iSoul In the beginning is reality

Tag Archives: Philosophy

philosophy historically and as distinct from other disciplines

Textual realism and anti-realism

Anti-realists always begin with reality – and reject it. Because, they argue, it is obscure, misleading, and subject to different interpretations. So anti-realists begin again, this time with an idea of theirs. Even materialists begin with an idea, the idea of materiality. Thus anti-realists substitute their ideas for reality.

In contrast, realists begin with reality and accept it. Because, we argue, it is reality whether we like it or not; it is sufficiently perspicuous; careful observation and reflection can overcome misleading appearances; and interpretations should be based on reality.

All of this applies to writings as well. Anti-realists turn away from the inherent meaning of the text in favor of their interpretations of the text. Realists accept the inherent meaning of the text, yet are also free to discuss its significance and application.

These considerations apply in particular to texts that are foundational for a people, such as scriptures and laws. Consider the Bible, as in these examples:

Dennis Bratcher’s Genesis Bible Study: “the text is primarily theology, telling us about God, humanity, and their relationship”.

“The aim of Theological Interpretation is to read the Bible as Scripture, that is, as somehow God’s transformative address to the Church here in the present. We may contrast this with the past two centuries of biblical scholarship whose interests have been primarily historical: that is, they were aimed at reconstructing the life, religion, and history of ancient Israel and early Christianity.”

If the Bible is primarily theological, then it is theologians who determine its meaning. What about the other aspects of the Bible, for example, the historical chronicles? Should ideas about theology replace the inherent meaning of the text as simply history? The anti-realist says, Yes; the realist says, No.

Many would agree that the theology is the most important aspect of the Bible, but the theology is related to or built on the history, the geography, and other aspects. Interpretation of these aspects should focus on their significance rather than replace them. The chronicles in the Bible are real chronicles prior to any theological meaning they may also have.

Textualism is realism about legal texts.

Textualism is a method of statutory interpretation whereby the plain text of a statute is used to determine the meaning of the legislation. Instead of attempting to determine statutory purpose or legislative intent, textualists adhere to the objective meaning of the legal text.[1]

Textualism is related to originalism. Originalists seek one of two alternative sources of meaning:

  • The original intent theory, which holds that interpretation of a written constitution is (or should be) consistent with what was meant by those who drafted and ratified it. This is currently a minority view among originalists.
  • The original meaning theory, which is closely related to textualism, is the view that interpretation of a written constitution or law should be based on what reasonable persons living at the time of its adoption would have understood the ordinary meaning of the text to be. It is this view with which most originalists, such as Justice Scalia, are associated.

Textual realism takes the text seriously as a form of communication, rather than a canvas for spinning interpretations. Without realism about texts, they will lose their significance and be replaced by canonical interpretations – which then become the new texts, and so they never escape the reality of the text.

Modern metaphors

This continues the posts here and here based on George Lakoff and Mark Johnson’s book Philosophy in the Flesh (Basic Books, 1999).

Modern metaphors begin with René Descartes.

Knowing is seeing:
Visual Domain → Knowledge Domain
Object Seen → Idea
Seeing an Object Clearly → Knowing an Idea
Person Who Sees → Person Who Knows
Light → “Light” of Reason
Visual Focusing → Mental Attention
Visual Acuity → Mental Acuity
Physical Viewpoint → Mental Viewpoint
Visual Obstruction → Impediment to Knowing

The mind can know its own ideas with absolute certainty.
All thought is conscious.
The structure of the mind is directly accessible to itself.
No empirical research is necessary to establish certain knowledge of the mind.
The mind is disembodied. It consists of mental substance, while the body consists of physical substance.
The essence, and only essence, of human beings is the ability to reason.
Imagination is not essential to human nature.
Emotion is not essential to human nature.

