Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Against Bitzer: Why Peter Ditzel doesn't know what a thing is

Peter Ditzel of WordofHisGrace.org has responded to an article of mine printed in the Classical Teacher magazine entitled, "Is Fiction False?" the point of which is that imaginative literature is often (not always) more effective in conveying truth than nonfiction prose writing. Ditzel responds to my point here as well as that of Douglas Jones at Canon Press:
In the Summer 2007 Memoria Press catalog, called The Classical Teacher, appears an article, “Is Fiction False?” by Martin Cothran. This author likens “modern people” to Thomas Gradgrind, “the schoolmaster in Charles Dickens’ Hard Times, who, when he is introduced in chapter two of that book, asks his class to define a horse. He first asks Sissy Jupe, whom he calls ‘Girl number twenty,’ to define a horse. Her father is a horsebreaker, and she has lived around them her whole life; but when Gradgrind asks her to define what a horse is, she is perplexed and speechless.” Gradgrind then asks a boy named Bitzer, who pleases Gradgrind with his definition: “Quadruped. Graminivorous. Forty teeth, namely twenty-four grinders, four eye-teeth, and twelve incisive. Sheds coat in the spring; in marshy countries, sheds hoofs, too. Hoofs hard, but requiring to be shod with iron. Age known by marks in mouth.”

Cothran then observes, “Of course, Sissy Jupe knew what a horse was better than anyone else in the class, including the knowledgeable Bitzer. She had seen a horse with her eyes, looked upon it, and her hands had handled it. She certainly knew the truth of the horse better than Bitzer, who had simply memorized sterile facts about it.” Yes, no doubt Sissy Jupe knew horses better than Bitzer. But I challenge Cothran to explain how Sissy knew horses apart from facts. Cothran, Jones, and others of their ilk disparage “arid intellectual descriptions,” “bare literal sentences,” and “sterile facts.” (They also sneer at “modern people” and seem to be intent on injecting medievalism—remember the good old Dark Ages when Latin was king and people were brainwashed by the Roman Catholic Church?—into the homeschooling movement.) But again, if Sissy had expressed her knowledge of horses, how would she have done so apart from facts?

So I have officially been challenged, and I accept. It is a duel I hope that both of us survive and which the only casualty will be someone's ignorance--mine or his.

Ditzel and I don't necessary disagree on our conclusions about the importance of fiction (and by 'fiction' I mean the 'poetic' in its broad sense): Both of us, I think, would agree that both the poetic an the non-poetic can convey truth and do it well. So where do we disagree? I think we disagree in a matter of some importance: namely, what is.

I will ignore Ditzel's simplistic view of the Middle Ages and address the horse issue: How did Sissy know a horse? By direct apprehension. Of the horse, that is. And it had nothing to do with any discursive explanation she had heard of the type that Ditzel seems to value so highly. She knew a horse not on the basis of arguments or assertions or even "facts". She knew a horse on the basis of an actual horse.

Ditzel seems to be confused about what things are, which is a great handicap under which to labor when discussing them. I claim that a thing is a thing. Ditzel can contest me all he wants, but I really don't see how the assertion is even debatable--despite the fact that Ditzel seems to want to debate it. Ditzel does not seem to think a thing is a thing. He thinks that a thing is a fact--or a collection of facts. But a fact is a piece of information and a thing is not a piece of information, as Ditzel seems to imply.

I suppose it is possible that Ditzel takes the term 'fact' to mean a thing--or as one dictionary has it, "any unit of being which is capable of bearing meaning"--but, if he does, then he shouldn't make it sound so much like he doesn't. In any case that certainly isn't the meaning Gradgrind--or Dicken's--is using in the passage which I quoted. To Gradgrind, facts mean bits of discrete and disconnected information. But a horse is not a bit of discrete information nor is it a collection bits of disconnected information, therefore a horse is not a fact.

Ditzel clearly does not understand the difference between a thing and the abstract idea of a thing, both of which exist and are useful in their place. But once confounded they lose their proper function and can only confuse.

Cothran has fallen for the notion that knowing something and knowing about it are two different things. What these people fail to do is satisfactorily explain how one can know something apart from knowing about it, and how we can know about something, perhaps know a lot about it, but not know it. We often hear this in regard to Jesus. A preacher might ask, “You might know a lot about Jesus, but do you know Jesus?” What is he talking about? It’s a good question.

