Sunday, March 29, 2009

Johnson and Meier on the "Real" Jesus

New Testament scholars, Luke Timothy John and John P. Meier, are among some of the most influential, and indeed thought-provoking thinkers in the current NT-studies field. What we discover upon reading their works are quite a few similarities. However, there are also some key differences between the methodologies of the two. While Johnson attempts to “do away with” the notion of a pure study of the historical Jesus, Meier believes that such attempts can be intellectually stimulating, and that they have an important place in a faith that seeks understanding.

Johnson includes in his “Epilogue,” an attempt to construct an alternative to the historical approach toward faith. He writes, “A more adequate model for reading the New Testament, then, can be called an 'experience/interpretation' model. The model take seriously the deeply human character of the writings, the experiences and convictions that generated them, and the cultural and historical symbols they appropriate.” [1] This line of thinking may help if one's approach to knowledge is an experience-based method of determining what is true, or “real.” This is not to say that historical research is entirely useless, but when it comes to faith in God and Jesus, the historical solutions that result are rather superfluous.

By contrast, we might note how Meier does attempt to answer faith-based questions with at least some historical inquiry, even if the latter is not a necessary precondition of the former. He points out that, “Five key pieces of data help impose initial, though rough, limits on our speculation about Jesus' dates. Once these general limits are set, we can attempt to be more precise.” [2] The data that Meier points out are those facts about Jesus that are almost universally accepted, e.g., the death of Jesus during the era of Pontius Pilate. It is on the basis of these core facts that one is, therefore, able to construct a portrait of Jesus that closely corresponds to what the historical Jesus was like.

It should be noted that for neither scholar is the historical method then final word on the “real” Jesus. Even if we are capable of supplementing what we know about the real Jesus, historical inquiry does just that: it supplements, rather than holds up the faith in the risen Lord. Even though I am not entirely convinced that the dichotomy between “historical” and “real” is a necessary one, I concede that it can provide some utility. For example, for a methodological naturalist, like Bart Ehrman, the notion that God raised Jesus from the dead cannot be determined by any historical inquiry. The reason why is simply because history is by its very nature a science, and science deals only with those things that are repeatable.

The above idea is, of course, subject to the criticism that some historical cannot be repeated. Take Julius Caesar's crossing of the Rubicon, for instance. It will never be the case that Julius Caesar will ever live on earth and cross the river as he had done before. Yet, this criticism does appear to be faulty. One might not that while we cannot observe Julius Caesar crossing the Rubicon again, there are certain parallels to it. Certainly, nobody would doubt that people do, in fact, cross rivers. That appears to be obvious to anyone who accepts their sensory perceptions and cognitive faculties as essentially reliable. On the the other, we cannot observe God raising people from the dead. So, the interlocutor might conclude, we cannot use historical means to determine whether God raised Jesus, or anyone at all, from the dead.

This response to the original objection, however, also appears to have some holes in it. Few people will say that we can use historical methods to know whether God exists or not. In fact, only a minority would contend that science in general could demonstrate God's existence. Yet, there are actually many philosophical arguments for God's existence. On these grounds, we might point out that while history all by itself cannot provide us with sufficient reason to believe in a resurrected Jesus, history can be involved in a conjunction with metaphysics.

In fact, this reiterates my initial concern that the separation between the historical Jesus and the real Jesus is a legitimate one. It was, after all, only since the nineteenth century that people began to separate the sciences. Instead of one science (literally taken from the Latin, scientia, or knowledge) that has multiple facets, we now think of there being multiple sciences, each distinct and independent from the other. I think this causes many epistemic problems. Take a hypothetical distinction between physics and logic. It is not the case that physics can operate independently of logic; instead, physics presupposes logic in order to come to reasonable conclusions about the various functions contained within the universe. I think of faith and reason in the same way. It seems to me that philosophy/theology need not be separated from history. The two may actually overlap and have some kind of mutual dependence on each other. Thomas Aquinas, for example, considered theology a science in its own right.

I don't wish to derail the topic of this paper. However, it seems apparent to me that the difference between Johnson and Meier comes down to these fundamental issues. Even if history is not the ultimate basis for one's faith, history can be used to supplement and confirm the rationality of one's faith. Even assuming, then, that Johnson has a valid point about the necessity of experience to determine who the real Jesus was/is (and Meier would agree that it does), that does not necessarily preclude the use of history as a means to provide one with knowledge about the Lord Jesus.

