Ktismatics

1 October 2007

Triangular Knowledge: Davidson

Filed under: Language, Psychology — ktismatics @ 3:36 pm

In light of ongoing discussions here and at Theos Project, I thought I’d summarize an essay by American philosopher Donald Davidson on the subject of knowing one’s own thoughts and the thoughts of others. Davidson’s position is quite consistent with Tomasello’s use-based theory of language acquisition and related empirical findings. It’s perhaps also compatible with Gadamer’s hermeneutics, though they come from very different philosophical traditions. I know, for the most part, what I think, want, and intend, and what my sensations are. In addition, I know a great deal about the world around me, the locations and sizes and causal properties of the objects in it. I also sometimes know what goes on in other people’s minds. In these first three sentences Davidson identifies the “Three Varieties of Knowledge,” the interrelatedness of which he explores in his 1993 essay of that name.

Davidson acknowledges that probably the most common approach is to assert the primacy of self-knowledge because of its directness and relative certainty, then to derive knowledge of the external world from it, and knowledge of other minds from observing others’ behavior. He wishes to show that this approach is wrong. No one form of knowledge can be derived from either of the others, says Davidson; rather, all three are dependent on each other.

First he addresses the negative situation, which essentially comes down to this: it’s possible that someone can, without realizing it, believe a falsehood or interpret a subjective experience incorrectly. Consequently, no amount of knowledge of the contents of one’s own mind insures the truth of a belief about the external world, [and] no amount of knowledge about the external world entails the truth about the workings of a mind. If there is a logical or epistemic barrier between the mind and nature, it not only prevents us from seeing out: it also blocks a view from outside in. Further, if our experience of other minds is derived only by inference from observing their behavior, we have no basis for asserting that others’ minds are anything like our own.

Belief is a condition of knowledge, says Davidson: if I say “the snow is white” I can also say “I believe that the snow is white,” even though the first statement refers to the world while the second refers to my state of mind. In order to believe something it’s not enough to discriminate between features of the world and to act accordingly. A sunflower that aims itself at the sun isn’t acting from a belief, nor if it aims at an artificial light has it made an error in judgment. Having a belief demands in addition appreciating the contrast between true belief and false… Someone who has a belief about the world — or anything else — must grasp the concept of objective truth, of what is the case independent of what he or she thinks. And where do we get this concept of truth that underlies our idea of true and false belief? Here Davidson follows the later Wittgenstein: The source of the concept of objective truth is interpersonal communication. Thought depends on communication.

In order to understand what someone says, I need to know both what she means and what she believes about this meaning. I therefore have to assume that the speaker is logically coherent and consistent — rational — and that she is responding to the same features of the world as I am. This is the unspoken compact binding the speaker’s utterances to her beliefs, and her beliefs to my beliefs. Why should this tacit and tentative interpersonal agreement, based not on fact but on something like charity, form the basis for objective truth?

Like the sunflower orienting toward sunlight, humans discriminate between features of the world. Language assigns names to the discriminatory criteria: light/darkness, snow/rain/hail, etc. If I try to understand someone who speaks a language that’s different from my own, I have to figure out whether her discriminatory criteria match my own. And I can’t do that merely by comparing languages; I can only do it by attending jointly with the other person to various stimuli in the world, and then seeing if her words for these stimuli match up with mine. The consistencies in discriminatory criteria for parsing the world need to match up with both my linguistic categories and the speaker’s.

For until the triangle is completed connecting two creatures, and each creature with common features of the world, there can be no answer to the question whether a creature, in discriminating between stimuli, is discriminating between stimuli at the sensory surfaces or somewhere further out, or further in. Without this sharing of reactions to common stimuli, thought and speech would have no particular content — that is, no content at all. It takes two points of view to give a location to the cause of a thought, and thus to define its content. We may think of it as a form of triangulation: each of two people is reacting differentially to sensory stimuli streaming in from a certain direction. Projecting the incoming lines outward, the common cause is at their intersection. If the two people now note each other’s reactions (in the case of language, verbal reactions), each can correlate these observed reactions with his or her stimuli from the world. A common cause has been determined. The triangle which gives content to thought and speech is complete. But it takes two to triangulate.

Until a base line has been established by communication with someone else, there is no point in saying one’s own thoughts or words have propositional content. If this is so, then it is clear that knowledge of another mind is essential to all thought and all knowledge. Knowledge of another mind is possible, however, only if one has knowledge of the world, for the triangulation which is essential to thought requires that those in communication recognize that they occupy positions in a shared world. So knowledge of other minds and knowledge of the world are mutually dependent; neither is possible without the other.

The stimuli that cause our verbal responses to the world are also what those verbal responses mean, as well as the content of our beliefs about the world. We might jointly triangulate on the same wrong beliefs; however, because we arrive at an interpersonal agreement regarding meaning and belief makes it very likely that we’re right about our basic perceptual beliefs and our general picture of the world. It’s difficult to isolate a particular belief as true or false, however, because knowledge of the world, of one’s own beliefs, and of others’ beliefs are irreducibly interdependent and holistic. We can identify invariants across all three points of the triangle, but we cannot regard any one point as determinate, independent of its relationship to the other points.

