Monday, December 25, 2006

Back to the (for me) Source

In the course of working through some of the issues involved in doctrinal development I have been reminded again and again of Blessed John Henry Newman's contribution to this topic in his An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent. A commenter on one of my earlier posts complained that it sometimes seems as though Roman Catholics take Newman's views about doctrinal development to be themselves instances of irreformable doctrine. While that strikes me as too strong, I nevertheless agree that discussions of doctrinal development sometimes take the foundations of the idea too much for granted.

While not wanting to privilege too much Newman's view of things in this matter, I must confess that Newman has been particularly formative for me, and in trying to deal with some of the harder questions that have been posed for me by some of my readers, I have found recourse to the Essay again and again. Like many converts from Anglicanism, Newman has served as a kind of model for me, but I must also admit that, unlike many Anglicans, I am not as steeped in his writings as I ought to be. I have read such standards as the Apologia, the Parochial and Plain Sermons, and, of course, Tract 90, but the work with which I am most intimately familiar is the Essay. My copy of it, which I picked up at a used bookstore nearly 25 years ago in Chapel Hill, is now literally disintegrating from constant use and consultation. I know to my sorrow that reading and re-reading a certain text over many years has nothing to do with guaranteeing anything like a competent grasp of the ideas contained in that text, but to the extent that familiarity facilitates discussion, I am prepared to discuss that text in this context.

Folks who have done me the courtesy of perusing my earlier entries on this topic will remember that I have been defending a kind of two-stage process in the development of doctrine, and that the stages as I have described them are loosely based on Aristotle's description of a realist epistemology and philosophy of science as found in his Prior and Posterior Analytics. To recapitulate briefly: I see doctrinal development beginning from "theological axioms", that is, theological propositions that are known to be necessarily (and, thus, irreformably) true on the grounds of the Church's own indefectibility as guaranteed by Our Lord. From these beginnings, theological speculation, over time, can give rise to further propositions which, if they are found to be logically consistent with the axioms, can safely be added to the body of doctrine that is to be believed de fide, since the deductive process guarantees the truth of these propositions. On my account, much of the "theological speculation" that gets absorbed in this process is clarificatory in character, though it may contain some speculation that goes beyond mere clarification. Ultimately, however, anything that is accepted as de fide will have some deductive proof following from other irreformable doctrines and the theorems that can be derived from them.

What appears to be most controversial about my picture is my insistence on this second stage of doctrinal development: the logical testing of theological speculation. I have asserted that doctrine may only develop in such a way as to allow this sort of testing, otherwise new and untestable theological claims may appear to have the full endorsement of the Magisterium itself. There are two assumptions behind this view. First, I assume that the Church does indeed have a Divine Charism such that she can teach authoritatively, not merely in the sense of deserving obedience but in the sense of having fullness of truth. Second, I assume, along with Saints Augustine and Vincent, and with Blessed John Henry Newman, that there is nothing patent in the Church's teaching at any time during her history that was not latent from the beginning: Jesus Christ just is the fullness of revelation, and all theological truth must be traceable back to him and what he taught and what was handed down by his Apostles. I sense that these two assumptions are not shared by all of my critics, so in this post I will offer a few comments about these assumptions and what is at stake in accepting or rejecting them. In a subsequent post I will explore some of Newman's assertions in chapters eight and nine of the Essay. Chapter eight, entitled "Inference", draws distinctions among three types of inference related to the acceptance of the truth of propositions; chapter nine, called "The Illative Sense", is Newman's attempt to provide a model of how it is that we grasp the truth of propositions. Newman's model is not particularly original or rigorous--he was neither a dogmatic theologian nor an analytic philosopher--but he provides something that every Christian needs: an epistemology that is neither empiricist nor anti-realist.

First, however, I must explain my two assumptions. Let me begin with the assumption that the Church can teach authoritatively. This is an assumption that will be familiar to both Roman Catholics and Orthodox. It will even be familiar to many Anglicans, who explicitly endorse something that they call "tradition" in addition to the scriptures as a source of our knowledge of God. My own experience within Anglicanism, however, was that there tend to be different perspectives on just what this "tradition" is and just what is the nature of its authority. Some Anglicans appear to think that "tradition" is nothing more than a set of interpretive stances taken over time that are, indeed, "traditional" in the sense of being old and widely accepted but by no means irreformable. Others appear to endorse a view very much like the Orthodox view, that the "tradition" properly understood represents the teachings of the Apostles, a teaching that is not open to substantive change over time. I take this latter view to be very close to the Roman Catholic understanding of the church's Magisterium: a body of doctrine that is regarded as settled truth and that cannot be rejected by any Christian. That there must be such a body of doctrine seems indisputably clear to me, since it is both logically and temporally prior to the Christian scriptures themselves (I have more to say on this topic in my post on the idea of sola scriptura; for a very strange and ultimately unsuccessful defense of sola scriptura and an attempt to show the Catholic idea [along with just about every other Catholic idea] to be circular, I invite you to peruse the bizarre world of this blog). What is ultimately at stake here? If you reject the idea that at least one of the Church's teachings is irreformable, then ultimately you cannot defend any Christian teaching at all. Jesus may or may not be the son of God or the Second Person of the Trinity; indeed, God may or may not be Trinitarian; God may or may not exist. Without the authority to teach these things authoritatively--including the authority to enshrine some of these teachings in the form of scriptures that are themselves to be regarded as definitive and authoritative--then nothing is authoritative and anything may be believed.

