Are All Presuppositions A Priori?

Discussion in 'Theological Forum' started by InSlaveryToChrist, Dec 6, 2011.

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  1. InSlaveryToChrist

    InSlaveryToChrist Puritan Board Junior

    So, my question is, Are all presuppositions a priori, that is, independent of evidence and reason?

    When an Atheist, made in the image of God through Adam, knowing a priori the existence of God, his conscience being bound to God's moral law, logic and rationality, suppresses the truth in unrighteousness, changing the truth of God for a lie, is he really presupposing the lie? I think not, unless God has put in him an a priori knowledge of that lie. In other words, when an Atheist is said to "presuppose" that the universe had its beginning by chance, he's not really presupposing it, he's knowingly making it up.

    What think ye? Am I right, or just misusing the terms "presuppose" and "a priori," or what?

    Bonus question: Do we know a priori, in addition to the existence of God, that God is the rewarder of them that diligently seek him?

    "But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him." (Hebrews 11:6)
  2. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    It depends which system is being discussed. In classical foundationalism our apriori equipment for knowing is itself knowledge, and hence form the presuppositions of all knowledge; so something which can be accounted for on the basis of common sense and consciousness but not logically demonstrated. In transcendental approaches, e.g., Van Tillian, the presuppositions are thought of as being something which human rationality depends upon but beyond human rationality itself; nothing but faith can stand on such presuppositions. In rationalistic systems like Clark's axiomatic approach logic is essentially the presupposition of human knowing but fallen man requires Scripture to justify true belief; so the propositional revelation of Scripture becomes the axiomatic presupposition of all knowledge. I regard foundationalism as the traditional reformed approach; the transcendental is an useful response to post-Kantian critiques of reason but not really necessary if one isn't moved by Kant. The axiomatic tends to deify logic and would be unacceptable to the reformed tradition on that account. In brief, presuppositions are certainly a priori in foundationalism, but not necessarily in the other systems.
  3. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Graduate

    They "know" in a way, there is other meanings of that term. We might call this "unconscience" or "subconscience" in a way. Apriori is not the best way to state this knowledge, philosophically speaking. It is, you could say, both empirical and apriori at the same time. All of natural revelation in all its knowable ways immediatly reveals God to us. Here is a paper by Bahnsen on "self-deception": PA191.
  4. InSlaveryToChrist

    InSlaveryToChrist Puritan Board Junior

    Thank you so much, Rev. Winzer! Foundationalism makes thinking more simple and, I think, is more Biblical and logical than the other systems. How would you go about answering the "bonus question?"
  5. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    No. Presuppositions are the propositional manifestations of attitudes and commitments which we have. They are not independent of our life or practice. Presuppositions are what Michael Polanyi called "tacit knowledge." We don't think about justifying them unless they are called into question and are, in fact, warranted because of the epistemic practices which they ground. Without them, these epistemic practices are useless, however, without the epistemic practices, these presuppositions do not make sense.
  6. InSlaveryToChrist

    InSlaveryToChrist Puritan Board Junior

    That does make verse much sense. Btw, Philip, are you a foundationalist?
  7. Doulos 2

    Doulos 2 Puritan Board Freshman

    Rev. Winzer, how does Scipture as the axiom of Christian epistemology "deify logic?"

    Thanks in advance for your reply.
  8. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Graduate

    Not to start anything here but there are serious logical and philosophical problems with Foundationalism. I would encourage you to look them up so that at least you know. A major objection raised by Alvin Plantinga is that the belief that "a basic belief is basic if it is self-evident or incorrigible (that is incapable of being corrected or ammended)" is not itself a basic belief. This is "self-referential incoherence" meaning that you have a non-basic belief about basic beleifs. That is this belief must be more basic than basic beliefs in order to work but it does not pass the test of what a basic belief is. This makes the whole thing circuler in a bad way. It is like the paradox that says "this sentence is false".

    Also Goerge Mardsen points out that not everyone agrees on what the criterion is to be basic or not, hence no agreement amongst groups of people. This leads to relatavism, my culture or group beleives this belief to be basic but your's does not. I would also direct your attention to part one of John Locke's book An Essay Concerning Human Understanding where he critiques the idea of "innate ideas" or knowledge we all have prior to any experience, yes innate ideas are not the same as basic beliefs but you will find that the arguments work for that too.

