Saturday, August 2, 2008

Steven Gutmann's Argument against Perry Robinson

"Of course your example is informative since it carries in it conceptual content, but apophatic terms don’t. It is like the term immaterial, which simply means not material or unconfused. Hardly conceptually informative. In any case, you left untouched the examples I gave, namely there are truths that we can’t ever know."

"If God is beyond being, then strictly speaking “existence”, which is a verb is applicable to the energies, since they are doings. To say that God ad intra is not something is not tantamount to saying that God is nothing. And to speak of God ad intra negatively doesn’t imply knowledge of God. You confuse the ways of speaking with the ways of knowing. Try some later Wittgenstein."

- Perry Robinson (Blog: Energetic Procession)

Perry Robinson a clever Eastern Orthodox philosopher and theologian has argued that apophatic (negative terms or the way of negation in modern theology) terms are not informative and do not have conceptual content. Furthermore, Perry argued that terms such as these (negative terms) do not give us knowledge. When discussing this with my friend Steven Gutmann he brought up a very interesting objection to this view. He said if negative terms are not informative and do not yield knowledge then by it's own terms we couldn't know that negative terms do not yield knowledge since that statement is negative. So if Perry would like to argue that he knows that negative terms do not give us knowledge then his view is self-referentially incoherent since that statement is negative. But if he wants to be consistent then he would have to say that he doesn't know if negative terms do not give us knowledge. Either way he is not in a position to argue according to Steven. This is just a interesting argument and I am not sure if it works. But I thought a good idea like this should be put up on this blog and to be flirted with a bit. If it's true then no big deal we have other reasons to doubt the claims of the east.

Check Out Perry Robinson's blog! It's a first class blog and a excellent resource for eastern orthodox philosophy and theology!

NPT

15 comments:

Acolyte4236 said...

Take the statement, “I don’t know anything about it.” If you were right, that statement would be contradictory and meaningless. But it is quite meaningful and not obviously contradictory.

Apophaticism across all traditions leads to silence before God. If my position is wrong on this point, then so is Protestantism in its doctrine of God.

Negative terms are meaningful, but they do not give us knowledge of the thing they are used for or about. Your argument rests on confusing these two usages. Not all meaning is reference. I am simply doing something else with negative terms than referring. This argument rests on the assumption that negative terms refer.

Why don’t you try reading up on the history of theology before you try attacking a standard Christian position?

Catz206 said...

this should be an interesting response...

I think we should take a break from the philosophical arguments and defend SS like David Cox suggested.

Acolyte4236 said...

Yes, check out my blog, because I am stupid enough to believe things that are easy to see are "obviously" false. Check out my blog, because I am stupid enough to reject "obvious" and "reasonable" presuppositions.

You can't have it both ways Nate. You can't accuse me of beliecing obviously stupid things and making simple mistakes and then praise me for my philosophical and theological dexterity. Either I am a reliable source or not.

Searching for the Church said...

Isn't there a difference in negative statements about created things and negative statements about the uncreated?

"The table is not white," both is meaningful and refers to some thing.

"God is not contained in space and time," is meaningful, but there is no referent in the typical sense; the referent is not a 'thing' among other things.

The statement "We cannot make positive statements about God ad intra," is such of the first sort. That is, it refers to statements, not to God.

Searching for the Church said...

Also, in my very reformed Talbot Theology class I learned that there are two kinds of attributes of God: his knowable attributes and his unknowable. Knowable = loving, just, kind, good, omniscient, etc. Unknowable = eternal, immense, immeasurable.

I think some form of apophatic theology is all of our burden, whatever our Christians tradition. It is mere Christianity.

For Abraham, for Jews, and for Christians, God is, was, and ever will be the One Who 'dwells in light unapproachable' (I Tim 6:16, Whose 'thoughts are not our thoughts,' Whom (Isa 55:8) 'no man has seen at any time.'(John 1:18)

Acolyte4236 said...

Searching,

Exactly right on both counts, but it seems some people are more interested in creating objections. In the main, all Christian traditions for one reason or another adhere to some form of apophatic theology, including the reformation traditions.

Nathanael Taylor said...

Take the statement, “I don’t know anything about it.” If you were right, that statement would be contradictory and meaningless. But it is quite meaningful and not obviously contradictory.

Apophaticism across all traditions leads to silence before God. If my position is wrong on this point, then so is Protestantism in its doctrine of God.

Response: Not this Protestants doctrine of God. I reject the via negativa.

Negative terms are meaningful, but they do not give us knowledge of the thing they are used for or about.

Response: Then you don't have knowledge of that statement, so technically you don't know that...that negative statements do not give us knowledge.

Your argument rests on confusing these two usages. Not all meaning is reference. I am simply doing something else with negative terms than referring. This argument rests on the assumption that negative terms refer.

Response: I am not sure about this. The blog is about knowledge claims and the dilemma you are in if you decide to make it or not.

NPT

Nathanael Taylor said...

Isn't there a difference in negative statements about created things and negative statements about the uncreated?

Response: Yes there is a difference in the concepts that we use to grasping the uncreated things not the fact that we are negating something or other about that uncreated or created thing.

"The table is not white," both is meaningful and refers to some thing.

"God is not contained in space and time," is meaningful, but there is no referent in the typical sense; the referent is not a 'thing' among other things.

Response: Yes, there is not referent in creation or in the uncreated. It's hard to see how that is incompatible with what I have written in this post.

The statement "We cannot make positive statements about God ad intra," is such of the first sort. That is, it refers to statements, not to God.

Response: This post was about self-referential incoherence with certain statements about knowledge claims about negative statements about God. I am not sure what you are suggesting about this comment.

