Peter Adamson: “Testing the Prophets: Reason and Medieval Religious Debates” (Conway 2019)


[Introductory remarks not captured on mic.] I mean, you got me interested in
Neoplatanism, so I think you influenced me quite a lot. Okay, testing
the prophets of reason in the choice of faith.Oh and by the way, thanks
to all of you for coming, and especially thanks to those of you who were here
yesterday and are coming nonetheless. Okay, don’t let anyone tell you that
philosophy is useless. True it has a reputation for being an abstract and
chronically inconclusive enterprise, but applied forms of philosophy, like medical
ethics and business ethics, have enjoyed a boom in recent times, and in earlier
periods philosophy was also applied in eminently practical contexts. Actually
medicine is a good example. Galan, the second-century AD author, whose writings
were nearly synonymous with medical science for well over a millennium in
Europe and the Islamic world, appropriated ideas from ancient natural
philosophy in his humoral theory and pharmacology. Another example is the
study of the heavens. The cosmological theories of Aristotle provided a
theoretical basis for Ptolemy, who lived at about the same time as Galen, and
whose writings about both astronomy and astrology were widely influential in
medieval culture. This sounds less practical at first, but actually
astrology, known through texts from both Greece and India, was one of the main
topics pursued in the Arabic translation movement, again for eminently practical
reasons. What, after all, could be more useful than using the stars to predict
the future? And I’ll give you my favourite example. There’s a treatise by
al-Kindi, a philosopher who I’ve written about quite a lot, and the treatise is
called How to Find Buried Treasure. And so you use astrological techniques to
find the buried treasure, right? And the first sentence is, “first you must have a
suspicion where there may be some buried treasure.” Many people nowadays think of philosophy
and religion is being antithetical. Maybe they don’t at Notre Dame, but many
people, just FYI, elsewhere they do. With philosophy devoted solely to reason, and
religion founded in faith. But in the medieval period, religious thought was
frequently just another kind of applied philosophy. Ideas about knowledge,
metaphysics, or the soul would be appropriated and used to interpret,
expound, and defend revelation. Indeed we saw last night that Averroes, for one,
thought that philosophy provided the only reliable basis for scriptural
exegesis. Obviously this was not a widely held view, and there were certainly some
medieval theologians who were, frankly, hostile to the use of philosophy in
religious contexts, going all the way back to the early Christian church
father Tertullian, who famously wanted to know what Athens has to do with
Jerusalem. Examples from our three medieval cultures might include Ibn Taymiyyah, who very unusually went so far as to reject the study of logic, which he
deemed more trouble than it was worth, like camel meat at the top of a mountain.
Please appreciate the picture, because it took me like ten minutes to do that.
Bernard of Clairvaux, who justified the intellectual
persecution of Peter Abelard, by complaining that Abelard was ready to
give reasons for everything, even for those things which are above reason. And
Simeon the New Theologian, a monk at the Stoudios Monastery in
Constantinople, who acidly remarked that the Holy Spirit is not sent to
philosophers, but to the pure in heart and holy. But in this lecture, I will be
looking at figures who had a more nuanced view, one that falls between the
bold rationalism of Averroes, and the anti-rationalism of these outright
critics of philosophy. On the one hand, they perceived the philosophical
tradition as a kind of rival, or at least alternative to religious faith. On the
other hand, they believe that natural reason could be used to support
religious faith, and even to justify one’s religious affiliation. I’ll be
focusing on dialogues that explore the choice between religions by putting them
in literal debate with one another. Tellingly,
philosophy tends to appear as another option of on par with Islam, Judaism and
Christianity. The central claim made by such texts is,
therefore, that the neutral and fair-minded person, who was simply using
natural reason, should give credence to one of
the Abrahamic faiths, maybe even over philosophy. By arguing for this
conclusion, they suggest that reason points beyond itself, establishing the
need for a religious revelation that supplements our natural understanding of
the world, and of our own obligations. As a context for our discussion of these
dialogues, it will be useful to return to the dilemma I explored in last night’s
lecture. To recap, I argued that we need a way of forming beliefs that lies
between outright Taqlid, the blind acceptance of authority, and
outright Ijtihad, where we are only satisfied once we have worked things out
for ourselves. The challenge is well articulated by the
Muslim theologian al-Ghazali, who wrote, “reason does not suffice
without revelation, nor does revelation suffice without reason. The one who would
urge pure Taqlid and total rejection of reason is in error, and he who would
make do with pure reason, apart from the lights of the Quran and the Sunnah is
deluded.” And as it turns out, he also articulates a compelling answer to our
question. This comes in al-Ghazali’s intellectual autobiography, The Deliverer
from Error. In the context of a discussion about accepting the
genuineness of Muhammad’s prophecy. Al-Ghazali writes, I’m sorry, that’s kind
of small, but I’m gonna read it anyway, so, “if you are in doubt about whether a
certain person is a prophet or not, certainty can be had only through
knowledge of what he is like, either by personal observation or reports and
testimony. If you have an understanding of medicine and jurisprudence, you can
recognize jurists and doctors by observing what they are like and
listening to what they had to say, even if you haven’t observed them.” So you have
no difficulty recognizing that al-Shafi’i was a jurist or Galan a doctor,
this being knowledge of what is in fact the case, and not a matter of Taqlid
shown to another person. Rather, since you know something of jurisprudence and
medicine, and you have perused their books and treatises, you have arrived at
necessary knowledge about what they are like. Likewise, once you grasp the meaning
of prophecy and then investigate the Quran and hadith reports extensively, you
arrive at necessary knowledge that Muhammad is at the highest degree of
prophecy. Here, while encouraging us to rise above Taqlid,
al-Ghazali sets the epistemic bar lower than full independent Ijtihad. Rather
than telling us to work everything out for ourselves, he instructs us to reach a
level of understanding that will allow us to judge whether or not some someone
counts as an authority worth following. Though the context concerns prophecy, his
examples show that this is a generalizable policy. For example, if
you’re trying to do medicine, you should acquaint yourself enough with this field
that you can affirm Galen’s status as an expert doctor, but you don’t have to be
at Galan’s level yourself. You just have to put yourself in a position where you
are accepting Galan’s teachings on justified grounds. Just a couple of
pages later al-Ghazali says that we often do not understand the function of
medicines for the body and religious prescriptions for the soul or heart. In
such cases we must simply follow the recommendations of doctors and prophets.
And here he even uses the word Taqlid for our obedience to those
recommendations. So we might call this justified Taqlid. It is a kind of
epistemic bootstrapping, in which we submit to an authority in some domain,
but only after understanding the domain well enough to satisfy ourselves that
these authority figures have genuine expertise. We should seek independent
knowledge that the authority is indeed authoritative, but do not need to have
the same kind of independent knowledge possessed by the authoritative figure.
