What Does Truth Do in Mormonism?

I’ve been meaning to get back to my whole epistemology investigation I started in the spring. Then I asked what truth does. A lot of the recent posts I’ve done have actually been me thinking about that issue. Certainly the post “Hebrew Conceptions of Truth” is important as is the post from the summer “Pierce vs. James on Truth.” But of course “truth” is just a term we pick up from our language and culture. Just because the Hebrews thought of truth primarily as about objects (roughly akin to an Aristotilean essence, but in terms of reliability towards a purpose) doesn’t mean we have to. There’s no reason we can’t talk about all this from our own language.1 Within our own broad framework it seems there are two main issues we are concerned with. The first is whether we ought believe what we believe. The second in the nature of our beliefs. (I’d add that a third one is inquiry although that tends to be caught up with the question of ought) 

This is important to get clear. It may be after all we’re justified in believing something but can’t tell if we’re justified. This is a common theme among the movement called reliabilism in epistemology. We may have some process that justifies our belief but with regards to some particular belief we can’t give an account of that justification. While I think reliabilism is an important consideration I think it misses something key in that with regards to knowledge it seems we want to know if we know. That is we want to be able to adjudicate, if only to ourselves, between beliefs. A reliabilism in which the ground of our knowledge might be cut off from us seems problematic. Yet, from a Mormon perspective, we might consider ourselves guided by the spirit but only recognize that we’re guided looking back at our life.

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  1. I’m a firm believer that the Sapir-Worf hypothesis is wrong. I accept that language may bias us and certain frameworks may be thus be a more useful way to think. However I’m extremely skeptical it stops us from conceptualizing most things.

SMPT this Week

I’ve been falling down on the job with regular posting. My apologies. However there is something I can’t forget. The SMTP conference, one of my favorite LDS themed conferences, is at BYU this week starting Thursday. While I’m swamped with work I’m hoping to make it for several sessions on Thursday and Friday.

The full schedule is available at the SMPT site.

Some of the more interesting sessions are at 3 pm on Thursday. Unfortunately at the same time. One is a session on embodiment by Steven Peck and the other is on Finitism and Atonement by Jeremy Talmage. At 4 pm Steven moves to an evolution session with Blake Ostler. On Friday at 10 there’s a session on divine foreknowledge and freedom by Nate Rockwood and then a session by Joe Spencer on time, being and negation. (Not sure what that means) Of course all the sessions sound quite interesting, but those are the ones I’m most interested.

I do truly wish I could attend the session Saturday morning by Rosalynd Welch and Sam Brown on whether faith is a matter of choice. I’ve written a fair bit on that topic. Unfortunately it’s my son’s birthday and family of course comes first. I might do something on that later. Likewise James Mclachlan is doing a session on William Chamberlin’s social conception of God. This gets into some of the themes of a discussion he had in one of the philosophy collections whose name escapes me right now. (Expect an edit of that sentence later tonight) 

Hebrew Conceptions of Truth

I quoted a bit earlier this week from Hazony’s excellent The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture. While I don’t necessarily agree with everything he writes, from my limited perspective he does seem to get a lot of the epistemological issues right. At least it lines up with what I’ve read elsewhere. Since my interests are much more philosophical than historical I don’t get wrapped up too much in the details of the history. From a philosophical perspective and also hermeneutical perspective Hazony helps illuminate many issues in theology and LDS scripture. Consider for instance the issue of truth. Now people like Jim Faulconer have written on this in various papers but Hazony is a great resource that goes through it in a sustained fashion.

Hazony’s argument is that it is things not words or propositions that are true for the Hebrews. While our culture retains some elements of this such as a true friend or to true a wheel by and large we’ve adopted the Greek notions where true or false are properties of language or the meaning behind language. Something is true when it lines up with reality in some way. Further truth is conceived statically rather than as a process. To talk about truth is to talk in some way about something like correspondence now between proposition and reality. Later theories like coherence theory or the like still tie truth to language following this basic stance of Greek thought. In contrast to the Hebrews a thing is true when it shows over time that it is the thing is purports to be. 

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Jeremiah and Epistemology

I’ve mentioned Yoram Hazony’s The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture a few times. Whether one agrees with him in all the particulars it’s an interesting consideration of traditional Hebrew thought as having philosophical import. It’s also great for considering certain issues in the Old Testament for those of us more of a philosophical bent. One of the more interesting parts is chapter 6 where he considers Jeremiah as epistemology. It’s especially interesting as he deals with individual knowing and the role of a prophet.

