A LOVE SUPREME

I am now blogging at a new blog: erdman31.com

If you post comments here at Theos Project, please know that I will respond and engage your thoughts in a timely manner.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Warranted Christian Belief - Kant

Alvin Plantinga
Review of Warranted Christian Belief (2000)
Chapter 1 - Kant


The interest of Plantinga's book, Warranted Christian Belief (referred to here as WCB) is whether Christian belief is rational, reasonable, justifiable, or warranted. (p. 3) The first two chapters form Part 1 address whether there is a question. That is, are we even able to talk, sensibly, about "God." Says Plantinga,
"It seems many theologians and others believe that there is real difficulty with the idea that our concepts could apply to God - that is, could apply to a being with the properties of being infinite, transcendent, and ultimate. The idea is that if there is such a being, we couldn't speak about it, couldn't think and talk about it, couldn't ascribe properties to it." (4)

The first chapter addresses that great philosopher, Immanuel Kant:

"It seems to be widely accepted, among theologians, that Kant showed that reference to or thought about such a being (even if there is one) is impossible or at least deeply problematic, or at any rate much more problematic than the idea that we can refer to and think about ourselves and other people, trees and mountains, planets and stars, and so on." (5)

The first thing that Plantinga notes is that Kant, himself, seems to refer to "God" and to issues of "faith." Plantinga references Kant's famous statement, "I have therefore found it necessary to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith." (9 note 13)

The next matter is a problem of interpreting Kant. Specifically, it has to do with his concept of noumena (or Dinge an sich) and phenomena. Plantinga differentiates two interpretations: A "Two World View" and a "One World View." The more traditional view is the Two World perspective. Here the noumena is completely separate and distinct from the phenomena. We can experience the phenomena, but not the noumena. Plantinga explains by way of summary the Two World View:

"This is the more traditional way of understanding Kant, the way Kant was taken by his great successors. To put it briefly and all to baldly, there are two realms of objects; our experience is only of one realm, the realm of phenomena, which themselves depend on us for their existence; if we should go out of existence, so would they. That is because the phenomenal realm is somehow constructed by us out of the given, the date, the raw material of experience. The noumenal realm, however, is not thus dependent on us but is also such that we have no intuition, no direct experience of it." (12)

Yet on the One World view the noumena is basically the world, while the phenomena is the way that we perceive that same world. Of this view Plantinga says,

"There is only one world and only one kind of object, but there are (at least) two ways of thinking about or considering this one world. All objects are really noumenal objects, and talk about the phenomena is just a picturesque way of talking about how the noumena the only things there are, appear to us. The phenomena-noumena distinction is not between two kinds of objects but, rather, between how the things are in themselves and how they appear to us." (12)

Plantinga's concern is not with which interpretation of Kant is correct, but whether either interpretation of Kant, so taken, constitutes a reason that we cannot think about God or discuss the question of who God is. As such, Plantinga deals with both the One World and Two Worlds interpretations as they relate to the question of whether or not it is possible to speak of God.[1]

Plantinga dismisses the One World view rather quickly stating that the issue of "God" on this view poses no special problem, for if everything is noumena then this includes God and there is no problem with knowledge of God that is not true of other knowledge:

"For present purposes, what we need to see is that on this way of thinking, it would not really be the case that our concepts fail to apply to God in such a way that we cannot refer to and think about him. What would follow, given that he is a noumenon (of course, in this way of thinking, everything is a noumenon), is that God would not have any of the positive properties of which we have a grasp....Here there would be nothing at all special about God; what holds for him also holds for everything else." (16)

The Two World interpretation becomes more interesting, particularly the more "radical" view. Plantinga sees two different forms of the Two World interpretation. The first is the "moderate" subpicture. Here, we may refer to the Dinge (the noumena), but it is merely a matter of speculation. There is no real knowledge of Dinge, rather it it is reduced to opinion and conjecture. "God" would be a part of the Dinge and all of the concepts we apply to "God" is just guess work. Still, Plantinga does not find in this moderate view the suggestion that our concepts do not, in fact, apply to God, and as such it does not represent a threat to any project (such as Plantinga's) that seeks to inquire as to whether it is rational/reasonable/etc. to believe in God.

I find the moderate subpicture very interesting because it does not eliminate the "speculation," but rather makes the more mild (and perhaps more threatening) suggestion that such speculation is trivial. In this way, then, we have a reflection of much of the greater American culture at large, that is, that our speculation about God is only as important as the meaning that it produces within the believer. So, the speculation is "trivial" because what we say about God is nothing that we know. If, however, it produces something significant for the believer then it becomes valuable.

On to the more "radical" subpicture.

"On both versions of the two-world picture, the appearances are distinct from the things in themselves. The appearances are objects; they exist; they are empirically real. But they are also transcendentally ideal. And what this means, in part, is that they depend for their existence on us (on the transcendental ego[s]) and our cognitive activity. We ourselves are both noumena and phenomena: there is both a noumenal self and an empirical self." (18)

This view becomes more complicated. For example, we are now "transcendental egos" such that we are both noumena and phenomena. As a transcendental ego we undergo experiences, which is a result of the things in themselves impinging upon us. This "impinging" is the experience. This is a rather confusing state of affairs, as Plantinga notes, "As it is initially given to us, this manifold of experience is a blooming, buzzing confusion with no structure." (18)

That we are both noumena and phenomena, then, implies to me that we have the noumena impinging upon us, but that we also impinge upon other(s) is some way. Regardless, we have the manifold of experience, which is a blooming and buzzing confusion. So, what do we do? Impose structure, of course: "We impose structure and form on it, and in so doing we construct the phenomena, the appearances. So the phenomena, the things fur uns, are constructed out of the manifold of experiences." (18)