A community of minds is the basis of knowledge; it provides the measure of all things… The thoughts we form and entertain are located conceptually in the world we inhabit, and know we inhabit, with others. Even our thoughts about our own mental states occupy the same conceptual space and are located on the same public map… The objective and the intersubjective are thus essential to anything we call subjectivity, and constitute the context in which it takes form… If I did not know what others think, I would have no thoughts of my own and so would not know what I think.

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50 Comments »

  1. Meaning seems to become somewhat delocalised in Davidson’s construct. Once a meaning has been understood, and stored away by one mind that meaning then resides very much where the mind can access it, i.e. it is not only and always created anew during the process of interpersonal communication ‘in community’. There’s also such a thing as a dictionary.

    Comment by samlcarr — 2 October 2007 @ 3:58 am

  2. Right, the meaning of ideas is a holistic property that converges simultaneously on the words used to describe the ideas, the nature of the things the words point to, and the consensus of language-speakers regarding the way in which the world is parsed into categories. Once these three points arrive at a stable convergence, then we can store away meanings in our minds. Davidson exemplifies his ideas by imagining two people speaking different languages trying to arrive at shared meaning, but the young child learning language is another illustration of the process. The child has no language of her own to translate into AdultSpeak — she’s building language competency from the ground up. Tomasello also uses the triangle analogy: child, adult, object. In childrearing the adult serves as a representative of Davidson’s adult consensus on linguistic meaning. This is exactly how Lacan sees the parent: as a stand-in for the societal Big Other who incorporates the child into the Symbolic Order of language.

    Comment by ktismatics — 2 October 2007 @ 9:12 am

  3. Self-knowledge, knowledge of the exterior world, and knowledge of other’s minds are dependent upon each other: “knowledge of the world, of one’s own beliefs, and of others’ beliefs are irreducibly interdependent and holistic. We can identify invariants across all three points of the triangle, but we cannot regard any one point as determinate, independent of its relationship to the other points.”

    Now, would you then consider all of these (taken together, as a whole) to be in need of “criteria” to justify you holding them as knowledge?

    Comment by Erdman — 2 October 2007 @ 7:39 pm

  4. So the criteria under discussion: how do I know that I know/think/believe, and how do I know that other people know/think/believe? Davidson says that the words “know,” “think,” and “believe” are already the result of an interpersonal agreement about what these words refer to. I wouldn’t know that I “know” unless I’d already arrived at an understanding of what people generally mean by “to know.” To arrive at this understanding I’ve had to correlate descriptions of what’s going on in my own head with what other people generally seem to have in mind when they use the word “know.” So it’s not possible to say what I mean by “know” from what you mean by “know” from what “know” refers to in the world of mental processes. Generally-accepted criteria are necessary for me even to reflect on my own mind.

    Comment by ktismatics — 3 October 2007 @ 3:47 am

  5. Ktismatics:
    To arrive at this understanding I’ve had to correlate descriptions of what’s going on in my own head with what other people generally seem to have in mind when they use the word “know.”

    Even more to the point, then: How do you know that these “other people” are not simply in your own head, the product of your own imagination?

    Comment by Erdman — 3 October 2007 @ 8:03 am

  6. There is no certainty from our limited non-transcendent perspective: I might not exist; the world might not exist; other people might not exist. We’ve already acknowledged in discussions of developmental psych that the child’s sense of self results largely from others’ reactions to the self, but the child also comes to understand others’ language and intentional behavior by assuming that the other is a lot like the self in her orientation to the world. So there is an irreducible triangulation at work between the three, with each reinforcing the likelihood of the other two. Through countless iterations a probability approaching 100% emerges for the existence of a self-others-world system. This systemic perspective is reminiscent of Heidegger’s Dasein — being-in, not pure being, is all that we can hope to talk about.

    Comment by ktismatics — 3 October 2007 @ 9:11 am

  7. Aaahhh…the difference between public and universal…
    :)

    And Erdman…I’m surprised that you keep pushing this modern-sounding How do you know that these “other people” are not simply in your own head, the product of your own imagination?

    I like: There is no certainty from our limited… To me (but obviously not for Doyle – not trying to speak for you/him) this donesn’t necessarily translate into an absence but instead rightfully places God at the center of things…
    :)

    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 3 October 2007 @ 11:31 am

  8. I don’t label it a purely Modern speculation, though you may if you like. As I see it, the postmodern spin-off of the Cartesian Demon and Mad Scientist is Baudrillard’s questioning of the realities that we take for granted via the media, and also The Matrix (and other similar films) that question the “reality” we take for granted. Not just physical reality, but realities on all levels.

    For me, I think Ktismatics merely takes the existence of “other minds” for granted, though I don’t think that he sees it that way. My only point has been, that if we do not have a hard-core “reason” (or as John puts it “criteria”) for the existence of other minds, then why do we require reasons or criteria for the existence of God (i.e. another “other mind”).

    The debate keeps getting stalled on the question of whether or not John’s criteria for the existence of other minds qualifies as a legitimate piece of evidence. As far as I can see, John is simply asserting his own perceptions (senses, language, the Davidson Triangular connection, etc.) in order to validate these same perceptions.

    It is kind of a complicated and circular journey that we are on – but one that is fun!

    In short, even if I am arguing from Cartesian beginnings it is not for the purpose of a Cartesian goal.