Thinking is Mathematical Calculation
Mathematical Calculation → Thinking
Numbers → Ideas
Equations → Propositions
Adding → Putting Ideas Together
Sum → Conclusion

Faculty psychology:

  1. The world consists of an external realm of material objects and an internal, mental realm containing ideas, sensations, feelings, and emotions. The external realm is the objective world; the internal realm is the subjective world.
  2. The internal, mental realm contains a Society of Mind with at least seven members, the faculties: perception, imagination, feeling, will, understanding, memory, and reason.
  3. Each faculty is like a person with a particular personality.
  4. Perception is methodical and mostly reliable.
  5. Imagination is typically a reliable craftsman, who can be unpredictable at times.
  6. Feeling is undisciplined, volatile, and sometimes out of control.
  7. Understanding is always calm, sober, predictable, under control, reliable, and functions as a judge.
  8. Perception receives sense impressions from the outside and passes them to imagination, which combines them into images and passes them on to understanding, who judges how those images are to be assigned to concepts and thus produces propositions (judgments) and passes them on to reason.
  9. Reason has good judgment, is cool, controlled, wise, utterly reliable, and follows procedures explicitly.
  10. Memory is usually methodical and is expected to be reliable, though isn’t always, and functions as a warehouse keeper.
  11. Will is the only person in the society who can move the body to action. Will gets orders from reason and is subject to feeling. Reason and feeling struggle for control of the will.

Like time, events, and causation, the mind can only be comprehended metaphorically. [p.414]

Willard Van Orman Quine wanted to keep the “ontological furniture of the universe” to a minimum. “To be is to be the value of a variable.” The proper logic for philosophy is first-order logic. Logic should be extensional, rather than intentional.

Löwenheim-Skolem theorem: If a class of quantificational schemata is consistent, all its members come out true under some interpretation in the universe of positive integers.

Meaning holism: the arbitrary symbols of a formal language can only be meaningfully interpreted in an ultimately fixed way as a whole all at once, not one or a number at a time.

Consequence 1 – Ontological Relativity: Philosophical ontologies are relativized to the way that reference is fixed for an entire language.

Consequence 2 – There is no analytic-synthetic distinction. No sentences can be true just be virtue of the meanings of the terms in those sentences alone.

Consequence 3 – No part of a scientific theory can be confirmed or disconfirmed; only the theory as a whole can be confirmed or disconfirmed.

Consequence 4 – Translation is indeterminate.

Quinean formalist philosophy leads to an internal contradiction: It presupposes a correspondence theory of truth but, due to meaning holism, it leads to a coherence theory of truth.

Lakoff: The embodiment of meaning, as empirically required by second-generation cognitive science, locates meaning in the body and in the unconscious conceptual system.

Poststructuralist Philosophy makes four claims:

  1. The pairing between signifiers (signs) and signifieds (concepts) is completely arbitrary.
  2. Meaning is located in systems of binary oppositions among free-floating signifiers (différence).
  3. Meaning is historically contingent.
  4. Concepts are relative.

Cognitive science has shown all of these views about the nature of language to be empirically incorrect.

Lakoff: Most of language, however, is neither completely arbitrary nor completely predictable, but rather “motivated” to some degree. [p.464] Irony is possible (contrary to #2). Universals and meanings are widespread across cultures, but there is also significant relativism. [p.467]

Where Frege sought absolute, timeless universals of meaning, the poststructuralists … went to the opposite extreme, assuming that any account of meaning that was not timeless and universal had to be arbitrary and ever subject to change. [p.468]

Cognitive Semantics:

  • Concepts arise from, and are understood through, the body, the brain, and experience in the world. Concepts get their meaning through embodiment, especially via perceptual and motor capacities.
  • Concepts crucially make use of imaginative aspects of mind: frames, metaphor, metonymy, prototypes, radial categories, mental spaces, and conceptual blending. Abstract concepts arise via metaphorical projections from more directly embodied concepts. The metaphor system is not arbitrary, but is grounded in experience.

Syntax is the study of symbolization – the pairing of meaning with linguistic expressions. Each symbolization relation is bipolar: it links a conceptual pole with an expression pole (phonological forms).