Interestingly, for Kant this structuring does not necessarily occur at the conscious level: "Kant says we are largely unconscious of the activity whereby we structure the manifold and construct the phenomena. Still, it proceeds by way of the application of concepts to the blooming buzzing manifold of experience."[2] (18)

How does the structuring occur? Through "rules" and "law." Plantinga cites Kant as saying, "Sensibility gives us forms (of intuition) but understanding gives us rules." (19) What is the relation of "rule" and "law"? Again Plantinga cites Kant,

"Rules, so far as they are objective...are called laws. Although we learn many laws through experience, they are only special determinations of still higher laws, and the highest of these under which the others all stand, issue a priori from the understanding itself. They are not borrowed from experience; on the contrary, they have to confer upon appearances their conformity to law, and so to make experience possible. Thus the understanding is something more than a power of formulating rules through comparison of appearances; it is itself the lawgiver of nature." (19)

So, Plantinga suggests that the rules synthesize the manifold of experience. The lawgiver of nature structures the blooming and buzzing confusion of experience. Plantinga calls this the heart of the radical subpicture. On this view, the process of structuring experience results in the "phenomena."

Plantinga provides an example of a "rule" providing structure: "Consider your concept of a horse: it instructs you to associate, think together a variety of representations, a variety of items of experience, thus unifying that bit of manifold into an empirical object: a horse." (19)

In the One World view and also on the moderate subpicture Plantinga did not see a threat to applying our concepts to God. However, such is not the case on the radical subpicture. On this view God is noumenon: "God would not be something we have constructed by applying concpets to the manifold of experience (God has created us, we have not constructed him.) So, on the radical subpicture, we can't refer to, think about, or predicate properties of God." (20)

The results of the radical view might be damaging and stop us in our epistemological tracks, but Plantinga concludes that the radical view "displays a deep incoherence." (20) After discussion various possible solutions to the perceived incoherence Plantinga concludes by way of summary: "If we really can't think the Dinge, then we can't think them (and can't whistle them either); if we can't think about them, we can't so much as entertain the thought that there are such things. The incoherence is patent." (29)

One of the issues that I see as problematic for the radical viewpoint is how it is that the noumena "impinge" on us while at the same time remaining unthinkable and distinct. That is, if they are truly distinct and disjointed - if the noumena is truly transcendent - then it would seem problematic that it could still "impinge" in such a way as to create "experiences" for us to structure. I do note, however, that this problem is the same that theology must reckon with. For example, how is God truly and wholly Other - transcendent - and yet immanent enough to intrude into our reality and impact the world in which we operate. So, it seems as though some of these problematic issues surface in various areas of thought.

Having concluded that the radical subpicture is incoherent, Plantinga concludes this chapter by noting, "It doesn't look as if there is good reason in Kant or in the neighborhood of Kant for the conclusion that our concepts do not apply to God, so that we cannot think about him. Contemporary theologians and others sometimes complain that contemporary philosophers of religion often write as if they have never read their Kant. Perhaps the reason they write that way, however, is not that they have never read their Kant but rather that they have read him and remained unconvinced." (30)

Notes and References
[1] In regards to whether the One World or Two World interpretation is correct Plantinga does say the following regarding the One World interpretation: "Although this second picture is perhaps now the majority opinion, it seems a bit difficult to reconcile it with Kant's own view that his thought constituted a revolution - his famous second Copernican revolution." (13) Plantinga also cites Kant regarding the "Copernican" nature of his thought: Hitherto it has been assumed that all our knowledge must conform to objects. But also attempts to extend our knowledge of objects by establishing something in regard to them a priori, by means of concepts, have, on this assumption, ended in failure. We must therefore make trial whether we may not have more success in the tasks of metaphysics, if we suppose that objects must conform to our knowledge. We should then be proceeding precisely on the lines of Copernicus' primary hypothesis.

[2] This idea of "unconscious structuring" raises many important issues in the history of philosophy as far as it relates with psychology. The fact that structuring occurs at the unconscious level is an obvious are of intrigue for those of us Post-Freud. Yet the idea that there is "structure" to this unconscious activity raises an issue of debate that finds a full expression in various postmodern philosophy and psychology. I would recommend three posts by John Doyle, who currently practices psychology and holds a Ph.D. in the field. These intriguing posts by Doyle integrate this philosophical issue of "structure" with the psychological implications of the un/conscious, while sifting through various implications for counseling:
"The Self as Something Spoken"
"Decentering the Self"
"The Anxieties of Free Play"

In comment 10 from "Decentering the Self" Doyle states, "Descartes placed consciousness at the center of the self. He followed a long tradition dating back at least to Plato and Aristotle, for whom the rational self resonates with pure Logos that is the center of the universe. Certainly for the Greeks the passions were of lower quality than reason; the challenge of the virtuous man was to subject the passions to the mastery of reason. The Greeks were very structural in their tripartite topography of the self: body, passions/emotions, mind/spirit. Freud was too, though his categories were different: id, ego, superego. For Freud the reasonable ego was demoted from master to arbiter, balancing the more powerful structures of id and superego."

In "Anxieties of Free Play" Doyle notes, "Derrida begins by contrasting structure with event, stability with “rupture.” Historically, structures have been constructed around a center, a fixed point of origin. The center serves as the basis for coherence and balance within the structure. Having a fixed center makes it possible to “play” with the elements of the structure, but this play is also limited by needing to remain compatible with the center. The center, while giving shape to both the form and the freedom of the structure that surrounds it, isn’t really part of the structure....The rupture, says Derrida, came with the realization that the center was not the center, that the actual center was the desire for security rather than the specific presence on which this desire happened to land."

