1. Three theses about the object of knowledge:
(a) The object of knowledge is truth.
(b) All truths are propositional.
(c) Therefore, the object of knowledge is a proposition.
(a) We can know a truth to be true.
(b) We can know a falsehood to be false.
(c) We cannot know a truth to be false.
(d) We cannot know a falsehood to be true.
3. These three theses are part of the dispute between Gordon H. Clark and Cornelius Van Til in the 1940s.
That dispute has come to be known as the Clark-Van Til Controversy.
Clark affirms all three theses.
Van Til in one way or another denies them.
4. I will call Gordon H. Clark's position the propositional view of knowledge.
I follow Clark in affirming all three theses.
Although Michael Horton did not acknowledge it explicitly, his epistemology as expressed in The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims On the Way is heavily dependent on Cornelius Van Til's position.
In following Van Til, I think Horton has missed an opportunity to clean up some confusion in the doctrine of God, the doctrine of the Knowability of God, and the doctrine of the Incomprehensibility of God.
As a preliminary, I will explain what the theses mean and distinguish them from something in the neighborhood.
5. There is a very powerful intuition, call it the empirical intuition, that says that we know things in the world through experiencing them through our senses:
We know God by experiencing him, we know there is a car across the street by seeing it, and we know the music of Ludwig van Beethoven by hearing it.
According to the empirical intuition, we know things or objects in the world by experiencing them through our senses.
In all these cases, the object of knowledge is an object of perception.
So, according to the empirical intuition, all objects of knowledge are objects of perception.
6. In contrast, the propositional view of knowledge claims that the objects of knowledge are truths.
Since all truths are propositional, the objects of knowledge are propositions.
Now, propositions are abstract objects that do not have spatial or temporal locations.
We can think or conceive propositions, but we cannot perceive propositions by seeing, hearing or touching them.
According to the propositional view, all objects of knowledge are truths or propositions which are objects of conception.
7. So, we have two mutually exclusive views about the objects of knowledge:
(a) The empirical intuition claims that all objects of knowledge are objects of perception.
(b) The propositional view claims that all objects of knowledge are truths which are objects of conception.
8. According to the empirical intuition, we know God by perceiving God.
We perceive God by sensing or experiencing him.
The powerful empirical intuition places a premium on knowing God by sensing or experiencing him.
9. In contrast, according to the propositional view of knowledge, all objects of knowledge are truths or propositions which are objects of conception.
We do not know the things in the world but we know truths about the things in the world.
We know God by knowing truths about God.
We know God by thinking and conceiving truths about God.
The propositional view places a premium on knowing God by believing truths about God.
(To believe is to think as true.)
For example, we know the proposition that God exists.
We know the proposition that the Second Person of the Trinity has incarnated as the person Jesus Christ.
10. The propositional view of truth does not deny that a person has experiences of God.
The propositional view of truth need not deny the importance of experiencing God.
But the propositional view denies the experiences of God are themselves objects of knowledge.
The objects of knowledge are truths and all truths are propositional.
We know truths or propositions about God.
We know truths or propositions about our experiences of God.
Perceptions in themselves are neither true nor false.
Perceptions need to be interpreted.
Perceptions are interpreted by truth-claims about the perceptions.
In knowing truths about our experiences of God, we interpreted our experiences of God.
11. We must distinguish the above from something in the neighborhood: the dispute between empiricism and rationalism.
According to D.W. Hamlyn (Encyclopedia of Philosophy 2nd ed., s.v. "Empiricism"): "Empiricism is the theory that experience rather than reason is the source of knowledge, and in this sense it is opposed to rationalism."
The dispute between empiricism and rationalism is a dispute about the *source* of knowledge.
The dispute between the empirical intuition and the propositional view of knowledge is a dispute about the *object* of knowledge.
A person who subscribes to the propositional view of knowledge can consistently subscribe to the view that perception may be a source of knowledge.
The two disputes are related but distinct.
Take, for example, the truth-claim that we can know God by experiencing God.
Taken as a claim about the *source* of our knowledge of God, it is true.
Our experiences can be a possible source of knowledge of God.
But taken as a claim about the *object* of our knowledge of God, it is false.
The objects of knowledge are truths or propositions and we can only know truths about God.
12. I have seen some people label Gordon H. Clark as a rationalist.
Gordon H. Clark is an important critic of empiricism but I do not believe Clark is a rationalist.
Being an important critic of empiricism does not thereby make one a rationalist.
I think people whom labeled Clark as a rationalist have confused the disputes between:
(a) the source of knowledge; and
(b) the object of knowledge.
Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2nd Edition. 2006. Farmingtion Hills, Michigan: Thomson Gale.
Horton, Michael. 2011. The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims On the Way. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan.