Epistemology

The Study of Truth Criteria

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There are many things that could be said about this campaign season, and there are many competent people saying them. But there is one essential similarity between both “liberals” and “conservatives” this election which I think has gone unnoticed. It is this essential similarity which reveals the root of our current political plight––and therefore, the potential solution. That similarity is mindlessness.

Of course, the rabbid mindlessness of the left began to flaunt itself as early as last year in the contrived campus protests, the racist Black-Lives-Matter movement, and the emotion-ridden hysteria of trigger warnings, micro-aggressions, and safe spaces. Many heroic voices have actively fought against the emotional insanity of these “precious little snowflakes” (hat-tip to Ben Shapiro, Steven Crowder, and Milo Yinnaupolis). But while criticizing the irrational insanity of the left, which began at simmer stage decades ago, and has now boiled over into full-blown bat-sh*t crazy, we failed to see a similar phenomenon bubbling up in our own “camp”. There’s no denying it now, though. The pure emotionalism and irrationality of Trump supporters demonstrates that this mind-eating malaria which seems to be in the air isn’t exclusive to the left.

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ATHENSVJERUSALEM

"What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?"

-Tertullian

In its modern usage, this quote means: "What does Philosophy have to do with Scripture?" "What does reason have to do with Christianity?" "What does objective reality have to do with God and His people?" The answer:... Everything.

Why the Dichotomy?

What is it that makes Christians think that there is some sort of necessary dichotomy between these things? If objective reality has nothing to do with God, then God is not objectively real. If reason (i.e. truth) has nothing to do with Christianity, then Christianity is not true. If Philosophy (i.e. foundational ideas about reality) has nothing to do with Scripture, then Scripture has nothing to do with reality. If Athens has nothing to do with Jerusalem, then Jerusalem is just a Middle-Eastern version of the North Pole.

If you really want to know why so many force such a dichotomy, you need only to listen to their repetitive bromides: "You can't build a ladder of reason to God", "We shouldn't attempt autonomous reason, independent from God", "We should follow God's Word, not 'Greek speculative thinking'", etc... All of this assumes that reason or knowledge which does not come from Scripture is necessarily not knowledge revealed by God; that the attempt to obtain any knowledge about God outside of Scripture is the attempt to "autonomously" reason our way to God; that 'secular' knowledge (knowledge discovered by non-Christians, like in Athens -- or discovered outside of Scripture) is second-class truth, at best - and "mere speculation" at worst. But where does this assumption -- that God's revelation of Himself, and knowledge about Him, is exclusively contained in Scripture -- come from? Certainly not the Bible!

"because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse."

-Romans 1:19-20

Notice first, where this knowledge about God outside of Scripture is coming from: it is coming from God. "He made it evident to them".

"The heavens declare the glory of God; and their expanse is telling of the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words where their voice is not heard. Their sound has gone out through all the earth, and their utterances to the end of the world"

-Psalm 19:1-4

Who created the heavens and causes them to do all of this proclaiming, speech, and revelation? Not man, God.

So, this "autonomous reason"; this knowledge of God outside of Scripture; where is it coming from: from God or from man? The verses above make the answer crystal clear: God is revealing Himself outside of Scripture -- which means that this knowledge outside of Scripture is also revelation. It is what theologians refer to as "General Revelation".

General and Specific Revelation

General Revelation refers to any true knowledge of God outside of Scripture, and Specific Revelation refers to true knowledge of God which is contained in Scripture. General Revelation is general, primarily in respect to its audience (everyone) and its content (knowledge about God's existence, essence and attributes). Specific Revelation is likewise specific, primarily in respect to its audience (the Church) and its content (many particular details about God's relationship to His people and His dealings with the world). Notice that both are revelation.

 At this point, the insecure Christian may concede that both are revelation, but he is hasty to insist that, in the event of any disagreement between the two, Scripture (or Specific Revelation) should always be given the priority over Philosophy (or General Revelation), "because it is more clear", he might say.

But I would suggest that there is a fundamental confusion in this mind-set which must be dealt with, and it has to do with a failure to distinguish between the object and the subject. "Disagreement between the two" -- two what? Disagreement between God's various means of revealing Himself (the object)? OR, disagreement between someone's particular understanding (subject) of what God has revealed in the two?

You had better not mean the former - that would imply that God is contradicting Himself in His revelation. If you mean the latter, then the question should not be "whose opinion should we go with: the pastor or the philosopher?" -- that is wildly subjective and evil. The questions should be "which position (if either) is true -- and what mistakes have been made in the other position to give rise to this disagreement?"

