Q&A: Transcendental Truths

Transcendental Truths

Question

I was reviewing the lecture notes last night and I stumbled upon a question regarding Augustine's proof for the existence of transcendental truth (If it is true that truth does not exist then we see that truth does exist...): This argument presupposes the truthfulness of rational thought (the very thing that the postmoderns claim agnosticism towards)--and the very way to attack it is to deny the worth of our rational faculties in apprehending truth (as the postmoderns do). Is it that the postmoderns see that all knowledge must be interpreted and therefore has subjective elements that cannot be travailed (which we who study the Framian triangles know is true and can still claim the reality of knowledge)? If so, is there any uninterpreted knowledge at all? Is even revelation pre-interpreted before it becomes knowledge? If so, it seems that we can only participate in truth to an extent...and our interpretation depends upon our experience, desires, etc. (Polanyi's tacit knowledge)...So how can we have knowledge that perfectly corresponds with other's? It seems that we cannot. I guess we can have similar knowledge--close enough to agree upon. I guess knowledge is personal...truth is personal...and relates person to person and person(s) to ultimate Person. We each have knowledge which participates in objective knowledge (which turns out to be God's perspective) but is flavored by our own perspective upon it. Our knowledge is true as it relates to God's. So is it safe to conclude that no knowledge exists apart from God? And that God is absolutely necessary for not only knowledge to exist, but reason as well? If God does not exist, then it seems that truth cannot transcend language...but it seems that the postmoderns are happy about this discovery...aggghh!? Is the next move showing the necessity of God for language to exist?

Answer

Good questions. I'll have to take them bit by bit. Your comments in brackets, mine outside them.

>Is it that the postmoderns see that all knowledge must be interpreted and therefore has subjective elements which cannot be travailed (which we who study the Framian triangles know is true and can still claim the reality of knowledge)?

Postmodernists claim that all knowledge must be interpreted<

Yes, I can generally agree with much of what postmoderns say about this, and also their emphasis that knowledge is always governed by interests, will to power, etc. That integrates ethics and epistemology in a good way. But as you say, I don't think this justifies any general skepticism, or even skepticism about generality.

>If so, is there any uninterpreted knowledge at all?<

No. Some distinctions are in order, of course. (1) All facts are pre-interpreted by God. (2) Human beings never come to an inquiry with a tabula rasa, i.e., without presuppositions. (3) Knowledge is itself interpretation. In knowing, we don't go through two steps, (a) apprehension and (b) interpretation. Rather even our most basic perceptions are already theory-laden (Kuhn on anomalous cards, etc.)

>Is even revelation pre-interpreted before it becomes knowledge?<

You mean pre-interpreted by us, I assume. Well, I'm not sure I want to go that far. What sense does it make to say, for example, that I have already interpreted John 4 before I come to know it? I'm willing to say that I read John 4 with certain presuppositions, and those presuppositions exclude certain interpretations; they limit the possibilities. But to say that I have it interpreted already, before I even read the text, seems to me to be going too far. That would mean that actually reading the text adds nothing to my knowledge, except perhaps to motivate rethinking of my interpretation.

But certainly knowing John 4 is simultaneous with interpreting John 4. (Recall of course that both knowledge and interpretation change with continued thought.)

>If so, it seems that we can only participate in truth to an extent...and our interpretation depends upon our experience, desires, etc. (Polanyi's tacit knowledge)...<

Well, our interpretation certainly depends on those things, but again I don't want to say that the actual inquiry is irrelevant. We do sometimes change interpretations that have come to us out of past knowledge.

I agree that "we can only participate in truth to an extent" in the sense that our knowledge of God or anything else is never exhaustive or infallible. But I do think we can have knowledge with certainty. I KNOW that "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." And I am certain of that because, as a Scriptural truth, it embodies my very definition of certainty.

>So how can we have knowledge that perfectly corresponds with other's? It seems that we cannot.<

Well, I believe (1) that my assertion of Gen. 1:1 above perfectly corresponds to God's knowledge (without getting into the issues of the Van Til/Clark controversy). But I also admit that (2) that belief could be wrong, because I am fallible and sinful. Are those two assertions inconsistent? They fit together awkwardly, but I don't actually think they are inconsistent.

>I guess we can have similar knowledge--close enough to agree upon.<

Yes, but this way of putting it may underestimate the degree of certainty we can possess and assert. See above.

>I guess knowledge is personal...truth is personal...and relates person to person and person(s) to ultimate Person. We each have knowledge that participates in objective knowledge (which turns out to be God's perspective) but is flavored by our own perspective upon it. Our knowledge is true as it relates to God's.<

I agree with these statements.

>So is it safe to conclude that no knowledge exists apart from God? and that God is absolutely necessary for not only knowledge to exist, but reason as well? If God does not exist, then it seems that truth cannot transcend language...<

Yes.

>but it seems that the postmoderns are happy about this discovery...aggghh!? Is the next move showing the necessity of God for language to exist?<

Yes. Well, if the transcendental argument for God is true, then God is necessary for knowledge. And if he is necessary for knowledge, certainly he is necessary for the communication of knowledge in language.


Answer by Dr. John M. Frame

Dr. John M. Frame is Professor of Systematic Theology and Philosophy at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, FL.