    Comment by Erdman — 3 October 2007 @ 11:54 am

  9. Ktismatics:
    So there is an irreducible triangulation at work between the three, with each reinforcing the likelihood of the other two. Through countless iterations a probability approaching 100% emerges for the existence of a self-others-world system. This systemic perspective is reminiscent of Heidegger’s Dasein — being-in, not pure being, is all that we can hope to talk about.

    As far as I can see, all three of these are still based on your own perceptions, which exist in your own mind. The question still remains, namely, how do you know that what you perceive actually exists?

    Arguing from the Davidson Triangulation strikes me as using a leaky bucket to catch the drippings from another leaky bucket – and then adding a third leaky bucket to catch those drippings.

    That is, if each of those three aspects of the triangulation cannot be established on its own as reliable criteria, then why think that three faulty criteria working together is a better deal?

    Comment by Erdman — 3 October 2007 @ 11:59 am

  10. “this donesn’t necessarily translate into an absence but instead rightfully places God at the center of things…”

    Here’s my interpretation of Davidson: If you believe in the centrality of God, Davidson’s position suggests that it would be more difficult to establish the basis for asserting this belief than it would be to assert the existence of one’s self, of other people, and of the world. You may be able to agree with others on what “God” means, and to agree on criteria by which you would assert the existence of someone who matches up with the definition. But the truth value of your assertion that “God exists and is central” would still acquire its meaning within the self-other-world triangle. If, on the other hand, you assert that your awareness of God’s centrality is supernaturally revealed to you, and that you are supernaturally equipped to receive this revelation, then I suspect Davidson would say he has no philosophically relevant opinion about it.

    Comment by ktismatics — 3 October 2007 @ 12:29 pm

  11. In short, even if I am arguing from Cartesian beginnings it is not for the purpose of a Cartesian goal.

    This sounds strange to me. In a work of architecture, what you are faced with in the beginning of your experience of the building sets the rules of the game and thus colors character of the whole of it. Then of course there’s the whole Eden as the beginning to which we will return in the end thing…it seems to be the standard-bearer for various relations between beginnings and ends. Finnagin’s Wake, ect…there are endless examples of that…

    “The medium is the message.” :)

    And, Erdman…as you see it, what is the goal? I’m suspect that it can be different from the beginning, but how do you see them as separate? And what do you see as the particular goal? I mean…you seem to be taking modern Fundy apologetics as the beginning of your purpose, but then “with a different goal”…??
    :)

    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 3 October 2007 @ 12:30 pm

  12. “As I see it, the postmodern spin-off of the Cartesian Demon and Mad Scientist is Baudrillard’s questioning of the realities that we take for granted via the media.”

    I agree, and we recall that Neo stored his black-market virtual reality programs in a hollowed-out copy of Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation.

    “if we do not have a hard-core “reason” (or as John puts it “criteria”) for the existence of other minds, then why do we require reasons or criteria for the existence of God (i.e. another “other mind”).”

    No hard-core, absolute reasons or criteria are possible in Davidson’s scheme. Knowledge of other minds is not independent of knowledge of self and knowledge of the world. There is no going back to first principles or initial conditions: all three sides stand or fall together. I can think and talk about “reason,” “mind” and “self” only because I live in a social milieu where such concepts have generally agreed-upon meaning. I can’t even think the thought “I exist” without participating in the community’s conceptual-linguistic system in which these words make sense of particular phenomena. So I can understand “I” only by living with other people who say “I” about themselves, and then extrapolating from their sense of “I-ness” to my own. But I can do this extrapolation only if I already think of the other as someone who is like “me.” Neither “I” nor “you” makes sense without the other.

    Certainly I act “as if” I exist, other creatures exist, the world exists — so does a snail. But all this business about belief and existence and as-if are words and ideas that only humans have; they make sense only if there are humans who use these words and ideas, who think about them and talk about them with each other. It’s circular (or triangular), but Davidson wants to shift attention away from the individual points or sides to the whole thing together. “I” doesn’t have a preeminent place on the triangle relative to “you” or “it.” There is no autonomous I to evaluate whether you exist autonomously.

    “That is, if each of those three aspects of the triangulation cannot be established on its own as reliable criteria, then why think that three faulty criteria working together is a better deal?”

    Because, contends Davidson, that’s all that’s available to us. Anything else depends on transcending the self-other-world situation in which we are all embedded. Davidson doesn’t have anything to say about this transcendent position because he can’t say anything from within an earthbound philosophy. Reason, says Davidson, is yet another concept and word that makes sense only within the triangle — it doesn’t sit above the triangle in a privileged place of evaluation.

    Comment by ktismatics — 3 October 2007 @ 1:19 pm

  13. Another small thought: Tomasello says that severely autistic people don’t recognize that other humans have minds like their own, which is why they can’t learn language. Since they have no language they can’t report on their own sense of self. Do they have a sense of self that’s anything like non-autistic people’s? They can’t report on their self-awareness, so it’s hard to say. There’s been investigation recently of so-called “mirror neurons,” whereby if you watch someone else performing a behavior it activates the corresponding neuronal activity in your own brain. Presumably autistic people have malfunctioning mirror neuronal activity. On a related note, the ability of humans to recognize their own image in a mirror is a well-known indicator of self-awareness. But clearly animals who fail the mirror test still act in their own self interest. It’s that they have no awareness of acting on their own behalf — they’re just doing what their genes tell them to do. It’s interesting stuff.