Embodied truth: A person takes a sentence as true of a situation if what he or she understands the sentence as expressing accords with what he or she understand the situation to be. [p.510]

Classical knowledge

As with a previous post here, this post looks at George Lakoff and Mark Johnson’s Philosophy in the Flesh (1999). This time the focus is on what they call “folk theories” but I’m calling classical knowledge since these have become so ingrained in Western thought. Starting with chapter 16 they look principles that came out of ancient Greek philosophy. Though they don’t mention it, these were influenced by the other source of Western thought, Christianity.

The Intelligibility of the World: The world makes systematic sense, and we can gain knowledge of it.

General Kinds: Every particular thing is a kind of thing.

Every entity has an “essence” or “nature,” that is, a collection of properties that makes it the kind of thing it is and that is the causal source of its natural behavior.

Every kind of thing has an essence that makes it the kind of thing it is.
The way each thing naturally behaves is a consequence of its essence.

A substance is that which exists in itself and does not depend for its existence on any other thing.
Each substance has one and only one primary attribute that defines what its essence is.

Metaphysics: Kinds exist and are defined by essences.

The All-Inclusive Category: There is a category of all things that exist.

The Elements: Things in nature are made up of some combination of the basic elements: [which in ancient times were considered to be] Earth, Air, Fire, and Water.

What was considered the essence of being? There were several answers:

Thales: Water; Anaximander: Intermediate Material, Air; Heraclitus: Change; Pythagoras: Number

For Plato: Essences are Ideas (and Ideals)

For Aristotle: Ideas are Essences

Causes and functions

This post continues other posts (see here and here) on the relevance of Aristotle’s four causal factors.

Call the higher causes the final and formal causes, and the lower causes the efficient (mechanistic) and material causes. Aristotle argued that the upper causes are more important. Early scientists argued that we couldn’t know them regarding nature and so should only look for efficient and material causes.

The lower causes are synchronic, spatial causes expressed in theories, and are most appropriate for the natural sciences. The higher causes are diachronic, temporal causes expressed in narratives, and are most appropriate for the social sciences and history.

There are some parallels between the four causes and the psychologist Carl Jung’s four functions: sensing, intuition, feeling, and thinking, especially as modified by Myers and Briggs’ MBTI:

function groups: judgment perception
upper causes: final || feeling formal || intuition
lower causes: efficient || thinking material || sensing

Aristotle focused on the perceptual functions, sending and intuition (SN in MBTI), with formal and material causes in his philosophy combining matter and form, called hylomorphic (from Greek hylē, matter + morphē, form). The lack of judging functions may reflect Aristotle’s realism.

Modern science focuses on the efficient cause (the forces and mechanisms) and the material cause; it could be called hylodynamic after Greek hylē, matter + dynamis, power. Here the sensing-thinking (ST) personality dominates.

Intelligent design advocates are trying to return formal causes to science. They tend to focus on information theory and so the formal and efficient causes; such science could be called dynamorphic after the Greek dynamis, power + morphē, form. The intuitive thinking (NT) personality dominates.

Other possibilities include final causes/feeling. A telohylic (SF) science might be the detailed narratives of historians. A telomorphic (NF) science might be the wide-ranging narratives of a theologian. A telodynamic (TF) science lacks perceptive functions and would be suitable for anti-realists.


A previous post entitled Assertions contains the following “Motivating Example”:

According to the Gospels, there was an inscription above Christ on the cross which said (in English translation):

Matthew (27.37): “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews. ” (ABD)
Mark (15.27): “The King of the Jews.” (D)
Luke (23.38): “This is the King of the Jews.” (AD)
John (19.19): “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews. ” (BCD)

Note that the versions are composed of these phrases which appear in this order: (A) “This is”, (B) “Jesus”, (C) “of Nazareth, (D) “the King of the Jews.” Hence the capital letters in parentheses above.

