An Emphasis on “The True”?

In his article on W. V. Quine in A Companion to Analytic Philosophy, Peter Hylton says that it is helpful to place Quine’s work in the context of “twentieth-century scientific philosophy.” He describes the aims of this movement saying:

Perhaps most notable is the emphasis on knowledge, and its objects, rather than on ethics or politics or aesthetics or history or the human condition, as the primary concern of philosophy; an emphasis, one might say, on the True rather than on the Good or the Beautiful. (182)

That’s an interesting way to put it considering what follows, namely Hylton’s comment that “[i]t is characteristic of scientific philosophy to take the natural sciences as paradigmatic of all knowledge” (182). The natural sciences rule out God-talk a priori, in fact, they effectively replace God, especially in Hylton’s description of them as “paradigmatic of all knowledge.” But to speak of “truth” apart from God is nonsense. John Frame was right to note that:

Truth, like knowledge and wisdom, comes by grace, by trinitarian communication, by Word and by Spirit (Dan. 10:21; John 8:31f.; 14:6; 17:17 [cf. vv. 6, 8; 2 Sam. 7:28; Ps. 119:142, 160]; Rom. 2:8; 2 Cor. 4:2; 6:7; Gal. 2:5; Eph. 1:13; Col. 1:5: 2 Thess. 2:12; 1 Tim. 3:15; Jas. 3:14; 1 Peter 1:22; 2 Peter 2:2; Rev. 6:10; 15:3; 16:7). (Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, 49)



7 thoughts on “An Emphasis on “The True”?

  1. So what were the ancient Greeks who did not know God or even monotheistic religion, doing? Is Euclid somehow “not true”? Why do we value Socrates and Plato and Aristotle’s discussion about truth — they were, according to your account, missing the essential element. For that matter, what were Moses and the prophets of the Old Testament doing — they did not know “trinitarian communication.” And even in our own era, what are we to make of all the Jewish and Hindu and Buddhist and atheist winners of Science Nobel prizes — to the extent they know of “trinitarian communication”

    Or if, on the other hand, somehow the Trinitarian God-head inspired truth, to the degree it exists, in Euclid and Socrates and Plato and Aristotle and Moses and the Old Testament prophets and non-Christian science Nobel prize winners — and those writings have value — well, then, why need we bother now with Trinity? After all, these philosophers and prophets were ignorant of it and yet are today revered as the greatest harbingers of truth.

    “Secular truths” in your philosophy may be less important than religious truths. But we can hardly say that “secular truths” have no value at all. Indeed, most of society seems to value “secular truths” over religious truths; as you can note by visiting almost any high school or college in the US.

  2. Theophrastus: You lost me. I’m sure your comment made perfect sense to you but I can’t quite see your point. So I’ll say this: natural science presuppositionally removes the foundation of truth viz. God, which in turn is not emphasizing the truth. This isn’t to say that truth cannot be arrived at through scientific investigation (I had originally added a clause to that effect to the initial draft of this post, but removed it before publishing); it’s to say that such truth is grounded in God, i.e., the Trinity (whether one knows it or not is beside the point), and to speak about truth devoid of the Trinity is to reveal inconsistency in one’s worldview.

  3. OK, so let’s go with that:

    it’s to say that such truth is grounded in God, i.e., the Trinity (whether one knows it or not is beside the point)

    Then of what value is knowing of the Trinity? As you point out — even if a scholar does not know of the Trinity (or knows of it and actively rejects it), he may still find scientific (and — perhaps you will allow: logical, mathematical, and philosophical) truths. Does knowing the Trinity make one more effective at finding scientific, logical, and mathematical truths? Then one would expect Christians to be better represented in the numbers of great scientists, logicians, mathematicians, and philosophers.

    Is knowledge of the Trinity useful for any field of knowledge other than religion?

  4. Theophrastus: Your missing the point; or catching it and just trying to raise another point. The value of knowing the Trinity is salvation, of course, but that’s not what I’m talking about here. My point is simply that proposing an “emphasis” on “truth” is inconsistent with system that presuppositionally factors out God in its search for knowledge, truth, or anything else.