Overall, I consider the historical methods and conclusions of both Johnson and Meier to be both highly effective, as well as true. And, even though I am more on the side of Meier, the experience/interpretation based way of thinking of Jesus is certainly a legitimate one.

Works Cited

[1] Luke Timothy Johnson, The Real Jesus, HarperCollins Publishers, 1996, p. 174.

[2] John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew, Doubleday Publishing Group, 1991, p. 373.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Another Attempt at the Argument from Gradation (re: the "Fourth Way")

Let us define God as the Supreme Truth.

Prove A: Supreme Truth exists.
Assume ~A: Supreme Truth does not exist.
~A --> B: If Supreme Truth does not exist, then degrees of truth cannot be known.
~B: Degrees of truth are known.
Hence, ~~A: by modus tollens.
Therefore, A: Supreme Truth exists.

I think (~B) is fairly obvious. We know, for example, that "John Lennon was a musician" is less true (that is, it expresses less truth) than "John Lennon was a musician and founding member of the Beatles." This lends greater weight to our key premise - (~A --> B), since something is only known to be more or less true if we have some ultimate standard of truth - the Supreme Truth.

One possible objection might be that we could have a very high standard of truth, but not a Supreme Truth. I think this objection fails, however, since this "very high standard of truth" is itself known to be imperfect to some extent. By what standard do we know that? Without a Supreme Truth, then, one is left with a logically fallacious infinite regress.

I also often hear Dawkins' counter-argument to this, which is a sort of reductio ad absurdum. He says that if this argument were true, then we could also posit degrees of smelliness and conclude that there must be some Great Stinker. Since this is obviously not true, then allegedly the Fourth Way is also unsound. Once again, I don't find this objection compelling. First of all, truth is intangible; we don't reach out and touch truth. Yet, smelliness is something tangible (i.e. it can be physically sensed). Moreover, the Fourth Way is dealing specifically with great-making properties, of which truth is included, and smelliness is not. On both counts, therefore, I believe the objection misconstrues the original argument, and is therefore an unsuccessful refutation.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

William Lane Craig, Philosophical Arguments Against an Infinitely Old Universe, and Induction

The prominent, and highly articulate Christian philosopher, William Lane Craig, has numerous resources for defending the Christian faith. You can find many of them at his website:

Craig's famous kalam cosmological argument (KCA) for God's existence has been perhaps the most highly discussed argument for God's existence in the past thirty years. The argument can be summarized as follows:

1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
2. The universe began to exist.
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

I won't spend time on every detail of the argument. However, Craig defends (1) by metaphysical considerations. "Ex nihilo, nihil fit" - out of nothing, comes nothing. Another way of putting this is that being cannot arise from non-being. In fact, if literally nothing existed, then not even the potential would exist for something to come into being. Hence, if the universe came into being at some point in the finite past, then something must have brought it about.

Craig offers four lines of argumentation in favor of the second premise, what he considers the crucial premise of the argument. Two of the arguments are philosophical, and two are scientific. I will spend my time solely on the second of his philosophical arguments.

1a. An actually infinite series of things cannot be formed by successive addition.
2a. An infinitely old universe is a formation by successive addition.
3a. Therefore, an infinitely old universe cannot exist.

Wes Morriston, Graham Oppy, and others have made objections to this argument. What I would like to do is simply form an cogent inductive argument that would reach the same conclusion as Craig's.

1b. Of the things we observe that have an end, they also have a beginning.
2b. The universe's latest moment of time (the present) is the end of a collection of temporal moments.
3b. Therefore, it is probably the case that the universe had a beginning.

In support of (1b), we might simply provide some illustrations. If I say to a friend, "I finished my term paper," and he responds, "Great! When did you start on it?," I wouldn't reasonably be able to say that I never started it! "I finished it, but I never started it," would be an unacceptable answer to his question. We could give innumerable examples of this. "I just finished counting the number of seashells on the beach," would likewise require that I began to count the number of seashells.

Why, then, would we make an exception for the universe? All of the inductive evidence points to its having a beginning, and this need not include the various scientific data. We can simply use the various illustrations that we experience in which things that end also have beginnings.

(2b) should be fairly obvious. The present moment of time is the last in the series of moments of time that preceded it. So, to make an exception for the universe without some highly compelling reason to do so would result in special pleading. Hence, we have yet another argument for the universe's beginning that may supplement the currently existing arguments. Although not a valid deductive argument, it is in my estimation a cogent inductive argument to the best explanation.

