Monday, July 11, 2016
Partially Perfect Knowledge Theory
As I have said, I'm really to the point where I'd really like to spend most of my time on this blog reflecting on nature and this beautiful creation - human and otherwise - and living simply and lovingly within it. But I am still fascinated with rational problem solving and considering reasonable questions about apparently hard to settle issues. So, in that spirit, not in the sense of wanting to disagree with anyone and certainly not argue with anyone, but just to consider some reasonable questions...
In a recent conversation with Bubba, he was speaking of the ability to know some things perfectly and he was offering his idea of what he thought my position was. Specifically, we're speaking of ideas of morality and scriptural interpretations that we can't prove demonstrably and objectively.
Bubba and I were having this conversation about the idea of having what I termed "partially perfect knowledge." Bubba preferred calling it Absolute Confidence, Limited Scope, which he defined as follows...
- Absolute Confidence, Comprehensive Scope (ACCS). "A person can be absolutely confident about ALL proposition."
- Absolute Confidence, Limited Scope (ACLS). "A person can be absolutely confident about SOME propositions."
I reject the first but affirm the second. It seems you reject both -- and it seems you're ABSOLUTELY confident that ACLS is false, and **THAT** is what is incoherent, that a person can be absolutely confident that absolute confidence is impossible for ALL propositions.
I am fine with Bubba's definition and framing, with the reminder that we're speaking about unprovable ideas, morals, theologies... and specifically about biblical interpretations.
And Bubba is correct that I reject both theories. The thing is, I reject both for the same set of reasons, which can be explained by considering the following questions:
1. On what bases would we presume we have ACCS? We don't, it's a rather delusional suggestion, we probably all agree.
2. Has God told us this? No. God simply hasn't.
3. Has the Bible told us this? No, it hasn't... and even if it did literally say that, on what basis would someone who is not a biblical literalist take the claim from the Bible at a literal face value?
4. Do some people INTERPRET the Bible in such a way that they, personally, are convinced that this is what God wants us to think? Perhaps, but so what? On what bases would we listen to these people?
I can think of no reason, presumably, Bubba would agree.
5. Does reason insist upon it? No, clearly it doesn't. Reason would say that if it can't be objectively and demonstrably proven as a fact, then we can't have complete confidence in all given propositions.
I believe Bubba would recognize this when we expand it out to ALL propositions, but how are the answers different for having complete confidence in SOME propositions?
Okay, so let's just look at ACLS and the rational problems we have, considering some more questions that the view begs.
5. IF there are SOME ideas, morals and theologies that we can be known with perfect or absolute confidence, which ones are they?
6. That is, can we know with complete confidence that slavery, rape, forced marriages, polygamy, drunk driving, deliberately killing children in wartime, smoking pot, buying baseball cards... are always wrong in all circumstances? And which items are and are not on this List of Perfectly Knowable Ideas?
[NOTE: I would suggest that for those of us who say that, at the least, Harm to Innocents is a fairly perfect, if not totally perfect, guideline for those who accept that measure... Saying it is always wrong to cause harm to innocents because it is a denying of basic human rights would preclude at least most of these actions... For the biblical literalist, it seems to me that there is at least the caveat that these actions are not always wrong, because God might command you to do them sometimes (since God literally did in the Bible at times, if you're taking it as literal history), and God wouldn't command you to do something that is inherently wrong... That's how it seems to me, feel free to correct me, anyone. But that is sort of an aside.]
7. The reason why the notion of knowing The List of Perfectly Knowable Ideas is important, because, if you don't have an authoritative list and Joe believes IDEA 1 is one of these things, on what bases do we conclude that Joe's IDEA 1 is an entirely reliable belief? Says who? On what authority? How does Joe know that the idea that he's got an opinion on is one of the ideas that we can know perfectly? Because he knows it perfectly? Says who? It's circular reasoning, is it not?
Or, if Joe thinks IDEA 1 is on The List, but Janet is sure that it's not, but IDEA 2 IS on the list, who decides? Where is the authority to make that decision?
8. If there is no List, then on what bases can we individually make the call on IDEA 1, 2, 3... 120,245? Is it every person for themselves? How is that authoritative and reliable?
Do you see the problem I'm having? I don't see how you can appeal to any given unprovable idea as "THIS is ACLS! THIS we can know with perfect assurance, 100%! with our partially perfect knowledge!"...unless you have an authoritative Source that can tell us definitively, Yes, it's on the List, or Yes, that opinion/interpretation/idea can't possibly be wrong. It is as a fact.
Is "Genesis is written more figuratively..." one of the ideas?
Is "Genesis is written as literal history one..." one of the ideas?
Says who? On whose/what authority can we say objectively and with Absolute Confidence one idea or the other or neither is absolutely right?
I mean, I think that there is observable data and science that insists that Genesis, at the least, can't be taken as totally literal history, that the earth was not created in six days, 6,000 years ago, that the world didn't flood, that language diversification didn't happen on one day... that based on evidence, we can discount that... but I think Bubba might disagree with even what seems like to be incontrovertible data... so Bubba would/might say that this is NOT one of the issues that is ACLS... or that it IS one and Bubba's opinion on it is the conclusion we can know with absolute confidence.
On what bases? Says who? What are you appealing to as an authority?
That (perhaps as you know) is the on-going problem I'm having with what Bubba is suggesting... I just don't see how it can be explained and defended objectively.
Unfortunately, I don't feel I'm covering this as comprehensively as I'd like, but I'll leave that there for now and see if anyone would like to offer their respectful opinions.
Thank you so much.