes religious knowledge different from scientific knowledge - to limit the scope to these particular forms of knowledge). But in essence the belief that the moon is made of green cheese is no different from the belief in the Holy Trinity, since neither consitutes a verifiable fact - which seems to be the essence of any religious belief system: the adherence to one or more statements that cannot be falsified or verified. Now, religion uses doctrine to confirm such statements, whereas science relies on logical or observational analysis to either prove or disprove a hypothesis. Whereas in science progress proceeds by proving or disproving statements, such a development is impossible when it comes to religion, where such unverifiable notions as visions, angelic messages and even direct divine communications seem perfectly appropriate. In religion a belief is only "false" when it clashes with etablished doctrine - which, however has no relation whatsoever with verifiable truth.

    So, basically, what I am saying is the the religious notion of knowledge differs from the scientific one. (Nothing strange here, I presume.) All I tried to do was to illustrate how at some moment in past times this difference didn't really exist (which for any modern Western person may be somewhat hard to imagine). It follows from this fact however, that the religious notion of truth also differs from the scientific one. (In science basically something may be either true or false until it is proven either way, but the usual practice is to assume a certain more or less likely hypothesis to be true until it can be tested. Such tests are impossible when it comes to religion.) To return to the example: a statement as "Christianity is true" has no business in science, since it can neither be verified or falsified (it can't be tested).

    To end with another (perhaps more familar) quote: "And that's all I have to say about that." (I mentioned some poetry earlier, as poetry often uses similar "knowledge" as religion does - which may suggest a common origin.)

    As opposed to religion, I make no claims to absolute truths; I just thought I'd mention some ideas as they occurred to me - and now it's back to modding for me, I'm afraid.
     
  5. PeteAtoms

    PeteAtoms FormulaRandom

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    Do I need to point out that what the moon is made of, is an empirical claim, whether you say its made of cheese or rocks? It is absolutely verifiable/falsifiable, and the test for this is a repeatable one.
     
  6. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    Christians have also often made claims which are also empirical and verifiable, such as the claim that the evolution is not true, or the claim that certain events have occurred which are inexplicable without appeal to divine intervention, or the claim that certain people have made statements which are contrary to the teaching of the church. Of course, other Christians might reject these claims or say that they are not essential to Christianity. That just means that you can't be certain what "Christianity" actually means, which in turn means that you can't be certain that it doesn't involve any scientific or quasi-scientific claims.
     
  7. Agent327

    Agent327 Observer

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    People, I was trying to explain beliefs can't be verified or falsified. (And the belief that the moon is made of green cheese can only be verified to a believer by taking him there. There are also people claiming the Apollo moon expeditions are a hoax or that no Holocaust ever took place. Now how are you gonna convince someone of the falseness of such a belief? No matter how many facts you come up with, the answer will be that those aren't facts, they're falsifications.)
     
  8. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    So when you say "verifiable", what you actually mean is "checkable by that particular person in a way that would actually convince them"? In other words, you're giving it a psychological meaning. But that isn't what "verifiable" means - to say that a claim is verifiable means that a procedure could exist, in theory, to check whether it is true or not, irrespective of whether it is physically possible to do so now. (Eg, the claim that Deneb has five planets is verifiable, even though we can't verify it now.) Don't you see that it's difficult to discuss these things reasonably if you use these words in non-standard ways, without ever stating that you are doing so? By any usual definition of "verifiable", claims about the moon are verifiable in a way that claims about God are not. If you say that they are not, without even stating that you are using "verifiable" to mean something different from what it normally means, then no-one is going to agree with you. The same goes for "belief" and "knowledge" and the other terms that people have been questioning your use of. It's clear now that by "belief" you mean "belief that cannot be rationally justified" or something like that - ie a subset of what is normally meant by the word "belief" - but I'm still rather mystified by what you're using the word "knowledge" to mean. I think perhaps you're using it to mean "group of beliefs", where "belief" has its usual meaning rather than your meaning, but I'm not sure. At any rate, that is even further away from the normal meaning of the word than the others are.
     
  9. Agent327

    Agent327 Observer

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    I might repeat my previous post, but I think you're reading too much in what I write. (Regardless of the ultimate meaning of any words I use, I think what I write is quite clear. Obviously it reflects personal ideas and, being used to forms of poetic expression, I may use words in onorthodox fashions. At any rate, I've never been text-analyzed before - I feel honoured.)

    I suggest moving on to another subject though. You mentioned not being moved by philosophy. So, you do not find 'Consolotation' in Boethius' words, reportedly written shortly before his life was ended? In addition, may I ask what is your opinion of Marcus Aurelius' Meditations?
     