Given the truth of both original premises - (1) and (2), it logically and inescapably follows that the universe has a cause.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

A Modal Cosmological Argument Based on the W-PSR

The W-PSR is a weaker version of the principle of sufficient reason. Essentially, the W-PSR merely claims that: for any contingent fact X, it is possible that X has an explanation. Alexander Pruss and Richard Gale have provided a lengthy defense of a modal cosmological argument for God's existence based on the W-PSR. A simple way of formalizing the argument might be:

1. The union of all contingent facts X is itself contingently true.
2. There is at least one possible world where a necessary being explains X.
3. If something is necessary in one possible world, it necessarily exists in all possible worlds.
4. Therefore, a necessary being exists.

(1) is fairly benign. The union of all contingent facts (X) would not be composed of any necessary facts, so it is reasonable to conclude that X is likewise contingent.

(2) points out that if X is going to have an explanation, then it is possible that this explanation be a necessary being. Apart from any defeaters, I can't think of any reason to doubt this premise.

(3) follows from the S5 axiom of modal logic, which states that if something is possibly necessary, then it is necessary. And, given the possible existence of some necessary being that explains the union of all contingent facts, we can rightfully infer that some necessary being exists.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Modal Third Way

Robert Maydole has recently presented a modal cosmological argument, known as the "Modal Third Way," which modifies Thomas Aquinas' Third Way in the Summa Theologiae. Maydole's paper can be found here:

This will be my own take on the argument, with some premises simplified.

Where x = a thing; C = temporally contingent; t = time; P = past time; y = explicandum; and Eyx = x explains y.

1. (x) (Cx □ → ◊ (t) ~xt).
2. (x) ◊ (□t) ~xt □ → ◊ (□t) (x) ~Pxt.
3. ~(x) (◊x □ → ◊(y) (x ^ Eyx)).
4. ~[(□x) ◊ (□y) Eyx □ → ~(□t) (x) ~Pxt].
5. ~Pxt → ~C(x).
6. :. ~C(x).

In English:

1. Every temporally contingent thing possibly fails to exist at some time.
2. If all things possibly fail to exist at some time, then it is possible that all things collectively fail to exist at some past time.
3. It is necessarily the case that possible truths are explicable.
4. It is necessarily the case that something is explicable if and only if there was not a time when nothing existed.
5. If there could never have been a time when nothing existed, then something temporally necessary exists.
6. Therefore, something temporally necessary exists.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Parmenides and the Absolute Oneness of Reality

In about 485 B.C., the Greek philosopher, Parmenides, presented an argument that he purported was proof that everything is the same. "All is one," was his conclusion. I must admit that no matter how counter-intuitive such claims may seem, I often get tripped up by the logic of these kinds of arguments, until I really think through them. Parmenides basically argues as follows:

1. If there were two or more beings, they would have to differ.
2. A being differs either by being or non-being.
3. Being is that which makes them identical.
4. Hence, differences cannot be by being.
5. Non-being is nothing.
6. Hence, to differ by non-being is to not differ at all.
7. Therefore, there is only one being.

Upon examination, it is often difficult for one to tell which premise is incorrect. And, if the premises are true, so is the conclusion. However, if one is careful to read (3) and trace its implications, then it becomes apparent that Parmenides is begging the question. For, he assumes that all being is identical in order to conclude that nothing can differ by being.

The solution to the problem is likely what Thomas Aquinas suggested - namely, that there are different types of being. This "complexity of being" allows the objector to rightfully reject Parmenides' argument. This makes all the more sense once we consider the previous arguments for God's existence that have been considered. God is Pure Act (or, Pure Being), whereas finite, changing beings are composed of both actuality and potentiality. The varying degrees of potentiality per attribute are what constitute complex being.

For more on this, see: Norman Geisler, Thomas Aquinas: An Evangelical Appraisal, Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2003, pp. 91-101.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Yet Another Cosmological Argument...

I don't know why, but I have always been drawn to cosmological arguments. Even when I was not a committed Christian, I still believed in God based on these kinds of arguments. As a result, I'm always looking for ways to improve how we enunciate the argument. My last post covered Thomas' basic metaphysical proof of God's existence. The one I'll brielfy cover in this entry is perhaps the oldest of the cosmological arguments - the "argument from motion." There are two ways that come to mind that we might formalize the proof. They are as follows:

1. Everything in motion is moved by another.
2. The series of movers either proceeds to infinity, or has a first mover.
3. The series cannot proceed to infinity.
4. Therefore, there exists a first mover.