    My own objection to Classical Foundationalism is when they (not all of them) rely on circuler reasoning to defend their view while ignoring, for the most part, any objection raised to their position. They say well without foundationalism you can't be sure of anything but that leads to skepticism and since that can't possibly be true you must be a Classical Foundationalist. That just avoids any serious attempt to deal with the issues and criticisms. That is why many are going to a "modest" Foundationalism that means that beliefs are only probably true or basic. This raises issues because in all forms of Foundationalism, except Plantinga's, belief in God is not a basic belief (I doubt that the Reformed Scholastics would agree with that). So either belief in God is based on Classical Foundationalism that is largely regected by philosophers (which calls into question our the certianty of our belief in God) or "modest" Foundationalism that makes our belief in God only probably true.

    I am not trying to discourage you only make you aware of these objections so you can work through them yourself. If Foundationalism "makes sense" to you than that is fine but here are some arguments that you can answer to make your position stronger. Also the logical form of a presuposition has been worked out by Strawson. It says this "if X is true than Y is either true or false, if X is false than Y is neither true nor false". That is explained here.

    The sentence "Jack loves his wife" is neither true nor false if Jack isn't married, the sentence is meaningless. No in Bertrand Russell's analysis you would declare both sentences "Jack loves his wife" and "Jack does not love his wife" as both being false because Jack is not married. Two different ways to analyze the same sentences.
  9. ChristianTrader

    ChristianTrader Puritan Board Graduate

    Um, what about pressupps that when questioned are not in fact justified? Are you saying they are still warranted?

  10. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    Depends on what is meant by that. Rev. Winzer is using the term rather broadly, so I probably fit into the category as he has defined it. I don't label myself that way, however.

    Justified before whom? In all honesty, if one was to discover a disconnect between a "worldview" (which I think is what you are talking about with a "presupposition") and one's epistemic practices, one is forced to discard the worldview and search for the kinds of truths which actuallly undergird the practices.

    ---------- Post added at 04:04 PM ---------- Previous post was at 04:00 PM ----------

    No, it's just false. If the sentence is intelligible (ie: if a speaker of the lamguage would be capable of understanding it), then it is not meaningless.

    I would say that a presupposition comes in the form of "If X, then Y. If not X, then not Y." I don't think that presuppositions have a whole lot to do with the form of propositions or the philosophy of language, to be frank. They have more to do with the underpinnings of epistemic practices.
  11. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    I would answer in the affirmative. See, for example, WCF 21.1.
  12. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    That is not the problem, although the language points to a problem. The problem is that in order to get to this position logic is first identified with the eternal Logos.
  13. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    This is incorrect. The definition of consciousness and cognition might differ between foundationalists but they all agree that basic beliefs are strictly the sine qua non of consciousness and cognition.

    Disagreement as to what constitutes basic Christianity does not nullify that there is a basic Christianity.

    This charge is applicable to all presuppositional approaches. It is regularly made against the transcendental approach. In foundationalism, as the name suggests, there is a foundation with which one must begin before any building can take place. The foundation supports all other beliefs. To deny this is really to deny the limited nature of human rationality. Some kind of circularity is inevitable simply because man is limited and will eventually run full circle in all his attempts at definition. Some people try to make the circle bigger than others, and give the appearance that it is not a circle. When another person traces their reasoning with care it is soon discovered that circularity is still part of the reasoning process. A man who travels every day across an island will find himself travelling the same routes to and fro. Some people call that circularity but I call it common sense.
  14. ChristianTrader

    ChristianTrader Puritan Board Graduate

    Justified before right reason. Also are you saying that one's epistemic practices are incorrigible?

  15. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Graduate

    Thats quite a narrow view of meaningfullness. I would change the term to intelligable, that is any linguistically competant person can understand the words and there relations regardless of the propositions logical status. I have never read the term meaningfull being used in the way that you use it.

    That is one type of presuposition, to be sure, but since Strawson worked out the other one (that seems to be more aimed at transcendental arguments) it is an excepted logical form, even if people disagree with TA's. In fact he developed it in response to criticisms and paradoxs in Russell's analysis.