The above citations go to the overlap and interaction between one's view of "structure" and the activity of the "conscious" or "unconscious" mind. All of these are issues of our philosophy of "self" and the questions that Kant is raising in regards to how the self interacts with the world. Plantinga notes that for Kant the impinging of the noumena/Dinge produce "experiences", which is a "blooming and buzzing confusion" until it is structured by the unconscious (though perhaps at times by the conscious) mind.

46 comments:

ktismatics said...

I can tell I don't have the mental energy to delve into this post right now, so instead I'll tell you about my dream from last night, or what I remember of it. Erdman, you were enumerating various outstanding features of God that might make someone regard him as God: his omniscience, his omnipotence, etc. But what you regarded as God's most impressive power was his ability to completely empathize with people.

samlcarr said...

Isn't it going to be necessary to sort out the issues of prestructuring and the level of consciousness involved in order to work out whether meaning is only imposed or is actually somewhat collaboratively produced with actual interaction between nuomenal and phenomenal at some level?

Jonathan Erdman said...

Ktismatics,

Sounds like I was an Open Theist in your dream! However, my Calvinist friends will rest assured that my name is still listed with those in "opposition" to Open Theism!

In all seriousness, though, I would probably agree that the power to empathize is more impressive than omniscience or omnipotence. I suppose that this is a personal preference, though.

Empathy: the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner (from Mirriam-Wester)

So, empathy is the ability to experience someone's thoughts or feelings without actually experiencing them....Therefore, if God can empathize it means he can somehow understand the pain of a human being (say, a rape victim, for example) without necessarily participating in the experience that caused the pain (i.e. being raped). Unless, of course, God somehow is so immanent in his creation that he actually experiences all human experiences as they occur, as though he were a participant. "In him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17) Is this possible???

Jonathan Erdman said...

Sam: Isn't it going to be necessary to sort out the issues of prestructuring and the level of consciousness involved in order to work out whether meaning is only imposed or is actually somewhat collaboratively produced with actual interaction between nuomenal and phenomenal at some level?

I would say "yes," but I am somewhat at a loss as to how this would occur. This is one of a few reasons why I linked over to John's post, because in many of his postings he has been working along the lines of how such prestructuring occurs and how this relates to the conscious mind.

This is complicated enough in and of itself, but then when you get to Kant it is difficult to even completely understand what "noumenal" and "phenomenal" mean in relation to each other. There must be some connection between the two - some "collaboration" as you say. But on the traditional interpretation of Kant (at least as far as Plantinga presents it) the noumena is distinct from the phenomena.

Jonathan Erdman said...

There are a few interesting essays on Kant over at Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

The following citations are taken from "Kant's View of the Mind and Consciousness of Self"[1]

"In general structure, Kant's model of the mind was the dominant model in the empirical psychology that flowed from his work and then again, after a hiatus during which behaviourism reigned supreme (roughly 1910 to 1965), toward the end of the 20th century, especially in cognitive science. Central elements of the models of the mind of thinkers otherwise as different as Sigmund Freud and Jerry Fodor are broadly Kantian, for example."

"The two chapters of CPR [Critique of Pure Reason] in which most of Kant's remarks on the mind occur, the chapter on the Transcendental Deduction (TD) and the chapter on what he called Paralogisms (faulty arguments about the mind mounted by his predecessors) were the two chapters that gave him the greatest difficulty. (They contain some of the most impenetrable prose ever written.) Kant completely rewrote the main body of both chapters for the second edition (though not the introductions, interestingly)."

Apparently, Kant substantially rewrote these chapters for the second edition of CPR, however, "For understanding Kant on the mind and self-knowledge, the first edition of CPR is far more valuable than the second edition."

For Kant space and time are intuitive, not part of the "real" world:
"Here Kant advances one of his most notorious views: that whatever it is that impinges on us from the mind-independent world does not come located in a spatial or a temporal matrix, not even a temporal one (A37=B54fn.). Rather, it is the mind that organizes this ‘manifold of raw intuition’, as he called it, spatially and temporally. The mind has two pure forms of intuition, space and time, built into it to allow it to do so. (‘Pure’ means ‘not derived from experience’.)"

Problematic? Indeed.
"These claims are very problematic. For example, they invite the question, in virtue of what is the mind constrained to locate a bit of information at one spatial or temporal location rather than another? Kant seems to have had no answer to this question (Falkenstein 1995; Brook 1998). Most commentators have found Kant's claim that space and time are only in the mind, not at all in the mind-independent world, to be implausible."

The "structuring" occurs based upon Aristotle's categories:
"Starting from and taking for granted the logic of Aristotelian syllogisms and the Aristotelian categories, Kant proceeds by analysis to draw out the implications of this logic for the conceptual structure within which all thought and experience must take place. The structure in question is the system of the forms of judgment; the resulting theory is the theory of what Kant called the Categories. Kant seems to have thought that he could deduce the conceptual structure of experience from the components of the Aristotelian system."

But why should experience conform to our categories?
"With what right do we apply the Categories, which are not acquired from experience, to the contents of experience? (A85=B117). Kant's problem here is not as arcane as it might seem. It reflects an important question: How is it that the world as we experience it conforms to our logic? In briefest form, Kant thought that the trick to showing how it is possible for the Categories to apply to experience is to show that it is necessary that they apply (A97)."

A unified consciousness was a "central feature" of Kant's view of mind:
"For Kant, consciousness being unified is a central feature of the mind, our kind of mind at any rate. In fact, being a single integrated group of experiences (roughly, one person's experiences) requires two kinds of unity.