And last night, if you were here, I promised you a solution to this sort of
antinomy between Taqlid and Ijtihad, that’s the solution. So that’s why I said
al-Ghazali is the hero of the lectures. We are dealing here with what
philosophers call second-order beliefs. That is, beliefs about other beliefs. In
particular, we’re trying to decide whether the beliefs expressed by a
putative authority rise to the level of knowledge. If so, then by engaging in
justified Taqlid and taking their beliefs as our own, we will be insured
against error. This would shield us from the problem of epistemic luck raised in
last night’s lecture. If we have good methods for testing the putative
authority, then even without independently derived knowledge, we can
still be sure that we are avoiding error. Of course there would be much more to
say about how to identify an authority. Al-Ghazali seems to place most weight
on the integrity and character of the candidate, prophet, jurist, or Dr., what he
is like. He cites several statements of Muhammad concerning moral and spiritual
affairs, which show him to be reliable in these domains. And he considers but
rejects the idea that prophecy is proven through miracles. His reason for this is
that miracles could be tests sent by God or simple fakes like magic tricks.
Al-Ghazali also gives us an example in which, according to him,
Taqlid has gone wrong. He attacks those who follow a supposedly infallible imam, who is authoritative in interpreting the Islamic revelation. These are Shiite
Muslims. More specifically, Ismailis who, inal-Ghazali’s telling, reject all
use of Ijtihad in favor of total submission to the teachings of their
imam. And I think you asked a question about this last night, and I said I
was getting back to it. The moment has come.
Yeah, al-Ghazale has good fun mocking this position, adapting an
example we saw in the last lecture, by asking what the Ismaili will do if it is
time to pray and does not know which way Mecca lies.
Should he travel to the city where his Imam resides to ask? No, clearly he should
work out the answer for himself before the time of prayer is passed. Such
examples license the use of Ijtihad in religious matters. The most important
such use, as we just saw, is the identification of which prophet or
prophets to follow. This is rather ironic, by the way, because we can find Shiite
thinkers recommending a policy of justifiedTaqlid too. They argued that
a fair assessment shows their imams to be the guides that we need. You may
recall that last night I presented a text from al-Dawani
rejecting Taqlid, and that passage came precisely in the context of
defending the Shiite view of the imam. As this shows, there were significant
disputes within in medieval Islam over the nature of authority, and also the
question of which authorities should be followed. But a more obvious context for
raising that issue was the rivalry between the Abrahamic religious faiths.
Remember al-Dawani’s warning that Taqlid could justify the Christian in
being Christian and the Jew and being a Jew, just as much as it would justify
a Muslim in accepting Islam. I spoke about this as a case of epistemic
luck, where the Muslim’s true beliefs would result simply from the happenstance
of having Muslim parents. Al-Ghazali had a similar concern, as we can see from a
passage early on in his autobiography, where he cites a famous saying of
the Prophet Muhammad’s: “thirst for grasping the true natures of things was
a habit and practice of mine from early on in my life, an inborn and innate
tendency given by God in my very nature, not chosen or contrived, so as I neared
maturity the bonds of Taqlid weakened for me, and I was emancipated from
inherited beliefs. For I saw that young Christians always grew up to accept
Christianity and young Jews to accept Judaism, while young Muslims always grew
up to accept Islam. And I heard the hadith related of the prophet, ‘every
child is born in the innate condition, the fitra, but his parents make him a
Jew, Christian, or Magian.” Here we can see that our problem of Taqlid and
epistemic luck relates intimately to the problem of religious pluralism. In the
medieval period no less than today, there was vivid awareness of other faiths, and
the challenge was to explain why one’s own faith had the best claim to truth.
This brings us to the aforementioned text that dramatized the choice of
faiths in dialogue form. I’ll be looking at four authors, the Jewish philosophers
Judah Halevi and Shem-Tov ben Joseph ibn Falaquera Falaquera, and the Christian philosophers
Peter Abelard and Ramon Llull. So the first of these figures, Judah Halevi,
lived in Islamic Spain but died in the Holy Land in 1141. He’s the
author of the Kuzari, based very loosely on the historical events that
took place in the caucasus in the 8th century, when a group called the Khazars
converted to Judaism. In Halevi’s imaginary reconstruction, the king of the
Khazars has a dream, in which he’s told that his beliefs are pleasing to God, but his
actions are not. In an effort to discover where his error lies, the King
interrogate a philosopher, a Christian, and a Muslim, to see which of them can
persuade him of their doctrines. Dissatisfied by all three, he turns in
desperation to the Jews, whom he previously dismissed because of their
low social standing. This last interlocutor persuades him to
convert to Judaism. The King appoints the Jewish spokesman as his mentor, and the
two engage in a wide-ranging dialogue about various philosophical and
religious issues, which takes up the bulk of the text. In fact
the Jewish scholar needs like two pages to convert him to Judaism, it’s really
quick. And so then most of the book is them going through lots of philosophical
and religious topics. The rather artificial setting of the dialog allows
Halevito explore the question raised by al-Ghazali, which is likely no
coincidence given that Haleviwas apparently familiar with his works. The
king is in precisely this situation envisioned by out al-Ghazali. He seeks to
test three prophetic revelatory traditions and decide which one should
claim his allegiance. Halevi’s dialogue thusprovides us with an implicit
account of the grounds on which the choice of faiths may, and given the happy
outcome, presumably should be made. As I mentioned before, philosophy is, here,
treated almost as a fourth religion, an alternative to the Abrahamic faiths
rather than a handmaid of theology. For Halevi, the word philosophy, so the
Arabic, he’s writing in Arabic, so the word is falsafa, the word I talked
about last night, this word does not have quite the meaning we would anticipate.
It’s tied to a very specific set of doctrines, namely those of Avicenna. This
is very typical of post-Aviccenan philosophy, as shown by the apparently
generic title of al-Ghazali chose for his attack on Avicenna The Incoherence of
the Philosophers, which I also mentioned last night. Averroes’ response to al-
Ghazali in The Incoherence of the Incoherence, was an attempt to reassert
Aristotelianism instead of Avivvenism as definitive of philosophy in Islamic
culture. But this attempt fell on deaf ears, and from the 12th century on the
word falsafa, and even the word peripatetic, they have an Arabic word
which literally means people who walk around, and they used that to mean
peripatetic, but peripatetic means Avicenna or a follower of Aviccena. So
Halevi has his philosopher, i.e. Avicenna present his teachings to the king,
with a heavy emphasis on precisely those ideas of Avicenna that had been attacked
in al-Ghazali’s Incoherence, like the eternity of the world and
on the impossibility of God’s knowing particulars. The king is unimpressed, in
part because the philosopher explicitly says that his doctrines have merely to
do with intellectual conviction and not concrete practice. This is one
philosopher who is not interested in an applied version of
his discipline. Since the King’s dream reassured him that his beliefs were
acceptable, but his practices were displeasing to God, the king quickly
concludes that philosophy is not the system of thought he’s looking for. He
turns to the Christian, and then rejects his religion as well. You work so much
better than this device, but you have a PhD, and the device doesn’t. Okay,
there’s no scope for a rational argument here. In fact, rational argument deems
what has been said by the Christian to be absurd. I cannot bring myself to
accept these things, having had them sprung on me without having grown up
with them. This is an interesting rationale for not being a Christian. It’s
not surprising to see a Jewish author suggest that Christianity flies in the
face of reason by asserting the incarnation of God and the Trinity, yet
Halevi has the king imply that, had he been raised to believing these apparent
absurdities, he might have an easier time believing them. As al-Ghazali said,
young Christians grow up to accept Christianity, even though this religion
diverges from our natural inborn conceptions. The King’s rejection of Islam
is similar, but even less hostile. He explains that since the Quran is in
Arabic, a language he does not speak, he cannot really judge it as a miraculous
revelatory text. Here Halevi alludes to the doctrine of ijazah, which states that
the Quran is inimitable by humankind and thus must have a divine source. Muslims
had, by this time, adopted the doctrine that the Quran was Muhammad’s sole
miracle, one amply sufficient to prove that he was a genuine prophet. Since the
king is not in a position to evaluate this particular supposed miracle, he thus
has no reason to adopt Islam for himself. Notice that unlike al-Ghazali, the king
would be willing to accept miracles as proof of prophecy, but he says that to be
really persuaded he would want to see a different kind of miracle, one that
overturns the normal course of natural events and is securely confirmed by a
large number of witnesses. And this, according to Halevi, is what Judaism
alone can offer. The miracles recorded in the Hebrew Bible, such as those that
accompanied the flight from Egypt, were witnessed by many people and have been
transmitted across many centuries, with an astonishing degree of unanimity. And
these miracles did violate the usual of nature, which turns out to mean God’s
customary actions in the world. Not that Halevi is an occasionalist. He
thinks that that there are natural causes to which we can appeal in
explaining some phenomena. For example, fire heats and water cools, but such
brute natural forces have no wisdom, and are thus insufficient to explain the
providential ordering of the universe. Even such routine events as the
generation of an animal, required God’s guidance using brute physical causes as
instruments in a way that lies beyond our full understanding. Natural generated
things are all determined, balanced, and proportioned in their mixtures from the
four natures, and by the slightest adjustment, they become perfect and well
shaped and take on the animal or plant form to which they lay claim. Yet the
slightest thing can corrupt the mixture of the form that shapes it. Haven’t you
seen an egg being corrupted by the least accident of excessive heat, cold, or
movement so that it falls fails to receive the form of a chicken. So to whom
is it given to determine the actions as far as the divine produces them, other
than God alone? When a miracle occurs, this is not merely God working his will
in the world, but God’s working his will in an unusual fashion, because
he’s always working his will in the world. Nature speaks through custom, the
law through the breach of custom. The two may be reconciled. Those customs that are
breached, were only natural in the first place, because they were within the
eternal will, conditional upon it and instituted according to it since the six
days of creation. It is on such divinely willed breaches of custom, that belief in
Judaism should rest. So, obviously, things like parting the Red Sea, right? But this
is not quite where the epistemic buck stops,
because as we saw, the miracles themselves are proved proven by
extensive and reliable testimony. So the King’s conversion, and more generally, the
case for choosing Judaism over its rivals, in fact comes down fundamentally
to that testimony, which in chronological age and number of witnesses, trumps
anything that philosophers, Christians, or Muslims can say in favor of their own
belief systems. Is this Taqlid? Perhaps Halevi would admit that it is, given
that at one point he mentions that Aristotle’s errors can be explained by
his being left to his own devices, without any reliable
tradition he might trust through Taqlid as Halevi says. But,
Halevi would want to insist that the Jew believes by what I have called justified
Taqlid. We are to believe in the miracles of the Hebrew Bible, not just
because we were born into Jewish families, say, but because we recognize
that the evidence for those miracles is overwhelming. Some medieval Jewish
thinkers gave still greater scope to reason in arguing for their faith, none
other none more so then our next thinker, Falaqera, who died toward the end of
the 13th century. His dialogue, The Epistle of the Debate, features fewer
characters than Halevi’s Kuzari, pitting a rationalist against a traditionalist
jewish scholar. Whereas the other dialogues i’m discussing tonight
feature a philosopher who’s outside the Abrahamic faiths, in this one the
spokesman for a reason is a convinced Jew. His goal in the debate is to
persuade his co-religionists scholar, who is deeply suspicious of philosophy, that
rational argumentation is compatible with Judaism, and indeed provides its
firmest support. Just as it is, this is now what the philosopher is
gonna argue, just as it is more convincing to see something with your
own eyes than to have it reported by a witness, so religious belief will be
firmer when grounded in rational argument rather than Taqlid. Thus, Falaqera’s philosopher promises his interlocutor, “your faith will be stronger
if you attain it through your intellect than it is when you attain it through
tradition.” In fact, even biblical Patriarchs like Abraham must have
grasped God through demonstrative proofs. This is simply obvious, since it is the
only way they could have had genuine knowledge. And of course they had genuine
knowledge. Anyone who fails to engage in rational justification of the faith is
in the same position position as a child or ignoramus, who simply affirms Jewish
belief without having any real conception of it in their souls. For this
reason the philosopher says to the traditionalist, you are imperfect in this
faith of yours, the way by which is truth and it’s reason may be manifest to you
is science. The traditionalists failure to arise above Taqlid is even shown
in his rejection of philosophy, since as he admits, he has not studied
philosophical books and opposes them merely on hearsay. None of which is to
say that every Jew should be aiming at perfection in the faith. The
rationalist admits that demonstrative instruction is only suitable for the few,
for the scholars perfect in their opinions, and not for the multitude of
people whose conception is not intellectual but rather by way of the
imagination. Falaqra’s elitist rejection ofTaqlid for the scholarly class, his relegation of other believers to the
level of non intellectual belief, and his daring claim that philosophical
reasoning provides the basis for interpreting revelation, may all remind
us of Averroes. As you’ll hopefully recall from last night’s lecture, his
decisive treatise made parallel claims about the role of philosophy in Islam.
And there’s a good reason for this resonance, which is that Falaqera
knew Averroes’ works and was powerfully influenced by them. But he
qualifies his Averroist rationalism by having the rationalist character
emphasize that Aristotelian philosophy is to be used selectively, as he puts it,
we take away we take the fruit and throw away the peel. This allows Falaqera
to criticize the philosophers more openly than Averroes would have done, For
instance, for wrongly denying the possibility of miracles and the temporal
creation of the world. There are also practical requirements placed upon Jews
that go beyond the demands of philosophy. While philosophers would endorse the ten
commandments, they say nothing about observing the Sabbath. Though Falaqera does not dwell at length on the incompleteness of philosophy, this is a
significant admission. It recalls Halevi’s much more emphatic discussion of
the super rational aspects of Jewish law. Super rational simply in the sense that
religion lays obligations upon us that a reason would not. This was important for
the king in the Kuzuri, who wanted to know why his actions were not pleasing
to God. Without converting to Judaism, he would
never have adopted the rituals, dietary laws, and so on demanded by God.