What did the inscription say? If we insist that every true statement must tell “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,” then at most one of these versions is true. If we expect every true statement to be consistent with the others though perhaps incomplete, then we would conclude that their union is the complete (or more complete) truth: “This is Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (ABCD). If we expect every true statement to contain the truth but may be partially inconsistent with others, then we would conclude that their intersection is the whole truth: “The King of the Jews,” (D) the version Mark has.

This illustrates the different kinds of truth: (1) a minimal, consistent truth; (2) a maximal, complete truth; and (3) a personal, partial truth. One can affirm all of them by adopting a pluralist position on truth.

What is pluralism? Also known as alethic pluralism, it is the position that propositions can be true in different ways. “‘Pluralism about truth’ names the thesis that there is more than one way of being true.” (Pluralist Theories of Truth) Alethic pluralism is different from a pluralism that is only personal or social or political, that is, is the existence of a plurality of beliefs or group identities within a society.

Pluralism is not relativism, though the two are often confused. For relativism, “everything is relative.” For pluralism some truths are absolute, that is, true in the eyes of everyone, and some truths are relative, that is, true in the eyes of some but not necessarily everyone. The existence of absolute truths enables people to have common ground. The existence of relative truths allows fruitful discussion and mutual respect.

Christians are pluralists by accepting the four gospels as canonical, rather than combining them into one unified account. Other parts of the Bible also have multiple accounts of the same events, for example: Gen 1 and 2; Exodus-Numbers and Deuteronomy; 1 & 2 Kings and 1 & 2 Chronicles. While a harmony of these texts is instructive, it is the plural accounts that are canonical, not any harmony.

True, good, and holy

Harry Lee Poe, in See No Evil: The Existence of Sin in an Age of Relativism (Kregel, 2004), regarding the third chapter of Genesis writes:

“When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food (the good), and pleasing to the eye (the beautiful), and was also desirable for gaining wisdom (the true), she took some and ate it.” The little phrase “the Good, the True, and the Beautiful” is an ancient, three-legged stool for the highest virtues from the perspective of the Greek philosopher Plato. His philosophical system revolved around his concern for the good, the true, and the beautiful.

We could construct a diagram of this triad like this:


Good              True

The good life should lead to what is beautiful – happiness. Truth should lead to beauty – harmony. Put it all together and get a happy, harmonious life in a beautiful world.

But we all know that life contains what is unhappy, inharmonious, and ugly. This begins with the unhappy circumstance of being born, a trauma that universally produces crying from a helpless baby. Then the shadow of death hangs over the rest of life; it all ends in death which seems to mock any purpose or accomplishment in life.

A philosophy of life that doesn’t take death into account falls short. There must be something beyond life that makes life worth living, something beyond even a happy and harmonious life. That something is holiness.

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one cried to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!” And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke. (Isaiah 6:1-4)

Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:13-16)

God is holy. We are called to be holy. The diagram should be like this instead:


Good               True

The good life should lead to holiness. Truth should be in the service of holiness. On the way there may be happiness and harmony but the goal is holiness. And holiness may be ultimately reached beyond this life, so that no matter what we experience the goal can be realized.

Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14)

Is All Truth God’s Truth?

“All truth is God’s truth” is a common paraphrase of Augustine of Hippo’s writings, such as On Christian Doctrine, (II.18):

“A person who is a good and true Christian should realize that truth belongs to his Lord, wherever it is found, gathering and acknowledging it even in pagan literature, but rejecting superstitious vanities and deploring and avoiding those who ‘though they knew God did not glorify him as God or give thanks but became enfeebled in their own thoughts and plunged their senseless minds into darkness. Claiming to be wise they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for the image of corruptible mortals and animals and reptiles’ [Rom. 1:21-3].”

But that is different from the meaning today that “Christians should recognize that whatever people say is true, must be true for God, too.”

In that vein, I append an excerpt from The End of “Christian Psychology” by Martin and Deidre Bobgan. EastGate Publishers, Santa Barbara, CA, 1997, pp. 45-47:

Is All Truth God’s Truth?

Individuals who want to make psychological theories and therapies available to Christians and who attempt to integrate such theories and techniques with Scripture justify these practices by saying, “All truth is God’s truth.” At first such a statement sounds plausible and even true. However, we need to look at what might be included on each side of the equation of “all truth = God’s truth.”

