Robert L. Reymond and Sensory Experience

Robert L. Reymond discusses Gordon H. Clark’s philosophy in his book The Justification of Knowledge (Reformed and Presbyterian Publishing Co., 1979).
Reymond says there are two areas in which he is in disagreement with Clark:
“first, his limitation of ‘knowledge’ only to his basic axiom and to what by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from it; and second, his rejection of the role of sensory experience in the human acquisition of knowledge.”
Comically, this constitutes almost the entirety of Clark’s philosophy!
Reymond then makes the following argument: If we use Clark’s definition of a person as “the sum total of all such propositions that make up the total life history of a person” and since “everyone and everything is in the process of becoming the sum total of propositions which define them” we can never know  anyone (or even ourselves) because they are never completed; they are always changing thus there is no identity.
Reymond does not, however, present his own definition of person.  The argument  is prima facie convincing, but I have some doubts.  This is reminiscent of the Heraclitean Flux, the principle of change of the Greek philosopher, Heraclitus. To avoid concluding against existence due to the changing nature of the world, Heraclitus posited an unchanging Logos – an agent who’s activity appears as the order of nature.  In Clark’s thought this Logos is the mind of God.  God then illuminates our minds with knowledge. So, the answer to Reymond’s first query may lie in the fact that God’s knowledge is eternal and thus he does know each person fully.  I shall have to return to this issue at a later time.
Given the power of this argument, I was very much looking forward to Reymond’s other arguments, especially when it comes to sensory experience.
He writes:
“The Christian faith affirms, as we have seen, that man is the crowning creation of God.  As such, all of man’s senses are of divine origination and are represented in Scripture as playing a regular and vital role in the acquisition of knowledge.”
“I affirm that sensory experience does perform a God-designed task in the human acquisition of knowledge.”
Boy, was I excited when I read this.  Here is a profound thinker, who has obviously read Clark and other epistemologists.  He, finally he, is going to explain how we can acquire knowledge through sensory experience!  Or so I thought.  Nowhere in the book does Reymond explain how sensory experience produces knowledge!  I was devastated, but firmly back on a Clarkian footing.
To make matter’s worse, Reymond then produces the “petitio principii” Clark has heard so many times “Man cannot know the Bible but through his senses.”  But, again Reymond doesn’t explain how the senses get knowledge from the Bible.  He admits that there must be a priori structure in the mind and thus avoids one of the pitfalls of pure empiricism, but the remainder of the pitfalls remain.  Reymond at least does quote Clark’s reponse to this petitio principii – “all such efforts depend upon a view of epistemology that I reject.”
I will gladly give up the Clarkian epistemology if I find something more promising.  I thought Reymond may have had the answer as he introduced the problems of knowledge so well in his first chapters and elucidates the thought of Van Til and Clark so well.  Perhaps he elsewhere can elucidate his own thought because in “The Justification of Knowledge” it is lacking.

0 thoughts on “Robert L. Reymond and Sensory Experience”

  1. I agree with your remarks here. My only problem with Clark’s view is that given the innate categories of the image of God, i.e. logic and the other innate categories proposed by Kant–which I think Clark agreed with to some extent, it does not follow that the mind does not acquire information via the senses. The senses in and of themselves provide no knowledge. However, since knowledge involves logic, it seems to me that the mind does logically acquire information via the senses–however unreliable empirical sensations may be. Clark totally rejected empiricism. But I am not sure how Clark would answer the objection that we avoid car crashes or walking off cliffs because our mind logically interprets the input of our visual and auditory senses. It’s rather like a computer that processes information gathered from inputs. Of course, the human soul is the image of God and a person is the propositions that he thinks. But this does not explain why humans have emotions or bodily sensations which are then interpreted by the mind. Logic is indeed the architecture of God’s mind and man is that image of God.

    1. Charlie, I’ve been trying to figure this out as well. So far, in an appendix I’m writing as a summary of Clark’s thought I’ve said about this topic:
      Surely, the senses were involved in some way when reading, but not in the way empiricism would have them. As Clark so thoroughly critique empiricism, there wasn’t much left of the philosophy for anyone who would actually consider his arguments. To avoid his arguments and assume empiricism, Clark would speak of his opponents as using a “petitio principii” – an appeal to their principle. Rather than a blunt appeal, Clark demanded that they actually defend empiricism against it’s logical faults, and until his opponents view of empiricism can be shown to produce any knowledge at all, it cannot be the conduit of knowledge from the Scriptures.
      Regarding the mode by which knowledge comes to man, Clark took the view originally brought out by Augustine in his “de Magistro” and other works. This view is called Divine Illumination. The theory of Divine Illumination is that God gives knowledge directly to man through the divine light of His Logos. (This view strongly parallels the Reformed view of Soteriology; in both cases it is God who is in control and graciously gives to his people) In the theory of Divine Illumination the purpose of sensations is in preserving the body from danger and role given to the senses in knowledge acquisition is one of a stimulus to intellectual intuition.

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