    Comment by ktismatics — 3 October 2007 @ 3:31 pm

  14. Ktismatics:
    There is no autonomous I to evaluate whether you exist autonomously.

    Agreed.

    So I can understand “I” only by living with other people who say “I” about themselves, and then extrapolating from their sense of “I-ness” to my own.

    This is true. But how do you know that said “other people” are not simply the development of your own mind. That is, isn’t it possible that we could project others and then, in turn, extrapolate from their sense of “I-ness” to your own, as you say?

    The Golden Boy:
    I mean…you seem to be taking modern Fundy apologetics as the beginning of your purpose, but then “with a different goal”…??

    I am just exploring what the standards are for accepting/rejecting the existence of God. So, for example, what if I start by doubting, but then end by saying that I can’t establish with certainty that other minds exist – or other “basic” beliefs? What does that say about belief in the existence of God?

    Comment by Erdman — 3 October 2007 @ 5:21 pm

  15. What does that say about belief in the existence of God?

    If this is what is happening…by our very asking of the question…rather than our living in response to the God of existence… then are we making ourselves into gods?

    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 3 October 2007 @ 6:02 pm

  16. “But how do you know that said “other people” are not simply the development of your own mind”

    I don’t. But for the time being imagine that there are other humans besides you and other creatures in the world besides humans. From our perspective as observers, sheep and robins and lizards act out of self-interest. But do they have any sense of self? Probably not: they act out of instinct without ever considering their own subjective I-ness. So even being able to ask the question about whether I exist or other people exist is a distinctively human capability. And the only reason we develop this capability for self-awareness is because we grew up in a social environment. So-called “wolf children” grow up without interaction with other humans — for them it’s as if other humans really don’t exist. The wolf children, though, never seem to develop a sense of self. It’s as if there’s a single self-other axis of meaning: neither one makes any sense without the other.

    But it’s always possible that my senses and my inductive powers are deceiving me and that I really am the only person in the universe. If that were true I’d need some sort of transcendent piece of news to inform me. And that’s arguably beyond the scope of any human-scale philosophy.

    Comment by ktismatics — 3 October 2007 @ 6:29 pm

  17. Ktismatics:
    But it’s always possible that my senses and my inductive powers are deceiving me and that I really am the only person in the universe. If that were true I’d need some sort of transcendent piece of news to inform me. And that’s arguably beyond the scope of any human-scale philosophy.

    So, is it fair to say that what you develop as “criteria” are based on a “human-scale philosophy.” But is there any reason why you should choose a human-scale perspective rather than some other perspective, say that of a medieval point of view, where the existence of a transcendent being was assumed?

    This is not necessarily where I was wanting to go with the discussion, but your comment reminded me of some of the philosophical questions I asked several years ago about autonomy. The autonomous philosopher starting without the existence of the supernatural being(s) is one of the Modern distinctives, no?

    Comment by Erdman — 3 October 2007 @ 8:50 pm

  18. “a medieval point of view, where the existence of a transcendent being was assumed?”

    Now we’re back to criteria for making such an assumption. I act as if the world and other people exist, and there are “human-scale” criteria for claiming that these “as-ifs” are likely to be true. What criteria do you propose? If you propose that criteria are inappropriate, what’s your rationale?

    It seems that your objections to Davidson’s criteria have mostly to do with the possibility that everyone’s empirical experience of the world might be an illusion, that something beyond experience is creating a mass delusion. I think to argue against such a possibility demands transcendence, a viewpoint from outside of the human scale of existence. An idealist philosophy might try to provide this transcendence by claiming that reason offers some sort of universal perspective that transcends the material world. But I guess I’m an empiricist in the sense that I think reason is a human cultural artifact, built on top of animal instincts, a tool for achieving human-level understanding. So now you need to go beyond philosophy and into theology, talking about supernatural realms and revelation. And then you also have to invoke supernatural reasons why some people receive the revelations and others don’t.

    I think that even in Davidson’s triangular epistemology the possibility for widespread error exists, because intersubjective consensus on truth can be compromised by systematic cultural and cognitive bias. I am pretty well persuaded, though, that the triangle establishes a world that includes me, other people, and the world. Within that general experiential framework, specific knowledge about myself, others, and the world can be wrong. Often the task of eliminating error requires identifying unstated assumptions and subjecting them to systematic critique. I think progress in knowledge can be made and has been made. I also think that a lot of aspects of experience that have been generally attributed to supernatural causes turn out to have plausible natural explanations. I personally have no intuitive awareness of God’s existence, though I do have such an awareness of myself, other people and the world. That’s about as far as I go.

    Comment by ktismatics — 3 October 2007 @ 9:36 pm

  19. K: Now we’re back to criteria for making such an assumption. I act as if the world and other people exist, and there are “human-scale” criteria for claiming that these “as-ifs” are likely to be true.

    Are you acknowledging something of a circularity to this process? (Not that that is a bad thing, of course.)

    K: It seems that your objections to Davidson’s criteria have mostly to do with the possibility that everyone’s empirical experience of the world might be an illusion, that something beyond experience is creating a mass delusion.