Now, Halevi believes that these prescriptions are in harmony with reason.
In fact, at one point he has the Jewish scholar character insist that all his
teachings are in accordance with reason. But this does not mean that the legal
prescriptions are derivable from reason. It actually lies beyond human capacity
to determine all the norms that should govern our lives, at least as perfectly
as the divine law has done. For example, we might realize that we occasionally
need to rest from our labors, but it is only
divine will that lays down the Sabbath as the ideal form of rest. And you find
similar ideas about the Jewish law in Maimonides and Sa’adiah Gaon, so this is a kind
of recurring motif in Jewish medieval thought. The obligations placed on Jews
by the law are much like God’s customary non-miraculous interventions within
nature. In both cases, he fine-tunes what is natural so as to ensure the
realization of his providential order. We might wonder whether something similar
happens on the epistemic front. Are their true beliefs that reason cannot supply,
the way it cannot supply an account of our practical obligations? Falaqera,
for one, seems to think not and in that respect he is a faithful follower of Averroes. But this was note by no means a universally, or even widely held
view in medieval Jewish thought. One might think here of Hasdai Crescas,
who died in the early 15th century. In his Or Hashem, The Light of the Lord, he
took exception to the attempt of his illustrious predecessor, Maimonides, to
identify principles of the faith that all Jews should accept. For Maimonides,
the most fundamental of these principles, which were thirteen in number, could be
established by a philosophical argument. These included the claims that God
exists, is one, and has no body. But Crescas found weaknesses in the proofs given
for these claims, and his student Joseph Albo, tended to agree. Of these three
propositions, he thought that only the first, God’s existence, can be rationally
demonstrated. For Albo, Maimonides’ project of founding Judaism in
rationally provable truths, was in any case misconceived.
In a fideist version of the bootstrapping strategy, he suggested that
there are three roots of Judaism, the existence of God, the revelation of the
Torah, and recompense in the afterlife. Once these are all accepted by faith, the
other religious convictions would follow, like corollaries from fundamental
theorems. So rather than using reason and then bootstrapping from there to believe
faith, you use faith and then bootstrap from there to the rest of the religion.
We might expect medieval Christians to be more tempted by this kind of approach,
and you can actually put the next slide up, and less tempted by the sort of
rationalist project we found in Averroes, Falaqera, and Maimonides.
All Christians in this period were, after all, committed to at least some
doctrines that seem, let me try this. All right, let me back up a bit, we might
expect medieval Christians to be more tempted by this kind of approach, and
less tempted by the sort of rationalist project we found in Averroea, Falaqera,
and Maimonides. All Christians in this period were, after all, committed to
at least some doctrines that seemed obviously insusceptible to rational
proof. That God was incarnated as Christ, that God is a Trinity, that bread becomes
Christ’s flesh in the sacrament of the Eucharist. And indeed, in an application
of the Augustinian formula that the Christian should believe in order to
understand, many Christian intellectuals thought that reason’s role in theology
was to defend, understand, and build upon doctrines we accept by faith. The most
famous example here would, of course, be Thomas Aquinas, for whom theology as
a science is distinguished by its use of certain principles that are believed by
faith, not demonstrated by reason, as Maimonides wanted. In fact, these
principles cannot be demonstrated by reason, though reason can show that the
teachings definitive of Christianity involve no absurdity, and then
build a rational science of theology using them as a foundation. That, by the
way, I think, is all I have to say about Aquinas in these lectures, so I hope you
enjoyed it. This fusion of reason and faith struck many Christian
intellectuals as giving to large a role to reason. A good example is provided by
a controversy that dominated late Byzantine philosophy. In the 14th century,
the works of Aquinas and other school men were read by Greek scholars and
translated into Greek, which helped provoke a series of attacks on Latin
scholasticism. In fact, Greek Orthodox intellectuals would, for many centuries
well after the fall of Constantinople, be driven by attempts to distance
themselves from Latin theology. One of the first such attacks came in 1335, when
Barlaam of Calabria complained of how Western theologians were using
syllogistic arguments to talk about God’s nature. This is impossible, because
Aristotelian demonstrations should provide certain knowledge, and humans
cannot have certainty about God. When Barlaam was attacked for this stance by
his more famous contemporary, Gregory Palamas, it was not because Palamas
thought we can construct theology on the model of an Aristotelian science, as
Aquinas had done, he simply wanted to insist that we do have certainty about God,
but through faith and not reason. All of this may seem to suggest that the
bootstrapping strategy of justified Taqlid would be unavailable to Christians.
Rather than using reason to establish the reliability of Christian authority,
you are supposed simply to submit to authoritative sources first, and only
then try to understand what these sources have said. Yet there were
exceptions, Christian thinkers who wanted to push the boundaries of what reason
could do by way of establishing the faith. One of them was the 12th century
logician and theologian Peter Abelard. His suspicion of unvarnished appeals to
authority arguably motivated his work
Sic et Non, which cites authoritative texts on both sides of many theological
issues, without indicating how the dilemma should be resolved. There’s a
nice story about him that makes the point more explicitly. Abelard’s rival
Anselm of Laon, challenged him to defend one of his more daring views, with
the stipulation that he should only cite authorities, and not give arguments. When
Abelard was able to quote Augustine, pretty good authority, in support of his
position, Anselm of Laon said that the Augustine quote needed
to be interpreted differently, at which point Abelard said, “that’s irrelevant,
because you were only looking for words, not interpretation.” You can see why
people found him very annoying. Abelard’s high hopes for natural reason
were displayed in his comments on the subject of the trinity. Already before
him, scholars associated with the so-called School of Chartres had
cautiously suggested that the third of the Trinitarian persons, the Holy Spirit,
might have been anticipated by Plato, under the guise of the world soul,
described in the dialogue Timaeus. This proposal is especially associated with
William of Conches, who wrote in his glosses on the Timaeus, “God wanted to
make the world an intelligent animal, but nothing can be intelligent without soul,
so he excogitated the soul.” He did well to say excogitated and not created, insofar as the soul is said to be the Holy Spirit, for the holy spirit is not made,
created, or generated by God, but it precedes. This suggests that William was
convinced that Plato had, to some extent, anticipated the doctrine of the Trinity,
using nothing but his natural gifts, even though William says in the same set of
glosses that he’s willing neither to affirm nor deny the equivalence of world
soul and Holy Spirit. Abelard took a new approach to the question by asserting
that the doctrine of the world soul is obviously absurd, if taken at face value.