My second assumption will be more controversial, even among the sane. My second assumption is that whatever the Church teaches, at any time in history, will be logically compatible with everything else the Church has ever taught, or ever will teach, at any point in her history. The way I put it above was actually not quite so strong, but it is compatible with what I have just written: what is patent in the Church's teachings now has always been at least latent from the beginning. The importance of this assumption cannot be overstated. If we assume that there is such a teaching authority as laid down in the first assumption, then all of its authoritative must be logically consistent for a very simple reason: from a logical contradiction, anything and everything follows. If you're not familiar with this logical principle, let me explain what I mean.

Suppose the Church teaches two things that are logically incompatible. Let call the two propositions P and Not-P. Now, if the Church teaches these things, then we can combine them as a conjunction: (P & Not-P). I've used the sign "&" to symbolize the conjunction, and I put the two propositions in parentheses to illustrate the fact that the two of them are being asserted together: P AND Not-p. Some might dispute this move--they might say that the Church does not teach P AND Not-P, but rather, she once taught p but now teaches Not-p, and they will claim that this is not a contradiction. In a certain sense it is not, but we are restricting the discussion here to just those propositions that the Church teaches authoritatively in accordance with the first assumption. Either the Church has that authority, or she does not. If she does not have that authority, as we have seen, then nothing about Christianity ever need be believed by anybody. If she does have that authority, then those things that she teaches with it are true all of the time, not merely at the specific point in time at which she teaches them. A more difficult question is the question precisely which propositions put forward by the Church are in fact taught authoritatively, but I will save that question for another day. At present, we simply assumes that she can teach authoritatively, and now we will see that she cannot teach different things at different times.

So, we have the conjunction of incompatible teachings, (P & Not-p). If the conjunction of the two things is true, then each individual conjunct must also be true, so we may separate the conjunction into its component parts. In other words, the following deductive inference is valid:
1. (P & Not-P)
2. P
3. Not-P
Now, this deduction leaves us with our two incompatible teachings asserted individually, each being true. Now there is an inferential rule, called "addition", that says that we may take any true proposition and add another one to it so as to leave a disjunction. For example, if it is true to say that today is Christmas, then it is also true to say that "Today is either Christmas or it is Easter." Indeed, the proposition that we add may say anything at all, even something silly: "Either today is Christmas or the moon is made of green cheese." The idea here is that a disjunction is true whenever at least one of its disjuncts is, and since in the previous two examples we know that one of the disjuncts is true, we also know that the whole disjunction is true. So let us use the letter X to stand for something quite silly, like the proposition "The moon is made of green cheese." I will use the letter "v" to stand for the logical relation "either...or", and so turning back to our sample deduction, we have:
1. (P & Not-P)
2. P
3. Not-P
4. (P v X)
Proposition (4) is warranted by the logical rule of addition. It says "Either P or X", and we know that the disjunction itself is true because we know that P is true. It doesn't matter whether X is true or not. But here is where things get very interesting.

Suppose I say to you, "Today is either Monday or Tuesday, but it's not Tuesday." Surely you will agree that it follows immediately from this that "Today is Monday." That is, if what I said is really true, if it really is either Monday or Tuesday but in reality it really is not Tuesday, then it must be true that today is Monday. Now consider our sample argument. It asserts "Either P or X" in (4), and proposition (3) says "Not-P". So we may make the following valid deduction:
1. (P & Not-P)
2. P
3. Not-P
4. (P v X)
5. X
If you have been following carefully you will note that we have just proven that the moon is made of green cheese, and we did it with a valid deduction. What permitted this ridiculous inference? It was the presence, in the first premise, of a contradiction. Because the letter X here can stand for literally anything we like, we have just seen that any argument that contains contradictory premises can be used to prove literally anything, even utter nonsense.

Now think of the Church's teachings as being like premises in an argument. If any two teachings contradict each other, then we have a situation in which the Church is teaching (P & Not-P), hence, if we agree that the Church teaches this, then we can prove that the Church also teaches that the moon is made of green cheese, because this follows logically form what the Church explicitly does teach.