    First of all, I don’t object to Davidson’s triangulation, as you have explained it. I just stop short of calling it “criteria” or “evidence” or “justification.” That the three components are interrelated, however, is something I am happy to acknowledge.

    I also have serious doubts as to whether Wittgenstein would have used the triangulation as criteria/evidence/justification. But I think you are starting to understand my (and possibly W’s) hesitation on this point, as you say:
    I think that even in Davidson’s triangular epistemology the possibility for widespread error exists, because intersubjective consensus on truth can be compromised by systematic cultural and cognitive bias.

    Then you say: I am pretty well persuaded, though, that the triangle establishes a world that includes me, other people, and the world.

    And this is more to my point, namely, that it is possible that your whole “world” and all the triangulation within it is merely a figment of your imagination. I actually find support for this in your recent Manifesto post on multiple “realities.” The fact of the matter is, that no matter how “real” your reality (including all that goes into the triangulation) may appear, the fact is that it is merely your perception. This goes back to Kant who awoke from his so-called dogmatic slumber and said, “Ok, Hume, I’ll grant you a few things and throw you a bone. Perhaps we do not know the thing in itself (nouma), but we do have perceptions (phenomena).”

    So, in regards to the existence of God, you say, I personally have no intuitive awareness of God’s existence, though I do have such an awareness of myself, other people and the world. That’s about as far as I go.

    But then I have this question: What about those who do claim to have intuitive awareness of God? For them, it would seem, the triangulation includes a fourth component, namely, a sense of divinity (sensus divinitatis). Would you have an epistemological problem with a person who invested as much (or more) certainty into this awareness as they did to their awareness of self, other minds, or the external world? The related question is, if you, personally, felt a divine awareness, would you dismiss it b/c it did not fit within the triangulation? Or would you consider it a source of knowledge on par with components of the triangle without need of further criteria???

    Hesiak, Does this tie in w/ your recent interest in Kant? Or am I still missing you?

    Comment by Erdman — 4 October 2007 @ 10:34 am

  20. Hesiak, Does this tie in w/ your recent interest in Kant? Or am I still missing you?

    Uuummm…I think so. But my Kant stuff constituted a question, lets remember…so I’m not entirely sure!
    :)

    Would you have an epistemological problem with a person who invested as much (or more) certainty into this awareness as they did to their awareness of self, other minds, or the external world?

    This seems to head toward my question of whether we are making ourselves into gods by asking the very questions that are being asked.

    The related question is, if you, personally, felt a divine awareness, would you dismiss it b/c it did not fit within the triangulation?

    Just as a thought…what if “divnitas” not only “fits within” the triangulation but lies at its center? Triangulations always involve all kinds of intersections that are always pointing out and in toward some totally-outside (here I guess you could say an complete Other) as well as toward some center.
    :)

    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 4 October 2007 @ 11:04 am

  21. Can a triangle have four sides?

    Comment by samlcarr — 4 October 2007 @ 11:28 am

  22. Hesiak: This seems to head toward my question of whether we are making ourselves into gods by asking the very questions that are being asked.

    Yes, could you expand the thought, please???

    H: Just as a thought…what if “divnitas” not only “fits within” the triangulation but lies at its center? Triangulations always involve all kinds of intersections that are always pointing out and in toward some totally-outside (here I guess you could say an complete Other) as well as toward some center.

    Sounds like onto-theology is a brewin’! Is this a very typical Modern Christian Apologetics move? To want to insert God as the reason for everything? Like a god-of-the-gaps thing?

    Comment by Erdman — 4 October 2007 @ 12:21 pm

  23. Sam:
    Can a triangle have four sides

    This probably depends on you answer to the following question: Should marijuana be legalized?

    There are certain realities in which anything is possible!

    Comment by Erdman — 4 October 2007 @ 12:23 pm

  24. in my experience, it is sort of the reverse of the analogousness or at least an other otherness that helps me to believe in God. If God were just more of the same as my experiences of knowing other others then that would be rather hard to differentiate as a separate category from my own imaginings based on what I ‘know’ or believe of myself & others.

    Comment by samlcarr — 4 October 2007 @ 12:37 pm

  25. “Are you acknowledging something of a circularity to this process?”

    This is in response to my saying “now we’re back to criteria. I already acknowledged circularity of criteria in Davidson’s scheme, all of which make sense in the context of a material world populated by intelligent organic beings like myself. What I was responding to here was your question about why we can’t go back to what you called “a medieval point of view, where the existence of a transcendent being was assumed.” I’m asking what criteria you propose for adopting this point of view — I’m redirecting the criteria question to you.

    “I don’t object to Davidson’s triangulation, as you have explained it. I just stop short of calling it “criteria” or “evidence” or “justification.””

    Okay, what would constitute a “criterion” or “evidence” for you? I acknowledged that, in the discussion of Plantinga on your blog, seeing someone acting as if they were in pain would count as evidence. My criteria for regarding it as evidence of a pain that I can’t feel myself is that I believe that if I were exhibiting these visible signs I would probably be feeling pain, and that this person who is showing these signs is similar to me in that regard. Would you not regard these as evidence and criteria?

    “And this is more to my point, namely, that it is possible that your whole “world” and all the triangulation within it is merely a figment of your imagination.”

    I already responded to this objection; namely, “I think to argue against such a possibility demands transcendence, a viewpoint from outside of the human scale of existence.” Do you agree with this statement? Do you propose a transcendent point of view that eliminates the possibility that everything you experience is an illusion? If so, let’s hear it.