If the whole universe had a soul, then each of us would be infused with that
soul in addition to our own souls, so we would all have two souls. This is just
silly, and certainly not the sort of thing we should describe to Plato.
So, says Abelard, we should take the talk of the world soul in Plato to be a
veiled or allegorical way of referring to the Holy Spirit. What the philosophers
said about the world soul should be accepted as figurative expression.
Otherwise, we would have to deplore Plato as not the greatest philosopher, but the
greatest fool. For what is more absurd than judging the whole world to be a
rational animal? Unless, that is, it was put forward as a figurative expression?
This is just one example of Abelard’s idea that the pagan philosophers often
anticipated the truths of Christianity, something they could manage given their
intellectual gifts and also their virtuous and ascetic way of living. The
implications of this view for our central question are clear. If the pagans
were able, at least dimly, to perceive such doctrines as the Trinity using
reason, then reason gets us pretty far towards ratifying Christianity as the
belief system both most worthy of our adherence. A text that explores this idea
more fully and explicitly is Abelard’s Dialogue Between a Philosopher, a Jew. and
a Christian. As the title already indicates, this work is comparable to
those of Falaqera, and, especially, Halevi. The frame of the dialogue is
rather different, though. That’s good. It starts with a rather desultory indication
that this work belongs in the grand tradition of medieval dream narratives,
which takes inspiration from ancient texts like Macrobius’ commentary on
Cicero’s Dream of Scipio, and includes more famous and literary examples, like
the Romance of the Rose and Piers Plowman. In Abelard’s dream, he is
appointed as the judge of a debate between the three main characters on
account of his preeminence in mental keenness and knowledge of all the
scriptures. Even while asleep, Abelard was rather pleased with himself. A central
theme of this work is what Abelard would, had he spoken Arabic, have called Taqlid. What is definitive of the character of
the philosopher, here, is not, as in Halevi, any particular body of doctrine,
but a method. He has no commitment to any revelatory
text and simply follows reason wherever it leads. He says that his role is to
investigate the truth by means of reasons, and in all things to follow not
people’s opinions but reasons lead, and later challenges the Christian and Jew
to say whether their religious beliefs are based on reason or involve following
mere human opinion and the love of your own kind of people. The implicit charges
of course is one we’ve seen explicitly in texts from the Islamic world. In the
latter case, religious belief would be a matter of epistemic luck. So, the Jew is
a Jew because it was born in a Jewish family, etc. And indeed, Abelard’s
philosopher immediately goes on to give a variant of the worry about simply
following the religion of one’s family. In mixed marriage, the child often adopts
the belief system of their favorite parent. You can test that against your
own experience. But the Jew and Christian deny the charge of Taqlid. For the
Jewish character it is fine for children to follow their parents lead in matters
of religion, but upon maturity they should think for themselves. For, it is
not as fitting to follow opinion as it is to search out the truth.
Similarly the Christian accepts that no discerning person forbids investigating
and discussing our faith by means of reason and agrees with the philosopher
that rational argument carries more weight than the sighting of authorities.
But the most interesting remark about the relation between reason and
authority is given to the character of the philosopher. If all people use the
same authorities there wouldn’t be so many different religious faiths, but just
as everyone deliberates with his own reason, individuals pick the authorities
they follow. Those who wrote only on the basis of reason, whose views are seen
to abound, with it have earned their authority their being worth believing.
But even in their judgment reason is put before authority. Authority is regarded
as having last-place, or none at all, in every philosophical disputation. Notice
especially the philosophers endorsement of justified Taqlid. When we follow
the authority of say Aristotle, we have good reason for doing so, namely that
Aristotle himself he showed good use of reason. His skill in
argumentation establishes his credentials as someone whose views are
worth at least taking seriously, and perhaps taking over for ourselves. But Abelard’s philosopher character, and apparently Abelard himself, think that it
is better to think for oneself. As shown by that anecdote where he embarrassed Anselm of Laon, it is never appropriate to try to settle a dispute simply by citing
some authoritative witness, at least not if one belongs to the intellectual elite,
as do Abelard and the three characters in his dialogue. Unfortunately, this work
ends abruptly, in the midst of the debate, without any judgment being passed down.
So, while can take it for granted that Abelard would declare the Christian the
victor, we don’t know for sure on which grounds he would have done so. Incomplete
though it is, the dialogue is clear regarding the weaknesses of the Jew’s
position. It’s not a rapidly Antisemitic text, at least not by medieval standards,
as the Jew is allowed to defend his faith at length and with considerable
sophistication. But both the philosopher and the Christian criticized
Judaism for its supposed concern with bodily instead of spiritual goods. More
relevantly for our concern, sorry, relevantly for our purposes, one of
the Jews main arguments for his religion is that we may expect God to hand down a
law to humankind, and the Jewish law is the best candidate because of its
antiquity and high standing according to what he calls general human opinion.
Given how similar this is to the rationale Haleviwould later offer in
support of Judaism, this is hardly unfair on Abelard’s part. It’s basically the same
argument that convinced the king to convert to Judaism, right? But when the
jew appeals to authority and common opinion, we are no doubt meant to realize
that this is a weak basis for belief, as Abelard has made clear elsewhere in the
dialogue. More difficult is the choice between philosophy and Christianity. The
character of the philosopher openly admires the Christian spokesman for his
philosophical acuity, and the Christian is able to persuade him on a number of
points, especially concerning the nature of the afterlife. But since this
philosopher believes in the afterlife anyway, and is also a monotheists on
philosophical grounds already, the doctrinal difference between the two is
not large. In the text as we have it, there is also
no exploration of the distinctive Christian ideas, such as the Trinity or
incarnation. It is emphasized that the Greeks, that most rational of peoples,
converted to Christianity on on rational grounds. Yet when the philosopher
explains why he himself has not converted, his explanation suggests that,
for Abelard, reason alone does not suffice to establish the truth of the
Christian faith. We don’t yield to their authority in the sense of not discussing
their statements rationally before we approve them, otherwise we would be
ceasing to do philosophy if, while disregarding the investigation of
reasons, we mainly use topics from authority. One issue here may be that,
like Halevi and Falaqera, Abelard recognizes the gap between rational and
religious obligations. He has the philosopher say to the Christian that
many biblical commands are in agreement with natural reason, while others impose
an additional obligation, chosen by God. The Bible hands down certain natural
Commandments you call moral, such as loving God and one’s neighbor, nor
committing adultery, nor stealing, and not committing murder.