  10. Perfection

    Perfection The Great Head.

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    It's not clear at all.

    Not obvious to me, I see no poetics. Can you kindly point to some poetics?

    And for goodness sake, use words in orthodox fashion when arguing philosophy. Philosophy is hard enough when you try to be as clear and direct as possible, adding in unorthodox usages and poetics makes things incomprehensible.
     
  11. Agent327

    Agent327 Observer

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    Have you been following this discussion at all?:confused: (You might want to check previous posts before posting.);)
     
  12. pau17

    pau17 Chieftain

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    I was reading some Hannah Arendt ("Between Past and Future"), and she argues that certain elements of theology distorted an original, more truthful idea of what free will and liberty are. Also the philosopher Plotinus is mentioned in the quote, so I thought it would be suitable to ask here.

    A paraphrase of the essay (can't find it online) would be that she was discussing the conflict between free will and determinism. She argued that this is a non-issue, given that idea of liberty was taken out of context in the Western tradition, from originally a purely political aspect to a metaphysical one. She argues that no real discussion of free will took place in the history of great philosophy, from the pre-socratics to Plotinus, and that liberty as we think of it today (some inner, self-evaluative judgmental quality) really only appeared when people started talking about religious conversion (e.g. Augustine). So a real discussion of liberty, according to her, should not focus on whether people are atomistic individuals that are each individually "free" in some metaphysical sense, but should rather concern itself only with the way that people interact in society, that is to say, a civic liberty like Hume's, thus rendering the problem of determinism a non-issue. Any insight as to this? Was the theological influence on this topic really a distortion, as she puts it?

    Furthermore, what do you think about this method that Arendt and other philosophers use (Nietzsche's genealogy comes to mind) to try to recover the "original" meanings of words? Is this somehow instructive beyond a merely descriptive context? Is it really an accusation to say that the concept that the Greeks or whoever else held of "liberty" or "the active life" have been "distorted"? It seems that proving alone that religious influence changed the concept of liberty in the Western tradition is somehow a normative claim that we should give some special credence to the original concept, when this to me is not clear (although the reasoning of the original stance strikes me as a better representation of what free will is).
     
  13. Agent327

    Agent327 Observer

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    Very interesting question. (On a sidenote: Nietzsche was actually a philologist, so his point of view shouldn't be surprising.) From a historical point of view I'm inclined to agree that freedom started out as a political concept, but I'm no expert on the history of philosophy.
     
  14. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    I have to admit that it is a long time since I read The consolation of philosophy and I don't remember what effect it had on me, so it probably didn't move me very much! And I haven't read Marcus Aurelius at all. I must say, though, that Stoicism has never really done it for me. The emphasis upon ethics doesn't really interest me very much (although I have actually published on ethics recently, so perhaps it interests me more than I thought) and I find Stoic ethics to be pretty implausible anyway.

    I was thinking about your question and I'm really not sure if I can think of any philosophy or philosopher that I would say inspires me. There are certainly philosophers I like - Leibniz, obviously, and also Berkeley, Aquinas, Scotus and Ockham. I was very impressed by Foucher too. But I don't think any of them really inspire me. What inspires me about philosophy is the enterprise itself and the search after truth.

    If you were to ask me the same question about theology, which is a bit more on-topic (although I don't mind talking about philosophy here, especially as I'm much more of a philosopher these days anyway), that would be easier since there are more theologians who write in what I find a more inspiring way. I would list, for example, Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, Augustine, Aquinas (again), Schleiermacher, and Bonhoeffer. I've always thought that if I were stuck on a desert island with Aquinas and Bonhoeffer I'd probably end up converting (although not if we had to converse in Latin and German - what a thought). I think that good theology can have some of the same qualities as poetry, which makes it more inspiring, although I don't much like poetry either so perhaps that's not it. I have always found mystical writing to be the most inspiring. I would list Origen's homilies on the Song of Songs, Gregory of Nyssa's writings on the same book and The life of Moses, Pseudo-Dionysius, Aelred of Rievaulx, Albertus Magnus, The cloud of unknowing, Meister Eckhart, and John of the Cross as especially striking ones.

    It is true that the question of the freedom of the will was not really an issue at all in ancient philosophy, and arose only in a theological context. In fact the word thelema, which corresponds to "will" in the sense of a faculty by which we choose things, is very rare in ancient Greek philosophy. The closest you get is terms such as prohairesis, an important term but one which really means "informed choice" or something like that. When philosophers discussed it, they were discussing the process by which we choose things or plan our actions. They were not discussing the more metaphysical question of the freedom of the will at all.