1. The experiences must have a single common subject (A350);
and,
2. The consciousness that this subject has of represented objects and/or representations must be unified."

ktismatics said...

I haven't read Kant at all, so my ability to interact is limited. Still, I'll put in my $0.02 worth.

On the radical 2-world view Plantinga says this: If we really can't think the Dinge, then we can't think them (and can't whistle them either); if we can't think about them, we can't so much as entertain the thought that there are such things. The incoherence is patent. Why should that be? I can think all sorts of things that may have no connection with either sensory impressions or noumena -- I just make them up. Similarly, I can imagine all sorts of ideas about what the noumena might be but that might have nothing whatsoever to do with what the noumena really are.

Plantinga further says: On both versions of the two-world picture, the appearances are distinct from the things in themselves. The appearances are objects; they exist; they are empirically real. But they are also transcendentally ideal. And what this means, in part, is that they depend for their existence on us (on the transcendental ego[s]) and our cognitive activity. We ourselves are both noumena and phenomena: there is both a noumenal self and an empirical self. I don't follow this. Why is an appearance also an object and a transcendental ideal? Is this Plantinga' description of Kant's position, or Plantinga's counter-position?

You quote Plantinga: As it is initially given to us, this manifold of experience is a blooming, buzzing confusion with no structure. Why should that be true? Even in an empirical world, material objects reflect light, impede movement, etc. in ways that are amenable to structuration. I.e., it's possible to perceive something in the environment as a solid wall because it blocks my progress and my view. Briefly, an effective perceptual system has to detect informational regularities in the thing in itself. If the stuff in the world really emitted only blooming buzzing confusion, then no perceptual system could turn it into anything other than that.

Kevin Winters said...

ktismatics,

That we first experience a "buzzing confusion" is actually an old idea first given by William James in his work on psychology. while it is true that the physical world does have a structure that allows for structuration, the issue is getting a sufficient grasp of that structure.

Perception is really much more deprived than we used to think: there are numerous things that we do not see, even if they are right in front of our face (e.g., inattentional blindness and this fascinating study, a
Gorillas in Our Midst: Sustained Inattentional Blindness
for Dynamic Events
). The issue, then, is getting a grasp of what needs to be focused on. For example, I need to learn that, when I am playing soccer, I need to focus on the ball and the dynamics of the playing field, not the way the light plays off the surface of the ball or interesting cloud formations in the sky.

But even with that said, I don't know that the world first appears in that way. If we take Merleau-Ponty seriously, for instance, then our body naturally structures our world without need of logical or law-like impositions of order; my natural grasp of my body and its motile possibilities structures how beings appear. There is good evidence that this grasp of the body, in opposition to Merleau-Ponty and the psychological/developmental tradition he came from, is found in infants (see Shaun Gallagher's work, particularly here). The ability of infants to direct their attention to things not long after delivery would seem to demonstrate that, even if they 'begin' with a buzzing confusion, that quickly solidifies into things that they search for (following the mother's voice, for example).

Just some quick ruminations.

ktismatics said...

"The issue, then, is getting a grasp of what needs to be focused on."

Agreed. There is more virtual information in the environmental array than we ever pay attention to. If there wasn't something already out in the world to which we could attune our perceptual apparatus -- our ability to discriminate patterns and to notice differences -- then there would be no point in paying attention. It seemed from Erdman's quote that Plantinga accepts the "blooming buzzing confusion" theory of the environment as true, whereas it's demonstrably not true.

"my natural grasp of my body and its motile possibilities structures how beings appear. There is good evidence that this grasp of the body... is found in infants.

Thanks for the Gallagher references, which I'll get back to. Besides infants, certainly less complex animals than humans behave instinctively in ways that take advantage of built-in bodily features like vision and mobility, enabling them to orient toward salient environmental features. I don't think anyone would assert that these creatures are aware of eternal forms or invariant rules. There are adaptive advantages to discriminating light from darkness, motion from stability, etc.

ktismatics said...

"The ability of infants to direct their attention to things not long after delivery would seem to demonstrate that, even if they 'begin' with a buzzing confusion, that quickly solidifies into things that they search for (following the mother's voice, for example)."

The mother is distinguishable from other humans, and other humans are distinguishable from other kinds of objects. Nearly from birth human infants show preference for looking at humans and at the mother in particular. There are immediate survival reasons for this attentional preference -- only adult humans are going to keep the infant alive -- as well as more long-term socialization reasons -- infants learn language through interaction with adults, and especially their mothers.

Awhile back I tried but generally failed to engage in a blog discussion about a paper by Schindler on Balthasar. Briefly, Balthazar claims that, in gazing at the mother's smile, the infant sees beyond the mother to the beauty and love of God. It's as if Balthasar regards the mother as a kind of icon, rather than someone with whom the infant engages in close instinctive relationship based on survival and socialization. Maybe the icon thing is there too, but a more naturalistic explanation seems adequate for most purposes. Does the baby chick opening its mouth and squawking in the nest see beyond the parent bird to God? (There's a link to Schindler's paper at the top of this postthis post at Church and PoMo.

ktismatics said...

Ooh, the html link language worked properly this time, so my redundant "this post" adaptation wasn't necessary.

Kevin Winters said...

While we can give "survival value" understandings of the infant's looking at the mother, I don't know if that is a sufficient account. While I haven't been able to get entirely clear on the notion and its supporters/dissidents, mirror neurons (coupled with the body schema notion) might provide an intercorporeal relation with the mother that is beyond mere survival value or a naturalistic account. It is an immediate relation with the mother (and other humans) as an incarnated motile being that shares a body schema (=implicit grasp of the body's motile capacities), though admittedly more developed and skilled than the child's.