This kind of case only handles contradictions. What about cases where what the Church teaches is not a contradiction of any other teaching, but is rather a new teaching? Someone might assert that the Church is not teaching anything like (P & Not-p), but does teach (P & Q), where Q stands for some proposition that was never taught by the Church in the past. This is where the nature of the development of doctrine becomes very important, because now we must explore in what sense has Q never been taught? Clearly if Q is logically consistent with some proposition Not-P, then we have the logical equivalent of teaching a contradiction. If Q represents something that, let's say, nobody in the Church ever thought of before, then what is the harm in teaching it? Why can't we just say, "Well, now we've thought of it, and everybody has to believe it." There are two related problems here. The first is the question why didn't anybody ever think of it before. If there is no way to show its relation to earlier teachings then one must question whether it was ever intended to be taught by Our Lord, whom we regard as in himself the fullness of revelation. If, on the other hand, it can be shown to be related somehow to other, earlier teachings, teachings that do go back to Our Lord or his Apostles, then what is the nature of that relation? What I have been suggesting is that, however that new teaching, Q, is discovered, whether through induction, theological speculation, or just plain old brainstorming, it must be related to earlier teachings in such a way as to be proven to be such. The Church could, of course, just assert any old thing that she likes and demand assent, if her authority is literally unlimited. But my first assumption does not assert that the Church's authority to teach is literally unlimited, only that she has the authority to teach. Part of my suggestion in these posts is that her authority is limited by certain constraints, and I have been portraying those constraints as logical in character. I will argue, in further posts, that these logical constraints are limited to deductive relations.

In my next post, I will dip into Newman's Essay with these assumptions as my background conditions.

32 comments:

zippy said...

My only objection - and it is important to understand how narrow an objection it is - is to this claim:

Ultimately, however, anything that is accepted as de fide will have some deductive proof following from other irreformable doctrines and the theorems that can be derived from them.

I object to this claim precisely because it is in the same class of claims as David Hilbert's postulate (disproven by Godel) about mathematics: that every mathematical truth must admit of a deductive proof from primordial axioms. (In our logic we substitute "is de fide" for "is true" in the metalanguage, and the game is immediately over). (I am leaving out what would be a nontrivial discussion of the implications of ruling out abstract reasoning capable of performing Peano arithmetic here, but this is after all just a combox).

Specifically, I do not object to this claim:

My second assumption is that whatever the Church teaches, at any time in history, will be logically compatible with everything else the Church has ever taught, or ever will teach, at any point in her history.

There is a difference between a relatively weak assertion of logical compatiblity (inductive inferences are not ruled out by a requirement for logical compatibility) and the strong assertion of the existence of a deductive proof for every theorem (where inductive inferences, and indeed all inferences which are not a matter of mechanical application of the [some] rules of logic, are ruled out).

And interestingly, both of our "stakes in the game" here are the same: we are both attempting to understand DD in a way which avoids logical contradiction. If my understanding is correct, insisting on the existence of a deductive (solely deductive) proof for every theorem results in a logical contradiction.

Scott Carson said...

Well, I have to confess that I don't understand at all the nature or motivation of your objection, narrow or wide. At your blog you made it sound as though your principal objection was on the grounds that my view reminds you of logical positivism, and here you are comparing it Hilbert's conjecture. If you don't mind my saying so, this is a little like objecting to the doctrine of the Trinity on the grounds that Protestants subscribe to it. The question is not what the pedigree of the view is, but whether it has any major difficulties, and so far you haven't articulated any that strike me as all that worrisome. Probably I am just missing something.

Having said that, I'm afraid I am totally at a loss to understand how any other view about the development of doctrine could possibly handle the worry that you explicitly state to be your own, namely, the avoidance of logical contradiction as doctrine develops, nor do I see how insisting on a deductive proof is something that ipso facto results in precisely the thing to be avoided: Apart from deduction there is no such thing as a logical contradiction; and insisting on logical consistency within a deductive framework cannot result in a contradiction (if the inferential rules are properly applied).

Possibly I am just misunderstanding what you are getting at--I can be terribly dense right when it is least convenient to be so. Perhaps as we trace out the structure of our respective views things will become clearer to me. Later today I will be posting some further thoughts on Newman's views about religious assent and inferential patterns--hopefully I will make myself a little clearer in that post and it will turn out that our differences are even narrower than either of us surmised.

zippy said...

...and insisting on logical consistency within a deductive framework cannot result in a contradiction (if the inferential rules are properly applied).

And again, I don't object to (and indeed I insist on) consistency. What I object to is a claim of completeness: the claim that every possible true theorem has a purely deductive proof.

zippy said...

I answered with slightly more rigor.

Scott Carson said...

I don't really see that a mathematical argument will work in the present case, since the proof of incompleteness pertains to formal systems as such; a theological system, though formalizable, is not in itself a formal system. It seems to me that you're just making a category mistake.

Scott Carson said...

Maybe I should be a little clearer about what I mean. Gödel proved that no formal system can be complete, but in the case of a finite set of theological propositions some of which are axiomatic we are not talking about a formal system per se, but rather about a set of propositions having a certain semantic content.

It is obviously possible for some finite sets of propositions to have deductive proofs for every proposition in the set that is not an axiom. Consider this set of propositions:

1. p -> q (axiom)
2. p (axiom)
3. q (theorem)

If (1)-(3) is the extent of the set of propositions, then every non-axiomatic proposition has a deductive proof. I am not claiming that the Magisterium is like a complete formal system, only that it is a set of propositions, some of which are axiomatic and some of which are theorems, and every theorem (these represent the doctrinal developments we're talking about) will be derivable from the axioms and other theorems in the set. As long as the set is finite there is no reason to presuppose that it is impossible for every theorem to be provable. It is possible that it may not be complete in this limited sense, but it is not impossible for it to be complete in this limited sense, precisely because it is a finite set of propositions and some of those propositions are axiomatic.

zippy said...