The Pastor vs. The Philosopher

For example: If a pastor is quoting Hebrews and claiming that faith should replace reason, and a philosopher is explaining that faith cannot lead to truth - only reason can, your first instinct should not be to side with the pastor (or the philosopher, for that matter). Remember, God is revealing truth both in and out of Scripture -- and no one person is guaranteed to get it right, in either case! So, your first instinct, rather, should be to ask "which is objectively true?" [Now, to answer that, you will need to have a pretty good idea of what truth is, and how to identify it (i.e. epistemology) - but that is a separate topic.] Once you've determined which is objectively true (in this case, the philosopher), then you can move on to question what mistake the pastor might have made which brought him to his error. [For the answer on what mistake the pastor has made regarding faith in this instance, see my post: Faith: The Fruit of Reason]

The point is that the object, God's revelation of Himself (no matter the form) is not the same as the subject's understanding of that revelation. Therefore, we should permit no disagreement between the different forms of God's revelation, because God does not contradict Himself. If we think there is a disagreement, the problem is with us, and our current understanding of it -- not with God and either of His forms of revelation.

One Final Point

There is much else which needs to be said on this topic (including an explanation of how both forms of revelation hold different sorts of priority over each other), but that will have to wait. However, there is one thing which must be grasped from the above.

The Christian (and particularly the Pastor and the Theologian) is concerned with knowing all of God's truth accurately, and glorifying Him to the max with all that He is revealing about Himself. Therefore, though there can be many non-Christian philosophers, there should not be many (if any) non-philosophic Christians. The degree to which a Christian is dealing with and spreading ideas about God is the degree to which he must be dedicated to accurately understanding all of the ideas being revealed about God, in both forms of revelation. How will one exult in the glory of God as revealed in Scripture if he is not convinced that God exists outside of Scripture? How will one trust a particular promise of God in Scripture without being convinced of the absolute impossibility of God to contradict Himself outside of Scripture? How can the God of Scripture be fully enjoyed apart from a full understanding of His "invisible attributes, eternal power, and His divine nature" as revealed certainly outside of Scripture? How can Jerusalem (the Church) enjoy and glorify God in everything, if they exclude Athens (the rest of reality) from that enjoyment and that glory?

Related Posts & Pages

There is No Such Thing as Scripture "Apart" From Philosophy

The "Christian" Fairytale

Epistemology

The Christian Intellectual

 

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2+2=4

It is imperative to remember that the goal in epistemology is to properly identify objective truth criteria. "Truth criteria" which can only pertain to an individual's subjective experience is of very little value in attempting to know and understand the objective nature of reality. Mistaking one for the other makes a very profound difference -- it is ultimately the difference between objective rationality and functional solipsism.

If certain knowledge is only obtainable through empirical means - i.e. by means of perceptual observation; i.e. by means of personal experience - then "certain knowledge" is reduced to subjective knowledge, and there is no objectivity to speak of. I can not perceive your perception - and neither can you perceive mine. Your "truth" is entirely built upon your own subjective perception - to which I have no access. And vice-versa. Everyone has their own (subjective) truth, but there is no access to truth which transcends personal experience; no access to truth which transcends individual perception; no access to objective truth.

Of course, adherents to this doctrine can (and must) make exceptions in order to play in the world of objectivity -- but they are exceptions; exceptions which necessarily step outside of this doctrine in order to borrow from an other, more rational, more objective epistemological principle: Logical Necessity.

Logical necessity grants to the realm of empirical observation, perception and experience that element which is necessary to break free from the tyranny of the subjective, into the world of objectivity: logic - and with it, objective identity.

Of course, peddlers of various forms of empiricism can also believe in logic and identity - but not consistently. Only as exceptions. They can believe that "A is A" regarding everything which they have perceived, but according to their epistemological principles, there is no way to know that it is true about that which they have not perceived - it can be (and is) assumed - but it certainly cannot be certain. Therefore, to them, the "law" of identity is not so much a law which is and must be true about everything in reality. It's more of a general rule about everything that they have experienced, and it's assumed to be true about everything else.  2+2 equals 4, not because it must, but because we've never experienced an instance of 2+2 equaling anything else -- it could equal 5 somewhere in the universe, or with some object which we have yet to discover. Contradictions don't exist - but not because they can't. Rather, it is because we simply haven't found any. There could be contradictions out there that we simply haven't observed yet. Thus, there are no laws - whether mathematical or logical. Only pragmatic generalizations. Such is the end of that doctrine which attempts to skirt around logical necessity.

The alternative: accepting that there are some things which are simply true whether we have experienced them or not (i.e. accepting objective truth!) "How do we know that such things are true though, if we don't experience them!?". You think. You think about reality, consider alternatives, and realize that sometimes, there is only one option. For instance, you think about the question of contradictions. You consider the alternativses: either contradictions exist or they don't. You realize (hopefully) that the former idea is, itself, contradictory and ultimately destructive to all knowledge, truth, reality and life; that if it is true, then it is false; that it cannot be true. Therefore, the only other alternative - that contradictions do not exist - is necessarily true. It must be.