    “What about those who do claim to have intuitive awareness of God? For them, it would seem, the triangulation includes a fourth component, namely, a sense of divinity (sensus divinitatis).”

    It doesn’t hang together with the other three in terms of criteria, which have to do with empirical awareness of phenomena the world, a sense of being similar to other humans, and verbal agreement with them about how to understand the phenomena. God cannot be encountered empirically via sensory inputs, nor is he an embodied person, nor can can you discuss things with him verbally. With respect to the triangle he is “other.” Given that God stands outside the natural order, what criteria do you offer, circular or not, that establishes his integral and intuitive participation in your understanding of this world? Is it by definition supernatural in origin? Or are you advocating Plantinga’s position here?

    Comment by ktismatics — 4 October 2007 @ 12:59 pm

  26. “Just as a thought…what if “divnitas” not only “fits within” the triangulation but lies at its center? Triangulations always involve all kinds of intersections that are always pointing out and in toward some totally-outside (here I guess you could say an complete Other) as well as toward some center.”

    Right, maybe so — the center is also totally outside the framework of the triangle. This might be Luther’s stance, or Hegel’s. Or maybe even Derrida’s, who in his general deconstruction of structuralism contends that the so-called center of the structure ends up serving as a psychological source of stability, being constrained by the structure while everything else gets to float relatively freely. Alternatively, for Derrida the center is the only one that is really free of the structure — the structure adapts to wherever the center happens to go. You lose your feeling of stability, but you grant the center its status as totally other.

    Comment by ktismatics — 4 October 2007 @ 1:04 pm

  27. “in my experience, it is sort of the reverse of the analogousness or at least an other otherness that helps me to believe in God.”

    Again, you’re looking not to something outside the structure, some “other otherness” beyond the natural order, something un-natural as well as super-natural. The fourth side to the triangle requires a third dimension — the mystical pyramid!

    Comment by ktismatics — 4 October 2007 @ 1:08 pm

  28. Erdman – You said: Yes, could you expand the thought, please??? In response to where I said: Hesiak: This seems to head toward my question of whether we are making ourselves into gods by asking the very questions that are being asked. And of note I said that in response to where you had said: Would you have an epistemological problem with a person who invested as much (or more) certainty into this awareness [of God] as they did to their awareness of self, other minds, or the external world?

    The thought being that if we “invest as much (or more) certainty into” an awareness of God, then it seems to head toward placing God in His proper position where I think He belongs. I don’t really believe in certainty, but neither am I too worried about it…because I don’t take doubt as my starting/center point. I think God should take that position. I think that starting with doubt kind of conflicts with “investing…our awareness” in God, but that’s why I said that I think that such an “investment” “heads toward” an answer to the question as to whether we are making ourselves into gods by asking the questions that start with doubt and are meant to end with certainty.

    H[esiak]: Just as a thought…what if “divnitas” not only “fits within” the triangulation but lies at its center? Triangulations always involve all kinds of intersections that are always pointing out and in toward some totally-outside (here I guess you could say an complete Other) as well as toward some center.

    [then The Erdmanian]: Sounds like onto-theology is a brewin’! Is this a very typical Modern Christian Apologetics move? To want to insert God as the reason for everything? Like a god-of-the-gaps thing?

    First of all, are you just trying to get me back for my recent “accusations” of your modernity?
    :)

    Secondly…I’m not sure what “onto-theology” really is. I’m not sure if its Heidegger’s (and now everyone else’s too) term for Scholastic theology or what, but…if so, then talking about that and working through it would probably help answer the various questions I’ve been sending your way about Being, absence and presence. But then if “onto-theology” is Heidegger’s term for Scholasticism – which would make sense to me – then I don’t know why you are asking me whether I am making a typically modern apologetics move.

    Additionally…I don’t know what “God of the gaps” means in this context. I usually take it to mean God-my-problem-solver, basically. Or something like that. But that doesn’t seem to be what you mean here…?? “God as the reason for everything”? I guess that’s one way to put it…but where would Wisdom have been without Athena, goddess of wisdom? Please elaborate on what you were getting at here. I don’t get it, but I’m intrigued and I think working through it would help work though the stuff we’ve been dancing around lately…maybe…I’m not sure…

    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 4 October 2007 @ 1:34 pm

  29. And yes I did kind of have the image of a pyramid in mind…sort of…
    :)

    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 4 October 2007 @ 1:35 pm

  30. Ktismatics:
    Okay, what would constitute a “criterion” or “evidence” for you?

    Nothing. No criteria have ever really worked for basic beliefs. There are some beliefs for which criteria do not work.

    Comment by Erdman — 4 October 2007 @ 8:15 pm

  31. Ktismatics:
    It doesn’t hang together with the other three in terms of criteria, which have to do with empirical awareness of phenomena the world, a sense of being similar to other humans, and verbal agreement with them about how to understand the phenomena. God cannot be encountered empirically via sensory inputs, nor is he an embodied person, nor can can you discuss things with him verbally. With respect to the triangle he is “other.” Given that God stands outside the natural order, what criteria do you offer, circular or not, that establishes his integral and intuitive participation in your understanding of this world?