But others belong so to speak to positive justice. They are adapted to
certain people for a time, for example circumcision for the Jews, baptism for
you. So, perhaps, Abelard, despite his
rationalism, is after all more comparable to Halevi than to Falaqera or
Averroes. He clearly thinks that reason supports Christianity and would never
conflict with it, but there are more truths about life in heaven and on
earth than are dreamt of in the philosophy of the pure rationalist, which
would be a great last line, I think you’ll agree, but unfortunately I have
one last work to discuss. Well actually, it isn’t all that unfortunate, because
the author of this work is the endlessly fascinating and idiosyncratic Ramon
Llul, who died in 1316. Apparently in response to the multi-religious culture
of his native Majorca, he devised a new way of doing philosophy, his famous Art
with a capital A, which he thought would replace scholastic methods, convert
Muslims and Jews to Christianity, and establish lasting peace throughout the
world. These ambitions were, to put it mildly, not fully realized, through no
fault of Lluls’ of course. But what he could not achieve in the
world, he could bring about in a fictional setting, namely that of his
Book of the Gentile and Three Wise Men, written in Catalan and already
translated into Latin, French, and Spanish in the Middle Ages. We have a now
familiar cast of characters, as the Gentile is a trained philosopher shown
in discussion with a Jew, Muslim, and Christian. The dialogue unfolds with
extravagant courtesy, as each spokesman shows respect for the others and
presents his case for his own religion. The opening sentence of this work says
Llul’s motive in writing it, which is that unbelievers, that is non-Christians,
should be brought to salvation. Yet, as apologetic texts go this one is
remarkably restrained. There is not only the polite tone of purpose of the
proceedings but also a kind of twist ending. The three wise men, representing
the Abrahamic faiths, tell the Gentile they would rather not hear his judgments
as to who has made the best argument, because they prefer that each be free to
choose his own religion. As a result, the message that comes across most strongly,
is that it would be good if everyone could agree on someone’s religion, as this
would promote peace. One of the wise men, tellingly Llul does not say
which, explicitly outlines the project that arguably lies behind all the
dialogues I’ve been discussing tonight. Think of the harm that comes from men
not belonging to a single sect and of the good that would come from everyone
being beneath one faith and one religion. Since we cannot agree by means of
authorities, let us try to come to some agreement by means of demonstrative and
necessary reasons. As in the other texts, rational demonstration is presented as
the means to escape Taqlid, the mere appeal to authority which can never
resolve into religious debate. One passage identifies a problem we’ve seen
several times already, that believers usually adhere blindly to the faith into
which they were born. Men are so rooted in the faith in which
they found themselves, and in which they were raised by their parents and
ancestors, that it is impossible to make them break away by preaching, by
disputation, or by any other means that man could devise. Llul’s philosophical
method is the instrument by which the deadlock will be resolved. Again, he’s
remarkably even-handed in the way that this instrument is used. All three
spokesmen are experts in the Llulian art and are in substantive agreement on
core doctrines. They all affirm the existence
of an afterlife and the existence of a single God, ideas that are completely new
to the Gentile, which is a stark contrast to the theistic philosophers we met in
Halevi and Abelard. In fact, when it’s the Christians turn to
speak, he does not even bother trying to establish monotheism, because the Jewish
spokesman has already proven this adequately. Still, it is clear where laws
own sympathies lie. He has the Jew admit the same supposed weakness in his faith already identified by Abelard,
namely that Judaism is overly concerned with this world and not the next.
The cross-examination of the Muslim is also more severe than that directed at
the other two spokesmen. Yet, Llulhas all three Abrahamic characters embrace and
pursue his own ambitious program of grounding faith and reason. As Eve Bonner
has pointed out, Llul wanted to recast Biblical prophecy as a systematic
philosophy. Whatever one believes by true faith must also be demonstrable by
reason. In keeping with this, each spokesman in the Book of the Gentile
begins by setting out a list of principles distinctive of the relevant
religion and then works through the list to show that each principle can be
proven. Actually there are two remarkably rationalist assumptions here, firstly
that a given religion is defined by his doctrinal commitments and not, say, by its
ritual practices. And secondly, that the commitments of the one true creed can be
proven in a way convincing to any fair-minded judge. Which is not to say
that the proofs will be easy. The Christian spokesman warns the
Gentile that the articles of our faith are so sublime and so difficult to
believe and understand, that you will not be able to comprehend them unless you
apply all the strength of your mind and soul to understanding the arguments by
which I intend to prove the above-mentioned articles. So, Christianity
is literally hard to believe, but you should still believe it. This is not an
admission that we need to believe first in order to understand. To the contrary,
the Christian emphasizes that if anyone rejects the proofs of his faith, it will
be the fault of the skeptic and not the proofs themselves. Such a skeptic, as he
says, thinks that no proof has been given of something that is, in fact, quite
provable. And indeed, the Christian goes on
to present the trinity not, as Aquinas for instance would do, as something we
believe by faith and can explain and defend with reason, but is something that
can be proven through pure philosophical argument on the grounds that God is
identical to his own infinite power, knowledge, and love. Perhaps because Llul is so unsympathetic to Islam, he allows his Muslim spokesman a moment of
weakness, in which he settles for something less convincing than
demonstration and more like the bootstrapping strategy we saw in al-Ghazali. The spokesman appeals to his prophets
personal virtues, Muhammad’s charity and justice prove that he really was a
messenger sent by God. The Gentile character is not impressed. He observes
that since Christ too is greatly honored, the same argument can be run to confirm
the truth of his claim to be the incarnated God. And here, this is gonna be
the sort of closing point I want to make, Llul has put his finger on a potential
weakness of the bootstrapping approach that I’ve been commending to you. If I
verify that one Authority is worthy of my credence, and then follow them on that
basis, actually nothing excludes that another potential authority figure will
turn up who seems equally reliable. One would then be in the position of, say, a
patient who gets a second opinion and is forced to choose between two conflicting
pieces of medical advice, without having medical knowledge of her own to guide
that choice. If she chooses the better advice, it will just be a matter of
epistemic luck, precisely what we were trying to avoid by engaging in what I’ve
called justified Taqlid. On my view, this is not a fatal weakness of the
bootstrapping approach. All it shows is that this approach will, at best, get us
to rationally justified belief and not knowledge, the more ambitious goal
pursued by al-Ghazali. Remember that he spoke of necessary knowledge that
Muhammad was a true prophet. The idea is, apparently, that if I know the prophets
message is true, then whatever I believe by following him, by
bootstrapping from my conviction that he’s a true prophet, through Taqlid,
will then itself become knowledge as well. So, for example, if he says the world
was created, I may not know the world is created under my own steam, but by
knowing he’s a prophet I come to know that the world is created,
without even necessarily having any reason to think it at all other than
that Muhammad said so, right? This would be as if I knew that my doctor had
unerring medical knowledge, and I could then be confident that any conflicting
second opinion would simply be wrong, because it conflicts with the first
doctor, right? By definition, anything that doctor says
is true. Justified Taqlid, it seems, can never put us in such a strong
epistemic position though, because to know for certain that the authority has
expert knowledge, it seems that I might need expert knowledge myself. But this
doesn’t mean it’s the wrong approach. There’s a good reason that the
uncompromising rationalism of figures like Llul, Falaqera, and Abelard was not a
mainstream view in the Middle Ages. The background assumption of their dialogues
on choosing faith is that the choice must be an outcome of rational
demonstration. They demand rational proof in place of authority, but that demand
may itself be unreasonable. Sometimes we have to make do with authority. Our own
limitations in talent and time may make it impossible for us to establish all