  5. Let’s bring it back to Quine, whom you appear to criticize for “effectively replac[ing] God” with “the natural sciences.” Now, in fact, I knew Quine, and talked to him several times, and your criticism is highly unjust. Quine never claimed access to “the truth.” In fact, he was very clear that his philosophical basis was arbitrary — he merely used it because experience taught him it was more effective than other belief systems. In his famous essay, “Two Dogmas of Epiricism” he wrote:

    As an empiricist I continue to think of the conceptual scheme of science as a tool, ultimately, for predicting future experience in the light of past experience. Physical objects are conceptually imported into the situation as convenient intermediaries-not by definition in terms of experience, but simply as irreducible posits comparable, epistemologically, to the gods of Homer. For my part I do, qua lay physicist, believe in physical objects and not in Homer’s gods; and I consider it a scientific error to believe otherwise. But in point of epistemological footing the physical objects and the gods differ only in degree and not in kind. Both sorts of entities enter our conception only as cultural posits. The myth of physical objects is epistemologically superior to most in that it has proved more efficacious than other myths as a device for working a manageable structure into the flux of experience.

    In other words, Quine does not assume that science has any privileged view of “truth.” Rather, he merely argues that it is “more efficacious … as a device for working a manageable structure into the flux of experience.”

    Issue of salvation aside (which arguably belong to the question of the next world, and not this one), can you take issue with Quine’s relying on science simply because it has proven more efficacious?

    Let me compare Quine with a great Christian philosopher, St. Thomas Aquinas (who taught much about the Trinity), who famously debated whether there was excrement in Paradise and whether hair and nails will continue to grow after the Resurrection.

    So, Aquinas started from the Trinity (and Aquinas thought it to be the truth) and Quine started from science (and did not claim it was the truth — only that it was effective). Quine is of course famous for his contributions to logic, which are regularly used, for example, in the development of computers.

    Now, perhaps Aquinas is saved and Quine is not, but can we not agree that Quine’s getting logic right has proven to be of greater importance than Aquinas’s question of whether there is excrement in Heaven?

  6. Theophrastus: You continue to ignore my point and now my suspicion that you’ve read way more into my words than I intended has been confirmed. I was not criticizing Quine in the least. My comment was in reference to Hylton’s description of the “twentieth-century scientific philosophy” as emphasizing the True rather than the Good or Beautiful.

  7. Nick — It seems to me that you are using the word TRUTH in a different way than Hylton* is using it, and certainly in a different way than Quine is using it. It seems to me that to you, TRUTH refers to some foundational force — much like the word is used in John 14:6:

    Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the TRUTH, and the life (KJV, emphasis added)

    But Jesus also says in John 14:6 that Jesus is “LIFE” but we do not misunderstand a biologist when she talks about life as thinking she is necessarily talking about Jesus.

    Similarly, we learn from 1 John 4:8 that God is “LOVE,” but we can distinguish between different types of love (even more easily in the Greek language than the English language!)

    You criticize me for misunderstanding you above, but I think that you also need to ask whether you have understood Hylton* in the way that he intended his words to be understood. For example, as you probably know, in computer logic, an ordinary input to a computer logic gate (think of a digital computer chip) can have two values: TRUE or FALSE. We do not understand from this that a TRUE input value is synonymous with the Trinity, so that the Trinity is present at some input lines and is not present at other of the input lines. Rather it is the case that the word TRUE is being used in a different way.

    Similarly, consider these two mathematical assertions:

    (a) “1+1=2”
    (b) “1+1+1=1”

    We can say that (a) is TRUE and (b) is FALSE. But we would not say that Trinity inhabits (a) and the Trinity does not inhabit (b). (In fact, some wags may claim that (b) is a way of indicating the Trinity.)

    Another example. Abraham and Isaac both failed to tell the TRUTH (see, for example, Genesis 12 and Genesis 26) and yet they were blessed by God. How do we resolve this paradox? TRUTH in the sense you are using it is different from the ordinary meaning of TRUTH as a logical value asserted with sentences.

    I truly believe that to understand a writer, one must at least temporarily sympathize with him so that one can understand his points. You accuse me here of failing to do that with you. But I have to wonder if you have done that with Hylton* because you seem to be engaging him with a different meaning of TRUTH than he is using. (I know for certainty that your definition of TRUTH is starkly different from Quine’s — because Quine went to the the trouble to clearly explain what he meant by TRUTH.)

    (*I have not read Hylton, so I am just guessing here whether you have misread him or not.)

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