    ---------- Post added at 06:39 PM ---------- Previous post was at 06:23 PM ----------

    Well with all due respect Rev. Winzer it kind of is correct. This is one of the reasons why there are not any real Classical Foundationalists left. No one could save it from those criticisms. The problem is that it is circuler reasoning. You have to base that belief on basic beliefs but it is a belief about basic beliefs. If it is a basic belief itself than it must pass the test of being a basic belief, but it cannot. There are really no Classical foundationalists left, they all really argue for some "modest" Foundationalism, only in Evangelical Apologetics are there any real Classical Foundationalists.

    Than you are refering to a revelational epistemology, not Classical Foundationalism. Mardsen pointed out that historically no one could agree on what counted as a common-sense basic belief. And hence culteral relatavism. If you mean something other than Classical Foundationalism than just say so.

    No they have two different logical forms hence two different types of arguments. Foundationalist arguments are direct deductive arguments, belief Y is based on the basic belief X (this is more the type of presuposition that Philip layed out in his last post). A TA on the other hand is indirect and has the logical form that I layed out before, hence a different type of argument.

    There are different types of circularity. The kind that I was refering to is the bad kind. They also commit the either/or fallacy in attempting to avoid the criticisms of non-foundationalists in the fact that they say you are either one of us Foundationalists or a skeptic and since skepticism is self refuting than you must be one of us. All that is needed is a third option to decemate this argument, Van Til and Plantinga both provided one. You are right that all reasoning involves circles but there are good circles and bad circles as you know. I mean really the worse thing for the Classical Foundationalist is that in defending it you really have an uphill battle.
  16. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    I see; you are getting hung up on the word "classical." For the incorporation of foundationalism in modern Reformed epistemology please consult Ronald Nash's "Life's Ultimate Questions," 275ff.

    No; I was providing a parallel in order to show Marsden's criticism is irrelevant.

    See Nash, as above. It seems to me that you are denying the distinctive presuppositional incorporation of foundationalism. You really should allow a position to speak for itself.

    If you mean "logical circularity," then I fail to see the relevance as I have not presented an argument in a logical form. It appear that you are reading things into my statements. May I suggest you give others an opportunity to present their own position in the future.
  17. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    I said "whom" not what. I agree that right reason is the standard, but the question remains who is the arbiter of what that looks like. A standard is nothing without a judge.

    Epistemic practices are not incorrigible, but must be considered very carefully. What we do not want is to destroy the credibility of legitimate practices. When you think of epistemic practices that are dubious, you think of something like phrenology or looking at the newspaper horoscope: pseudo-sciences or superstitions. However, these are only invalidated by a reductio ad rism (point out that they are simply ridiculous), not by logical analysis.

    No, it's a very broad view. Meaning is a function of language ("in many cases, the meaning of a word is its use in the language" ~L. Wittgenstein). We ask "what exactly do you mean?" and we do not mean "to what are you referring?"

    I just am not sure that it is a useful model. He isn't correct about presuppositions being a prerequisite for meaning---this has devastating effects in theology, as a matter of fact. I've been reading (for a long research project which I will be writing next semester) some postliberal theology which takes this very point as the starting point, taking doctrines as presuppositions.

    Take the doctrine that God is triune: for a postliberal, the fact that this is a presupposition of Christian theology means that in Christian dialogue, saying God is not triune is meaningless. All well and good, right? Except that all you're doing is excluding something from the dialogue---you're not saying anything that is meaningful outside the Christian Church. See the problem? With this model, both Christianity and Islam could be true, as systems because truth is a function of meaning and meaning is a function of presuppositions. A meaningless statement cannot be true. That's the danger I see in adopting Strawson's model of presuppositions: it changes the debate to one about language rather than one about truth.
  18. InSlaveryToChrist

    InSlaveryToChrist Puritan Board Junior

    Westminster Confession of Faith - Chapter 21.1
    The light of nature showeth that there is a God, who hath lordship and sovereignty over all, is good, and doth good unto all, and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heart, and with all the soul, and with all the might. But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshiped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture.

