Saturday, November 28, 2009

McDowell's Trilemma Argument - Part 14

I have finished looking at some simple ways of reconstructing McDowell's reasonsing concerning Jesus' claim to forgive sins. The last reconstruction we examined went as follows:

2b. Jesus claimed that he could forgive sins.
3a. Jesus believed that only God could forgive sins.
4b. Jesus claimed to be God.

A counterexample showed not only that this argument was deductively invalid, but also that it falls short of providing a good reason for its conclusion:

(CE2) Jesus made it plain to other people around him that he did not believe that only God could forgive sins.

A counterexample to the validity of a deductive argument can be completely imaginary, unrealistic, and far-fetched. So long as the counterexample is logically possible, the deductive argument is proven to be invalid. But this counterexample is more than a mere logical possibility; it is at least somewhat probable (it has at least one chance in ten of being true).

Furthermore, (CE2) points to a whole category of circumstances under which the inference would fail. In short, (CE2) points to a necessary condition for the application of the concept of "claiming to be X". More specifically, since the argument here is not that Jesus is directly and explicitly claiming to be God, the relevant concept at work is "making an implied claim to be X." But making an implied claim requires that Jesus publically advocate or accept other beliefs that are part of the logic of the implication, specifically the belief that only God could forgive sins. So, (CE2) points out a need to understand the conditions or criteria involved in the concept of making an implied claim.

Given the failure of the simpler reconstructions of McDowell's reasoning, I will return to the more complex proposal for re-constructing (fixing) McDowell's reasoning concerning Jesus' claim to be able to forgive sins, and this will involve further analysis of the concept of "making an implied claim", or more specifically, the concept of "making a claim that carries the implication that such-and-such is the case":

5. Jesus made the claim that he could forgive sins, and he did so in a context of type X.
6. The claim that one can forgive sins, when made in a context of type X, carries the implication that one is God.
7. Jesus asserted a claim that in the particular context carried the implication that Jesus was God.
4b. Jesus claimed to be God.

The trick here is to define what is meant by "a context of type X" in such a way that the conceptual claim in (6) is true or plausible, while at the same time there is adequate historical evidence available to support (5), given the clarification.

In order to specify the appropriate context, we need to have a clear understanding of what is required "to make a claim that carries the implication" that such-and-such is the case. This concept turns out to be more complex than one might initially expect. A similar concept will help to illustrate the complexity involved here: "telling an inside joke".

In a paradigm case of "telling an inside joke" the joke teller and the person who gets the inside joke share some information that puts them both on the inside of the joke, while others who are listening are not aware of the information and thus fail to get or understand the joke. If the joke teller (JT) is speaking to two people, and one of the two (person A) has the inside information, while the other listener (person B) does not, then (JT) and (A) both have the key information putting them on the inside of the joke, and person (B) does not have the key information, putting (B) on the outside of the joke.

However, more is required, at least for a paradigm case of "telling an inside joke" than just that the joke teller and the person(s) on the inside both have the information that is key to getting the joke. The person telling the joke must understand or believe that some people have the key information, while others do not. Furthermore, the person telling the joke also understands that the people who have the inside information know or can infer that the joke teller has that information and knows that some people listening to the joke have that information while others don't.

If I am telling you an inside joke and you are on the inside of the joke, then it is not merely the case that I know the inside information, or that I know that you know the inside information, but it is also the case that I know that you know that I know that you know the inside information.

"Telling an inside joke" might be somewhat more complex than "making a claim that carries the implication that such-and-such is the case", but both speech acts have a greater complexity than one might initially suspect.

If I make the claim "The butler did it.", I am making a claim that "A woman that worked for the victim is the murderer." only in a context where certain conditions apply. I must believe that the butler is a woman, and I must believe that the people listening to me are aware that I have this belief, and even that is not sufficient. There needs to be a mutual or shared awareness that I have this belief about the butler: I know that they know that I know that they know that I believe that the butler was a woman.

If "Making a claim that carries the implication that such-and-such is the case" is similar to "Telling an inside joke" in requiring a context where the speaker and people who are listening have a shared or mutual awareness about some belief of the speaker, then the former concept has a complexity that approaches that of the latter.

If Jesus made the claim "I have the authority to forgive sins" and if that claim carried the implication that he was God, then Jesus knew that his listeners knew that Jesus knew that they knew that Jesus believed that Only God could forgive sins.

Obviously, we cannot observe the minds and thoughts of Jesus and his listeners in a particular situation that occurred two thousand years ago. However, we could reasonably infer that this complex shared awareness existed if Jesus had pronounced that "Only God could forgive sins" at the time and place when he was also claiming that he, Jesus, could forgive sins.

But there is no mention of Jesus making such a pronouncement, so we have no reason to believe that the circumstances involved the complex shared awareness about Jesus holding this belief. Therefore, we have no reason to believe that in claiming to be able to forgive sins, Jesus was "making a claim that carried the implication that" he was God.

The obvious reply to this objection is that it was a commonly held belief among first century Jews that "Only God could forgive sins." Thus the people listening to Jesus would presume that Jesus held this belief, unless he had specifically rejected or questioned this widely held Jewish belief.

I will respond to this reply in the next post on McDowell's Trilemma Argument.

To be continued...