December 22, 2006 § 8 Comments
Scott Carson at An Examined Life makes the argument (assuming I understand it correctly) that doctrine develops only by applying deductive reasoning to a body of formally revealed facts and principles which were finalized at the time of the Apostles. I’ll call this position sola deduction. Mike Liccione at Sacramentum Vitae makes the case that there is more to the development of doctrine than just logical deduction from preestablished premeses.
It probably doesn’t surprise any of my legions of regular readers that I come down firmly on the side of Sacramentum Vitae and against sola deduction. The reason I come down against it is that sola deduction is a specific case of a much more general error; a general error which some may have noticed is a personal bugaboo of mine, the windmill of my personal Don Quixote. That windmill is positivism.
If all valid doctrines follow from turning the formal crank of deductive reasoning on the raw material of facts and principles established at the time of the Apostles, and doctrines so established are not underdetermined by that deductive reasoning, then the Magisterium can be replaced by a computer.
But the situation for sola deduction is even worse than is made clear by Mike’s argument, though Mike’s argument is in my opinion sufficient for his purposes. If we accept sola deduction on its own terms as a thought experiment, we ultimately (though not trivially) end up with a logical contradiction. An assertion of logic alone is itself quite literally illogical.
UPDATE: Scott Carson fires back, finding my comments not merely unhelpful but singularly so. The most critical thing I should clarify is that when I characterize Scott’s argument as saying that doctrine only develops deductively, I don’t mean that the actual discovery of doctrines by actual particular persons proceeds only deductively as an historical matter. That would be a manifestly silly thing to claim. What I mean is that (as I understand the criteria) once discovered, genuine doctrines must be derivable without underdetermination by deductive reasoning alone from some original fixed set of doctrines (oral or written) existant at the time of the Apostles. The “without underdetermination” bit means that this deductive proof or theorem for a given developed doctrine, which though not necessarily explicit must at least exist in principle, settles the matter over and against any competing claims to doctrinal truth which are inconsistent with it.
If that is what he means, my criticism stands as written. And if that isn’t what he means by his claim that legitimate development of doctrine must proceed solely by deduction (as far as I can tell he uses the term “non-ampliative” to mean “solely by deduction” in the sense I just clarified) to “establish the truth of any particular inference to the [logical] exclusion of all competing, non-consistent inferences”, well, then I really have no idea what he does mean.
Oh, and everyone have a blessed Christmas!