Sunday, July 20, 2008

problems of doctrine

for all of you who have been dying to see the finished product of my couple weeks of writing, you can read it here.


  1. I've finally made it to your blog...yeah! However, I think it is going to take me an evening to get through that paper, so when I do I'll let you know what I think.

  2. I like the paper. This draft was much more clear, and I understand that you were just posing a problem.

    My question is similar to the one I asked on an earlier draft. Why can't interpretive authority function as a bedrock for dogmatic claims? It seems this is both how the sola scriptura criterion of protestantism works and also the ex cathedra criterion of catholicism works.

    Also, what type of solution do you think should be given to the problem?

  3. mormongnostic,

    i think an interpretive authority to define dogma would be problematic in mormonism because of modern revelation. in a sense, the 1st presidency and quorum of the twelve act as a sort, though they tend to refrain from actually defining doctrine (apart from general abstract claims). with protestant sola scriptura or catholic ex cathedra (with my understanding), modern revelation (in an lds sense) does not exist. thus they could decide on a particular bedrock and use that as an interpretive norm without much trouble. sure there may be changes in how that interpretive norm is understood, but it would be relatively the same nonetheless. however, in mormonism because of modern revelation, the criteria which is depended upon may drastically change and then the battle of what should be used as criteria for both establishing the interpretive authority and the criteria which the authority interprets with could also drastically change.

    i think an interpretive authority would either hinder modern revelation or modern revelation would render the interpretive authority useless.

    as far as solutions go, i think d.z. phillips' problems of the realist/antirealist distinction (especially in his wittegenstein and religion) point to a possible solution.

    also rowan williams (the archbishop of canterbury and a wittgensteinian) had a take on doctrine that i liked. basically its the idea that no single doctrine is 'true' but rather they, in conjunction with other doctrines, roughly point to that unidentifiable truth.

  4. i think an interpretive authority would either hinder modern revelation or modern revelation would render the interpretive authority useless.

    Forgive me, but i want to press this a little further. You present this as a dillemma: either interpretive authority would hinder revelation or would render the authority useless.

    But I don't really see how the argument works. (Again, I think the 'bedrock' claim avoids the charge of circularity that is rightly attributed to Millet, maybe you disagree though)

    So lets say that the bedrock interpretive authority is presented as follows:

    x is doctrine iff it is explicitly endorsed by the first presidency and quorum of apostles.

    How much of a hindrance is this? Well it does limit future revealed doctrine to being consistent with past revealed doctrine. However, I see internal consistency as a necessary condition on any plausible theory of truth. I guess I am saying that the only hindrance is coherence, but that is a hindrance for any system of true claims.

    What about making authority useless?

    Well, under the criterion given above, the use would be a clearly defined parameter on what is considered doctrine. I guess I think that this constitutes a counter-example to the 'uselessness' charge.

  5. you're right. i think a bedrock claim could avoid the circularity issue. however, the justification for making the bedrock claim would have to be something outside of the criteriological parameters. but then, that begs the question of why that interpretive authority should be as such.

    now a community could get together and stipulate a bedrock claim and decided that it is a bedrock claim (via revelation, democratic vote, tyranny, etc) and just make that the overriding principle such that participation in the community requires that such a interpretive authority be accepted (which could be analogous to our legal system and citizenship).

    for example i think that the sola scriptura argument for protestantism is problematic and circular when justification for it is brought from the bible. avoidance of that problem would have to be an appeal to inspiration, tradition, etc. (which seems to be the historical origin) and at the establishment of the organization (or later according to rules laid out by the establishment).

    so i guess that that there isn't a necessary circularity or incoherence of establishing an interpretive authority.

    however, in the case of the lds church or a case where the community has already been in existence, it would seem that some sort of appeal to something must be made in order establish an interpretive model (barring a revolution or major organizational restructuring). if that appeal is made, then the circularity would seem to ensue.

    i guess that you could argue that the bedrock claim is not something new, but has always been used; and that you are only pointing out what has always been there.

    the problem with the church establishing one now is that there doesn't seem to be a mode for establishing one, and if there was, it could just as easily be taken down by the same method. the quorum of the twelve and first presidency could by the very same standards decide that doctrine be limited to instruction from the 1st presidency, which could in turn decide that it be limited to that spoken by the prophet only during general conferences, who could then decide that the 12 and 1st presidency be able to determine doctrine.

    yes, this would be a problem of coherence, but the possibility of incoherence between doctrinal expositions over time is a possibility that the criteria leaves open.

    so perhaps i misspoke when i said it Would and should have said it Could. however, i think that the possibility of incoherence inherent to the interpretive authority would deny the certainty which seems to be necessary.

    wow. i don't think i am making any sense and am making wild leaps all over the place. i think i may have to try this again tomorrow.

  6. I have been thinking about this also and I do think it avoids the circularity claim.

    My final point is that interpretive authority is only part of the bedrock if it is implicit in the practices of the given community. As per Witt's claim, "this is what I do." Or to put it another way, whether the practice of interpretive authority is part of the 'grammar' of the theological tradition in question.

    I am not sure whether it is part of the 'grammar' of mormonism or not. Although I do think that it is with Catholicism, and possibly protestantism, although that is much more problematic as you suggest.

    Pls, keep me posted on how your thoughts evolve on this topic, and hopefully you are moving toward a publication in Sunstone or something.


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