1a. Everything in motion is moved by another.
2a. The universe is in motion.
3a. Therefore, the universe is moved by another.

I won't go into great detail with this argument, since I have done so in past entries. Here is a succinct defense of each premise. (1) is supported inductively by our observations. Whenever something changes (re: "is in motion"), it passes from a state of potentiality to actuality by something that actualizes it. For example, a pot of water will contain boiling water if and only if it is heated. Once again, quantum fluctuations are not an exception to the rule, given that the fluctuations arise out of the energy already contained within the quantum vacuum.

(2) provides us with our two legitimate options. (3) claims that the series of movers moving something right now, or at any finite period of time, cannot be infinite. The reason for this is that it would require an infinite series of movers to move within a finite period of time. Yet, it would take infinite time for an infinite series to move anything at all. Hence, the series of movers must be finite, and must be ontologically preceded by a first mover. Therefore, the conclusion is justified in stating that a first mover exists.

Now, we know that everything that changes is composed of both actuality and potentiality. Yet, the first mover cannot itself be moved; otherwise, it wouldn't be first, which is a contradiction. As a result, the first mover cannot be composed of any potentiality, since only changing things are composed of potentiality. Therefore, the first mover is pure actuality. From this, all of the other God-attributes are inferred.

Let's move on now to the second form of the proof.

(1a) is identical to (1), so we'll focus our time on (2a). The common objection to the second premise is that it commits the fallacy of composition. I've already touched on this before, but I'll reiterate that there are two types of compositions: incidental compositions and essential compositions. The former are fallacious, whereas the latter are sound. It seems unambigious to me that (2) falls into the category of an essential composition, since everything within the universe is connected in some sense. For instance, every part of the universe is changing, but is still intelligible.

Now, how do we infer that the mover of the universe is like the first mover above? The solution is fairly simple. Everything that changes is composed of potentiality; and, only bodies contain composition. Whatever moves the universe must be transcendent with respect to the universe, so it is simple, rather than composite. On these grounds, the mover of the universe must be purely actual, and therefore, immutable.

Moreover, why should one accept the idea that everything within the universe is moved by another, but that this is not true of the universe as a whole? This appears to me, given the weakness of the objection that this is a composition fallacy, that this objection commits the fallacy of special pleading. Why should we make such a grandiose exception for the universe as a whole? Without any plausible alternatives, I don't see any way out of the conclusion that there is a first mover.

It is also important to keep in mind that this argument is consistent with an infinitely-old universe. Aristotle defended it, after all.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Basic Proof of God's Existence

In Thomas Aquinas' small writing, entitled, "De Ente et Essentia" (or, "On Being and Essence"), the great medieval philosopher sets out to demonstrate that God exists with just one basic metaphysical proof. The argument goes as follows:

1. Changing things exist.
2. Everything that changes is composed of act and potency.
3. No potency can actualize itself.
4. Only Pure Act can actualize being.
5. Therefore, Pure Act exists.

(1) ought to be considered self-evident. It is manifest throughout our experiences that things change. (2) should also be easily accepted once the terms are correctly understood. "Act" (or, "actuality") is what something is, and "potency" (or, "potentiality") is what it could be. For example, a seed is merely a seed in act, but it is a plant in potency.

(3) states that in order for something to change from a state of potency to actuality that there be something that changes it. A seed is merely a seed, but if it has soil, water, and sunlight, it can grow into a plant. One might be tempted to think of quantum fluctuations as an exception to the rule, but even quantum fluctuations cannot arise apart from the energy contained within the quantum vacuum. Hence, there is no exception to be made.

(4) denies the possibility of an infinite regress of changing things. I outlined two of the reasons in my post on the "argument from dependency." For now, just think of it this way: if no potency can actualize itself, then without Pure Act, then nothing would ever be actualized. Even if there were infinitely-many potent things, without Pure Act none of them would be actualized; we would have nothing but infinitely-many non-actualized potencies.

Moreover, at any finite period of time something is changing. Yet, it would take infinite time for an infinite series of things to change anything! On this basis, we can conclude with certainty that the series of changing things is finite, and is grounded in Pure Act.

Now that we have established that Pure Act exists, why should we believe this is a proof of God's existence? In answer to this, we might note that God is defined as a being that is Pure Act, immutable, eternal, one, omnipotent, and omniscient. