instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Don't I know it

After saying some nice things about me*, Scott Carson worries over some things I wrote on what Vatican I says about knowledge of God by the natural light of reason.

He quotes me:
In any case, the Church asserts that from philosophy we can learn that God is one, that He is true God, that He is our creator, that He is our lord, that He is the source and the end of all things, and perhaps most importantly, that His nature is perceivable in creation.
Then comments:
The way Tom has put it ("the Church asserts THAT...,THAT...,THAT...") the "knowledge", such as it is, is all propositional.
I think that's mostly true. The last proposition though, that God's nature is perceivable in creation, implies knowledge that is not necessarily so propositional.

Scott then says something curious about propositional knowledge:
So I can pass on this knowledge just by telling it to someone else.

So if I say to Richard Dawkins, "God exists, He is One, He created the universe", Richard Dawkins now knows all of that.
I say this is curious because, to me, it seems like Richard Dawkins now knows that Scott Carson said to him, "God exists, He is One, He created the universe," which is quite a different proposition (ha!) than knowing God exists, etc.

Scott lists a set of commonly held necessary and sufficient conditions for knowledge:
1. Knowledge is a form of belief.
2. Knowledge is always true.
3. Knowledge requires an understanding of the reason why one's belief is true.
I read the first one more in sadness than in anger, having spent two weeks mulling over St. Augustine's definition of belief, according to which it would be more accurate to say belief is a form of knowledge, but if one isn't prepared to be broadminded in dealing with philosophers, one shouldn't deal with philosophers.

More to the point, saying to an atheist, "God exists," does not provide him with an understanding of the reason why "God exists" is true, so even by Scott's definition, I can't see how we can say the atheist now knows God exists.

Next, Scott writes:
How is it possible for somebody to know something with certainty when they don't even believe it? Tom's answer:
It has also been pointed out that the Richard Dawkinses of the world don't necessarily want to be convinced.
This seems to turn the question of knowing into a psychological, rather than an epistemological, problem, and that doesn't seem right to me. I don't know the things that I know because of the sort of personality that I have--after all, plenty of other folks with very different psychologies know precisely the same things that I know.
I think Scott actually does know a lot of the things he knows because of his personality. Ancient Greek, for example. As finite creatures, we can't know everything, and we choose what we are going to try to learn based on what seems good to us.

And just as temperamental interest is a necessary cause of us knowing a good deal of what we do know, I'd say temperamental prejudice prevents us from knowing some things we could know. In the case of the militant atheist, he may well reject the truth of a demonstration of God's existence (much less His other attributes that can be demonstrated by the natural light of reason) out of ill-will. He can choose not to assent to a "self-evident" premise, or choose to insist (contrary to reason) that a demonstration is invalid.

In short, if the question of knowing includes what is actually known, and not just what can be known or how it can be known, then it includes psychology.

*. Don't be fooled by the nice things Scott says. He's still trying to make up for heartlessly failing to name me his son's godfather eleven years ago. One forgives, of course. But one does not forget.