I think this supervenes on a claim that we must limit the reasoning capacity of the Magisterium to rudimentary reasoning incapable of arithmetic, which has its own bizarre implications. Discussing that in more detail will have to wait though.

steve said...

Incoming message from the the "bizarre world" of T-blog:

http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2006/12/up-tiber-without-paddle.html

Richard Froggatt said...

Steve,

You start out by quoting Scott and then attacking his conclusions rather than his arguments.

Steve quotes Scott
“To recapitulate briefly: I see doctrinal development beginning from "theological axioms", that is, theological propositions that are known to be necessarily (and, thus, irreformably) true on the grounds of the Church's own indefectibility as guaranteed by Our Lord.”

Steve replies to Scott
"Then there’s the question of how Carson identifies the true church. Where did our Lord guarantee the indefectibility of the Roman Catholic Church?"

You can ask the question but it is disingenuous to ask it with the above quote. Deal first with the issue of Christ' promise to his Church.

Bernard Brandt said...

Without wishing to intrude upon this learned discussion, of which I am presently unable properly to apply myself, as I have neither at present a grasp of higher mathematics nor a recent nor an effective reading of Newman's An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent, I would like to point out that the full text of that Essay may be found here: http://www.newmanreader.org/works/grammar/index.html, and indeed, an impressive collection of Newman's works may be found here: http://www.newmanreader.org.

That said, I shall retire from the field of battle, hoping that my retreat will not draw attack upon me.

steve said...

Richard Froggatt said...

"You can ask the question but it is disingenuous to ask it with the above quote. Deal first with the issue of Christ' promise to his Church."

There's nothing for me to "deal with" until Carson makes a case for the identification of Christ's promise with the RCC.

I await his deductive proof.

Grano1 said...

Scott -- good luck with the Triabloggers! I think you'll find them an argumentative and rather uncharitable lot who absolutely refuse to consider anything outside their Calvinistic presuppositional box. Forewarned is forearmed.

Scott Carson said...

Rob

Don't worry--I read that blog for amusement only. If some kid came up to me and suggested that I had failed to prove that Aristotle's physics is mistaken, I wouldn't bother to answer him, either.

Grano1 said...

"Don't worry--I read that blog for amusement only."

Oh, a masochist, are we? ;-)

Tom said...

Scott:

Two questions:

1. What's your definition of "de fide"? (That is, what if anything do you mean it to add to "true"?)

2. What's wrong with Aristotle's physics? (Sure, it's got a few rough patches, but whose doesn't?)

Scott Carson said...

Tom

I think that there are some truths that it would not be morally wrong actively (and in an informed way) to reject. For example, I might reject the theory of universal gravitation in favor of Aristotle's thinking, let us say erroneously, that Aristotle's theory of earth-specific gravitation is true while the theory of universal gravitation is false. Assuming, for the moment, that there is a fact of the matter in this case, I don't think it would be morally wrong for me to hold the beliefs that I do. But I take it that this is not necessarily the case for de fide dogmata. These are teachings that are true and that it would be morally wrong to actively reject. I assume that the person rejecting the teaching understands it to a certain degree--maybe even as well as it can be understood, but rejects it anyway. Someone who does not know what the teaching is, or who does not understand it well enough to make an informed decision about whether to reject it or accept it, may not be morally culpable for rejecting it.

Scientific truths have a rather different status in the eyes of an anti-realist like me, but I certainly endorse the idea that there are facts of the matter relating to them, and that people can--and do--reject those scientific ideas that have the best evidence behind them. But I don't see that there's anything really wrong with rejecting such views, other than maybe seeming foolish to a certain group of people. But if you reject a de fide teaching you are both rejecting the truth about how the facts are and you are rejecting the idea that the Church has the authority to determine which truths are the most important ones to believe.

Tom said...

Scott:

Thanks. That's pretty much what I understand by "de fide," too, which is why I'm pretty sure Zippy is misreading you.

zippy said...

That is my understanding of de fide too, though: a truth it would be morally wrong to reject. And I understand Scott to be saying that any such truth must necessarily follow by deduction alone and without underdetermination from some set of Apostolic-time propositions (including presumably the Canon and other unspecified propositions). We may not actually have the purely deductive proof in hand, but it must exist in principle.

If that isn't what Scott means, then I have misread him.

I've said a lot of times now that I don't think Scott means "any truth whatsoever" by "de fide", so it isn't entirely clear who is misreading whom.

Scott Carson said...

Zippy

For what it's worth, I don't think the position I've staked out here commits me to the view that the deductive path from revelation to interpretation must necessarily follow without underdetermination. Presumably this is an area in which you, I, and Mike Liccione may find that we're in greater agreement than we thought. Evidence is always open to interpretation, and the evidence itself can never exhaustively specify the only correct interpretation. For that, you need to have a principle of authority, i.e., the Church's teaching charism.

zippy said...

Well, OK, at the risk of asking a question you've already answered somewhere then, what deductive path - from what to what more precisely - is it which must necessarily follow without underdetermination? If there really isn't one of those in here, then it spurred an interesting discussion (interesting to me at any rate) but my end result would be, well, then nevermind.