    If you only except empirical evidence, don’t you kind of stack the deck against God from the beginning?

    I think (with Plantinga) that there are some beliefs that are “basic” beliefs that don’t require criteria in order to be considered knowledge.

    Comment by Erdman — 4 October 2007 @ 8:20 pm

  32. Hesiak,

    I can sympathize with your suggestion that we are turning ourselves into gods.

    Onto-theology is not something I’m well read in, either. It begins with Heidegger and it kind of relates to the god-of-the-gaps thing. That is, if there is a gap in knowledge, then plug god in to make it work.

    Are you thinking that I am developing an apologetic? Or trying to aim at certainty?

    Comment by Erdman — 4 October 2007 @ 8:30 pm

  33. “No criteria have ever really worked for basic beliefs. There are some beliefs for which criteria do not work.”

    You’re the perfect candidate for religion then, perhaps. So you’ve tortured me with this series of questions knowing all along that you weren’t going to offer me any criteria for believing in your own existence, the world’s existence, or other people’s existence? Even Plantinga’s criteria you dismiss? No basis for discussion whatever? Just pure fideism and intuitionism? What a disappointment.

    “If you only except empirical evidence, don’t you kind of stack the deck against God from the beginning?”

    Even if God reveals himself to you, you have to receive that revelation through your senses, your brain, your awareness — your humanity. This is empirical evidence, whatever the source of that evidence. If the transmission comes directly into my brain I’d regard it as empirical evidence, which I would then have to evaluate as best I could.

    “I can sympathize with your suggestion that we are turning ourselves into gods.”

    The whole discussion has been about self, other, and world — gods haven’t really come into the discussion except in response to you Christians’ questions. So you’re saying that one cannot account for the existence of self, others, and world without God’s verification of it? But he offers no criteria? Looks like we’re back to Calvin’s special revelation to those lucky individuals whose minds God has opened. Pardon my sarcasm, but really, if you guys’ concluding remarks about this conversation consist of haughty condemnation — turning ourselves into gods I’m sure doesn’t include you — then I suggest you go bother somebody else with your smug Christianity. Rational? Maybe not. Too bad. Don’t worry about my hit rate either. Passive aggressive? No — just aggressive.

    Comment by ktismatics — 4 October 2007 @ 9:46 pm

  34. Hey, that’s not fair. You guys are winding up the discussion before my very important and key question is addressed.

    I still want to know how one differentiates the anthropomorphism of projecting my thoughts onto the dog from the anthropomorphism that i would have to assume in order to hear God? You can’t say ‘well that should just be obvious to you’, it isn’t, and I can’t say that very convincingly to Ivan, or any other honest seeker either.
    “seek and you will find” is the promise …

    I guess I agree with John, there have to be criteria.

    Comment by samlcarr — 5 October 2007 @ 4:48 am

  35. Maybe “criterion” is a technical term among philosophers? Here’s the online definition: “a basis for comparison; a reference point against which other things can be evaluated.” “a standard of judging; any approved or established rule or test, by which facts, principles opinions, and conduct are tried in forming a correct judgment respecting them.” I undertand that I might be deceived, but my criteria for saying “that tree is green” is that I can see a tree over there and it looks green, according to what I understand “tree” and “green” to mean. In none of the discussion have I said “therefore I don’t believe in God” or “therefore there is no basis for belief in God.” I just want someone to give me the basis for their belief. I read about Plantinga’s basis at Theos Project, and Erdman did say he liked Plantinga’s position. Still, Plantinga does present a rationale, which I’ve tried to understand and also tried to give specific reasons why I’m not persuaded by that rationale. Maybe Erdman should write an apologetics post about why he believes in God. I won’t even accuse him of stealing traffic, since I’m not in a position to talk about why I beieve in God.

    Comment by ktismatics — 5 October 2007 @ 5:29 am

  36. I suppose the more immediately relevant question is why people believe that they, others and the world exist. Does the Christian position assert that it’s because God implants this awareness? If so, does God implant that awareness also in snails, or only in beings who are able to formulate beliefs about their instincts?

    Comment by ktismatics — 5 October 2007 @ 6:31 am

  37. This is an interesting question also from the creation in Genesis standpoint, for the serpent obviously was a fellow sentient being and I have argued elsewhere that the serpent may not have been the only ‘other’ earthbound creature with the ability of language.

    The evolutionist has to say that it is only man that has thrown this particular genetic switch and our anthropologists seem sure (though why I don’t know) that other human ancestors (e.g. Neanderthals) didn’t have well developed language abilities. And it would probably be fair to say that language is one of the key indicators of self consciousness, though it’s possible to imagine other scenarios here as well.

    Comment by samlcarr — 5 October 2007 @ 7:56 am

  38. I’ve decided to just copy/paste from an email I sent to the Doylomania last night:

    and i noticed the snippy comment but haven’t had time to respond. just quickly for now…i know erdman and i are both christian…but with regards to that epistemological stuff…why lump he and i together? i think maybe the fiedism is sort of not un-founded…maybe he wouldn’t say that…but i would also think that my pal aquinas is the least fiedist of them out there, no?

    and fyi – my “are we making ourselves into gods” comment was actually directed more at erdman. i will probably still say that over at your blog. so for you it will be repetitive. but i wouldn’t say that to you, really. that would be rediculous. your agnostic! i mean…i guess it could sort of maybe apply to you…if we want to go there…but the question was directed more at erdman.

    i was actually just trying to understand where he was coming from. believe it or not i actually understand better where your coming from than where erdman’s coming from.

    the fact that I don’t understand Erdman…is I don’t think…anything new. So…Erdman…my questions to you lately have partially been my trying to understand where you’re at!
    :)

    And Sam…sorry I don’t have answers for your dog and anthropomorphism questions. At least not really. But it sure is an interesting question!