Notice that I am not claiming that this thought process makes these things true. I am claiming that this thought process is the method (the only method) of discovering these things to be true. The law of identity is universally true about all of reality. It always has been and always will be - and it always would have been even if none of us ever knew about it. My thought process in discovering it no more "makes it true" or "creates it into reality" than the scientist's perception in discovering a new bacteria "makes it true" or "creates the bacteria into reality". This is not "primacy of consciousness" as Objectivists are in the habit of claiming. This is simply another form of discovery - performed by the mind rather than the senses; a form of truth criteria which is analytical rather than empirical.

Apart from this form of truth criteria, the modern empiricist (regardless of the name he wishes to go by) is stuck in his own subjective fairytales. The key - the only key - to accessing the realm of objectivity is to understand that we know some thing to be true simply because of the fact that they must be true - they are logically necessary.

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In my last post, I spoke of an epistemological category called “Logical Necessity”, and suggested that it being missed or downplayed in philosophical circles has led to the downfall of many epistemological systems. As a quick refresher, epistemology is the branch of philosophy which studies truth criteria; it aims to study the nature of truth and to identify the proper criteria for judging particular ideas as either true or false. In a way, epistemology is thinking about your thinking; analyzing your process of analysis - to be sure that your analysis is as accurate as possible.

Think about that for just a moment: Any method of analysis must, itself, be accurate. If you attempt to use a faulty method of analysis, the conclusions of your analysis will always be skewed. Epistemology is the most general method of analysis; it analyzes, shapes and defines every other method of analysis (science, history, morality, etc..) because it analyzes and identifies the nature of the thing which all of those others depend upon: truth. Notice, though, that epistemology is, itself, a method of analysis -- in fact, it is the method of analysis. Imagine the ideological (and therefore practical) destruction which might ensue if one’s epistemological principles were not accurate. Nothing else in one’s thought world (and therefore in one’s life) could be certain, accurate, or fully in tune with objective reality. Hopefully you are not only beginning to see the significance of epistemology, but also the grave importance of ensuring that you have an accurate epistemology - an accurate method of defining and identifying truth.

And that is where epistemology must be turned in on itself, so to speak. One’s epistemological principles must, themselves, be analyzed for accuracy. How is an epistemological principle determined to be accurate or not? We will begin to touch on that in the next post, however in this post, I want to point out what should be obvious: that one’s epistemological principles ought to at least stand up to their own criteria. I want to encourage everyone to get into the habit of testing epistemological principles by first asking “does that principle at least stand up to its own standards? If we apply that standard to to the principle, itself, does it stand or fall?” If an epistemological principle cannot even stand up to its own demands, then how on earth could it possibly be used accurately as a standard for all other truth? The answer: it can’t. Going through this simple process will automatically eliminate a whole host of epistemological errors and free you from years of unnecessary confusion.

Why do I bring this up in talking about logical necessity? Because every epistemological system which attempts to deny logical necessity fails to stand up to its own professed criteria. Here are a few examples:

1) “Only that which is falsifiable can be considered true”. Is that proposition falsifiable? Can you falsify the idea that all truth is falsifiable?

2) “Only that which is empirically observable can be considered true.” Is that proposition empirically observable? Can you empirically observe all truth being empirically observable?

3) “Only that which is reducible to perception can be considered true.” Is that proposition reducible to perception? Can you reduce “all truth being reducible to perception” to perception?

Notice the important qualifiers in each of these: they are claiming to apply to all ideas  or to all truth (which means that they must obviously apply to themselves as well). If one wished to say “some truth is falsifiable”, or “those things which are empirically observable can be considered true”, or “most truth is reducible to perception”, then there would be no inherent contradiction, and one could use further means of establishing the accuracy of these principles. But as it is, all of them fall immediately under the weight of their own demands - and are therefore unfit principles for universally judging all other ideas.

Ironically, though, these self-contradicting principles reign supremely in most of what is considered to be the “rational” and “academic” circles of our day. You will find very few legitimate intellectual institutions today which do not operate primarily off of one (or more) of the above epistemological assumptions (or some variant thereof)  - totally ignorant of the fact that their entire worldview is founded on a glaring contradiction.

How did principles which appear to be so obviously contradictory become so popularly championed among apparent intellectual authorities? Well, charitably, a lot of it is likely oversight: many just don’t think to ask such obvious questions, like “does this supposed all-encompassing principle meet its own standards?”. But that amount of charity cannot be extended to all. There are many who should have (and likely did) know to ask such questions, but refused to - for fear that some very uncomfortable ideas might be let into the room. Ideas like theism. And ultimately, you will find that the dogmatic insistence with which many so stubbornly hold to such epistemological principles (one’s which discard or deny logical necessity) is rooted in a deep-seated desperation to ban any form of theism as inherently irrational. In other words, many of today’s supposed champions of rationality are often consumed and driven by the very emotional (i.e. non-rational) need for reality to be God-less. They know (even if subconsciously) that to allow for logical necessity is to allow for theism - and that, above all, must be avoided.
Stay tuned for a reasoned defense of logical necessity.