Apolonio said...

Dr. Carson,

You said, "To recapitulate briefly: I see doctrinal development beginning from "theological axioms", that is, theological propositions that are known to be necessarily (and, thus, irreformably) true on the grounds of the Church's own indefectibility as guaranteed by Our Lord."

My criticism would be the use of necessity. For example, one can develop concupiscence from original sin, but the doctrine of original sin is not a necessary truth; there is a possible world where Adam did not sin. Also, you have said that the Assumption is not an example of development. Is it a theological axiom though? If it is, then it is not necessarily true either since there is a possible world where the Assumption had not happened. So I would just take out the word "necessarily" there.

Scott Carson said...

Zippy

It's the deductive path itself that will be free from underdetermination; but the first principles of that path--that is, the truth of the axiomatic starting points--will be underdetermined. Their truth can only be known by accepting the authority of the Church to teach them as truths.

In the case of inductive inference there is no guarantee that the inferential path that takes you from the premises to the conclusion is itself free from worries of underdetermination: what counts as significance, what counts as relevance, what counts as strength or weakness, etc. These are not, in and of themselves, issues upon which the Church has any authority to pronounce in an infallible way (with the possible exception of relevance, though I'm talking about inferential relevance, not theological relevance, so I don't think the Church can really pronounce on that). In the case of deduction there is never any issue as to what really follows from what (unless you want to make a lot of noise about intuitionist logic, but I think that can be handled).

zippy said...

It's the deductive path itself that will be free from underdetermination; but the first principles of that path--that is, the truth of the axiomatic starting points--will be underdetermined. Their truth can only be known by accepting the authority of the Church to teach them as truths.

OK, well, that is exactly what I understood you to mean, and it is that precisely with which I disagree, though my disagreement may depend upon a further clarification. (I reiterate my thanks to you for inspiring the discussion though, disagreement notwithstanding!)

An abstract test case may illuminate. We have premeses P[i], logic L (left unspecified but lets assume it is specifiable), and doctrines D[i] which follow solely by deduction and without underdetermination from the P[i] by applying logical rules L. We must believe P[i] because of the Church's legitimate authority to pronounce them, and D[i] because they follow directly and solely by deduction and without underdetermination from P[i].

(I am not sure I agree with the last step in any case because it may be just pushing the epistemic problem upstream; but lets set that aside).

There are at least two possible views of how this works. Under (lets define) Hermeneutic H1, the Church has the authority to at any time require the assent of the faithful to a new P[i] (that is, to a premise about faith and morals which does not follow solely by deduction and without underdetermination from preexisting explicit P[1..i-1]). Under H2 the Church does not have this authority: all that the Church is doing when she develops doctrine is explicitly asserting that a particular D[i] must be believed.

I understood you to be asserting hermeneutic H2 and not H1. H1 is an assertion restricting the legitimate application of reason by an individual member of the Church to particular positive methods; H2 is an assertion restricting the legitimate application of reason by the Church Herself to particular positive methods. (H1 I would have to think about some more and would probably still object to, but it is about H2 that I said that if true, it would follow that the Magisterium could be replaced by a computer.)

It seems unlikely that either H1 or H2 are the case, if you read the Papal disclaimers in many encyclicals e.g. Veritatis Splendour specifically refusing to assert the authority of any particular philosophy or particular restrictive mode of reasoning. And interestingly, it isn't possible for this particular deductive-alone mode of reasoning to be a requirement, because if it were a requirement then it must be undeterminedly asserted to be so solely as a matter of deduction from some existing doctrines, even under H2. That may come close to an intuitive understanding of the form of some statement G that Tom has been wanting me to formally construct to show how Godel brings sola deduction crashing down.

Scott Carson said...

Zippy

I'm afraid we've just wandered farther apart--quite a bit farther, if I'm reading you correctly. I can't be certain just what sort of position you yourself are recommending, but I'm quite certain that your complaints about mine are missing the point (I think because of a misunderstanding about the nature of deduction, but I can't be sure about that, either). Here's what I can say about the points you raise here. Probably what I have to say won't satisfy you, but that's a risk we all take.

Under (lets define) Hermeneutic H1, the Church has the authority to at any time require the assent of the faithful to a new P[i] (that is, to a premise about faith and morals which does not follow solely by deduction and without underdetermination from preexisting explicit P[1..i-1]).

I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do with an assumption like this, since it directly begs the question against me. I suppose that if we're allowed to argue this way I can just say: "but that can't happen".

In any event, the Church manifestly does not have the authority to teach literally any P(i) whatsoever. She only has the authority to teach those things that are revealed to her or that are logically consistent with what has been revealed to her. As far as I know, no orthodox believer would disagree with this, at least as far as it goes. Whether it amounts to the same thing as what you're calling "H2", I don't know. I'm not sure it matters all that much, since it seems to me that all parties other than those who reject the Church's teaching authority also agree that the so-called "development of doctrine" applies not to the discovery of new facts or revelations but to the explication and refinement of what has already been revealed. To teach something that was not already latent in what came before would be to teach something new, but the consensus is that revelation is closed.