I guess I'm not sure how naturalistic and evolutionistic you are implying in your post. Not that I'm against evolution per se, but I doubt its capacity to fully explain the human mode of being. Either way, it seems we are mostly in agreement.

ktismatics said...

Right. We'll have to wait for further installments to see how much Plantinga is summarizing Kant and how much is his own position.

Sara said...

In walks the clinical social worker. So, much of this post is way above my head. However, I do have some tidbits to add on a practical note. A strong movement in effective therapeutic teqniques today is the use of a downward arrow technique. Forgive me for not citing a source. In this process the therapist joins with the client to investigate the origins of certain undesired (by the client) behavior, thoughts, etc. The therapist asks questions such as, "what were you thinking and feeling while doing/thinking that?" and so on in an attempt to come to a picture of the person's core values/beliefs. So this would be an example of core beliefs being identified that have not been "known" on a conscious level by the person but that have impact on that person's concious experience (behavior/thoughts).
I have been a part of therapeutic groups and 1 on 1 therapy where once the person identified their core (subconcious) belief they were able to make an argument against that belief and change behavior. I honestly have no idea if this applies to the topic of this post, but it all made sense to me. :)

ktismatics said...

We're often unaware of motivations that turn out to be rational when looked at in context, but that also prove to be misguided or self-destructive. This clinical insight argues for a rational unconscious but against the contention that it is foundational to a rational existence. It's an argument against Plantinga, I think.

Jonathan Erdman said...

In these early chapters Plantinga is mostly moving aside arguments against whether or not we can discuss God. In doing so he engages (amongst others) Kant. But he isn't really all that impressed with Kant. So, I would caution against attributing Kantian notions to Plantinga. He will eventually go on to argue for beliefs acquiring Warrant by virtue of our cognitive faculties functioning properly.....well, I am jumping ahead now!

Good discussion points here.

Ktismatics:
"Plantinga further says: On both versions of the two-world picture, the appearances are distinct from the things in themselves. The appearances are objects; they exist; they are empirically real. But they are also transcendentally ideal. And what this means, in part, is that they depend for their existence on us (on the transcendental ego[s]) and our cognitive activity. We ourselves are both noumena and phenomena: there is both a noumenal self and an empirical self. I don't follow this. Why is an appearance also an object and a transcendental ideal? Is this Plantinga' description of Kant's position, or Plantinga's counter-position?"

This is Kant's position, as Plantinga interprets it. This also true of the so-called "blooming, buzzing manifold." It is also Kantian. In fact, a "blooming, buzzing manifold" might be a good description of Kant's position, itself, eh???

Also, you mentioned, "I can think all sorts of things that may have no connection with either sensory impressions or noumena -- I just make them up. Similarly, I can imagine all sorts of ideas about what the noumena might be but that might have nothing whatsoever to do with what the noumena really are."

I think in this Plantinga would agree. That is, on the Two World picture the noumena is such that one cannot even think it. And hence for Plantinga there is a problem with stating the existence of something that you cannot think. We say, "There is this thing called noumena," and the proceed to say, "But it is unthinkable." Plantinga merely wonders how we can assert the existence of the unthinkable if we truly cannot think it.

samlcarr said...

There is also the chicken and egg thing in sensory perception itself. The sense organs do not merely pass on data but are themselves involved in filtering and shaping the data and this makes a bid difference to the brain's ability to then organise, classify and interpret.

There is something to be said for our ability to understand having a good amount of prestructuring and/or deep structuring even before we start to try to utilise it for creating meaning. The built-in ability to learn is also fascinating.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Sam: The sense organs do not merely pass on data but are themselves involved in filtering and shaping the data and this makes a bid difference to the brain's ability to then organise, classify and interpret.

So, even our eyes/ears/nose/fingers/mouth interpret the data we "receive"???? My nose has its own hermeneutical framework?

Melody said...

So, even our eyes/ears/nose/fingers/mouth interpret the data we "receive"????

Well - don't they? Different cultures interpret differently even the sounds that animals make.
I can only assume that their ears interpret the same sounds differently.

And our eyes associate items with symbolic representations of them.

If you as someone to draw an eye they will not draw an eye in it's actual form - but a symbol of an eye. We become used to objects and don't see their true form.

The younger the person the less true this is - because they have less context to taint their interpretation.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Melody: Different cultures interpret differently even the sounds that animals make.
I can only assume that their ears interpret the same sounds differently.....The younger the person the less true this is - because they have less context to taint their interpretation.


Melody, You sound so postmodern! First you need to repent. Next answer me this question: Is there any "neutral" or "unbiased" perspective??? If not, then how can anyone ever think that they know the truth?

Melody said...

Melody, You sound so postmodern! First you need to repent.

I know, that's what I get for hanging around your blog.

Next answer me this question: Is there any "neutral" or "unbiased" perspective??? If not, then how can anyone ever think that they know the truth?

No, there is no neutral or unbiased perspective. Infants prefer their mother's voice over other voices - we're born with bias.

But, I don't think it's so much that we are physically incapable of percieving things as they actually are, as that we have to consciously look past the symbols we've put in place of the real thing.

For example: in the classes I took that focused on drawing or illustration a lot of time was spend on "learning to see". It's a constant re-examining of, "Yes this is how we think of the eye curving - but is that curve really there?"
"See how there are actually ten different shadows instead of only the one that we normally notice?"

I don't think anyone's bias keeps them from seeing that - but it does make them work harder to see it and it does shape what they will do with what they see.

ktismatics said...

"We become used to objects and don't see their true form."

