The Christian Humanist Podcast, Episode #70: Epistemology

General Introduction
– Dr. Gilmour!!!
– We kid because we envy
– Listener feedback
– The delay in show notes
– What’s on the blog?

What Is Epistemology?
– It’s all indirectly Greek to me
– Mise en abyme
– Connection to metaphysics
– Epistemology junkies
– Invoking epistemology to affirm or deny metaphysics

Ancient Epistemology
– Forms and objects in Plato
– Another remove
– Innate knowledge
– Aristotelian observation
Telos and the individual object
– Thomist epistemology and Thomist metaphysics
– The necessity of divine illumination

Descartes’ Epistemological Turn
– Hidey hidey hidey ho
– Doubt everything
Je pense donc je suis!
– Augustinian influence
– Descartes’ unsatisfactory solution
– The Cartesian Reese’s cup
– The difficulty of refuting rationalists

The Rise of Empiricism
– Building ideas
– Nathan’s favorite skeptical atheist
– The elimination of causality
– Today’s inconsistent empiricists
– The cult of the scientist

Kant! Kant! Kant!
– The best(?) of both worlds
– Kant is hard
– Noumena and phenomena
A priori categories
– On hating Kant more than you love Jesus
– Kant’s relationship to Hume

Post-Kantian Epistemology
– Analytic and continental
– Logical positivism and its heirs
– Hegel’s ghosts and organs
– Thomas Kuhn and the historical scientific question
– The epistemological humility of the Emergent Church
– Pragmatism

What Difference Does It Make?
– The message we must spread
– Breaking apart from the age
– Correcting the mistakes of others
– Avoiding the whig view of history

Aristotle. Metaphysics. Trans. Hugh Lawson-Tancred. New York: Penguin, 1999.

Augustine. Confessions. Trans. Henry Chadwick. New York: Oxford UP, 2009.

Ayer, A.J. Language, Truth, and Logic. New York: Dover, 1952.

Berkeley, George. Principles of Human Knowledge and Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous. New York: Penguin, 1988.

Descartes, Rene. Discourse on Method and Meditations. Trans. Elizabeth S. Haldane and G.R.T. Ross. New York: Dover, 2003.

Hegel, G.W.F. Phenomenology of History. Trans. A.V. Miller. New York: Oxford UP, 2009.

Hume, David. An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding: And Other Writings. New York: Cambridge UP, 2007.

Jones, Tony. The Church Is Flat: The Relational Ecclesiology of the Emerging Church Movement. Minneapolis: JoPa, 2011.

Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Pure Reason. Ed. Paul Guyver and Allen W. Wood. New York: Cambridge UP, 1999.

—. Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics. Trans. James W. Ellington. New York: Hackett, 2002.

Kuhn, Thomas. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1996.

Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm Freiherr von. Discourse on Metaphysics and Other Essays. Trans. Daniel Garber and Roger Ariew. New York: Hackett, 1991.

Lewis. C.S. “On the Reading of Old Books.” God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994.

Locke, John. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. New York: Oxford UP, 1979.

Peirce, C.S. The Essential Peirce, Volume 1: Selected Philosophical Writings, 1867-1893. Ed. Christian J.W. Kloesel. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1992.

Plato. Protagoras and Meno. Trans. Adam Beresford. New York: Penguin, 2006.

—. Republic. Trans. Allan Bloom. New York: Basic, 1991.

Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologica. Allen, TX: Christian Classics, 1981.

Carlos Rosado
Carlos Rosado

Great show guys. I did however feel that although you where fairly good in your accounting of Berkeley, you kind off left out the last and most important step... namely that the universe does not need to be constantly created and re-created since its perception by god keeps reality in check. Otherwise, awesome stuff. [editor's note: Since this comment seemed to fit this post better than it fit my latest lectionary post, I moved it. --NPG]

Ryan Gilmour
Ryan Gilmour

Hey guys. Nice work with this one. I'm wondering on the spectrum of Metaphysics and Epistemology you would rank American Philosopher James Hetfield with his statement, "I hunt, therefore I am" in the song "Of Wolf and Man." There was a movie where the entire world was aliens trying to harness the connection between a mother and a child that started as a "missing child" story. I wished I wasn't watching it the whole time. "Forgotten?" I think it was Forgotten. That's all I have to add. For the record, I was hanging out with two other writers and, before I hopped on the bus, I downloaded the episode was and I had to google what epistemology was. ...I have a terminal degree... film...

John in Hong Kong
John in Hong Kong

You seem to have identified Berkeley as a rationalist, but philosophers always include him in the British Empiricist tradition with Locke and Hume. I guess with his God as guarantor he seems like a rationalist, but God is the guarantor of perception (esse est percipi) so experience is primary(?). Something like that.

Dan Dawson
Dan Dawson

A couple thoughts I had on this episode: 1) The description of the fairies creating and destroying the world as we walk through it reminded me a bit of "The Langoliers", probably my favorite short story by Stephen King, and a unique take on time travel. 2) Regarding the idea of modern science being both empiricist and rationalist, I agree with the broad strokes of your description. Often, it's true, theories are posited, and only later are confirmed or refuted through experiment. However, I think most scientists would agree that if a theory doesn't conform with observations, that it should be abandoned or at least modified. Of course, this doesn't stop many scientists from holding on to theories long past their sell-by date, and in this regard I do agree with Kuhn. Scientists are only human, of course, and nobody likes to see something they've worked on for their whole life be trashed, but I maintain that a good scientist will accept such a situation with grace. I disagree with Kuhn a bit when he says that it takes the old generation of scientists to die off before a new scientific paradigm is accepted. Maybe it does in many cases, but certainly not all. Einstein's theory of relativity was, as I recall, accepted rather quickly (relatively speaking ;) ) by physicists once the observations started coming in that confirmed several of its key predictions. On the flip side, however, it's also possible for an empirical observation to be made for which there is no current viable theory. A contemporary example of this is the apparent faster-than-light neutrino discovery. No real theory predicts such a phenomenon, and assuming that it is real (which it probably isn't), will require radical rethinking of current theories. Situations like this are relatively rare, however, and there's an excellent chance that the measurement in this particular case is erroneous (some new information that just came in today suggests that it might be an instrument error after all), but the jury is still out. Finally, there are some scientists who argue that some theories out there today that are usually considered scientific (in the modern sense) are actually not valid scientific theories at all, primarily because they make no empirically testable predictions. The most obvious contemporary example of this is String Theory, which is an elegant mathematical framework that *could* explain all of quantum mechanics, particle physics, and so on, but the energy levels required to actually test any of its predictions are so far beyond anything we have at our disposal that it essentially can't be tested any time in the foreseeable future. Should String Theory (or M-Theory as it is currently being called) be considered a valid scientific theory, even though it seems like it can't be tested? I don't know. I will say that I'm inclined to lean toward theories being considered scientific (again, in the modern sense) if they stand a reasonable chance of being tested by empirical observations, and I think that many scientists would agree with me (except, of course, the String Theorists!). Thus, I think that modern science leans toward empiricism in the sense that at the end of the day, experiment and observation trump theoretical predictions, but in the interim, there is always an ongoing interplay between the two that keeps things interesting!