First of all, what is truth? While there are several definitions of truth, one generally assumes that truth represents that which is true, real, and actual. Truth is the perfect expression of that which is. If what is put into the category of “all truth” is limited to “the perfect expression of that which is,” then that would be “God’s truth.” However, the assortment of ideas, opinions, and even apparent facts under the designation of “all truth” reduces truth to meaning “imperfect human perception of that which is.”

The broad field of psychology at best involves human observation and interpretation of Creation and therefore is subject to human error and the blindness of the unregenerate heart as described in Ephesians 4:18, “Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart.”

Psychotherapy and its underlying psychologies have the further problem of subjective imagination also proceeding from unregenerate individuals. They represent a further departure from expressing that which truly is. Instead, they present some subjective observation, reasoned analysis, creative imagination, and much distortion. If these ideas are included under the declaration, “All truth is God’s truth,” one must conclude that those who use the expression have greatly misunderstood the nature of truth, let alone God’s truth.

In raising human observation, interpretation, and opinions to the same level and authority as God’s truth revealed through Jesus and in the written Word of God, those who promote psychology among Christians demonstrate their high view of human opinion and their low view of Scripture.

In his discussion of “all truth is God’s truth,” John Moffat says, “I think that, in many ways, this slogan is the verbal equivalent of a graven image; something that appears to represent truth but does not.”3 He explains:

None of the people that use this “all truth” expression actually say that they consider man’s thoughts equal to God’s revealed Word, it just happens to work that way in practice; just as at first the graven images were not meant to replace God, only to represent Him.4

Then to show where “all truth is God’s truth” thinking can lead a person, Moffat says:

I can imagine Nadab and Abihu talking before the early worship service in the wilderness. One says to the other, “All fire is God’s fire. God made all fire; therefore it is all of him.” Or while Moses was up on Mount Sinai, the children of Israel could have said to Aaron, “All worship of God is God’s worship.” These analogies have the same deceptive sound of being logical at first glance, but they are full of the same ambiguity and deceit as the expression “all truth is God’s truth.”5

In contrast to the broad category labeled “all truth” by those who want to include what humans perceive through their senses, achieve through their reason, conceive in their minds, receive from one another, and interweave with Scripture, the specific category of “God’s truth” includes only what is perfectly and flawlessly true. God Himself is true and He has made known His truth through His Son, who referred to Himself as the truth (John 14:6); through His written Word, which perfectly states what is true (John 17:17); and through the Holy Spirit, who is called the Spirit of Truth who will guide believers into all truth (John 16:13). With all that God has provided in His Son, His Word, and His Holy Spirit, one wonders why people are so enamored with the psychological opinions of men.

All humans have partial perception, fragmentary knowledge, and incomplete morality through common grace and general revelation. While these are gifts common to all mankind, they are contaminated by human depravity. Whatever truth people have perceived is contaminated by their unrighteousness. Apart from special revelation and special grace, all stand guilty before God, because they hold whatever truth they have gained through general revelation or common grace in a state of unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). Do such people appear to be reliable sources for Christians to seek counsel for godly living? Indeed, general revelation and common grace serve as very weak and even dangerous justifications for dipping into psychotherapy and its underlying psychologies, all of which were conceived and developed by unredeemed minds.

  1. John D. Moffat, “Is ‘All Truth God’s Truth’?” The Christian Conscience (May 1997), p. 27.
  2. Ibid., p. 28.
  3. Ibid.

Gentile Old Testaments

It is remarkable how the Apostles denied that Gentiles needed to follow the law of Moses, and put only a few restrictions on Gentile believers (Acts 15:28-29):

28 For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: 29 that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well.

In short, there was no need to follow the law of Moses but four practices would go a long way to smoothing relations between Jewish and Gentile believers. In the West we don’t think of the first three but the fourth is affirmed. So much for the rest of the Old Testament.