I agree that convention dictates what we see, but we also have to train our perceptions to see things that are there. You imply that it's possible to get beyond the convention to something more like the true form, and I agree up to a point. There's no reason to assert that our perceptions of physical space are determined by rules, laws, language, etc. rather than by the shapes of things that are really out there. On the other hand, what we perceive about the world are features that our sensory apparatus can detect. It's like our senses are tools or probes into the world that provide us with useful information, but that information must be abstracted, codified, detected, etc. before we can make use of it. So there's always this intermediate processing between us as perceivers and the thing as it really is.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Good thoughts.

I might also add that genuine, open dialog facilitates the ability to see from another perspective. I don't know that sharing others perspectives, in and of itself, eliminates "bias," but neither do I think bias is such a bad thing. Our "bias" is just less limited to our own selves and more aware of others.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Ktismatics: There's no reason to assert that our perceptions of physical space are determined by rules, laws, language, etc. rather than by the shapes of things that are really out there.

For Kant (the hero of this post!) even "space" itself was a category of the mind. Presumably, for Kant "space" is something our minds impose upon the "outside world" as a precondition for our understanding it.

ktismatics said...

"Different cultures interpret differently even the sounds that animals make. I can only assume that their ears interpret the same sounds differently."

I think ears can hear the same way, but language and social convention dictate where the boundaries between one sound and another will be placed. E.g., babies can make and detect all known linguistic sounds, but already at about age 12 months they start losing the ability to discriminate certain verbalizations that aren't used in their culture's language. So eventually Chinese kids can no longer hear or pronounce the difference between L and R, say, and French people have a hell of a time making a TH sound. The physical capabilities are there, but they've been socialized out of awareness.

Melody said...

Ktismatics: I think ears can hear the same way, but language and social convention dictate where the boundaries between one sound and another will be placed.

This is true. Likewise the same image is being transmitted to our brains when we look at the same object and yet for every three people that I ask what color my hair I have three different answers. They're all seeing the same thing -but what they catalog it as is quite different.

ktismatics said...

"for every three people that I ask what color my hair I have three different answers."

This on a small (yet extremely important!) scale is how categorical knowledge gets hashed out: not by intuiting some abstract truth called "the color of Melody's hair" but by arriving at a relatively stable intersubjective agreement about something that has no predefined answer. Or you can just decide that you know what color it is and everybody else is either right or wrong depending on whether they agree with you.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Ktismatics,

You last comment sounds Heideggerian to me....but perhaps everything sounds Heideggerian to me!

ktismatics said...

Certainly it's Davidson's triangle, where self and other arrive at a conceptual and verbal understanding of features of the world. It's probably later Wittgenstein too, which I haven't read yet. Heidegger doesn't really elaborate this sort of idea in Being and Time -- maybe in later works?

Jonathan Erdman said...

Here is where I was going with that thought:

“What we ‘first’ hear is never noises or complexes of sounds, but the creaking waggon [sic], the motor-cycle… It requires a very artificial and complicated frame of mind to ‘hear’ a ‘pure noise’.” (Being and Time, 207/H163-164)

That is, what we experience is always within a specific context of "being there" or "caring" or "coping" within the world.

Also,
“Anything ready-to-hand [equipment] is, at the worst, appropriate for some purposes and inappropriate for others; and its ‘properties’ are, as it were, still bound up in these ways in which it is appropriate or inappropriate, just as presence-at-hand [things as merely present for observation], as a possible kind of being for something ready-to-hand, is bound up in readiness-to-hand” (Being and Time, 115/H83)

But perhaps "intersubjective" (as you are speaking of it via Davidson) is only one aspect (albeit an important one) of "being there." Or would you not connect the two concepts at all?

samlcarr said...

Perception is often taken to be something like that transmission of almost raw data from a sense organ thats only job is to convert one type of energy into an electrical signal that can be read by the brain.

The motile single celled organism can tell how to move towards food and away from poisonous stuff.

Our sense organs are geared to take in certain signals and to ignore others as just noise. We don't see ultraviolet nor do we see infrared. We see green better (brighter?) than any other colours. The way we sense edges, and movement, e.g. seem to have something to do with how the eye itself is functioning.

Dyslexia seems to be half eye and half brain in causation, threrapies that work on one and not the other will not be very efficient.

Our ears can't hear ultrasound. They are most sensitive to frequencies around the 1kHz range, that's about the human voice's centre.

There is something, that precedes the brain and/or the interactions of strangulating triangulation.

ktismatics said...

"There is something, that precedes the brain and/or the interactions of strangulating triangulation."

If there wasn't somebody named Melody who has hair that reflects light in a particular part of the spectrum, we wouldn't be able to talk about the color of Melody's hair. Three sides to the triangle: self, other, world. Continental structuralists want to talk about self and other as if language and intersubjective agreement were completely disconnected from the world, signifiers floating free of signifieds, and so on. But that's only two of the three sides. The world is there too.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Ktismatics: If there wasn't somebody named Melody who has hair that reflects light in a particular part of the spectrum, we wouldn't be able to talk about the color of Melody's hair.

Unless, of course, it is all happening in your mind and nothing is really "real"!

K: Three sides to the triangle: self, other, world. Continental structuralists want to talk about self and other as if language and intersubjective agreement were completely disconnected from the world, signifiers floating free of signifieds, and so on. But that's only two of the three sides. The world is there too.

Do you include Heidegger in the above group, or are you referring primarily to the French? I would imagine that you are not including Heidegger, b/c he would not be considered a "structuralist."

Daniel said...

Jon, this is such a great thread - do you have a hall of fame somewhere on the site?



The Greeks were very structural in their tripartite topography of the self: body, passions/emotions, mind/spirit


This is one of those great insights of the Greeks that Christ redeemed and brought to fullness by regenerating our spiritual life. Socrates questioned the life of the soul after death, but it is evident from Plato's account (The death of Socrates) that there was not a clear division between mind and spirit in this reasoning. That is, there was no spiritual reality to the Greeks (as we understand it, the God part).