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Fallibilism, Belief and Inquiry

Jeff and I have been going back and forth on various epistemology and ethical issues related to religion. He agrees that his own position is not a position many hold, although he thinks it a correct religious one. More or less he thinks that religious authority acts as a trump on any belief. I think it can at best act to create a demand of burden of proof. My own position is a fallibilist one. I fully admit this fallibilism arises out of my study of the pragmatists like C. S. Peirce. I think, however, that Peirce’s fallibilism has gone from a minor position to the dominant position among philosophers. My latest discussion with Jeff at BCC started getting tangental there so I’ve brought it here.

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Demythologizing Plato

Steve Fleming, who’s done a lot of work on neoplatonic influences on early Mormonism, had up an interesting post at the Juvenile Instructor. The context was a brief book review of Wouter Hanegraaff’s Esotericism and the Academy. I’ve not read the book, although I picked up the Kindle version after Steve’s recommendation. The most interesting bit was about how anything superstitious gets expunged from western thought. Steve then quotes from Stephen Webb’s book on Mormons.

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Masonry and Kings

Interesting blog post on the relationship of masonry and kingship myths in Europe. A few excerpts to catch your interest.

James Anderson, not only tried to examine the history of freemasonry since the creation of the earth with Adam as the first Grand Master of freemasonry. He also described it as a brotherhood which was in all times ruled and protected by wise kings and emperors. Its lodges therefore brought together the best noblemen, clergymen, scientists and craftsmen who worked harmonically and silently on the perfection of mankind through geometry or architecture. This point needs further explanation.

As I argued…these myths were not that specifically masonic, as it first may seem. They are based upon relatively common beliefs of the people of the early 18th century about the creation and development of mankind – and – much more important especially for noblemen – are based upon the belief about the heredity of virtue through blood.

In this belief “pictures of life” were imprinted in one’s blood which transferred a part of the soul and of its experiences to next generations. For this reason it became very important to live in a virtuous environment, to be impressed by paintings showing virtues sujets and architectuaral buildings which also communicated through their style such virtues. Even the masonic rituals were believed to be somewhat like performances of virtuous behavior. And of course, as the members of a lodge were “handpicked”, those rituals were excuted in an virtuous environment.

For Georgian nobility Freemasonry therefore became interesting as it seemed to be another place to strengthen one’s virtue. And – what is much more important – the virtue of the noble race which govern’d over mankind and guided the later one to perfection by its example.

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Interview with Blake Ostler

There’s a podcast interview with Blake Ostler at Mormon Discussion.1 While I disagree with Blake on a few things (primarily the King Follet Discourse) I think he’s been a tremendously important voice within Mormon theology. He’s raised very important ideas such as the idea that inspired commentary was added as part of the Book of Mormon translation process. Agree or disagree with him but he’s always a must read.

What’s best about what Blake has done is to actually publish his arguments in an easy to access format so people can engage with them. There have been lots of great ideas and thinkers out there. But often the arguments are lost as they simply don’t get distributed broadly. Anything we can do to fix that is helpful.

On a related note Ben Huff told me that SMPT’s Element will be widely available on the SMPT site. (I’ll post more on this later when I have more time)

  1. I don’t know much about this podcast, and haven’t listened to the interview yet.

Russell on Abortion

Russell Fox has a great post up at his blog on abortion. I always love reading Russell. I frequently disagree with him even if our aims are pretty similar. But I find how he thinks through an issue always makes me think about it differently. 

This post is a reaction to a back and forth debate between Damno Linker and Ross Dothat. The real issue is less abortion though than the role repugnance ought play in our reasoning. I suspect this can be seen as a practical manifestation of the fact/value breakdown that pragmatists so often see as important.

What’s interesting to me is that a lot of the analysis is really a claim for systematic thinking. That’s interesting to me since system thinking has come to have such a bad reputation the past few years. Partially that’s due to the rejection of epistemological foundationalism. But there were a lot of other reasons why say systematic theology or philosophy fell out of favor. I think it’s part of an overall suspicion against grand narratives. 

I think repugnance and other reactions are significant even if logically certain other analysis come to different analysis. I think our repugnance suggests differing degrees of wrongness, even if not done in a systematic way. That said, I suspect how I balance that sense of repugnance will be more conservative than Russell. (Unsurprisingly)

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