This is an important point, since any teaching that is literally new in a very strong sense could be made out to be a contradiction of just about any previous teaching--especially if we're to allow the sort of inferential patterns that have been suggested in place of deduction. If complaints were raised, the Church could just decree in an arbitrary way "Oh, that's not a real contradiction at all", and this is precisely what her enemies accuse her of doing. If we were to try to limit things a little, if we were to suggest, for example, that the Church can teach anything she likes using any inferential patter she wants just so long as it is agreed by all that what she teaches does not contradict anything she has already taught, we give an ad hoc answer to the important question of how it is that doctrine develops. Indeed, this would not be development of doctrine at all, but improvisation of doctrine.

Furthermore, your own position is entirely unmotivated as far as I can see, other than by your own subjective interests. You've given me no reason to prefer your hermeneutic to my own, other than your own personal aversion to what you have, rather arbitrarily, referred to as "reducing the Magisterium to a computer", a blatantly rhetorical move that I take to be grounded in an equally personal dislike for something that you're calling "positivism" and linking (rather bizarrely, in my view) to Gödel's incompleteness proof. I can understand personal distastes for various philosophical systems (I've got plenty of those myself), but personal distastes are not arguments nor do they constitute compelling reasons for other folks. As I believe I have already remarked, the point at issue has nothing to do with problems of completeness or with computationalism per se, and this is why talk of reducing the Magisterium to a computer is so out of place and not only altogether misses the point but, insofar as it is a rhetorical move, distracts other interested readers from the genuine point at issue and possibly unfairly biases them against me.

I can't make any sense of your claim that what I'm suggesting can't be asserted without privileging deduction somehow; I would recommend having a close look at Aristotle's Prior Analytics to see why I favor a deductive model for doctrinal development--it has to do with the way in which the contents of assertions are related to each other and to metaphysical reality, and is an issue that is fully independent of the Church's teaching authority, as you yourself notice at the end of your comment. In my view, this is merely one more virtue that my view has.

Scott Carson said...

Apolonio

I'm intrigued by your claim that the teachings of the Church are not necessarily true on the grounds that there are possible worlds in which they don't hold.

That is of course, one way to view necessity; but of course it is not the only way. By "necessary" I meant "can't be otherwise in the actual world". To say that we can imagine a "possible world" in which things are otherwise does not establish that they are not necessary in my sense, only that we can imagine things being otherwise. Indeed, the fact that we can imagine something being otherwise does not establish that it could be otherwise in any other possible word.

Sometimes what people mean by "possible" is that no logical contradiction arises from assuming the truth of a given proposition. That kind of logical possibility is not what is at issue here, in my view; I'm talking about a kind of metaphysical necessity and possibility. This is fixed by God's own nature, not our capacity to imagine things. It is logically possible that God is a dyad rather than a Trinity, but it is not metaphysically possible, because God is a Trinity and not a dyad, and he cannot possibly be anything other than a Trinity. There is no possible world in which the God that we talk about is a dyad, but of course we can imagine such a world; in this case, being able to imagine it, and the fact that no logical contradiction arises from our imagining it, fails to show that it is really a possible world.

I admit that this is an idiosyncratic view of necessity; but if I've discovered anything at all about philosophy over the years, it is that every philosophical view is idiosyncratic, no matter who holds it.

zippy said...

In any event, the Church manifestly does not have the authority to teach literally any P(i) whatsoever.

Agreed, sort of. The Church won't do so in fact, of course, because the Church will only represent as teachings of Christ things which are truly the teachings of Christ, because She is the true representative of Christ on earth.

To teach something that was not already latent in what came before would be to teach something new, but the consensus is that revelation is closed.

I agree, but it seems to me that you are begging the question in equating "latent in what came before" to "logically deducable without underdetermination from a fixed set of preexisting premeses". The former is an ontological claim, and the latter is a methodological claim.

Furthermore, your own position is entirely unmotivated as far as I can see, other than by your own subjective interests.

Let me make my motivation explicit: my concern is with what is true, not with how reassuring or unsettling the conclusions may be to any particular group of people.

As I believe I have already remarked, the point at issue has nothing to do with problems of completeness or with computationalism per se ...

If it has anything whatsoever to do with applying deductive logic alone to reach particular conclusions without underdetermination, then it necessarily has something to do with completeness. You might as well say that when someone brings up consistency it has nothing to do with the topic. Now it is of course possible that I am wrong in my understanding and application of those things here; but to claim that they have nothing to do with the matter under discussion is like claiming that wheels have nothing to do with bicycles.

As for the notion that I am employing rhetorical trickery or sidetracking rather than addressing what I genuinly see to be a central point, well, I am sorry you see it that way. For myself I will say explicitly that I don't doubt your own motivations or sincerity in the slightest.

Scott Carson said...

Let me make my motivation explicit: my concern is with what is true, not with how reassuring or unsettling the conclusions may be to any particular group of people.

This is a very noble sentiment, but it does nothing, so far as I can see, to motivate either your objections to what I propose, or your own proposal as an alternative. Perhaps if you could explain to me how it is that a concern for the truth--a concern that also motivates me--in and of itself renders my proposal untenable and, at the same time, suggests your own proposal as a more viable alternative, I would have a better idea of what you're getting at.