the truths we need on our own. Or the truths we believe may not be susceptible
of proof at all. That could be the case with something as recondite and
mysterious as the doctrine of the trinity, or something has banal as
past events we did not witness and can access only through the testimony of
others. It’s unrealistic always to insist on Ijtihad. Often Taqlid will be the
right approach, but when we do resort to Taqlid, we should do so in the way
recommended by al-Ghazali: still think for ourselves by
thinking about which authority is worth believing. Thanks. [Applause] Sorry for all the problems with the, as
someone once said, power corrupts, power point corrupts absolutely. It was a good
example. [Audio not captured on mic.] Yeah, that would have been a good lecture
to have, like, with medieval bingo cards, like Byzantine philosophy, Jewish
philosophy. [Audio not captured on mic.] Sure, yeah, that’s a great point. So actually, you’re right that there’s a two-step procedure there. So
one is, oh well, anyone who says that, or perform such a miracle. is obviously
worth believing and putting my trust in. And the other is, of course, the guy did
say that or do that, right? So that you get the second thing through some kind
of very rigorous historical, historically cautious procedure, where you verify that
the person did in fact do or say this thing. And, in Islam, they have an
elaborate way of doing this, which is hadith scholarship. So, a lot of
people know this, but the basic idea here is that since it says in the Quran
that we should imitate the Prophet, it became desirable amongst early
Muslims to try to figure out for sure everything they could about what the
Prophet had said and done, but by the time they started trying to collect this
information, not only was the Prophet dead, but all of his immediate companions
were dead. And so the hadith scholars would collect
reports, and then try to verify the reports by basically saying so-and-so
heard it from so-and-so from so-and-so from so-and-so from so-and-so, who saw it
happen. And the point is that your chain of testimony is only as strong as
the weakest link, so if the third person is a Jew, or a known liar, then
forget it, right? And although Halevi doesn’t go
into that in very much detail, he has in mind something similar when he, remember
he says this thing about well there were many, many witnesses and has been
transmitted over the centuries incorrect with incredible level of unanimity, so
there might be a kind of echo there of the first of all the fact that he’s a
rabbinic Jew and not Kaarite, and rabbinic Jews are in any case wedded to
the idea of an oral tradition that’s been passed down into the time of Late
Antiquity. But even if you’re just talking about a
biblical miracle, what he wants to say is well here we have like massively
convincing historical testimony, and so they’ve already
anticipated your worry, so that’s why al-Ghazali as
well says it’s either because you saw it happen or because of reliable testimony,
but you have to, if you’re going to engage into justified Taqlid, you have
to do the due diligence on the testimony, as well as think about what the
testimony implies about the person you’re following. [Audio not captured on mic.] So I think you’re right
that there’s it seems to be a kind of tension in what I said about, especially
about the Munqidhs, the Deliverer from Error, that’s his spiritual autobiography.
So the the way that that text works is that he talks about this crisis he has a
young, as you know, that he has this crisis of skepticism, and he comes to
have sceptical doubts even about rationality itself, and then he gets past
these sceptical doubts, because God casts a light into his heart, which gives him
certainty. And you’re right that the part about the fitrah, and Jews being born
Jews, and Christians Christians, and so on, that comes from the kind of lead up to
that moment, where he’s cured of his skepticism. But the longer passage that I
quoted, which is the thing about justified Taqlid, is from later in the
text, where he’s giving advice to just anybody about how to satisfy yourself
that Muhammad is a genuine prophet, okay? So, I mean, al-Ghazali’s a pretty
complicated figure, so I’m not too confident about this, but my my guess of
what’s going on here is that he is taking it for granted that the light
that was given to him, and also like his Sufi insight and so on, is just not
going to happen for most people, and so he’s special, and that when he says to
other people here’s how you identify the Prophet, he’s giving advice that would
work for anybody, so you don’t have to have a light cast into your heart in
order to identify Muhammad as a prophet, you just have to do the due diligence by
reading up about the hadith and reading the Quran, right? Now, whether, so
so that’s what I would say about the Muqidh. As far as his views about
jurisprudence go, I mean, we need to be careful when he when he says to people,
don’t don’t engage in Taqlid, we need to bear in mind that he might sometimes
be talking to other jurists, rather than just anybody, right? And he clearly is
in favor of a much higher degree of Taqlid
among commoners than he is among scholars. And that’s of course quite
normal, right, so it’s a pretty typical view to
take that Taqlid is sort ofverboten for the
elite but allowable for the masses. And as I said yesterday, that is compatible
with the thought that the members of the masses should engage in
some minimal level of Taqlid. I’m sorry, with some minimal level of Ijtihad.
So you’re gonna have a hierarchy, with al-Ghazale all the way at the top, because
he’s a Sufi master, and the commoner all the way at the bottom, who has mostly
tuck lead with a kind of soupçon of Ijtihad, and in the middle you’re gonna
have qualified jurists who aren’t Sufi masters but have at least figured out
which school of law to follow, for example. So I think that all is
consistent. [Audio not captured on mic.] First let me say something general about the way you kind
of set up the question, just because it allows me to emphasize something, or sort
of kind of underscore in my motivation for looking at these texts, which
dramatized this choice of faiths, which is that in each case, we’re kind of using
a fictional setting to imagine someone who’s in the fitrah, right, so who’s in
the natural condition, like they work, their functions, their
cognitive functions are all firing, but they aren’t already committed to a
revelatory system, so it’s almost as if you could be born as an adult,
fully functioning adult, and then get to decide which family to be in, right? And
you’re right that that doesn’t happen in real life, so that’s why they create
these fictional settings where it happens, and I think that’s actually
really interesting and important. I mean, it’s funny you said original position
because it’s a little bit like a Rawlsian move, right? So what what if I wasn’t yet
in a system, which system would I want to be in, right? We probably shouldn’t
push that too much, but okay. Now, as for what he thinks rationality is, in the
deliverer from error itself, he pours scorn on people who are skeptical about
Aristotelian logic. So he says people who don’t trust logic are, you know, who don’t
believe in the principle of non-contradiction, things like that,
they’re just being silly. So that, like, that’s not the
problem. The problem is that when you use reason,
you might be making mistakes, right, and you might not notice, or you might feel
more certain than you should be, and he draws, he famously says that just as
reason can stand in judgment over a sensation, and say that sensation is
falling prey to illusions, like the famous stick bent in the water, so there
might be some higher perspective which could judge reason and say that reason
is making mistakes, but I don’t really think that he’s, I don’t think he sort
of seriously entertains the possibility that logic could be replaced with some
alternative logic that’s just as good. I guess he thinks that there’s one kind of
rationality, which is the rationality that’s defined by the posterior
analytics and the prior analytics, because it’s the only game in town for
him. So if he, you know, if he met Graham Priest he might have trouble, but
he hasn’t. [Audio not captured on mic.] Yeah, that’s right. So my thought was that, like, prophetic insights, which is basically what al-Ghazali
is getting, or the equivalent of it, by having this light cast into his heart,
it’s akin to what Muhammad receives in the revelation, although he’s
not claiming to be on the same level as Muhammad obviously, but it’s epistemically
similar. That, for our purposes, is actually very much like having
demonstrative science, okay? It’s like super expert knowledge, Say Galen’s
knowledge of medicine, okay? So let’s just take it for granted that Galen’s an
expert doctor. So he has knowledge, so does the prophet or the Sufi, okay? Now,
and so we can I would say, we might want to just call this the class of
knowers, right? Now there’s two ways of verifying that the class of knowers are
knowers. One is to get knowledge yourself of exactly the same kind, so I trained so
that I can actually work through Galen’s works and say, yes, correct
correct, correct, correct, oh he’s right about everything.
