Category Archives: Epistemology

Doubtless, Faithless

When you express doubt to some believers, they respond by saying you just have to have faith.

Some believers are certain of their faith; not that they are faithful with a particular set of rituals, but that “Jesus, not Janus” is the case.

Often, it’s the very same believer expressing both ideas.

When doubt exists, certainty cannot; that’s axiomatic.

This is when we have to realize that every question before us is one where we can have countless attitudes about. This sort of person isn’t being incoherent. They simply have fine distinctions that are hard maybe for even themselves to see. For this believer, his witness to doubters will be far more honest in seeing that faith in this context isn’t about having justified beliefs. Faith here is a choice against justified doubt. That’s also axiomatic.

A doubtful believer certain that his faith is warranted is one who should admit doubters have every reason to doubt, but that the reason faith is warranted is because risking into the unknown can be validated, can be vindicated here and now; faith is vulnerability to being wrong for all the best reasons.

Instead, the often dishonest reaction to doubt isn’t this sort of faith. It’s claiming to know what others are simply too blind to see. It is supressing one’s own genuine doubt for a refusal to being vulnerable to being anything less than perfectly right in every questionable matter that this faith could apply to.

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The Leap Of Knowledge

Gina stood remembering the first time she had made the jump. She had no idea what would happen. Could she do it? Just as then, she had confidence she could. The distance seemed reasonable, she was strong, she knew she could hold on to the bar on the other side if she could just reach it. But, the fall wouldn’t be so easy if she couldn’t.

She remembered everything about that day as a little girl on the playground and that jungle gym. She remembered making it. She remembered too that after that first jump, she never worried again; she jumped from one side and back all day because she knew she could do it, she had done it before.

Gina isn’t eight anymore, she’s twenty eight and a P. E. teacher at that same school. Could she do it? She used to know. She doesn’t know anymore. Everyone had gone home for the day, so she climbed up, smiled, then lept.

What is knowledge? Is it simply “confidence from good reasons”? What is faith? Is it simply “confidence for good reasons”?

If “acting with confidence” describes both knowledge and faith, then the only difference is motivation; “because of good reasons” and “for good reasons” respectively.

“I know that P because of good reasons.”

“I have faith that P for good reasons.”

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I Know!

The only difference between “I think”, “I believe”, and “I know” are degrees of justification. There is no other sense to knowledge than a belief one is very confident of. No other way of talking about knowledge suffices, including justified belief. When warrant includes entitlements, and when reason counts as justification yet admittedly logic doesn’t entail truth or tell us anything about the world, what is knowledge but confidence? It turns out, knowledge isn’t some absolute about the world; it’s that we’re more absolute in our certainty.

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Shit Apologetics

Since the Enlightenment at least, faith has come to be associated with epistemological belief.

Since epistemological belief is about warrant, and since many explain “you just have to have faith”, one admits that faith isn’t about belief if belief is indeed about warrant.

Since the apologist apeals to faith as a reason to say some proposition is true, said apologist openly admits to his naysayers accusing him of not having evidence and good reason to think so, that in fact, they’re right!

Faith is the appeal in every single instance where evidence and reason are lacking.

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It’s on you, buddy!

“Onus probandi incumbit ei qui dicit, non ei qui negat.”

Better known as the Burden Of Proof.

Onus only applies to speech acts. Actually, it only applies to one speech act: assertion. Onus is then about language and disputes. The above actually translates: The burden is on the one declaring, not the one denying.

Onus is not about obligations one has to themselves about what they believe. It only applies to conversations, when a person asserts something is true. However, even if a person asserts, onus doesn’t necessarily apply. If I assert, “The Cowboys are number one!” in a room full of Cowboy fans, no one is going to ask me to justify why I think that’s true. There is no dispute, no disagreement, no denial. The Principle Of Cooperation is the predicate of onus.

Importantly, note that disclosure is a type of speech act that many confuse for asserting, and then think onus exists — “I believe that is true” isn’t an assertion but disclosure about how one is disposed, not asserting what is true of some state of affairs.

Yes, of course we ought to justify all our beliefs, but this ethical obligation is not a conversational obligation, and onus applies to the latter, not the former. In fact, all dispositions including denial require warrant. Another reason this distinction matters. Onus and warrant are very different things.

The difference that makes a difference is that I may have warrant to believe P, but I may not have any ability to assert P; I also may simply disclose my feelings about P; I may not have justification for P but may not have onus when asserting P; in fact, I may have warrant and assert P, yet onus is on the one who doubts P.

“I exist” is an entitlement (and if you don’t like that one, pick any entitlement); I can therefore assert P but there is, by definition, no way to justify asserting P.

“I believe that P” obliges me to have warrant for the belief, but this is not an assertion about P but what I believe about P, and so, bears no onus.

Third, the Dallas Cowboys are number one; everyone’s a fan.

Finally, to spark further thought on the subject, one should ask who has onus when “I exist”, or similar brute facts, are asserted. Is it actually the one adding what is quite obviously the most obvious thing to assert, or the one who may in a fit of solipsism deny the assertion, perhaps for no reason at all? If onus is about a principle of cooperation in conversation, one may have a guide in answering, and an exception to otherwise hard and fast, but unthoughtful rules. What impact has this on Creationists, Flat Earthers, Anti-vaxers, and so on?

“There aren’t any Gods!” and “God exists!” then both bear onus, but not anyone denying either is true; however, anyone with a disposition about either should have warrant for it.