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As explained here, epistemology properly studies objective truth criteria. And as noted elsewhere, the failure to explicitly identify proper truth criteria is ultimately devastating to one’s worldview - and therefore to one’s life. I have over-viewed some of the problems in modern epistemological theories (both Christian and other), but I have yet to put forward details regarding my own epistemological theory. While it certainly cannot all be covered in one post, the following is a very general outline of a proper epistemology for a rational and objective worldview.

I have broken the fundamentals of epistemology into the following basic categories. The failure to properly identify and differentiate between these categories has led to a majority of the problems in modern epistemological theory. My hopeful expectation is that the following breakdown will clear up a large amount of unnecessary confusion surrounding many epistemological issues. There are 3 primary categories of ideas, and a few sub-categories:

1) Logically Impossible -- Always False

An idea which is logically impossible is an idea which violates the basic laws of logic; an idea which is inherently contradictory. It is any instance of A being non-A at the same time and in the same relationship. Examples are “married bachelors”, “square circles”, “there is no objective truth”, etc... Such ideas are contradictions - and as such, are logically impossible. There is no combination of circumstances in reality which could allow them to ever be true. Therefore, you can know that if you come across a logically impossible idea (a contradiction), it will always be false. All logically impossible ideas are always false - because they are impossible.

2) Logically Necessary -- Always True

This is the crucial category which most philosophical thinkers (including Objectivists) seem to miss - at their own peril. Most people assume that logic can only tell you whether an idea is possible or impossible (Categories 3 & 1), and that you must use further means of analysis to establish whether a possible idea is true (see Category 3). But this isn’t always the case. There are some ideas which can be identified as true by the simple use of logic (apart from further empirical analysis) - ideas which are logically necessary. A logically necessary idea is an idea which cannot be denied without committing a contradiction. Let me give an example: I mentioned above that the idea of “square circles” existing is impossible, because it is illogical - it’s a contradiction. But if that idea is utterly impossible, then its opposite must be true: “Square circles do not exist”. The first category takes contradictory statements like “square circles might exist”, and determines them to be logically impossible - and therefore false. The second category can then take the conclusion of the first category in order to form a an idea which is necessarily true about reality: “Square circles do not exist”. Now do the same with the others: “Married bachelors do not exist”; “there is objective truth”. These are logically necessary ideas. They are always true because they must be true - they cannot not be true. Their non-truth is impossible. Such is the case with many of the most fundamental ideas to a worldview - such as “A is A” and “God exists”. I know you’re going to hate me, but I am not going to prove those examples to you, here - those are for future works.

3) Logically Possible -- Unknown, Thus far

The third category is the Logically Possible. This is every idea which does not fall into either of the first two categories -- every idea which is neither logically impossible nor logically necessary. These ideas are possible, but not necessarily true. The only way to confirm that any of these ideas are true or false is by the use of further analysis: empirical analysis. 1,000 years ago, as far as men in Europe knew, a great new continent across the Atlantic ocean was possible, but they did not yet know that it actually existed - and they wouldn't until they discovered it; until they saw evidence of it; until they empirically verified it. Because the truthfulness of the ideas in this category, in and of themselves, cannot be known, this category has a few sub-categories:

3-a) Logically Possible and Empirically verified -- Known, True

The first sub-category is the empirically verified. Ideas in this category are ideas which are logically possible and have been empirically verified - like the example of the North American continent above. Notice that these ideas are first logically possible and then empirically verified. There cannot be an empirically verified idea which is logically impossible because a logically impossible idea is not possible. For example, someone may think that he has empirically verified a square circle (maybe he has some psychedelic drawing put together by some advanced computer design program). No matter how much he thinks he has discovered a square circle, he is mistaken. It may be an object which is square in some way and circular in another - but it cannot be square and circular in the same respects. Why? Because contradictions do not (and cannot) exist.

3-b) Logically Possible and Not Empirically verified -- Unknown Thus far, Possibly True/ Possibly False

As indicated by the name, the ideas in this sub-category are likewise logically possible, but are not yet empirically verified and therefore cannot be considered to be true to our knowledge. I do not say that they should be considered false, because that would be assuming more information than is actually available. Neither do I say the rather silly (and contradictory) thing that Objectivists tend to say: that these ideas are “neither true, nor false”. Every idea is either true or false - whether we know it or not. There is no third category. When we don’t know, honesty behooves us to simply say “we don’t know” and then do our best to follow the proper means of finding out.

 There are likely other sub-categories which could be added here (dealing with things like probability), and there is surely much more that needs to be said regarding each of these categories, but that exceeds present purposes. The above should be a very sufficient starting point for analyzing the validity of ideas based on these general, rational epistemological foundations. Stay tuned for further detail on each!