The following narrative is taken from Genenis: God created plants (body), then animals (body & soul=passions/emotions/mind) and then man (body, soul and spirit).

Adam died spiritually and walked in his soul dimension after the fall. People of God in the Bible like Moses and David experienced a taste of spiritual life, but Christ made it possible for us to live this life of the spirit, with his Holy Spirit quickening ours.

How does this theology disrupt the psychoanalytical/ philosophical/ deconstructionist view?

ktismatics said...

"God created plants (body), then animals (body & soul=passions/emotions/mind) and then man (body, soul and spirit)."

That's one way to distinguish these three kinds of living things, and I think the medievalists made this argument. But it's got to be general rather than specific; e.g., "creeping things" like bacteria aren't any more mental or emotional than plants -- they just move around better. The sequence also doesn't quite follow what the evolutionary sequence is asserted to be; e.g., fruit trees and flowering plants were pretty late in coming, co-evolving with creatures like fruit-eating animals and insects.

There was a fairly detailed discussion at Open Source Theology recently. The tentative conclusion of us amateur theologians was that Adam "died" when he ate the fruit in the sense that his mortality was assured, being barred from the Tree of Life and the immortality it bestows. Gen. 2 says God formed man out of the dust and breathed into him and he became a living "soul." But you'll observe that when Adam is assigned the task of naming all the creatures, the Hebrew word for "creatures" is "souls." So Adam isn't presented as materially different from other kinds of animals.

Spiritual death is another option, though it's hard to see that sort of distinction in Genesis. For most of the OT body and soul stick together without much dualism, and the immorality of the individual soul doesn't really show up as a concept.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Daniel, Thanks for the encouragement. Our friend, Ktismatics, is the expert on all things psychoanalytical.

Ktismatics:
Gen. 2 says God formed man out of the dust and breathed into him and he became a living "soul." But you'll observe that when Adam is assigned the task of naming all the creatures, the Hebrew word for "creatures" is "souls."

Interesting observation about the "soul." The Hebrew word nephesh is what we often translate as "soul" or "life" in the Old Testament. Interesting that this is actually used several times in Genesis 1 and 2 to describe animal-kind.

A general question for all here: What is the distinction in the OT between man and beast? Daniel has suggested that the human "spirit" is the distinguishing factor. What does this mean in your mind, Daniel? How do you define "spirit" as you see it in the OT?

Daniel said...

My understanding is that God is Spirit, and that Spirit is the God part of man.

God created to bear His 'image', i.e. His Spirit, distinguishing us from animals... a distinction we lost at the fall. Now we are again being conformed into God's 'image', through Christ.

Abraham had a spiritual experience when entering into covenant with God, and Moses had spiritual experiences (encounters with God) at the burning bush and again when he received the law. Prophets such as Elijah and Jeremiah enjoyed a spiritual connection with God, while Isaiah had an experience in God's throne room. Men such as Daniel and David had prayer lives that were spiritually activated. And the high priest could enter the holy of holies once a year and experience God's presence there.

Nonetheless, soul life (mind, will, emotions) seems to be the limit of OT relationship with God, beyond which exceptional men of God may have experienced a taste of what was yet to come in the promise of Christ. They saw the day of Christ "from afar" in this sense (Hebrews 11:13).

When the temple of God is relocated to our bodies and hearts through acceptance of Jesus Christ, we experience rebirth and spiritual life - Jesus said to Nicodemus that "what is born of spirit is spirit" (John 3:5).

These days terms such as 'spirituality' are bandied about indiscriminately - there is no spiritual life apart from God, and the way to God is through His son JC. To accept Jesus is to accept His Holy Spirit.

In conclusion therefore it is only through relationship with God that we are in any way different from animals. Indeed in terms of intelligence or emotional life we have our match in other higher mammals. Even the argument for language is being disproved through studies of whales and so forth. Ultimately we know that God's purpose is for the whole creation to be redeemed unto Him (Romans 8:20-22), having also being corrupted at the fall of Adam: so we are hardly more special for having a spiritual identity with God. There is a larger gulf between us and Him, than between us and animals certainly, as we are the created order and He is the Creator.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Daniel: God created to bear His 'image', i.e. His Spirit, distinguishing us from animals... a distinction we lost at the fall. Now we are again being conformed into God's 'image', through Christ.

I kind of wonder about this, however, because after the fall humankind is still referred to as "image bearers." For example, after the flood God prohibits the murder of another individual on the basis of the fact that they bear the image of God.

Are you saying that the imago dei was completely lost at the fall???

Jonathan Erdman said...

Daniel:

When the temple of God is relocated to our bodies and hearts through acceptance of Jesus Christ, we experience rebirth and spiritual life - Jesus said to Nicodemus that "what is born of spirit is spirit" (John 3:5).


So, there was no such thing as a "rebirth" in the Old Testament? If not, then how were people saved?

D: These days terms such as 'spirituality' are bandied about indiscriminately - there is no spiritual life apart from God, and the way to God is through His son JC. To accept Jesus is to accept His Holy Spirit.

It is true that "spirituality" is bandied about indiscriminately. I am not yet settled in my mind as to how to approach this. Can humanity sense God in a spiritual way, prior to salvation/rebirth? I tend to think that they can. That God has built in to our spirits/souls (I tend to look at them as one and the same) the ability to sense him through our interaction with the creation: the majesty of nature, the miracle of birth and interaction with family, our "moral law within" (to cite Kant), and others.

Daniel said...