Onus is a principle that applies when we reach a rough spot in the road if an otherwise good conversation; it helps everyone see from another’s vantage point as best they can, knowing at the same facts, as long as they are unambiguously shared.

(See Grice, Onus, Speech Acts, and Implicature)

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The Truth Is ..

It is simply a lack of vindication that makes something true or false; not warrant, not entitlement, not justification, certainly not faith.

For the decades of reading philosophical work on epistemology, it hits me just yesterday that nearly the entire field simply hasn’t given up on looking at the problem of truth completely backward.

No theory of truth is ultimately anything more than a theory of vindication.

Just a thought.

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Start With “Uncle!”

Christian apologetics can’t get it right if it begins with presuppositions or faith. In claiming that we must presuppose God, the apologist admits there’s no real reason to believe; we must simply suppose it is true. When the apologist says one must have faith, he likewise admits there’s no reason to believe and instead is suggesting merely that one ought to hope something is true. As it concerns propositions and truth-telling, there are ethical duties and obligations that come with. Justification is the primary obligation. There’s no justification in assumption or in hoping something is true because neither indicate whether something is true. So if this is part of Christian apologetics, it admits up front that there’s no reason to believe, and follows that by divorcing itself from the ethics of truth-telling from there. In a propositional sense and in the moral sense, it just can’t get it right.

Just a thought.

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God Is Not A Being

P1) It is said that God is love.

P2) It is said God cannot act against his nature.

C1) If God can choose to love, then God’s nature isn’t love.

P3) If God always chooses to obtain the best, or optimal outcomes in each moment, then God having the ability to choose is identical to God having no choice.

C2) If we hold to philosophical simplicity, we must accept God is not volitional and therefore, not a being, or that

C3) God is a being who can and does choose not to love, and is a being that could choose the best outcomes but chooses less favorable ones, or cannot identify them, or simply cannot obtain them.

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Doubling Down

Johnny lived in a sorted neighborhood. There was all kind of mischief all the time. Johnny’s roommate one morning offered Johnny a bet. “I will bet you ten bucks that your car is not outside, someone stole it.” There had been a rash of car thefts recently and Todd, Johnny’s roommate, was serious about the bet but easily using it to comment on how bad things had gotten that such a bet could actually be made.

Johnny had worked late last night and parked his car near a street light. If he were a car thief, he would have been in bed by that time and wouldn’t pick such a visible target. Still, you never know. Johnny believed his car was right where he’d left it. Ten bucks is ten bucks though and, having thought about it, Johnny knew the odds at that point were about even.

Though Johnny genuinely believed “My car was not stolen” rather than “My car was stolen”, Johnny did not take Todd’s bet. Doubting either proposition wasn’t a factor. Johnny didn’t believe one because he doubted the other. He believed them both. He just had more compelling reasons for thinking one way versus the other.

Johnny is said to have a doxastic belief and an epistemic belief about “My car was stolen”. It should be clear that it is possible to hold many dispositions toward the same state of affairs including contradictory ones yet not be thinking incoherently. Johnny genuinely believed “My car was not stolen”, for one set of reasons, and that “My car was stolen”, at the same time but for another set of reasons. Johnny has a “propositional attitude” in contrast to his other beliefs about the state of affairs about which the proposition is speaking.

It is then not always telling to suppose we know what a person believes merely by asking what their conclusion is; after all, truth be told, Johnny believes more that his car wasn’t stolen than he believes otherwise, but how would Todd know, Johnny didn’t take the bet.

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It Happens …

One of the most mistaken aspects of reasoning in the Great Debate is over aspects of propositions, and namely, what denial is.

Example: “This is a square.”

We could deny this and mean a couple of things. First, we may lack sufficient reason to agree that “This is a square.” We may actually have sufficient reason to believe that it isn’t true that “This is a square”, though we may not know what else it actually is. Finally, we may actually know better. “This is really a rectangle.”

People usually mistakenly translate the denial of a proposition as the belief that its contradiction is true. So, mistakenly, denying “God exists” means one thinks “God does not exist”. This is not the case.

When denying “This is a square”, it’s clear that there’s no contradictory belief to hold. There’s no opposite to “square”. This implies denial applies to how the case is presented. In other words, “This is a square [is the case]”. Denial applies to this property of the proposition. Denial is then as follows:

Correct: [It is not true that] This is a square [is the case]

Incorrect: This is not a square [is the case].

Don’t see a difference?

If the proposition is “Steve’s T shirt is green” and I deny it, it’s not because I believe “My T shirt is not green.” It’s because I am not wearing a T shirt. Hence, denial is correctly “[It is not true that] Steve’s T shirt is green [is true]”. This shortens to simply “That’s not the case.” And consequently, I would deny the contradiction, “Steve’s T shirt is not green”.

The mistake happens honestly because of “negative facts”, contradiction, and “The Excluded Middle”. Folks mistake denial for contradiction. Above, with “This is a square”, insufficient reason and reason to doubt cause denial rather than contradiction. When two ideas cannot both be true at the same time, and cannot both be false, there’s a contradiction. With contradiction, something either is or isn’t. Either there is a God or isn’t, either it is a square or isn’t, either my T shirt is green or it isn’t. These have no “middle” ground. But as we see with my T shirt, denial isn’t contradiction though contradiction can cause denial.

So denying that “God exists” doesn’t mean a person believes “God does not exist”. It means they deny there’s reason to believe “God exists [is the case].” It happens that Atheists, Agnostics, and Theists alike, can all deny the proposition “God exists” yet have various beliefs about the existence of God.

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