If it has anything whatsoever to do with applying deductive logic alone to reach particular conclusions without underdetermination, then it necessarily has something to do with completeness.

You are, in a word, mistaken. I despair of making it any clearer to you that this is the case, however, so I will let this one go.

As for your use of rhetoric, I don't believe I ever suggested that you were not sincere or that your motivations were suspect. A person can make use of rhetorical machinery in a very sincere attempt to persuade folks to adopt his position, which he himself believes to be true. That does not mean that it is not a rhetorical device, however, or that it accomplishes anything other than mere persuasion. Actual arguments are always preferable, even when they don't persuade everybody. To say that I am reducing the Magisterium to a computer is pretty clearly intended as a denigration of the position I am defending by comparing it to something that you seem to find distasteful. As I've already remarked, I find plenty of philosophical positions distasteful myself, but I try to avoid making arguments that consist in statements along the lines of "This cannot be true because it is too much like X", where X stands for something that I find distasteful. That is not an argument at all, but some sort of hybrid between an ad hominem and a red herring. If you're suggesting that there is something very obviously wrong with the Magisterium being like a computer, then it would be far better simply to say that. Is the idea supposed to be that the Magisterium is somehow very un-computer-like, and that making it more like a computer is to denigrate it or make it morally foul? If so, explain how and why it is sullied by what I am doing. This part of your position remains unmotivated. Far from making any explicit claim about your sincerity or motivation, I am simply expressing bewilderment at why you say some of the things you say.

zippy said...

This is a very noble sentiment, but it does nothing, so far as I can see, to motivate either your objections to what I propose, or your own proposal as an alternative.

I only discussed my motivations at all because you brought them up. Presumably you did so because you think understanding my motivations is important to the discussion.

To say that I am reducing the Magisterium to a computer is pretty clearly intended as a denigration of the position I am defending by comparing it to something that you seem to find distasteful.

I see how you might take it that way, but it isn't intended that way. Lots of really bright people seem to think that strong AI is genuinely possible, for example, and that I think they are wrong isn't a denigration except (I suppose) inasmuch as it is denigrating to be thought wrong.

"This cannot be true because it is too much like X".

That is an innacurate characterization of what I contend. My contention isn't that your argument is like positivism (though when I first commented at Mike's and hadn't read your back posts on the topic that was my visceral reaction). My contention is that your argument is positivism, applied to the topic of the development of doctrine. I could be wrong about that, but so far you haven't given me any unequivocal reason to believe that I actually am wrong about that.

Also, by saying that I find positivism "distasteful" you seem to be saying that in objecting to it I am making an aesthetic judgement as opposed to judging it to be false. Leaving aside the objective truth-status of aesthetic judgements, that simply isn't the case. I think positivism is false, irrational, an innacurate understanding of how things actually work, etc; however you want to put it. To the extent it is distasteful that is merely a consequence of it being untrue.

You are, in a word, mistaken. I despair of making it any clearer to you that this is the case, however, so I will let this one go.

I'll say this again: whatever your methodological claim is - and I fully realize that I may not have it fully grasped - about deduction, underdetermination, etc, as they relate to the development of doctrine, completeness (or its lack) is an inherent property of deductive systems. Therefore it absolutely pertains to your methodological claims, inasmuch as completeness either is or is not intrinsic to your methodological claims. You haven't actually argued that your methodological claims do not entail claims of logical completeness, you've just asserted gratuitously a number of times that I don't know deduction from whatever. (Others have argued on your behalf at my blog, which led to some interesting discussion, but you haven't given me any reason to believe that you've so much as understood the criticism). I am more than willing, as usual and as I've mentioned to you before, to let my understanding of the matter speak for itself.

If you don't want me to comment on this any more here, because you think this is a sidetrack that isn't important to what you are trying to say, that is perfectly fine. I don't want to distract from what you view as your own fundamental message; though if it isn't something about the relation between logical deduction and development of doctrine I am at a loss as to what it is, and at my own blog I will of course continue to discuss things with my vast readership that interest me specifically.

Scott Carson said...

Zippy

You've misunderstood my use of the word "motivation", but that's entirely my fault. I was using it in a quasi-technical sense. In philosophy when somebody asks you what motivates an argument, what they are really asking you is "What sorts of reasons would prompt you to make this argument in the first place?" It's a way of trying to understand where an argument is coming from, why it is structured the way it is, and what sort of response would really be appropriate.

On the positivism front, regardless of whether you think my position is like it or identical to it, your own characterization, at your own blog, was that you didn't like my position because it is like/the same as positivism. You never said what's wrong with positivism or why being like it would be bad other than to say that it is false, but you didn't actually show that positivism is false, you merely claimed that it was. So even if my position is the same as positivism, it will hardly do to say, as though it were an argument, "You're wrong because you're espousing positivism, and positivism is wrong."

But my position is neither the same as nor even similar to positivism.