Ditzel goes on with a fanciful story about a friend (Bill) whom he knows by spending some interesting time with him, and then concludes:

The real distinction between your knowledge of Bill and mine is degree. It lies in the number of facts and how well I understand the relationship between those facts. By spending so much time with Bill, in so many different circumstances, I have accumulated, both consciously and subconsciously, more facts about Bill than you have. I can put those facts together into a better understanding of Bill than you can. But knowing Bill is the same as knowing about Bill. There is no difference. You know a little about Bill: I know a lot about Bill.
Really? It's hard to answer Ditzel's assertion here other than to say it is so obviously and blatantly false that it's hard to imagine how anyone could believe it. On the other hand, it might help prove his case anyway, since his argument consisted of a fictional story which clearly did not support his position.

And why did he feel the need to resort to a fictional story in his case that fictional stories are not superior to abstract reasoning anyway?

Under Ditzel's view, the following two propositions mean the same thing:

I know about the President of the United States

I know the President of the United States

It's hard to believe that he really thinks so, but that is clearly what he is saying. He even goes so far as to say that knowing about Jesus and knowing Jesus is the same thing, and that the only difference between an unbeliever and a believer is that the unbeliever doesn't know enough facts:

Preachers who know what they are talking about know that knowing about Jesus and knowing Jesus are not what is at issue. What is important is that some people know many facts about Jesus, but they miss those that are essential, those that must be revealed by the Father in heaven. The unsaved person does not know Jesus as His Lord and Savior. Cothran’s distinction between knowing and knowing about is false because there is no way to know something other than knowing about it. It is a collection of facts and a synthesis of the relationship between the facts.
Gee, and I thought it had something to do with being born again. He truly seems to believe that faith is merely a matter of intellectual assent, a position that is not only not the protestant position--or the reformed position, but is totally outside the scope of Christian thought.

It is ironic that Ditzel has such a low view of the Middle Ages. It is, in fact, where he gets his philosophy. The early 14th century, to be precise. From William of Ockham.

Ditzel is a nominalist, a malady that afflicts many protestants. Nominalism is the belief that things do not possess natures, and that words therefore do not refer to their natures or essences. Words are simply labels we affix to groups of things that happen to have similar characteristics.

Here is Ditzel mouthing the nominalist credo:

Thomas Gradgrind may have been mistaken to think that a handful of scattered facts could sufficiently sum up what a horse is to his students. But the problem was not in the fact that they were facts; the problem lay in not having enough facts!

A thing is what it is only by virtue of the information that can be said about it, nothing more. This is, at bottom, the reason that people like Ditzel side with Bitzer against Sissy Jupe: they don't believe that you know things by direct apprehension--because there is nothing to be apprehended. Sissy cannot know a horse by direct apprehension because there is no horse to know--there is only a set of "facts"--bits of information--which, when culled together, are all that a horse really is. In fact, I think that's why Dickens named him "Bitzer": because all he knew was bits of information. He didn't really know the wholes that make up the world, and that are known not solely by the intellect, but by the whole person.

And what is a person to Ditzel? Humanoid. Omnivorous. 32 teeth: namely, 20 molars, 4 canines, and 8 incisive. Sheds coat (or parka or sweater) in the spring; in coastal places sheds shoes too. Soft feet, but requiring to be shod by Nikes. Age known by ability to use technology and by number of Facebook friends (the more they have, the younger they are).

This is Gradgrind's belief, and Bitzer's--and Ditzel's. Facts, nothing but facts. That's all Ditzel will have. Can we just call him "Ditzer"?

24 comments:

Lee said...

How does it feel to be part on an "ilk", Martin?

Thomas said...

The scary thing about that philosophical position is that, when it comes to theology, knowing God is just the same thing as knowing about God.

Peter Ditzel said...

Someone pointed out to me your response to my article. I appreciate your taking the time to try to point out where I am wrong. Certainly, at least one of us is wrong, and if it is I, then I would like to know it. But I don't believe you have yet proven your case. My response is too long for the space allotted for one post, so I will try to put it in multiple posts.

The first thing I must do is point out where you have misrepresented me. I am not saying you have done this purposely, and I apologize if any lack of clarity on my part led to this misrepresentation.