Related Posts

Epistemology: Truth Criteria

The Anti-Truth Laws: Objectivist Epistemology

Logical Necessity: Part 1

Logical Necessity: Part 2

D'Souza vs. Bernstein: Is Either Good For Mankind?

 

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Note: In order to curb the Objectivist accusations, I want to make it very clear upfront that I have read Leonard Peikoff’s Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy (and it should go without saying that I have also read Ayn Rand’s Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology). Peikoff’s work is particularly relevant to this post - as I’m sure many Objectivist are eager to point out. I’ve got much to say about his treatment of the subject, but for now I will only say this: His aims are noble, but his method and conclusions are atrocious. Or, to put it another way: “his diagnosis is good, but his medicine’ll kill ya”.

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philosophy-who-needs-it-ayn-rand-paperback-cover-art

...Because there is no such thing as Scripture apart from reality.

“Keep philosophy out of Scripture. Scripture is the authoritative Word of God - philosophy is just the opinions of man. Just tell me what the Bible says - apart from Greek speculative categories”.

If you're a Christian in today's world - or if you've had any significant conversation with Christians in today's world - you may recognize some of that sort of language. To the modern Christian, it's the epitome of piety. To the Objectivist,  it's  the beginnings of a mystical fairy tale -- and the Objectivist is right.

The modern Christian's anti-philosophical demands are horribly wrong-headed, and based upon a number of defunct philosophical assumptions. But, this is just a single blog post, so we can't get into all of that here. All of the details and inevitable objections regarding this issue could fill an entire book - and may well some day! 😉 But for now, I simply give you a brief breakdown of what Scripture and philosophy actually are, in order to better understand how they should properly relate to each other.

What is Philosophy?

Philosophy is the study of the most fundamental aspects of reality - aspects which contain everything else in reality. I know that it is fashionable today to speak of philosophy in a very subjective manner, as though one’s philosophical beliefs are no different than their dessert preferences, but that is not what philosophy properly means, and that certainly is not what I mean. Philosophy is properly comprised of three fundamental categories: Metaphysics, Epistemology, and Ethics. In layman’s terms, this means everything that exists - including the natures of those things which exist (Metaphysics), the nature of truth and how we can know it (Epistemology), and the nature morality (Ethics). In short, philosophy studies the most general aspects of all of reality. There is nothing in reality which falls outside of the realm of philosophy. To demand that something be “apart from philosophy” is to demand that it be apart from reality, reason, and morality - and if something is apart from those three, then it is against those three. Something “apart from philosophy” would be unreal, irrational, and immoral. Such is the end - whether intended or not - of the supposedly pious Christians above when they attempt to divorce Scripture from philosophy.

What is Scripture?

Scripture is communication from God with very specific details about reality, with a very specific overall message and purpose, given in the midst of very specific contexts, and with very specific theological aims. In the same way that Scripture deals with historical and scientific details, and yet it is not meant to be an exhaustive historical or scientific textbook - so also Scripture deals with many philosophical ideas and yet is not meant to be an exhaustive philosophical treatise. Scripture is not meant to be a substitute for all knowledge (whether historical, scientific, or philosophical), and therefore it is not necessary to set up an artificial dichotomy between Scripture and all other knowledge. Further, because Scripture deals with many historic, scientific, and philosophical concepts, it is absolutely detrimental to the study of Scripture for one not to properly study other general areas of knowledge in concert with Scripture, where relevant. And because, as explained above, philosophy is foundational to all major aspects of reality, the study of philosophy is always relevant to the study of Scripture -- if you believe that Scripture actually pertains to reality.

That is your choice, “pious” Christians: Scripture has nothing to do with reality or Scripture is to be studied in concert with philosophy (i.e. the study of general reality). One or the other.

Related Posts: 

The "Christian" Fairytale

Jesus Christ AND Ayn Rand?

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Balance

Ayn Rand railed, with eloquent precision, against many modern evils in the realms of morality and politics. She was able to pierce through the “moral grayness” of our culture in order to see the heart - the principle - behind any moral issue, and then dismantle it with fierce and articulate moral clarity. But she failed to do in the realm of epistemology what she so stringently demanded (and marvelously provided) in the realm of morality: to clearly state one’s principles. Just as in the realm of morality, when epistemological principles are left undefined, the result is a type  of grayness - an intellectual grayness, which is potentially far more destructive than it’s moral counterpart. Epistemology is, in a sense, the court of the intellect - and as such, it requires clearly defined and understood laws which must be adhered to consistently in order to guide one’s worldview into conformity with reality. When left undefined, epistemological principles decay into arbitrary, contradictory and subjective reactions such that the result is an intellectual climate which resembles the political-economic climate under the Anti-Trust Laws which were so adequately denounced by Ms. Rand in the following quote:

The Antitrust laws—an unenforceable, uncompliable, unjudicable mess of contradictions—have for decades kept American businessmen under a silent, growing reign of terror. Yet these laws were created and, to this day, are upheld by the “conservatives,” as a grim monument to their lack of political philosophy, of economic knowledge and of any concern with principles. Under the Antitrust laws, a man becomes a criminal from the moment he goes into business, no matter what he does. For instance, if he charges prices which some bureaucrats judge as too high, he can be prosecuted for monopoly or for a successful “intent to monopolize”; if he charges prices lower than those of his competitors, he can be prosecuted for “unfair competition” or “restraint of trade”; and if he charges the same prices as his competitors, he can be prosecuted for “collusion” or “conspiracy.” There is only one difference in the legal treatment accorded to a criminal or to a businessman: the criminal’s rights are protected much more securely and objectively than the businessman’s.

