He is there and he is not silent. Posted: July 3, 2007 by Mike Godfrey (Comments on Francis Schaeffer book)



The Epistemological Necessity (part 1)

(brief bites into the ass of that blind elephant called philosophy)

Following on from previous posts,here is the next in the series from Francis Schaeffer’s excellent Book ‘He is there and he is not silent’.

The Epistemological Necessity.

Epistemology is defined as the study of knowledge and deals with questions such as what is knowledge and how do we know that we know.

What is the justification (warrant) for knowledge ?

The epistemological problem can be summed up as, how do we know, that what we know, is reality and not non reality?

Schaeffer begins with a the problem of universals and particulars:

‘In the area of knowledge you have particulars , by which we mean the individual “things” that we see in the world.

At any given moment, I am faced with thousands, indeed, literally millions of particulars, just in what I see with the glance of the eyes. What are the universals which give these particulars meaning? This is the heart of the problem of epistemology and the problem of knowing’

Going slightly off topic,Schaeffer expects the justification for knowledge to go in one direction, that is from the universals to the particulars. If meaning is to be assigned to particulars it will be from the universals -this is the very opposite of reductionism and materialism -where the hope (in vain in my view)is to give meaning to universals from particulars.

Meaning hangs upon universals exclusively,those universals have to be big enough to hold that meaning.

To clarify further Schaeffer uses the example of the Greeks who had two ways to anchor meaning in universals :


meaning city , the meaning included the structure of society,Greeks took the idea of society and its values to be big enough to provide universals. This was short lived as an idea because it brought either a ruling elite or the rule of the 51% vote.

In either case universals could not be given that would cover all the particulars ,also the values represented by the Polis would be constantly changing.

This reminds me of the atheists argument for moral norms exclusive of any external agency as being sufficient,they are norms but they are always changing and so definitions of good and bad are never anything but relative. What is good is good for you .at this moment in this context. -where’s the value in that?

2.Greek gods

The Greeks moved from the Polis as a giver of universals back to the Greek gods,but these proved to be too much like other people and not big enough to provide universals.


‘The gods fought amongst themselves and had differences over all kinds of petty things. All the classical gods put together were not really enough, which is why, as we saw in the concept of the fate, in Greek literature, one never knows for sure whether the fates are controlled by the gods or whether the fates control the gods. Are the fates simply the vehicle of the action of the gods? There is constant confusion between the fates and the gods as the final control. This expresses the Greeks’ deep comprehension that their gods simply were not adequate:they were not big enough with regard to the fates and they were not big enough with regard to knowledge.’

From the Greeks failure to find adequate universals Schaeffer moves to the birth of a bipartite view of the world .

Thomas Aquinas saw the lack of emphasis on particulars and understood the dilemma of the Greek world which prompted him to redress the balance,this brings us to the bipartite view of our knowledge.

The best explanation for the origins of this view, comes from Nancy Pearcey’s book ‘Total Truth‘.

She says:

‘Why did Plato view the material world as inferior..he regarded matter as pre-existing from all eternity. The role of the creator was merely to impose rational Form upon it. But the pre-existence of Matter meant it had independent properties over which the creator had no control;as a result, the deity was never fully successful in forcing it into the mold of forms. This explains why there is always some chaos , disorder, and irrationality in the world.’

Plato’s view can be represented as:


Eternal Reason



Eternal Formless Flux

To cut a long story short (see Nancy Pearceys book’ Total Truth’ for the long version) the Greeks placed the emphasis on metaphysics, seeing the physical material world including the body and its various functions as bad because it resists Gods forms and is the source of evil. This attitude was adopted by monastic orders across Christendom ,but reflected a unbiblical view .


Thomas Aquinas, the Catholic priest and philosopher saw this unbiblical idea of matter pre-existing God and the subsequent attitude towards Gods creation including the body and sexuality as damaging. He sought to place nature in its right perspective

Nancy Pearcy says:

‘The end result was that Aquinas retained the dualistic framework of Greek philosophy while changing the terminology.

In the upper storey he put grace,a supernatural influence that gave meaning to particulars.

In the lower story he put nature, not nature in the modern scientific sense but in the Aristotelian sense of the “nature of the thing”, meaning its ideal or perfect form,its full potential,the goal towards which it strives,its telosAquinas adopted and Christianised Aristotle’s philosophythat is that natural processes aregood because the are the means by which they fulfil there nature and arrive at a perfected form.’

Aquinas’s bipartite view:


A supernatural add-on



A built-In Ideal or Goal

The result of this emphasis by Aquinas was both positive and negative,the positive was to re-emphasise Nature and to pave the way for Science,the possible negative side was to allow particulars to become autonomous of Grace-Gods influence , and so the relationship between universals and particulars was loosened.

This stated negative is controversial, something, for the next instalment.


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