Also, in my very reformed Talbot Theology class I learned that there are two kinds of attributes of God: his knowable attributes and his unknowable. Knowable = loving, just, kind, good, omniscient, etc. Unknowable = eternal, immense, immeasurable.

I think some form of apophatic theology is all of our burden, whatever our Christians tradition. It is mere Christianity.

Response: I think there are some unknowable aspects of God's being, but I know something about those unknowable aspects of God, mainly that they are unknowable in their content, but some of their relations I can know (I do know that they are unknowable in their content and that they are either true or false).

For Abraham, for Jews, and for Christians, God is, was, and ever will be the One Who 'dwells in light unapproachable' (I Tim 6:16, Whose 'thoughts are not our thoughts,' Whom (Isa 55:8) 'no man has seen at any time.'(John 1:18)

Response: I believe in the creator creature distinction in knowledge and in being but that doesn't require me to be self-referentially incoherent as the orthodox position requires.

steven gutmann said...

Hello... Im Steven Gutmann...

"Negative terms are meaningful, but they do not give us knowledge of the thing they are used for or about."
-Perry

what about negative propositions rather than negative terms.. A negative proposition might be "the rabbit is not loving".

Can the following proposition(call it P1) be known, P1:"negative propositions are not known"

I could be wrong but it seems that you believe you know P1 and yet P1 is a negative proposition doesn't this make trouble?

I see your point with the statement "I don't know anything about it." However, when the statement is taken literally rather than as a figure of speech it seems that it may be contradictory. It seems that we would be better saying "i know nearly nothing about it" or "i barley know anything about it". These seem less troublesome and lead me to suspect "I don't know anything about it."

thanks for your discussions I appreciate them. But why is there such hostility on all sides of this debate? It seems like a waste of energy..

Searching for the Church said...

Thanks Steven for the sensible and non-emotionally charged comments...

Consider P1 and P2.
P1. "Negative statements are unknowable."
P2 "That which is beyond being is unknowable."

I don't claim that negative theology is easy or without problems. I'm not even sure I agree with it, intellectually. But I'm trying to understand both sides. And I think the basic hypothesis allows for P1 to be knowable, without allowing P2 to be knowable in the strictest sense.


P1 refers to statements. Statements are knowable things.

P2 refers to the source of being (der Grundlage von Sein). The source of being is not knowable.

So the argument goes. Whether we buy it or not, do you see the hypothesis?

Searching for the Church said...

Thought this was an interesting quotation to add to the mix:

"The basic premise -- its been long standing in the Christian tradition-- is that God gives himself to you completely only in silence."

-Brennan Manning, interview with Christian Audio.com

Searching for the Church said...

I think a deeper question at hand here is: "Does the human intellect have limits? If so, what are those limits?"

Certain kinds of limits are intuitive. Temporal limits, and limits of degree, functional limits, and qualitative limits.

A temporal limit might be, "I don't know anything about astronomy YET." This is contingent on the amount of time it takes to learn about subject X. The object of knowledge is in itself perfectly knowable, but I have not subjectively taken the time yet, though I could if I chose.

A limit of degree might be, "I don't know my best friend FULLY." A limit of degree is contingent upon the depth and breadth of the object of knowledge. I have taken the time to know him, but there is so much to know that much remains unknown. Again, time and effort can, in principle, make up for this lack.

A functional limit might be, "I don't know what 45,000,000,091 times 89,224 is." A functional limit does not limit what is intrinsically unknowable. The object of knowledge is knowable, and I may have even taken time to know it, and I may have great skill at math. But doing that kind of algebra in one's head is just functionally impossible. The mind can do math, but it can't do THAT MUCH math. (In retrospect, the functional limit also seems like a kind of "limit of degree.")

A qualitative limit might be, "I don't know what I was thinking three days before my conception." A qualitative limit is a limit put upon the intellect by definition. I can't know what I was thinking ten months before I was born, because that is qualitatively not what my intellect is designed to do. The purported object of knowledge is intrinsically unknowable. No amount of time or effort or intellectual maturity will furnish an answer. If I think about it for a minute or an hour or a lifetime, I am no closer to knowing it.

So, two questions, open to all-comers:

1. Do you buy (at least) these four kinds of limits?

2. Are there any objects of knowledge that are restricted from the human intellect by a "qualitative limit"? Or is all truth and knowledge lit-up by the pure intellectual fire of the intellect?

Steven said...

"P2 'That which is beyond being is unknowable.'" -Searching for the church

My critique is not of P2. I am under the impression that Perry had argued that negative terms and propositions with negative content cannot be known. If so than my worry still stands because it seems that he must accept P1 in order to reject P1.

P1: 'negative propositions are not known'

i would say that there are many propositions of negative content who's subject is God and also that we can know these propositions.

for instance, "its true of God's 'source of being' that it is not both 'his source of being' and not 'his source of being'"

This seems like a fair assumption. As it would seem impossible that this proposition be false.

but maybe I've left the true topic. Perhaps I've misunderstood Perry.

Steven said...

"Are there any objects of knowledge that are restricted from the human intellect by a "qualitative limit"? Or is all truth and knowledge lit-up by the pure intellectual fire of the intellect?"

Certainly we are limited. I get the feeling that the things that we know of God are true and yet they are not complete. It's as though we have a partial view of the truth. That's not to say that we know nothing of the truth. Just that a comprehensive understanding will always elude us.

I know that God is righteous but I'm nowhere near completely grasping all of what that means.

This seems true of all things. The narrative that our mind constructs is true but certainly never comprehensive.

Steven said...

"Perry Robinson a clever Eastern Orthodox philosopher and theologian has argued that apophatic (negative terms or the way of negation in modern theology) terms are not informative and do not have conceptual content. Furthermore, Perry argued that terms such as these (negative terms) do not give us knowledge."

This portion of Nathanael's post should help bring the point of argument to light