    The "light of nature" probably includes a priori knowledge, am I right? What I do not see, however, is where it is implied that men know God is the rewarder of them who diligently seek Him. Could it be part of the lordship God has over us? Do we, then, know a priori what lordship means and what its implications are?
  19. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    "Light of nature" is a technical term which refers to reason as a gift with which God has constituted man in creaturely dependence on Himself. The Confession teaches that the Sovereignty and Lordship of God is shown by the light of nature, which means that the very exercise of reason carries with it an accountability to God. It is this conviction of accountability which gives rise to man's moral obligations and causes him to labour under the belief that his deeds must be rewarded or punished.
  20. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    Would you include the proper use of all of man's faculties as being covered under "reason"?
  21. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    Certainly. "Proper use" would include reason's creaturely dependence on God.
  22. ChristianTrader

    ChristianTrader Puritan Board Graduate

    Oh, so who justifies 1+1=2? I agree that right reason is the standard, but the question remains who is the arbiter of what that looks like. A standard is nothing without a judge.

    Part of the question is what are legitimate practices. Lastly, who/what gets to call something absurd? Common sense changes.
  23. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    I think you missed what I was asking: would you subsume things like sense perception, inductive logic, and the like under this heading of "reason"?

    Does it need justification? Who is attacking this proposition and why?

    Does it? Do I really need a logical argument to call something absurd? If I consider, say, phrenology to be absurd, attacking it with a logical argument is inconsistent: if I consider it absurd, arguing with it logically would suggest that I actually take it seriously, which I do not.
  24. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    As a package, yes; but not as if these were individual "faculties" which work in isolation. And you may have missed the focus of my answer -- the creaturely dependence of reason -- to which things like sense perception and inductive logic would also be subject.
  25. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    I'm just trying to make sure we're not going Clarkian here. If I can think I have warrant for doubting that I have hands, then I've got problems.
  26. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    I don't think I've said anything on this board which has hinted at Clarkianism. Quite the opposite. That really is a needless and disrespectful caution on your part.
  27. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    Your statement about "reason" confused me, which is why I asked for the clarification. In most cases, reason has been defined rather more narrowly than you have been using the term. Using "reason" as the meaning of "light of nature" seemed a Clarkian move, so I needed that clarified. I did not mean to insinuate or accuse.

    What you call "reason" I would call "reasonability," but that's mostly a quibble about semantics.
  28. ChristianTrader

    ChristianTrader Puritan Board Graduate

    Either all standards need a judge or they do not. Above you stated that a standard is nothing without a judge. If you wish to say that some standards need a judge and some do not, then you need a criteria to differentiate besides, "I think that is a stupid question."

    When you reject something, you are implying that the something in question fails a standard. Is the standard simply your personal prejudice? Or can you produce an answer where your opponent must give up their position or lose coherency? Producing a logical argument is the differentiation between prejudice and understanding.

  29. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    I didn't say that standards need a judge, I said that a standard without a judge is useless. A standard may not be depersonalized: for a standard to be useful, there must be someone using it.

    Depends on what it is that I am rejecting. In some cases, yes. In others, I simply reject because I see no compelling reason to accept. Gottfried Leibniz' monadology is a fascinating exercise in self-referentially consistent deduction: I just see no reason why I should accept it. All that Leibniz has proved is that he is capable of coming up with a coherent system.

    Not at all. I have few logical arguments against Marxism (certainly none that would convince a consistent Marxist). Nonetheless I understand it much better than many who think they have such arguments. You understand something when you understand the internal logic and the type of arguments that it would take to convince of that position. I understand more or less exactly where I would need to be in order to become a Marxist and I have few counterarguments. Nonetheless I reject Marxism.

    I would say that prejudice (in the philosophic sense) and understanding are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, I would say that knowledge requires prejudice: it requires that one have certain pre-commitments and pre-judgments. Knowledge is a personal thing: it requires that one behave in certain ways and engage in certain practices which ground it and which will logically exclude some possible beliefs and systems. The arguments made, though, are rarely logical, in the strictest sense, but pragmatic.
  30. ChristianTrader

    ChristianTrader Puritan Board Graduate

    Okay, so a standard is good or bad based on how many people use it?

    So you are rejecting it not based on a standard? It sure looks like a standard.

    It would seem that you reject Marxism because you fails to see how it is any better than your current system. In your current view the "tie" goes to some other system. I would have no problem calling your position, to some extent, prejudiced.

    I have no problem with the idea that knowledge requires pre-commitments etc. My only issue is that pre-commitments don't become into unexamined biases.

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