You are certainly free, and very welcome, to keep commenting on this stuff here, or anywhere, and I will try to answer you as best I can (though I am not really following this thread on other blogs where it exists). But on the so-called methodological front, I think I've made it about as clear as it can be made just how mistaken you are, and it's not so much that I don't want to talk about it any more as it is the case that I've just plain run out of explanatory options. If I were to keep going, I would just be repeating myself. If somebody asks me what "red" is, and I tell them it's a color, it has a wavelength of 650 angstroms, etc etc etc etc, specifying each and every property it is known to have, and the person then says "Yes yes yes, but what is it?", then I would have to say "Well, it's what I said--I haven't anything else to say about it." That's where I am on the so-called methodological point. You seem to me to be committing a rather obvious fallacy here, insisting that the entire discussion has a property that only a small segment of it has.

About the only thing I have to suggest we try on the methodological front is for you to make a more specific response to what I wrote in comment number 6--as far as I can see you never got back to discussing that in more detail, and I confess that I didn't understand any of what you did say in comment number 7. So that would be one way to proceed. If you can think of something better, please don't hesitate to try it, because I assure you I'm not trying to shut things down. I really would prefer to have more agreement than less, more conversation than less, etc.

zippy said...

You know, I think the root of our disagreement may well be in your reply to Tom, in addition to in comment 6 where you claim that doctrine is finitary in a particular way. In your reply to Tom you said:

I think that there are some truths that it would not be morally wrong actively (and in an informed way) to reject.

I am not sure what you mean by this, and depending on what you do mean I probably disagree. If we know with moral certainty that something is true, then I think it is always morally wrong to actively and in an informed way reject that truth. Doing so is a species of lie, and doing so in the case of truths which we know with moral certainty to follow from doctrines (including re-expressions of those doctrines in formulae which may not be strictly deduceable from other existing expressions) is heresy. So from a strictly propositional standpoint a body of doctrine is not finitary (even though it is finitary in the sense that it doesn't express all possible truths whatsoever).

What is specifically at issue in whether or not you are making a completeness claim is what a doctrine is. If a doctrine is a solemnly defined truth and all the things we know with moral certainty to follow from it then I think you are making a completeness claim. If it isn't, then assenting to a doctrine is meaningless: it just means pro forma acceptance of a formula without any meaning attached to the formula.

(Oh, and you are quite right that I didn't make an argument in this particular discussion that positivism is wrong; but since you don't think your argument is an example of it perhaps you will stipulate. If not, and we end up agreeing that your argument is positivist but that nonetheless you still think it is correct, I am willing to leave that fight for another day).

Scott Carson said...

I don't think people reject truths that they know to be true. What I'm saying is that some people reject truths that they have good reasons to believe, but they are persuaded by other reasons that they think equally good to reject the truth in question. In short, they are mistaken, but they are not morally culpable. If you can show me an argument that successfully shows that creationists (or flat earthers) are morally culpable (and they are the sort of people I have in mind), I will be thoroughly amazed.

In order for something to count as a lie, the following conditions must be present: the person must intentionally say what he knows to be false with the purpose of deceiving another so as to make some sort of gain at the other's expense. I don't see how rejecting truths about the physical world in the way that I have in mind could possibly fall under that rubric.

So from a strictly propositional standpoint a body of doctrine is not finitary

I'm not sure what you mean here by the word "so", because nothing you've said entails this inference. As far as I'm concerned, it is simply false. I doubt that there are any "bodies of doctrine" that are not finite, though of course some sets of propositions can be made to appear infinite in a trivial sense just so long as the language contains concepts pertaining to such things as numbers. But this is not the sort of body of doctrine we're talking about.

What is specifically at issue in whether or not you are making a completeness claim is what a doctrine is. If a doctrine is a solemnly defined truth and all the things we know with moral certainty to follow from it then I think you are making a completeness claim. If it isn't, then assenting to a doctrine is meaningless: it just means pro forma acceptance of a formula without any meaning attached to the formula.

With all due respect, this is simply nonsense, and for the reasons I've given in comment 6.

(Oh, and you are quite right that I didn't make an argument in this particular discussion that positivism is wrong; but since you don't think your argument is an example of it perhaps you will stipulate. If not, and we end up agreeing that your argument is positivist but that nonetheless you still think it is correct, I am willing to leave that fight for another day).

Quite frankly there are two possibilities here: either you don't know what positivism is, or I don't know what on earth you mean by the word "positivism". Nothing you've said leads me to think that what you have in mind is the philosophical positivism of the early to mid 20th century, so I think you'll have to be the one to do the stipulating here.

zippy said...

I'm not sure what you mean here by the word "so", because nothing you've said entails this inference. As far as I'm concerned, it is simply false.

What I mean is that the number of true sentences which (when properly understood) command assent that can be written about the body of de fide doctrine - or even a particular doctrine - is not finite.

Demonstration is straightforward. There are an infinite number of possible languages in which such a doctrine can be written. (I can demonstrate this too if you like). In each different language (Swahili, English, Latin, German, esperanto, etc), properly understood, the statement of doctrine commands assent.

Doctrine (and bodies of doctrine) are finitary in the sense that not all truths are doctrines, only some truths are doctrines. They are not finitary in the logical sense that you seem to have assumed them to be.