What Is Reformed Epistemology

Epistemology is the study of knowledge. Reformed Epistemology is one way to think about how we know things. Let’s consider a simple argument.

  1. Trees are tall.
  2. X is a tree.
  3. X is tall.

Is this logically valid? That is, does it’s premise lead to it’s conclusion logically? Logic is defined here as the study of correct inference, and we’ve been doing it since the day we woke up, figuring out how this world we are a part of and in and coming out of works. It is logically valid, it seems most would say. Of course, this assumes certain logical rules that I’m certain we could find someone somewhere smart enough to object to. After all, logical was someone’s idea. Google Aristotle, click on his Wiki, and you’ll see that he is credited with it. Mind blowing. The problem is, the premise, or proposition #1, isn’t necessarily true. All trees aren’t tall. I’ve seen short trees. Or, that is at least contestable. What does this mean? That premise needs a valid argument with it as it’s conclusion. This will continue backwards forever.

Consider the following situation. A man approaches you and tells you that the entire past, all of your memories, your understanding of history, has been downloaded into your brain 5 minutes ago. The last 5 minutes are the only thing that is real. Is there anyway to verify emphatically that is not what is actually going on? There is no way to do that. However, we don’t say that the man who behaves as though the entirety of the past is real is irrational just because he can’t prove it hasn’t been downloaded into his brain 5 minutes ago. This brings us to RE’s idea of properly basic beliefs. It’s possible that the man is telling the truth. It’s possible that he is lying. Any argument in any direction is going to be based on premises that must be the conclusion of previous arguments, on and on. Absolute certainty is philosophically impossible for some of the most obvious things, like the past. Thus, there are properly basic beliefs that, though that cannot be emphatically verified, are rationally justifiable to be believed in.

The primary proponents of RE in history are Christians. I’m not intending to use it to lead people to Christendom, or any specific religion. RE shows that it’s okay to believe, or behave toward in hope of a payoff, specific things that can’t be verified. However, it does not prove that one of the things that can’t, at least at the moment, be verified is the case or not. RE makes a lot of all of the major religions’ primary contradictory ideas properly basic.

What does this mean? It means even whoever is wrong is rational in believing as they do until we are able to verify claims of the same nature as the ones they are wrong about.

So what is one to do? It seems one then should purvey all possibilities and make their own bets without telling themselves or others they know what is going on in order to do so while helping to collectively and peacefully seek verification through respect for each individuals cultivated by an understanding of one another’s shared darkness and life’s demand that we pull the trigger in light of all that we do know, even when we realize all that we don’t.

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Jonathan Wilson’s story.