Similarly, The Anti-Truth laws - an inarticulable, unintelligible, uncompliable mess of contradictions - are the un-named epistemological “laws” by which Objectivists operate - not on their worldview, but on the worldview or positions presented by those with whom they disagree. Under these Anti-Truth laws, a position becomes irrational from the moment it is conceived, no matter what it’s foundations. For instance, if it uses logic to an extent which some objectivists judge too much, it is dismissed as rationalism; if it uses abstraction to an extent which some objectivists deem too high, it is smeared as a “floating abstraction”. There is only one difference between positions which are accepted by Objectivists and those which are rejected on these auspicious epistemological grounds: the conformity (or nonconformity) of the position to the Objectivist’s subjective whim.

For all of the Objectivist’s talk of cutting edge innovations in the realm of epistemology, they are remarkably incapable of explicitly articulating (and then consistently following) their epistemological laws - which is why it is more appropriate to place Miss Rand’s innovations regarding concept formation in the realm of cognitive science rather than in the realm of epistemology. As argued in a previous post, epistemology is primarily truth criteria - meaning that epistemology primarily requires clearly defined and consistently followed laws. Suspend the need to explicitly state your epistemological laws and you can play it deuces wild - which is exactly what many Objectivists do.

Test this though. Ask an Objectivist to clearly and explicitly state their epistemological laws. Then, before checking to see if the rest of their worldview adheres to the laws, first check to see that the laws adhere to themselves. You will find, particularly with the “laws” which they wish to impose on Christian arguments, that they do not.

Stay tuned for examples of such self-contradictory laws as well as my articulation of proper epistemological laws.

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Standard

Epistemology is simultaneously the most crucial aspect of Man’s thought, and the least understood. In contrast to Metaphysics and Ethics (the two other main branches of philosophy), Epistemology has received very little attention – and the little it has received has been deplorably less than sufficient. Needless to say, therefore, there is much work to be done in this field. Almost all errors in epistemological theory stem from one crucial mistake – a mistake in accurately identifying what Epistemology is.

Generally, the three branches of philosophy are presented in the following basic fashion:

Metaphysics is the study of reality. Epistemology is the study of how we know reality. And Ethics is the study of the proper implications of the first two upon the life of Man.

Now, focus in on the description of Epistemology and see if you notice a dangerous sort of ambiguity. When asking “How do you know?”, there are two very different questions you could be asking – and if you fail to distinguish between those two different questions (as almost all philosophers have), you will consequently fail to distinguish between the two different answers. You could be asking “How did you discover that?” or you could be asking “How does one know that it is true?” Granted, many times these two questions (and their respective answers) could be very closely related, but not always – and that is where the trouble comes in.

Let us break these questions down in order to see the importance of their differences. The first – ‘How did you discover that?’ – emphasizes the subject (‘you’, in particular), and the subject’s experience (discovery). The second – ‘How does one know that it is true?’ – emphasizes the object (‘it’ – whatever it may be) in relation to all subjects in general (‘how does one’ rather than ‘how did you’), and the grounds upon which it is considered to be true (‘that it is true’). So the first is focused on one person’s subjective (though not entirely irrelevant) experience of the object, while the second is focused on the object and the way in which any given subject can know that it is true. That is a pretty radical difference to gloss over. Can you see, now, the chaos that could (and does) result from failing to make this crucial distinction? Without consciously making this distinction, one could confuse one’s own subjective experience of a thing with the objective ground for the truthfulness of that thing. Such is the confusion in most philosophical systems – including Objectivism.

To flesh this out, let’s look at an example:

-A child learns the ABC’s from his parents. Then he learns to count from his parents. Then he learns a plethora of other things – also from his parents. If this child were to consistently confuse his own subjective experience for the objective grounds for believing something, he would conclude that the primary test for whether an idea is true or false is whether or not his parent’s have taught it to him. Obviously, he would be mistaken. Even if everything his parents had ever told him was true, the fact that they taught it to him is not the proper objective ground for believing that it is true.

And that – the objective ground for belief – is the proper aim of Epistemology. The other – a person’s subjective experience in developing that belief – is more appropriately the subject matter for the Cognitive Sciences.  It is not descriptions of subjective experiences and personal discoveries that Man needs in order to guide his worldview, but objective criteria (grounds for belief) with which he may accurately judge between the true and the false.