    Thelema or voluntas became important for two reasons - the one you mention, the question of how one becomes converted and the role of divine grace in that, and also the question of Christ's will, and in particular how many he had.

    The problem of grace and free will originated in the dispute between Augustine and Pelagius, but it ran and ran throughout the early Middle Ages and indeed has continued to run ever since. The problem was simple: Christian orthodoxy tells us that no-one comes to Christ except as a result of God's action upon them. So God seems to be the cause of conversion. But at the same time, everyone who comes to Christ does so freely and not as a result of compulsion. So the individual seems to be the cause of her own conversion. The problem is how to reconcile these two claims. Personally I don't think anything like a successful answer was found until De Molina, so it's little wonder that no-one could agree on this in late antiquity.

    The problem of Christ's will raged in the seventh century with the monothelite dispute. Everyone agreed that Christ had a human soul and a human body in addition to whatever he had already in virtue of being the divine Logos. The question was whether that human soul contained every element that a human soul normally does. In particular, does it contain a will? The monothelites argued that it does not, because anyone who has a will is a person. If Christ's human soul has a will in addition to the will that the divine Logos already has, then the human soul will be a person in addition to the divine Logos, which would mean that Christ was not one person but two acting in a sort of committee, which is Nestorianism. The dithelites, by contrast, argued that to have a human will is part of what it is to be fully human. If Christ's human soul did not have a will of its own, then it was not a fully human soul, and Christ did not have a fully human nature, which is Eutycheanism. In the event the dithelites won out.

    Together, these disputes made the notion of the will at all an important one, and they especially brought to the fore the question of whether it is free, in particular in relation to the divine will. So this did have a very important influence on philosophy in general since then.

    I would entirely agree with you there. It seems to me ridiculous to suppose that whatever categories ancient philosophers were working with must be the ones that we "should" work with today. The mere fact that a notion or problem emerged from Christian theology does not make it philosophically worthless; indeed I find it bizarre in the extreme that anyone would suppose that it does - at least, anyone who is interested in serious philosophy and not polemic point-scoring. After all, pretty much all elements of modern western philosophy either originated in or were mediated by medieval and early modern philosophy, which was almost entirely Christian (or Muslim or Jewish). You couldn't eliminate these elements if you wanted to and I don't really see why anyone would.

    The notion that you can find truth by etymology was pervasive in late antiquity, when people came up with all sorts of implausible explanations for the origins of words on the understanding that this could tell you something substantial about what those words referred to. This reached its extreme in the late Middle Ages and Renaissance with kabbalistic wordplay, which was supposed to teach the highest truths of spirituality and philosophy just from shuffling letters around in Hebrew words. Then in early modern times everyone tried to work out what the "Adamic language" - the first language of human beings, and supposedly the one that would really contain profound truth in the forms of its words - by examining existing languages and extrapolating back. Silly as it may seem, these endeavours did eventually give rise to paleolinguistics and the scientific study of the evolution of languages, so they weren't completely in vain. But I think the original principles behind them - first, the notion that meaning is basically the same thing as etymology, and second, the belief that the original meaning encapsulated some kind of profound truth - were pretty daft. Although that doesn't stop the semi-educated from perpetuating the first of these principles today.
     
  15. warpus

    warpus In pork I trust

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    Read the last 2 pages (can't sleep!) - Somewhat interesting exchange about the whole knowledge/belief confusion.. The back and forth regarding what the words actually mean wasn't really the interesting part - it was the tangents, mostly, that kept me interested..

    May I suggest that the confusion regarding the words may stem from Jeelen's Dutch heritage? Now, I'm only guessing that English is his second language, and that the stuff under his avatar is indeed Dutch (it looks it), but as someone who had 2 languages under his belt before learning English, I know how such confusions can arise.. easily.. I mean, there are certain words in Polish that mean very specific things, that when translated into English seem right.. but then when I flip over into English mode, they are not the right words at all.. if that makes any sense at all.

    Plotinus, I did have a question for you regarding something that you wrote.. but you managed to answer it for me in the next paragraph.

    In any case, I'm rambling, so I'm going to try to sleep.. a gain..
     