The most egregious misrepresentation is after you say, "He even goes so far as to say that knowing about Jesus and knowing Jesus is the same thing, and that the only difference between an unbeliever and a believer is that the unbeliever doesn't know enough facts," quote me about preachers, and then say, "Gee, and I thought it had something to do with being born again." This gives the false impression that I am either unaware of or do not believe in being born again. I want to clearly state that I am born again, that I state in numerous other places both in print and on the web that one must be born again, and that in some of those writings I explain the doctrine at length. I would have thought that my statement in the very part of the article in question that you quote, where I say, "What is important is that some people know many facts about Jesus, but they miss those that are essential, those that must be revealed by the Father in heaven," would have caused you to at least investigate further as to whether I believed in being born again. But perhaps your antagonism to the first part of the sentence caused you to miss that the point of the sentence is that knowing Jesus is an act of revelation by the Father in heaven. Since this was an article about reading and knowing, I didn't want to stray too far and explain that a prerequisite of this revelation is being born again. As Jesus said, "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." I know that readers familiar with my work would have known this, but perhaps I should have had those not familiar with my work more in mind. Again, if this was unclear to you, I apologize. I will consider rewording this part of the article in an update. On the other hand, I do think it is quite a leap to go from what I said to giving your readers the impression that I am somehow unaware of or do not believe in being born again.

Peter Ditzel said...

You also misrepresent me in this same position when you say, "He even goes so far as to say that knowing about Jesus and knowing Jesus is the same thing, and that the only difference between an unbeliever and a believer is that the unbeliever doesn't know enough facts." In this gross distortion, you claim that I said things I never even came close to saying. You falsly accuse me of making the unbiblical claim that the only difference between an unbeliever and a believer is that the unbeliever doesn't know enough facts. I never even used the terms believer and unbeliever in my article. What I said was, "Preachers who know what they are talking about know that knowing about Jesus and knowing Jesus are not what is at issue. What is important is that some people know many facts about Jesus, but they miss those that are essential, those that must be revealed by the Father in heaven. The unsaved person does not know Jesus as His Lord and Savior." I don't know how you could have gotten from this statement your interpretation of it. You claim that I say it is the quantity of known facts that distinguish a believer from an unbeliever. I specifically say, "some people know many facts about Jesus, but they miss those that are essential." How can you assert that I am saying that what is important is a quantity of facts when I say that it is not about many facts but those that are essential, and I go on to say that they are revealed by the Father in heaven? I do not see that I was in any way unclear on this point.

Another place where you misrepresent me is where you say, "This is, at bottom, the reason that people like Ditzel side with Bitzer against Sissy Jupe." Nowhere in my article do I say or imply that I side with Bitzer against Sissy Jupe. Bitzer, like Gradgrind, was wrong to believe that a horse could be properly summed up by a mere handful of facts. If Gradgrind wanted to teach those children a lesson (a unit study) about horses, he could at least have read them an introductory book about horses. Even better, after this, he could have taken them to visit some horses and perhaps have them feed them, groom them, and even ride them. This would still be limited compared to Sissy's knowledge, but it would be better than Bitzer's definition.

All of this leads to your misrepresenting me as someone stupid enough to believe that a person can be known by a brief dictionary definition: "And what is a person to Ditzel? Humanoid. Omnivorous. 32 teeth...Can we just call him 'Ditzer'?" I do not believe there is anything I say in my article that legitimately leads to this denigrating, schoolboyish distortion of my position and my person.

Peter Ditzel said...

In my article, I challenged you to explain how Sissy knew horses apart from facts. Your direct response is: "How did Sissy know a horse? By direct apprehension. Of the horse, that is. And it had nothing to do with any discursive explanation she had heard of the type that Ditzel seems to value so highly. She knew a horse not on the basis of arguments or assertions or even 'facts'. She knew a horse on the basis of an actual horse." But how is "direct apprehension" or knowing "a horse on the basis of an actual horse" at odds with facts? This you have not explained. You have also not explained the process of directly apprehending a horse. I make an attempt at this in my article by saying, "Cothran’s distinction between knowing and knowing about is false because there is no way to know something other than knowing about it. It is a collection of facts and a synthesis of the relationship between the facts. Oh yes, we might be able to express these facts from an internal point of view and we might be able to make them more vivid. Sissy Jupe might include in her description of a horse how riding one makes her heart pound as she feels the power of its muscles beneath her, how she can make it go faster by speaking softly into its ear, and how the smell of a horse being groomed always brings back memories of home. But these are still facts. They may merely have other, more subjective, facts tagged onto them." In other words, when we "directly apprehend," we may take in enormous quantities of facts both consciously and subconsciously with our senses, but they are still facts. If I am wrong, I sincerely ask you to describe to me by what other way we get to know something. How do we go from the existence of the horse to what is in our minds if not by facts? Certainly, we synthesize the facts and try to get as complete an understanding as possible, and we may add emotional reactions to this picture, but it is still a collection of facts. Show me where I am wrong. Explain to me another process by which we can know something.