Certainly the Apostles weren’t jettisoning the Old Testament. But they weren’t affirming it much either. The Judaizers had it wrong: the Gentiles can become Christians right where they are. There’s no need to accept the Old Testament with its law of Moses, circumcision, rituals, and 613 commandments (according to Orthodox tradition).

When pagans converted to Christianity their pagan practices were reinterpreted as much as possible rather than banned outright. Yes, much behind Christmas is pagan — but it has been given new Christian meaning. The same is true with Easter. Even the pontifex maximus was transformed into the pope.

There is certainly a danger here that Christianity may be influenced by paganism rather than the other way around. But the alternative is a return to the law of Moses, and that has been ruled out. But then what is the tutor or guardian “to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith” if not the law of Moses? The best that paganism had to offer.

When the early Christians approached the pagans, they argued from the Bible but also from the greatest writings of the pagans. What were these? In Europe they were the classics, especially the writings of Plato and Aristotle. These writings, correctly understood, point to Christ in their own way.

Modern pagans today have their classic writings, and Christians need to show the from them why Christianity makes sense. As the Old Testament is not always clear on what it means, so Gentile classics do not always show a clear connection to the Gospel so it’s up to Christians to make it for them.

One-sentence summaries

One could use the common one-sentence summary of the Muslim faith to describe other monotheistic faiths and monistic ideologies; for example:

There is no God but Yahweh and Moses is his legislator.

There is no God but Yahweh and David is his psalmist.

There is no God but Deus and the Pope is his bishop.

There is no God but Gott and Luther is his reformer.

There is no God but Dieu and Calvin is his polemicist.

There is no God but Jesus and Wesley is his evangelist.

There is no God but Nature and Newton is his scientist.

There is no God but Evolution and Darwin is his scientist.

There is no God but Matter and Marx is his revolutionary.


Belief and knowledge

Knowledge is conditional. Knowledge starts with an antecedent, which is assumed, and proceeds from there. Its consequences are therefore certain, but relative to the antecedent. “If P, then Q” is the form of knowledge.

Belief is unconditional. Belief is a beginning; it does not begin from something else. “In the beginning God…” is the form of belief. Belief is a commitment; it is not hedged. Belief has no Plan B.

Theology, history, philosophy, science, etc. are all knowledge. Religion, dogma, ideology, way of life, etc. are all belief. Knowledge is accepted conditionally. Beliefs are affirmed unconditionally.

Law is knowledge. Gospel is belief. Biblical knowledge is conditioned on the Bible. Biblical belief is unconditional affirmation of the Bible.

Belief grows through knowledge. Biblical belief grows through knowledge of the Bible. Knowledge matures through belief. Biblical knowledge matures through believing the Bible.

The naive person has beliefs but lacks knowledge. Socrates believed he knew nothing, which is the ground for learning. One who believes they have knowledge but doesn’t cannot learn.

The skeptical person has knowledge but lacks belief. If the skeptic is willing to know their beliefs, they can grow in faith. Otherwise they cannot have faith.

Belief and knowledge should be balanced. If knowledge outstrips belief, skepticism and doubt ensues. If belief outstrips knowledge, naivety and presumption ensues.

To the believer, it is better for belief to outstrip knowledge than the other way around. To the unbeliever, it is better for knowledge to outstrip belief than the other way around.

Constitutional law is conditioned on a constitution. Belief in principles that are seen to underlie a constitution is not constitutional. A constitution is accepted conditionally; it is subject to change.

Secularity is knowledge that beliefs can divide the public, so it is best that the public square should not be committed to any one belief. The secular public square is full of knowledge but lacks belief.

However, if the knowledge that beliefs can divide the public becomes a principle of public belief, it will divide the public. Secularism is the belief that the secular is superior to the non-secular, that the non-secular should be kept private or not tolerated at all. Secularism will divide the public. Secularity will not.

Secularism excludes and denigrates other beliefs. Secularity separates beliefs but does not denigrate them. Beliefs strengthen secularity but threaten secularism.