  16. Blue Monkey

    Blue Monkey Archon Without Portfolio

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    One of the things I've done since childhood that cannot be done on line is peruse nearby words whilst looking up a definition. Sometimes it leads to a useful tangent, sometimes to the word geek equivalent of a koan, sometimes to cranking obsession. Anywho, I saw "quire" (24 sheets of uniformly sized parchment or paper). That set me to thinking about "inquire". They have separate official etymologies, but I'm still wondering if there isn't some inquisitorial connection - a correlation if not a causality. It might seem a non-theological question, but I couldn't think of a better person of whom to enquire.
     
  17. Eretz Yisrael

    Eretz Yisrael Korean Conscript

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    As an Evangelical Christian, I must say that you are a genius Plotinus; you surely are gifted with an amazing mind.

    As you say that are knowledgable in Christianity, let me ask you this:
    Which denomination do you think is closer to the Early Seven Churches of Asia(modern Turkey);
    Catholic, the Protestants, the Calvinists, or the Eastern Orthodox Churches?
    In the officially recognized Gospels(not the Achryopha;(thts how u spell it right?)
    it mentions where the displines recived the Holy Spirit and they prayed.
    In the Pentencostal Denominations, we empahsize the personal relationship between man and God; we also beleive in the communication between God and Man through Prayer(Praying in tongues,etc). The Catholic Church also recognizes the importance of the Holy Spirit, but they do not have intense spiritual awakenings for everyday Chrisitians, whereas the Pentecostals and certain denominations of the Protestants(Im pretty sure you have heard of the Shakers, we usually dont count them) pray for 1~2hours a day in tongues. Now the origins of Christianity as a Jewish sect cofuses me:
    Did many Jews listen to the words of Y'shua and his disciples of the Gospel in a time when Rabbinic Judaism, Pharisees and the Seducees were well established?
    Also I remember that Matthias Maccabee and his Dynasty(the Hasmonean Dynasty)
    had merged the role of the high priest and the king into one. Were the Maccabees really descendants from the Aaronic line? If not, then that must have angered many conservative Jews at the time, right?
     
  18. JoeM

    JoeM Imperator

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    May I also add that whilst the critique on Jeleen's words has some merit, there seems to be the same mistakes being made on both sides.

    Whilst Jeleen is conflating truth, knowledge and belief, others are assuming that the ability to verify a statement is always possible in a universally accepted way.

    Whilst scientific methodology might be a method for a given participant, it is by no means a given that it is the only, the best or the process accepted by the participant to verify a statement.

    Yet more; I'm pretty sure most of the participants in this thread understand that there are many types of truth, yet only the single word is used.



    To summarise, you'll need to agree the rules of this game before you start playing :)
     
  19. Atticus

    Atticus Chieftain Retired Moderator

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    JoeM, you're partially right, people haven't been too strict with using the word "truth", but there's a raeson for that: the aim hasn't been to give complete account of the word "knowledge", but rather to set straight misunderstanding of it's usage. What is the truth is a complicated question, and I don't think it's really necessary to know it in order to give partial answer to the question "what is knowledge". The classical answer "knowledge is true justified belief" could for example be read as "knowledge is justified belief, which is also true, regardless of what it means to be true".

    I think that it is no violation to suppose something as true, if no participant in conversation has an objection. That is actually pretty much my truth cirterion.

    Also I understand that there is a justification for Jeelen's use of the word "knowledge", but the problem was that he used it his way and the normal way.
     
  20. Maimonides

    Maimonides Chieftain

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    What does that mean? Are they praying in multiple languages?

    Plotinus can answer better than I, but it should be pointed out that Rabbinic Judaism arose after the Temple's destruction & two disasterous revolts against Rome so the Pharrisees & Saducees weren't necessarily "well established" at the time of Rabbinic Judaism & vice versa.

    My impression is that only a handful of Jews followed the Jesus cult & that Christianity really blossomed when they took it outside the Jewish community to Greeks, Romans & others.

    The priesthood is/was a hereditary role passed from father to son. In Hebrew, they are called cohenim (plural) or cohen (singular). If the Hasmoneans were cohenim, it meant that the king was also a priest. That would have been something special. I could be wrong, but I don't remember that even the Davidic dynasty were cohenim.

    Since being a cohen is hereditary, it doesn't necessarily mean that all cohenim administered the Temple or conducted rituals there. It just means they could.

    Correct. Only cohenim were permitted to conduct rituals at the Temple or enter it's inner sanctuary. Anybody else doing so would have sparked a violent reaction. The Hanukah revolt itself that enthroned the Hasmoneans seems to have been triggered by that happening.

    If a Hasmonean king conducted rituals at the Temple or entered it's inner sanctuary, he must have been a cohen. Not even Herod dared to do that.
     
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