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Saturday, February 7, 2009

No Valid Arguments For Presuppositionalism, Revisited

As you may know, I posted a short argument back in December proving that presuppositional apologetics cannot produce valid arguments. I should have been clearer about what that means.

After all, presuppositionalism per say does not make arguments. People make arguments. And, obviously, a person can be a presuppositionalist and still make valid arguments about all sorts of things. So why did I say that presuppositional apologetics cannot produce valid arguments?

Presuppositional apologetics are arguments for presuppositionalism, and are thus either directly or indirectly arguments against atheism. When I said that presuppositional apologetics cannot produce valid arguments, I meant that there can be no valid arguments for presuppositionalism, and that presuppositionalists cannot claim there are any valid arguments against atheism. No matter what a presuppositionalist says, they cannot regard it as a valid argument against atheism. If a person is arguing for presuppositionalism, then they are not making a valid argument. That is, unless we forego the requirement of logic that says valid arguments do not beg the question.

If you review the discussion where Paul Manata tried to defeat my argument [Update: the file is no longer available online; if you want to see the discussion in question, send me a message and I'll email the file to you; the reason you need the file to see the discussion is that Manata deleted several of my posts, so the version available on Triablogue is incomplete; for further info about this, see here], you will see that Manata never grasped what the argument was about. He tried to find counterexamples, but he had no understanding of what a counterexample might even mean, because he didn’t understand the argument to begin with.

I’m no longer going to try to explain it to him or correct his confusions, because he’s proven beyond a reasonable doubt that he is not interested in a philosophical discussion at all. He is only interested in claiming victory. While I have no intention of engaging him any further (at least, not on terms which he can mangle at will; again, see here for an explanation), I want to post this here to help people understand where Manata went wrong, if anyone is interested.

First, we have the issue of the argument’s premises. Manata says that presuppositionalists do not necessarily grant both of the premises on which my argument is built. More specifically, he says that while presuppositionalism might involve circular reasoning, it is not the bad kind of circularity. Some circular reasoning is okay, after all, so long as the premises are less questionable than the conclusion.

The problem is, the conclusion drawn by arguments for presuppositionalism (that all knowledge presupposes the existence of God) is no more questionable than what presuppositionalists take to be the assumption underlying it: namely, that God exists. This premise is the most untrustworthy of all, according to atheists like myself.

Presuppositionalism, if it means anything, means that all propositions presuppose the truth of the proposition that God exists (whatever that means). Thus, any argument made for presuppositionalism must presuppose the truth of that proposition. In other words, the truth of that proposition must be assumed, or else the argument is not an argument for presuppositionalism. Thus, a presuppositionalist cannot argue for presuppositionalism, cannot argue for theism, and cannot argue against atheism, without assuming that God exists. Thus, any argument for presuppositionalism begs the question against atheism.

That is the logic of my argument, and it is sound. A presuppositionalist cannot claim that there are any valid arguments against atheism, or any valid arguments for presuppositionalism, without begging the question--and that is the bad kind of circular reasoning.

This leaves Manata with his so-called counterexamples. The problem is, Manata never made a compelling case for a counterexample. All he did is suggest that some premises, like the presuppositionalism premise, cannot be argued for with valid arguments. He never made a case for why I or anyone else should adopt any of those suggested premises. I even tried to explain to him why his proposed premises were problematic.

He left one premise dangling in the air when he ended our discussion, the premise regarding global skepticism. All knowledge presupposes the existence of a knower, according to Manata. Since a global skeptic can doubt the existence of a knower, then all arguments for that premise beg the question against the global skeptic. This suggests that "all knowledge presupposes the existence of a knower" cannot be argued for with valid arguments.

Now, if I were to try to argue for such a premise, then Manata could be correct in accusing me of begging the question. Since I have not put forward such an argument, Manata has falsely accused me of begging the question against the global skeptic.

Of course, the fact that we cannot argue for a premise does not mean the premise must be false. However, in the case of this premise, we have reason to question its value. As some philosophers have argued, we might do well to imagine knowledge without a separate knower. The idea is that knowledge does not exist independently of the act of knowing, so that there is no knower above and beyond the knowledge itself. In this case, it is not true that all knowledge presupposes the existence of a knower. Rather, we should say that all knowledge instantiates the existence of a knower.

In my view of epistemology, we should not claim that all knowledge presupposes anything at all. We must regard some knowledge—a certain class of propositions—as existing without any prior assumptions to ground them. This class should be defined functionally, as it relates to the behavior of an individual, and not in terms of any abstract criteria which could be determined a priori.

Indeed, propositional knowledge must come into being at some point in a person’s development, and the functionality of those initial fragments of knowing cannot be built upon prior assumptions, or else they wouldn’t be initial fragments of knowing. It seems to me that at all times, a person has propositional knowledge which is directly associated with experiential determinants, and is not based on any other propositions for its functionality.

We should note here that, even if one were to reject my views on epistemology here, it would not mean that Paul Manata had provided a sound counterexample to my argument. For, even if we were to adopt the premise that “all knowledge presupposes the existence of X,” for any X, then we would have to conclude that such a premise could not be argued for with valid arguments. Unless and until somebody can show that such a premise can be argued for without begging the question, my argument has not been defeated.