But now actually it looks like I didn’t need Galen, right, because all I’m doing
is giving him an A+ on his test. So, and my thought is that that will almost
never be feasible, right, so you know like I would show Taqlid to you whenever
we’re talking about Aquinas’ theory of metaphysics, you might show
Taqlid to me about Munich geography, right? So, although, I’m not the best
person to choose for that, but anyway. So, and what I want to say is
that I think even if it turned, so what al-Ghazali wanted to say, is that with
justified Taqlid, since you could know that this is an expert,
his knowledge becomes your knowledge, because it’s almost like you have two
necessary premises, you get a necessary conclusion, so since he knows, and I know
he knows, and now I know everything he knows. But I
think that that’s implausible, because I think that unless you master
the science or have the prophetic insight yourself, you’ll never really know that
the knower is a knower, but you can have justified belief that the knower is a knower, and then you’ll have just applied belief
that whatever the knower says is true, and that’s enough. But of course it, in a
way it opens you to, of course it does open you to epistemic luck to a degree,
but I think it’s probably the best you can do. [Audio not captured on mic.] Yeah, okay, so that yeah that’s a nice
way of setting up the problem. So, and of course Plato was very worried about this,
and what Plato does there is he sets up an antynomy that’s very much
like my antynomy between Taqlid and Ijtihad, right. So either you don’t
know anything, in which case you can’t make any progress, or you know it
completely in which case you can’t make any progress, because there’s no work to
progress to, so now what, right? Well, theory of recollection. Strange move. And what I
want to say is that a better move is that you don’t, to make progress you
don’t necessarily have to engage in Ijtihad of the same kind that the expert
does, all you have to do is engage in Ijtihad that verifies that the expert is an
expert, okay? Now actually, as it happens, there’s
another dialogue by Plato, which I thought of mentioning, but it’s so
old much older than the stuff I was looking at that I thought I wouldn’t, but
there’s a dialogue that most people don’t read which is called the Charmides,
which has a puzzle in it about whether second-order knowledge is useful, and he
says well, on the one hand it looks like it’s useful, because what could be better
than it being sure whether something counts as knowledge, but on the other
hand it looks like it would just duplicate first-order knowledge, because
knowledge that medicine is knowledge would just be medicine. And so, as he says,
second-order knowledge looks like simultaneously the most valuable you
think you could have and completely worthless. And again, I want to say that
that’s a kind of antinomy, which has a solution in the middle, where what you
know that the first-order knowledge is knowledge without having the first-order
knowledge. That’s the key thing, right? So, and the contemporary equivalent would be
I can know that climate change is real without being a climatologist by knowing
that all these people are climatologists, and they know what they’re saying, and
they all say the same thing right, and so it would become, that’s why it
would be irrational and defective to not believe in climate change, for example, if
that’s a good example. [Audio not captured on mic.] Yeah, that’s right, or you
could also think of Sextus’ mode of regress, so I want to justify a
proposition, well I have a justification for the proposition, what’s my
justification for that? Except that al- Ghazali’s doing it in terms of cognitive
states, so I have sensation, reason correct sensation, well why couldn’t
something else corrects reason, and then it looks like whatever can do that could
also be corrected, and we’re off and running. And then what he
says is, and you’ll like this, what he says is that the light that’s cast
into the heart is sort of self verifying, right? So it is something that brings
with it, like, on its sleeve, the fact that it’s genuine. And whether you,
probably if you don’t believe that that’s possible, he would say well if you
had a light cast into your heart you would know that it was. [Audio not captured on mic.] Yeah, actually, it’s funny you asked me that, because when I thought, oh I need to say something about anti rationalism, and I want to
mention someone from every tradition, just to kind of cover my bases, right? And
I thought well how about Ibn Taymiyyah? No, he’s that’s not a good example
how about Bernard of Clairvaux? Nah, that’s not good, and so I sort of thought of three
people I thought, well actually a lot of different people, so as you can see I
think al-Ghazali would be a terrible example, a lot of people would name him, some
people might say Palmas for Byzantium , that would be a bad example. Like,
Sirafi, who attacked Abu Bishr in the logic grammar debate, so that if you can
think of lots of people who attack philosophy, but who have their own canon
of rationality, and actually, to be honest, Ibn Taymiyyah is a great example because he
he actually uses the word aql a lot, which means intellect or reason and says
that you can use aql to reconstruct the teachings of the Salaf, hence, for him,
Salafism is rational, right? So when I said that those guys were anti
rationalist, that was kind of shorthand for that they were critics of
rationalist philosophy, such as it existed in their cultures. Yes, yeah, and in fact, I don’t know if any
medieval philosopher is like reason, pfff we don’t want that, for the good reason that
even if you’re even if you’re like a dyed-in-the-wool fideist, you’re probably
going to think that God gave us reason, and that we’re supposed to use it. So the
question is how does it work, what is it, what does it tell us? So you’re
right that, in a sense, there’s probably no anti rationalism and the medieval
period, which is of course not what people think about it. It sort of
goes together with my general point, which is that many people think of
medieval philosophy as very authority bound, as if they were unreflective about
how authority works, but actually they reflected a lot more about authority
than most philosophers do now, and more than in other periods. So, I mean, for
example, I think there’s less explicit reflection on the nature of authority
and its role in philosophy in the, there’s in Late Antiquity than in the
medieval period, for example. [Applause]




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