This, recognizing the crucial need for objective truth criteria, regardless of subjective experience, is the first - but not the only - step that needs to be taken in establishing rational epistemological principles with which Man can accurately and consistently discover the truth.

Look for future posts on Epistemology covering examples of proper truth criteria as well as further coverage on faulty epistemological assumptions in Objectivism and other philosophies. 

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“The alleged short-cut to knowledge, which is faith, is only a short-circuit, destroying the mind.”

-Ayn Rand, FTNI 128

If you know anything about Ayn Rand’s philosophy, you know that she considers faith to be a despicable evil.

If you know anything about Christianity, you know that faith is considered essential to virtue.

What you most likely do not know is that those two “faiths” are not the same. The faith denounced by Ayn Rand is not the faith advocated by true Christianity. I say true Christianity as opposed to modern Christianity because modern Christians do indeed advocate the same faith which Ayn Rand denounces – to their own peril.

The faith which Ayn Rand denounced – and which modern Christians despicably advocate – is that which is described in the quote above: a faith used as a ‘short-cut’ or replacement for knowledge. She’s right: it is ‘only a short-circuit which destroys the mind’ – and everything else in Man’s life, along with it. Faith was never meant to serve as a ground or source for knowledge, and no argument can be given for such a use. Reason is that which brings knowledge. Faith, properly, is only ever to be a product of reason – never a replacement of it.

"Biblical" Faith

But, isn’t faith “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb11:1)? Yes. Now, stop treating the Bible like a fragmented grab-bag of bromides and apply your mind in order to discover what the author means. There are some very helpful examples of this faith given all throughout the rest of the chapter (and the climax of these examples is in the beginning of the following chapter – but we’ll talk about that in a minute).The two examples to focus on in order to shed more light on this issue are Abraham and Moses.

“By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac… for he reasoned that God is able to raise from the dead”.(v.17-18)

What was Abraham’s faith based in? It was based in his reason – particular his accurate reasoning that God is capable of raising Isaac from the dead.

“By faith Moses… considered the reproaches of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured, as though seeing Him who is unseen”.(v.24-27)

No, the author of Hebrews did not have a brain-lapse between “seeing” and “unseen”. He’s speaking of two different types of sight. The first is the “sight” of the mind – of reason, which rises above the concrete, which abstracts and sees the long-range, the big picture, the full context. The second “sight” is concrete perception. In other words, what the author here describes of Moses is that great attribute of Man which Ayn Rand so exults in: breaking free from the concrete-bound, from the range of the moment. This was what gave rise to the faith of Moses. He reasoned about God in such a way that he saw the reward of following God as more real and precious than the concrete, range of the moment treasures of Egypt. He reasoned about God in such a way that he saw Him who is unseen – meaning that he understood, with absolute clarity – as though seeing a concrete image – the massive weight of the glory of God in such a way that inspired him to do the ‘impossible’.

The Fruit of Reason

That is what faith is: the full weight of conviction in the soul, flowing from absolute certainty about the long-rage vision of one’s mind, and bursting forth in courageous and heroic action to obtain that which one sees and knows to be true. And while Ayn Rand did not have a word for this, she certainly wrote about it often. One of her most succinct expressions of this (and one of my absolute favorites) is that of Francisco D'Anconia just after his near-nervous breakdown under the tremendous weight of the choice set before him by his deepest values. This line comes just after he has finalized the decision in his own soul:

“He did not look like a man bearing torture now, but like a man who sees that which makes the torture worth bearing” p.112, Atlas Shrugged

Now, I cannot think of (let alone write of) that line without the following line from Hebrews 12 in mind:

“Jesus, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising its shame”(v.2)

Not tortured, but seeing that which makes torture worth bearing. Not the cross, but joy just on the other side. What certainty! This – this kind of faith – does not come from fleeting emotions. It comes from the most disciplined use of one’s mind in seeing and holding onto that which one knows to be true – in spite of the monumental torture one will have to endure to keep that hold. It comes from the most devout conviction that what is true – what is right – will triumphantly surpass all alternatives.

The Fight of Faith

That is real faith and that is its proper function. Not a substitute for reason, but a vibrant, strong, and desperately essential fruit of it. You want to be "faithful"? You want to be a man or woman of "faith"? Then, among the heroes of faith in Hebrews, pay close attention to the heroes of Ayn Rand who, by their God-given minds, rise far above the fray of the concrete bound in order to see, cherish, and act upon the full truth.

And now I leave you with one more example of such faith (including its momentary lapse) – for your instruction, your inspiration, your contemplation, and your emulation.