Your attempt to distinguish "things" from "facts" would leave us speechless, or nearly so. You say "a thing is a thing," and certainly this is true. But tautology does not advance knowledge. Even Mr. Ed knew that "a horse is a horse, of course, of course." Despite your assertion to the contrary, I did not say that a thing is a fact or a collection of facts. I did not say that a horse is a fact. But our knowledge of a horse is a collection of facts. If someone asks me what a horse is, and I reply, "A horse is a horse," I have done nothing to further his knowledge. Quite frankly, even Bitzer's reply is better than, "A horse is a horse." At least it implies that a horse is not a table!

Peter Ditzel said...

You say, "Ditzel clearly does not understand the difference between a thing and the abstract idea of a thing, both of which exist and are useful in their place." Surely you are not saying that Gradgrind would have gained your approbation if he had just rephrased his question and asked for an abstract idea of a horse, are you? It is completely understood common sense that when someone asks me what a horse is, he doesn't expect me to throw a horse at him. He expects me to give him my idea of a horse. Mincing words over such commonly understood concepts wastes our time.

You say, "Under Ditzel's view, the following two propositions mean the same thing:

"I know about the President of the United States

"I know the President of the United States."

Not quite. "I know the President of the United States" implies personal acquaintance. "Knowing about" the President of the United States says nothing about personal acquaintance one way or the other, but in popular usage usually means there is no personal acquaintance. Thus, All "I know the President of the United States" is "I know about the President of the United States." But All "I know about the President of the United States" is not "I know the President of the United States." But personal acquaintance does not necessarily imply knowing someone very well. And lack of personal acquaintance does not mean you can't know a lot about someone. And I am glad that you agree with me. How do I know? Because in your blog, "Richard John Neuhaus, RIP," you write, "I never met Neuhaus, but, like many, I felt like I knew him because I knew his thoughts on the same issues that I was thinking about, thoughts that he gave eloquent expression." You had no personal acquaintance with Neuhaus, but you felt you knew him. Why? Because you "knew his thoughts on the same issues" that you were thinking about. Well, "ain't that a fact," as they say down home! What? You felt you knew Neuhaus without "direct apprehension"? And, on top of that, you felt you knew Neuhaus by knowing his thoughts (meaning what he said and wrote) on certain issues? Are not these things he said and wrote about these issues facts? Let's face it, what you are saying here is that you felt you knew Neuhaus because you knew certain facts about him.

In sum, I believe you have misrepresented me to your readers. I truly hope that this was simply by misunderstanding and misreading me. I hope you will explain this. I also do not believe that you have adequately answered my challenge to explain how Sissy knew horses apart from facts. By "direct apprehension" is not an adequate response because it does not explain how "direct apprehension" is not simply another method of gaining facts.

Martin Cothran said...

Peter,

Thanks for posting. This is an interesting and important issue. I will be responding to your comments over the next few days.

Martin Cothran said...

Peter,

In regard to your first point--that I misrepresented you in regard to whether knowing Jesus and knowing about Jesus are the same thing--here is what you said:

Cothran has fallen for the notion that knowing something and knowing about it are two different things.

Cothran’s distinction between knowing and knowing about is false because there is no way to know something other than knowing about it.

Thomas Gradgrind may have been mistaken to think that a handful of scattered facts could sufficiently sum up what a horse is to his students. But the problem was not in the fact that they were facts; the problem lay in not having enough facts!

I hope I can be forgiven for taking these as an indication that you believe what I represented you as believing. If you meant something else, I am more than willing to restate my argument with that in mind.

Martin Cothran said...

Peter,

Secondly, my remark "Gee, and I thought it had something to do with being born again" was in the context of making the point that faith--particularly that of reformed variety--which involves notitia, assensia, and fiducia,--is not just a matter of having enough facts or the intellectual assent that might be based on them (assensia), but, in addition, a matter of an understanding of the claims of the gospel (notitia), and a surrender of the will (fiducia), which is what I understand the reformers to have believed.

I was not asserting you were not born again or that you didn't believe being born again was necessary for salvation, but rather that I disagreed with your understanding of being born again as it was expressed in your article.

Thomas said...