    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 5 October 2007 @ 10:43 am

  39. I like scientific method. It gives me at least a feeling of satisfaction that I am being as least foolish as I can be. But I think John’s point about the buckets emptying into each other as well as the fact that they are leaky as per Jon, calls for the exchange of substantive stuff to outdo the rate of loss from the individually leaky buckets.

    In other words, the theoretical accuracy of the self-verificatory process would be directly proportional to the rate of exchange and inversely proportional to the leakiness factor.

    Comment by samlcarr — 5 October 2007 @ 11:24 am

  40. Sam…lol…I thought we were in sociology/psychology rather than trigonometry class!!

    Comment by Jaosn Hesiak — 5 October 2007 @ 11:28 am

  41. I predict that in future generations this will be known as Carr’s hydraulic model of reality.

    Comment by ktismatics — 5 October 2007 @ 12:12 pm

  42. How about the KtismErdAssSam Model, it’s gotta sound uniquely impressive to make it into Wikipedia!

    Comment by samlcarr — 5 October 2007 @ 12:32 pm

  43. We should consult with Erdman on self-promotion — as I recall he once listed himself as one of the notable people from his home town on the Wikipedia entry.

    Also Sam, I just put up a comment/question at OST about God’s “you shall surely die” warning to Adam in the Garden. Maybe there’s a corollary to the KEAS Model that would apply?

    Comment by ktismatics — 5 October 2007 @ 12:39 pm

  44. We should consult with Erdman on self-promotion — as I recall he once listed himself as one of the notable people from his home town on the Wikipedia entry.

    I didn’t know that! I just l-o-l-ed in the middle of work! Sheesh. That’s hilarious!!

    And Sam’s name for “our” model of reality is pretty funny too. Although I’m afraid that “the other” might accuse us of making up our own reality on that one!
    :)

    Comment by Jaosn Hesiak — 5 October 2007 @ 1:55 pm

  45. I think we should change the lettering and naming a bit…

    Modele Sam-KisT-Erd-Ass de Realite

    Comment by Jaosn Hesiak — 5 October 2007 @ 2:07 pm

  46. or…

    Modele de Realite GoldenSam-KisT-Erd-mans-Ass

    Comment by Jaosn Hesiak — 5 October 2007 @ 2:09 pm

  47. Jason, LOL to you too. I hadn’t considered the creative possibilities!

    Comment by samlcarr — 5 October 2007 @ 2:37 pm

  48. I still want to know how one differentiates the anthropomorphism of projecting my thoughts onto the dog from the anthropomorphism that i would have to assume in order to hear God? You can’t say ‘well that should just be obvious to you’, it isn’t, and I can’t say that very convincingly to Ivan, or any other honest seeker either. “seek and you will find” is the promise. I guess I agree with John, there have to be criteria.

    Sam, I sympathize and this is where I get more particularly postmodern because I definitely acknowledge the projection of ourselves on to god and the fact that it is an inescapable fact that we (more often than not) construct god in our own image. After all, as John has pointed out, it seems to make sense that we start with ourselves. And yet I still believe that if God exists and if we are image bearers who truly “seek” (as you say), then there seems to be hope to transcend, at least a little bit, and reach something real and authentic.

    Perhaps I can flesh this out a bit as I blog on Plantinga in the upcoming months and kind of begin to specify more where I break with Modern thought and how that relates to my own theology.

    John, Sorry to disappoint you! Did you really think I had all the answers?!?! At least you now know it wasn’t all a setup. My claim was much more mild: That belief in other minds and belief in God were on par. We obviously disagree on this, but it was good discussion, as far as I’m concerned.

    Comment by Erdman — 5 October 2007 @ 8:18 pm

  49. Ktismatics: We should consult with Erdman on self-promotion — as I recall he once listed himself as one of the notable people from his home town on the Wikipedia entry.

    Dude, my blog is the best thing thing going for my little town of Winona Lake!

    Wiki pulled it down after only a few weeks. But I think it might have stayed up there for quite some time had it not been reviewed. The reason that the Wiki entry for Winona Lake was reviewed is because some Hill Billy went online and wrote in the Wiki that all the Winona Lake Police were corrupt! Frankly, he is not too far off. Of course, they aren’t corrupt – probably not smart enough for that – there are just some of them that remind me of Barny Fife: cops running around giving speeding tickets to anyone going a mile over the limit! I guess I shouldn’t be so harsh, should I???

    Comment by Erdman — 5 October 2007 @ 8:27 pm

  50. “John, Sorry to disappoint you! Did you really think I had all the answers?!?!”

    Mostly I’ve been waiting for the answers that satisfy you, at least for now. Maybe it’s not clear to you either. It’s an open question for most of us, I think.

    Comment by ktismatics — 5 October 2007 @ 8:35 pm


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