“And then, for one instant, I did what I had never done before, what most men wreck their lives on doing – I saw that moment out of context… I saw, as I stood in the rain in a crowd of vagrants, what my years would have brought me if that world had existed, and I felt a desperate longing – he was the image of everything I should have been… and he had everything that should have been mine… But it was only a moment. Then I saw the scene in full context again and in all of its actual meaning…” –John Galt, Atlas Shrugged p.878

FTNI: For the New Intellectual

Atlas Shrugged quotes from 50th Anniversary Edition

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The media is abuzz about a “schism” in the Republican Party, a “crisis of values” among Conservatives. But, the media – and unfortunately those responding to it – are all too superficial to see that this is more than a political schism; much more. The political aspect is just a faint echo – a tremor, which serves as a precursor to the massive coming earthquake. It is not a political crisis, but a philosophical one. It is not a crisis of conflicting opinions among groups. It is a crisis of conflicting worldviews within individuals. It is a crisis in the deepest part of one’s soul; a crisis of cognitive dissonance run rampant in the minds of men, a war between ideals – and the opposing ideals are not what the headlines would lead you to believe:

Take a Stand Against Rand” says Christian author, Marvin Olasky in World Magazine.

Ayn Rand or Jesus Christ? Conservatives can’t have it both ways” says Mike Lux of the Huffington Post.

You Can’t Reconcile Ayn Rand and Jesus” says CNN Contributor and Professor of Religion at Boston University, Stephan Plethero  in a USA Today Forum.

Christians Must Choose: Ayn Rand or Jesus” reads a headline for the American Values Network.

There is a choice to be made, but it isn’t between Jesus Christ and Ayn Rand. It’s between reason and irrationality; between reality and fantasy; between the objective and the subjective; between truth and fairytales. And it is a choice that primarily needs to be made by Christians.

The political and religious commentators above are quick to blindly pit Christianity against the philosophy of Ayn Rand and then proceed to wholly denounce one in favor of the other as if the two are some random opposing sports teams behind which the masses are to gather according their personal and subjective preferences. They drop, or entirely ignore, the context and the nature of what is being discussed. These are not sports teams – they are worldviews; ideas about reality. And the context is not a popularity contest – it is reality. We are in reality and we are speaking of different views of that reality. Any given aspect of a view of reality will either be accurate or not: true or false. And this, the accuracy of a worldview (or aspects of it) is what matters in the context of reality.

The question to be asked first is not: Are the worldviews of Christianity and Objectivism (Ayn Rand’s philosophy) compatible? Rather it is: What is true? Or, more specific to the context of this discussion: Is there any truth in Christianity or in Objectivism? And here is where the Christian must make the crucial choice mentioned above: will he be an advocate of reason, rationality, and objective truth by objectively assessing the truthfulness of his conceptions of Christianity (and willingly rejecting that which is found to be untrue), or will he be an advocate of irrationality, fantasy, and subjective fairytales by insisting that Christianity is true without any objective reason for believing so – that it’s true merely because he wants it to be.

This – devotion to truth, regardless of the implications – is the foundational and indispensible first step that any man who wishes to be worthy of the title of “Man” must take. Apart from this first step, every thought and crafty sentence, every argument and concept of “proof”, every illusion of truth in one’s head is just that: an illusion – a fleeting and floating cloud of subjective, emotionally charged nothingness. And, therefore, apart from this step, every critique of other worldviews and every bit of “intellectual” commentary is massively pointless and absurd – akin to a child babbling about his dreams to a board of directors in a business meeting. Such is the majority of content of the articles above.

However, once one has taken that first step and decided to live for and love the truth no matter where it may lead, then – and only then – is he fit (assuming he is armed with a proper epistemology) to evaluate the truthfulness, not only of various conceptions of Christianity, but of all ideas, period. Then, he is fit to discover all of the truth – no matter where it came from and no matter where it leads. Then, he will be capable of rising above the stupid and trite ‘sports game’ demonstrated in the above articles and throughout the media, in order to see what is and is not true in the philosophy of Ayn Rand, and to properly integrate it with all other truth which he has discovered, particularly truth about Christianity. Then, rather than emulate the intellectual cowardice of the Seminary professor who told  Dr. John Piper that “[Ayn Rand’s writing] is incredibly dangerous”, he will be able to emulate Paul’s description of an intellectual hero – a  ‘spiritual man who appraises all things’ (1 Cor 2:15) because he will have an objective standard against which to appraise all things. Then, he will be equipped to say with Paul “we destroy speculations and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ “(2 Cor. 10:5) because he will no longer be running from speculations and lofty opinions or retreating to his own personal fantasy-land which he calls “truth”.

This is what is desperately needed on the part of Christians today (and on the part of every man in general). This is not the only step which needs to be taken, but it is the first. This is what I have done, and am eager to continually do. And this first step – together with the path to which it leads – is why I can very comfortably and confidently say that I love Jesus Christ and I love Ayn Rand – and, I love myself. This is the foundational reason that, in spite of massively popular contrary opinions, I can very seriously – and with full conviction – call myself a Christian egoist.