"In other words, when we 'directly apprehend,' we may take in enormous quantities of facts both consciously and subconsciously with our senses, but they are still facts."

What definition of fact are you working with here? When I perceive something, I don't do it through facts (at least in any obvious way), I do it through direct perception. If I look at a horse, I don't see a fact about a horse, I just see a horse. You seem to subscribe to a "sense-datum" view of perception, and to be confusing facts with sense data, or else you're using the word "fact" in a radically over-broad way.

Is there a difference between knowing God and knowing facts about God?

Peter Ditzel said...

Martin,

During the time Jesus walked the earth, many people knew Him personally. They could say they knew Jesus. But it didn't mean that they had a saving knowledge of Him. However much they may have had a personal acquaintance with Him, there is something more they needed to know. They needed to know Him as their personal Savior. That knowledge, however much it might sound cold and sterile, is a fact. For example, I can say that it is a fact that Jesus is my Savior. This knowledge, and the faith the makes it true, is a gift from God, but it is still a fact. That is why I wrote, "Preachers who know what they are talking about know that knowing about Jesus and knowing Jesus are not what is at issue"--because people have known Jesus but not known Him as their Savior, and because knowing Him as their Savior is knowing about Him--knowing by faith the specific fact that He is their Savior--"What is important is that some people know many facts about Jesus, but they miss those that are essential, those that must be revealed by the Father in heaven. The unsaved person does not know Jesus as His Lord and Savior."

Thus, I say that knowing something and knowing about something cannot be distinguished because they are essentially the same. In common usage, knowing something usually means a more thorough or more intimate knowledge. But this is only a matter of degree and not difference in essence. And even that is not always true. If I say I know the President of the United States, people will probably assume that I have at least a nodding acquaintance with him. If I say I know about the President of the United States, it can mean anything from knowing the fact of his existence to knowing enough about him to write a biography. In fact, I may know more about him than someone who has a personal acquaintance with him.

So, my point on this matter is that I see the elevating of "knowing" above "knowing about" while disparaging "facts" as "hard and cold" as a kind of myth. By what method can we know something apart from knowing about it? Is it a form of Vulcan mind-meld? But even that would only be the transfer of facts from one mind to another. I am not a nominalist, and I do not believe that things are facts. But our knowledge of things must be through facts. No matter how well I know a horse, all I really have in my head is an idea of a horse, not the horse itself. And that idea is a collection of facts.

Getting back to Jesus, then, as I said in the paragraph about the preachers, it is not a matter of trying to distinguish between knowing and knowing about, and it is not a matter of knowing many facts versus few, it is a matter of the miracle of believing the right fact.

I hope this makes my position clearer.

Peter Ditzel said...

Thomas,

I am using a broad definition of "fact." Perhaps I should use "bit of information," but that sounds even more cold and sterile than "fact." But I am also using a broad definition of "know." That's because, aside from divine revelation, we don't really know anything. We only have an opinion of things. At least that's my opinion. :) A camera can see a horse, but it has no opinion of what it is. Your seeing a horse differs vastly from this, doesn't it? But how? It's not the horse that makes the difference. It's not the image of the horse on your retina that makes the difference. It's what is in your mind. You are collecting data and trying to make sense of it, something the camera does not do. A camera collects sense-data of a sort, but it doesn't make sense of it (please forgive the equivocation). Let me ask you, How do you know you are seeing a horse?

Let me ask you some more questions. How do you know you are looking at a computer screen right now? How do you know that you are reading what I have written? How do you perceive this? How are you abstracting what you are reading and making (or not making) sense of it? I am not trying to avoid your questions, but the subject you have brought up is epistemology, and many tomes have been written on it over the centuries, and I don't think we are going to settle the question right here in this blog.

As far as your last question, I refer you to my response to Martin, above.

Martin Cothran said...

Peter,

No matter how well I know a horse, all I really have in my head is an idea of a horse, not the horse itself. And that idea is a collection of facts.

I'm sorry, but an idea is most definitely not a collection of facts. You can have ideas in your head, and you can state that something is a fact, but the fact is not in your mind.

If it is, then you would have to agree with the following argument:

That a horse is a mammal is a fact
Facts can be in the mind
That a horse is a mammal is in your mind.

I think it is fairly clear that a horse being a mammal is a state of things in the world. It is not a state of things in your mind.

You are using a very unclear definition of 'fact'. Is a fact a thing in the world or a thing in your mind?

Peter Ditzel said...

Martin,

This is the way I see it.

