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TAG and Epistemic Certainty James A

TAG and Epistemic Certainty James A

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Published by: Mike A Robinson on Sep 03, 2011
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 TAG and Epistemic Certainty14 April 2011 by James
A commenter asks why I don’t endorse the claim that the transcendental argument for the existence of 
God (TAG) gives us epistemic certainty (which I take to mean that the argument delivers a conclusionthat has maximal epistemic warrant and could not be rationally doubted). After all, if TAG proves
Christian theism “by the impossibility of the contrary”, as many of its advocates have claimed, wouldn’tit follow that TAG’s conclusion is epistem
ically certain?As a preliminary matter it should be pointed out that the epistemic status of normal Christian belief 
doesn’t depend on TAG. We should distinguish between the means by which we know that Christianity
is true (in my view, the external testimony of Scripture coupled with the internal testimony of the HolySpirit, as per chapter 1 of the WCF) and the means by which we show (to others) that Christianity is true.
TAG serves the latter purpose, not the former. The “full persuasion and assurance” o
f our faith hasnothing to do with TAG
 
and it’s a good thing too, since TAG was all but unknown before the 20th
century. I make this point only because some Van Tilians have given the impression (usuallyinadvertently) that the certainty of our knowledge of God and the gospel somehow hangs on thecogency of TAG.Turning now to the claim that TAG delivers epistemic certainty about Christian theism, I offer three
reasons to question that claim. First, as I’ve suggested elsewhere, TAG is best understood not
as oneunique argument but as a family of arguments with a common theme or goal. So when someone claims
that TAG delivers epistemic certainty, my first response is to ask, “Which TAG? Which formulation of TAG?”
 
Secondly, I’m unaware of any formulation of TAG that proves specifically Christian theism; thus it’s hard
to evaluate the claim that TAG proves Christian theism with epistemic certainty.Thirdly
and this is the most important point
we need to be clear on what it would take for anyargument to deliver its conclusion with epistemic certainty. The strongest type of argument is adeductive argument, in which the conclusion follows necessarily from the premises: if the premises aretrue then the conclusion must be true. But even in a deductive argument, the conclusion cannot enjoygreater epistemic warrant than the premises (at least in the case where the warrant for the conclusion istaken to derive from the argument itself). What this means is that TAG can deliver epistemic certaintyonly if all of its premises are epistemically certain.
 
 
The problem, however, is that the transcendental premise of TAG (that God’s existence is ametaphysically necessary condition of some essential feature of human thought or experience) isn’t self 
-evidently true and it requires quite sophisticated argumentation in its support. But the moresophisticated an argument, the more room there is for doubt about its cogency
even the doubt thatwe have adequately understood all of the premises and inferences
and the less plausible it becomesto maintain that all of the premises of the argument are epistemically certain. In the case of TAG, itstretches credibility to claim that every premise of the argument (and of the sub-arguments given insupport of the top-level premises) is epistemically certain.None of this implies that TAG is a failure or a pipe dream. But Van Tilians do themselves no favors by
needlessly overstating what TAG can (or could) accomplish. To my mind, the relevant question here isn’t“Does TAG deliver epistemic certainty?” but rather “Why think that TAG should deliver epistemiccertainty?”
 Posted in Apologetics, Philosophy | Tagged Cornelius Van Til, epistemic certainty, TAG, transcendentalargument | 11 CommentsLikeBe the first to like this post.11 Responseson 15 April 2011 at 20:42 | Log in to Reply hegel267Hi James,I am wondering about this statement you made,
“But even in a deductive argument, the conclusion cannot enjoy greater epistemic warrant than the
premises (at least in the case where the warrant for the conclusion is taken to derive from the argumentitself). What this means is that TAG can deliver epistemic certainty only if all of its premises are
epistemically certain.”
 Are you saying that the conclusion of a deductive argument cannot be certain unless we know all thepremises with certainty? If so would this not commit us to the idea that there cannot be any successfuldeductive arguments? The reason would be that we cannot know any premise with certainty because itis always possible for us to be mistaken, since we are fallible.
 
I would really appreciate your clarity on this. I am not as learned as you so forgive me if this soundslike a silly question.Blessings,Michaelon 19 April 2011 at 21:45 | Log in to Reply JamesHi Michael,
Not a silly question at all. But what do you mean by “successful deductive argument”? What countsas successful here? If ‘successful’ simply means sound (i.e., logically valid wit
h true premises) then
whether or not an argument’s premises are epistemically certain is neither here nor there; they only
need to be true. Philosophers often consider a deductive argument to be a good one if it is logically validand every premise is more plausible than its denial; again, no need for epistemic certainty on that viewof things.
Besides, I think it’s misleading to speak of a successful deductive argument per se for the samereason it’s misleading to speak of a successful medical proc
edure per se. A medical procedure can besuccessful in some cases and not in others; it might even be successful in most cases. But it depends onthe circumstances, the people involved, etc. Similar considerations apply to arguments. If D is a validdeductive argument for P, and a person S who has doubts about P recognizes that D provides good
support for P, then I’d say D can be considered successful in that case. But none of this requires that the
premises of D be indubitable or incorrigible.on 20 April 2011 at 14:21 hegel267Hi James,
Thanks for your reply and for saying it is not a silly question:) It’s been a while since I’ve been in a
philosophy class so I am a bit rusty.I was sloppy in my language i
n speaking of a “successful deductive argument.” What I should havesaid was a “sound deductive argument.” Thanks for forcing me to clarify.
 

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