I couldn't claim to know what the imago deo is exactly, but apparently it is not a physical image because we know that God is Spirit. Therefore the image must be of a spiritual substance.

(This too could be error and based on our assumption of the relative unimportance of the physical body. God places more importance on our physical bodies then we do, with the emphasis in the NT on our resurrection bodies.)

There are some interesting points of view that contend that being the image-bearers implies being God's representatives on earth, hence the mandate given to Adam to multiply and fill the earth, and to subdue it. This mandate clearly never fell away in practice, or was it perhaps perverted afer the fall? Did man continue to represent God, or just his own desires?

This debate over the image of God surfaces in the response to pre-historic fossil fragments of hominids before homo sapiens.

Quite clearly I don't know if we lost the image after the fall, or what it means precisely - where is the scripture on being image-bearers after the flood please?

However my guess is based on the spiritual connection with God that was lost after the fall.

The concept the Greeks developed of pneuma (zoe), psuche, and soma (bios), or spirit, soul and body, is a concept redeemed by Christ in his discourse on the dimensions to our life in Him, and continued by the apostles.

If you like I will follow up this comment with some of those examples because they are always refreshing, and do sometimes get lost in translation.

Nonetheless this is removed from the OT question. Maybe more Hebrew will elucidate? It was very interesting to note the word for soul used in connection with animals, courtesy of ktismatics. In present day parlance, 'soul' and 'spirit' are often used interchangeably but this seems to me completely unbiblical.

ktismatics said...

"In conclusion therefore it is only through relationship with God that we are in any way different from animals. Indeed in terms of intelligence or emotional life we have our match in other higher mammals."

I don't think any other animal is our match in intelligence or language, but certainly there's continuity, especially if you accept the evolutionary theory. If there is no God to infuse us transcendentally with spirit then we're stuck with what we've got, having to make the best of it.

"So, there was no such thing as a "rebirth" in the Old Testament? If not, then how were people saved?"

Do you think the O.T. Jews believed in an individual afterlife?

"Can humanity sense God in a spiritual way, prior to salvation/rebirth? I tend to think that they can."

So, Erdman, I guess you're still persuaded by the Kant and Plantinga argument. Oh well.

"I couldn't claim to know what the imago deo is exactly"

I do -- it's the ability to create. And we still have it, though we squander it on a lot of crappy creations.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Ktismatics,

I wouldn't go about using argumentation to establish SD. I think it is more accurate to describe SD as something of a psychological and theological description about how humanity can encounter God via his/her environment. It presumes several very important (and debatable) premises, so it would be difficult to establish SD by way of rational argument.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Daniel,

Imago Dei is the Latin for "image of God," and sensus divinitatis is the Latin for "sense of the divine." The Latin terms, as far as I know, originated sometime in the Middle Ages when theologians began to really dive in to these topics.

Daniel said...

Good recent posts, Jon and Ktismatics, and helpful. This is a stimulating thread indeed. In response, I'm busy with a Bible study on the different Hebrew and Greek words for spirit, soul, and body (strongs and nkjv). It's so interesting, and I would be really happy to share some of it with you sometime.

Just a few thoughts now...

It is stated in the Bible that we all have a spirit, regardless of regeneration; this is in correction of my earlier commment implying that we 'lost' it. We all have a spiritual destiny in this sense. And, biblically speaking, our spirituality (potentiality) sets us apart from animals.

Animals cannot be born again - but they do have will, can make choices, display emotion, have intelligence, all soulish things. Wonderful. St. Francis of Assisi preached to the animals!

Jesus resurrection of Lazarus and the Centurion's daughter were central events, because the spirits returned to their bodies!

Sadducees of the day did not believe in "an individual afterlife", among them Caiphas the High Priest.

The Greeks debated this point. Socrates believed in the life after death, at least I am reading about this in Plato's account.

The distinction between spirit and soul is most emphatic Hebrews 4:12, in fact it is the function of the Word of God to make this distinction!

(Jon, my last comment came up before I read yours about looking at soul/spirit the same, so it might read like a rather rude rebuffal of that point - completely unintended. Nonetheless, have a look into the distinction made in the Bible, by use of the Greek and Hebrew language, it is incredible how much scripture deals with this difference.)

I would be insulting myself and my Creator to compare my intelligence to a whale! Yet "What is man, that You are mindful of him?"

I know dogs and cats that are more emotional than I am, or maybe they just let it show better!

Still the evolutionary scientists have challenged some of our assumptions, especially when it comes to language. And our technological achievements are for the most part disastrous - Ktismatics, I concur!

Jonathan Erdman said...

Daniel:
It is stated in the Bible that we all have a spirit, regardless of regeneration; this is in correction of my earlier commment implying that we 'lost' it. We all have a spiritual destiny in this sense. And, biblically speaking, our spirituality (potentiality) sets us apart from animals.

If we all possess spirit prior to regeneration, then is it possible that our spirits can sense God in and through creation? That is something of what I believe goes on with the sensus divinitatis (SD for short). Romans 1 seems to indicate that humanity is "without excuse" because we have some knowledge of the Creator via the creation.

I think that SD - our ability to sense the divine - falls under the umbrella of the imago dei. That we bear the image of God means that we can in some way sense God, as well. This, I think, is something that is possible prior to regeneration. But I am still a foggy in my mind how this all works out.

More study is needed.

ktismatics said...

"And our technological achievements are for the most part disastrous - Ktismatics, I concur!"

I don't concur. The church has come to regard all secular human cultural achievements as part of the fallen world, the corrupt productions of a corrupt human nature. But the language in which we're having this conversation is a human cultural artifact, no?

Jonathan Erdman said...

Aye, and there's the rub!