Definition #5 for "fact" in Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, eleventh edition states: "a piece of information presented as having objective reality." This is a useful definition as long as we answer the questions, "What is a piece of information?" and "Does 'presented as having' suggest something that is subjective?"

Let me give you an illustration. From 1930 until 2006, "Pluto is the solar system's ninth planet" was a fact. On August 24, 2006, Pluto was excluded from being a planet. "Pluto is the solar system's ninth planet" is no longer a fact. Did Pluto change? No. Did any other objective reality change? No. What changed? What changed is something in people's heads. Since neither Pluto nor any other objective reality changed, the change from something being a fact one day to it not being a fact the next day must mean that the fact was not based in Pluto or any objective reality, but in people's heads. The idea of what makes a planet changed, and, therefore, the idea of whether Pluto is a planet changed. I submit that the word "idea" in the previous sentence can be changed to the word "fact" without changing the meaning of the sentence because facts are not objective realities; they are ideas in our heads.

Many additional examples similar to the one above could be given.

You may still insist that the objective reality of Pluto is a fact, whether or not it is a planet. I will then ask, How do you know? All you can "know" is what is in your head, and that is subjective. Thus, I maintain that, in the dictionary definition, "a piece of information" is what is in your head, and "presented as having" means it is subjective. I assert that, because facts can change when objective reality does not, facts are subjective ideas in our heads.

I am not saying that there is no objective reality or that objective reality cannot change. Pluto may blow up and not be there at all. The objective reality of Pluto would then have changed, and I would then change the facts in my head about Pluto.

Peter Ditzel said...

You say, "I think it is fairly clear that a horse being a mammal is a state of things in the world. It is not a state of things in your mind." But tomorrow, scientists may say that horses are not mammals; they are birds or reptiles or some new classification. Would horses have changed? No. What would have changed is something in our minds. Therefore, a horse being a mammal is not necessarily a state of things in the world, as I assume you to mean "a state of things in the world" as being objective reality. The objective reality of a horse is its being, period. And I cannot put that into my head. All I can put into my head is what, to me, it looks like, measures to, feels like, sounds like, smells like, or whatever other impressions it makes upon my perceptions. These are facts, and they are in my head. I have no way of getting out of myself and experiencing the horse's objective being. I weigh these facts with other facts in my head and make a classification--mammal, horse.

I'll give you some more food for thought. I have a 90 year old mother with dementia. She sees people in her room. She sees people in her tissue box, in her lamp, in her drinking cup, and sitting on her dresser. When I try to tell her the people are not there, she thinks I am lying. Are the people my mother sees facts or not? You say, they are not "a state of things in the world" or they have no objective reality. Okay. Try telling that to my mother. Of course, we can use the scientific method or we can even use the biblical injunction of saying it cannot be established without two or three witnesses. Very good. But it doesn't change a thing for my mother. She can still, in all honesty, say, "It is a fact that there are people sitting on my dresser." And we cannot really prove her wrong. She may, I speak as a fool, have some perception we do not have. All we can do, using the scientific method, the biblical method, or some other method, is try to arrive at a consensus of opinion for practical purposes. But where do the facts lie? Your guess is as good as mine, which is another way of saying that facts are internal and subjective.

I think this would lead to complete skepticism if not for two things: 1) The consensus of opinion mentioned above is good enough for all practical purposes, and Christians don't have to worry about it anyway, because we understand that this world is just the shadow of the reality to come, and 2) Revelation is an exception. When we read the Bible, we can know the mind of God. What is in His mind can coincide with what is in our mind.

That, at least, is the way I see it. Peace.

Thomas said...

When I look at a horse, I don't see sense data which I then put together and judge to be a horse, I just see a horse and its qualities. I don't see a mental image of a horse, nor certainly does it seem accurate to say that I see bits of information of a horse, I just see a horse. The problem with the sense datum theory is that it doesn't accurately represent the actual phenomenon of perception. Never do I go through a process of perceiving bits of information, and then adding them up to form a concept. That's not an accurate way of describing perception (it just takes a bit of introspection to see that), and it comes, largely, from imposing the paradigm of digital technology on something that is not a piece of digital technology.

Peter Ditzel said...

Martin,

I do not believe that I am imposing the paradigm of digital technology on something that is not a piece of digital technology. You say, "I just see a horse and its qualities." As far as I can tell, you have yet to explain how you see a horse. The horse is not in your eyes, and it is not in your brain. Also, how do you know it is a horse? It might be an illusion. In that case, you would be seeing a horse, you would perceive it as a horse, but it would not be a horse. How does your theory of perception (which appears to be materialist) explain this?

Martin Cothran said...

Peter,

Again, I beg to differ. In your example of Pluto being a planet, it was not anything in anyone’s minds that changed concerning the claim that Pluto is a planet, it was a shift in the meaning of the term ‘planet’ in the statement “Pluto is a planet” by an astronomical society. When you shift the meaning of a term in a statement, nothing need change in anyone’s mind, other than whether you wish to accept the new definition.

But if you change the meaning of a term in a statement, then you get a different statement. It is just as much a fact that Pluto is a planet if you are using the same statement and accept the original definition of ‘planet’—in other words, if you are dealing with the same statement—as when you say that Pluto is not a planet using the new definition. People didn’t change their minds about Pluto being a planet; they were arguing about whether the statement “Pluto is a planet (meaning 1) is in orbit around the Sun, and 2) has sufficient mass to assume a nearly round shape)” should be replaced with the statement “Pluto is a planet (meaning 1) and 2) above plus 3) it is the biggest and most gravitationally dominant astronomical body in its own orbit).”

The “idea of whether Pluto is a planet” did not change: only the idea of ‘planet’ changed, and resulted in a different statement contending for the spot the other had held. Not a single fact was changed in the debate over Pluto other than what astronomers wanted to say a planet was. There was a discovery of new facts, but the discovery of new facts is not what rendered the older statement “Plato is a planet” untrue. The new discoveries led to a change in the opinion of some astronomers as to what should count as a planet.

Martin Cothran said...

Peter,

Let me note a couple of other things. First of all, if all we need to is to change definitions to change facts, then those of us who believe that marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman might as well throw in the towel. The fact of what marriage is can be changed simply by changing its definition. But I don’t know how a Christian can possibly believe that.

Finally, you keep saying a fact is an idea. A fact is not an idea. A fact is an assertion about the world accepted as true. Since an idea is not an assertion at all, it cannot be a fact. A fact is not only not an idea, it is not even the same kind of thing as an idea. There are three orders of three that correspond to three operations of the mind:

Simple Apprehension
Judgment
Deductive Inference

An idea is a simple apprehension, which is also called a “concept.” We form it by abstracting in our mind from our perception of a thing. It involves no affirmation or denial.

We can express a concept as one term in a judgment, either as the subject-term or the predicate-term. We make assertions—either an affirmation or a denial--with ideas and about ideas. They are the components of judgments, but they are not judgments themselves. If these judgments are accepted as true, then they are considered “facts.” But, again, a “fact” is a kind of a judgment, whereas an idea is a simple apprehension which is a component of a judgment and to say they are the same is to confuse two completely different things.

I think people sometimes loosely use the word ‘fact’ in the way you use it, but in discussions like this, I think it is nothing but unhelpful to use them in anything but a technically correct sense.

You say, “As far as I can tell, you have yet to explain how you see a horse.” I’m only being half flippant when I say that you see a horse by looking at it. But if you’re asking about the process by which that happens, I follow Jacques Maritain in thinking that, when you see a horse, your mind forms a mental concept of the horse which is the thing by which the objective concept of the horse (its nature or essence) is perceived. The concept is a representation in the mind which is the means by which you know a material thing.

Here is how Maritain describes the process: “We lay hold of a thing ‘by’ our mental concepts just as we lay hold of an animal by our hands ore see a monument by our eyes. We seize it by such and such an objective concept as we seize an animal by the paws or the ears, or as we see a monument by the fa├žade or the apse.”

To say that this is a materialist position is to misunderstand it. No actual materialist would assent to it. It is the position of Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas, neither of whom could be considered a materialist in the sense you seem to be using the word.

Unknown said...

This discussion reminds me of Paul's instruction to Timothy concerning not striving about words. I can't help but think that you're both missing the point. The difference between how each of Dicken's characters "knew the horse" lies not in their ability to express their knowledge but by what means they acquired it. Some categories of knowledge may best be learned say from a book. Whether fiction or non-fiction is the superior means of communicating the knowledge of a thing may depend on the nature of the thing itself. To borrow an expression from horse racing, there are often "horses for courses". Perhaps some things are best known on a "dry track"(non-fiction) and others on a "muddy track"(fiction). A saving knowledge of Christ apparently is best acquired not through a face to face in the flesh encounter but in a, for lack of a better word, Spirit to spirit encounter. And how does one acquire such knowledge? Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the the word of God. One essential difference between Catholics and Protestants is that one believes that Christ can best be known by utilizing the five physical senses encountering music,architecture, images, odors, and tasting/touching literal flesh and blood while the other believes there is an invisible spiritual sense of seeing, hearing,tasting,etc. that is best communicated through the preaching of the literal word of God. I hope that my poorly chosen words have somehow expressed my thoughts. Alan on Maui

Charles Michael Lassiter said...

Wow, I find this quite a humorous discussion. Obviously neither of you really know one another or there would be no argument. I would like to add, maybe we should ask the horse :). When Jesus said He knew the Father in Matthew 11:27, he used EPIGINOSKO in the Greek. GINOSKO by itself means to know intimately, since it is the same word used to translate the Septuagint "Adam knew his wife" in Genesis, but this word is attached with EPI preceding it which means above this level in Greek. So I would say really knowing God would require the highest level of all senses intimately combined together to have the fullest comprehension. This, for us, could only be a miracle, not of perception and fact only, but also of revelation of a spiritual nature above all senses. That may be why we are called 'blind' before we actually KNOW the Lord. Both of you are right and yet all of us are lacking in this area until we meet Him face to face and know Him as He truly is. Then, in our awe of Him, the arguments of the past will be only shadows of what we thought we knew. May God bless both of you. I enjoyed the debate !!

Michael

John Larkin said...

I've never heard of either of you gentlemen before today, and now I wish I hadn't stumbled upon this train wreck. Frankly, I don't know who started this, and I don't really care, but you guys represent so much of what is wrong with Christian theology today, yesterday, and probably tomorrow, too (or at least until Jesus makes all things new). Little grace and lots of venom. And please don't think your play acting of respect, niceties, and humility has fooled anyone of your readers.

Gentlemen, you two have so much in common, not that you'd know it for the blindness caused by your unquenchable desires to put your intelligence on display. You guys (in this particular dialogue, and perhaps in far more other places than either of you might care to admit) appear to be the epitomes of a particular brand of theologian/philosopher once described by one of my seminary professors - "academic flexors and gymnasts." He would say, "You must hold our ground for the Gospel, but beware, lest you lose your way."

Why don't you guys buy each other some lunch and actually get to know one another, either starting a collection of enumerable facts about the other or agreeing that you both are indeed things? You must have worked up quite an appetite after boxing each other's shadows round after pointless round.

Martin Cothran said...

John,

Both Mr. Ditzel and myself were discussing actual issues which are actually important and we were making substantive points about our positions. I would be more than pleased after having said what I said (and reading what he said back) to have him to my house where I could ply him on my back porch on a nice summer day with iced tea and fine discussion. And I would be willing to bet that Mr. Ditzel would say the same.

You obviously believe the issues we were discussing were unimportant. You then read your own lack of interest in what we were discussing onto us. You apparently can't imagine that anyone would consider such philosophical (not theological) issues as important and concluded that our motivation was simply to impress people by our knowledge.

To this I can only respond that Ditzel and I do think these issues are important, and important enough to argue about. And your attempt to impart false motive to both of us I find quite disappointing.

You have gotten on my blog and condemned me and my interlocutor for intellectual dishonesty and bad faith. These are things that are thankfully absent from the original discussion.

This is something I would never have said about Peter. I took him to be serious and intellectually honest (but mistaken as I argued). There was no language to poison our discussion of the type that you have introduced here in your assessment of our discussion.

Just because two people disagree with each other--even heatedly--does not mean they don't like each other or wish the other ill. It just means they think the issue is important. If you don't think what we were talking about was important, that's your business. I suggest you go read another blog.

But may I suggest that you need to go back and read your comment and ask yourself if you have not engaged in the very thing you have (mistakenly) accused Peter and myself of. Your comment reminds me of the people who use the gospel passage condemning judgmentalism to judge other people for being judgmental.

There was no venom in the discussion between Mr. Ditzel and me, but your comment, on the other hand, makes me feel like reaching for the antivenom.

If you're going to preach to other people about venomous discussion, I would first make sure that your assessment isn't clouded by a misapprehension of what you are reading. And then I would make sure that you don't engage in it yourself.

Thomas M. Cothran said...

John,

Have you been working on that comment for 3 years? This was posted at the beginning of 2010.

I'd really like to hear what you think of this new music style called "grunge" ... or what you think Barry Goldwater's chances in the election might be.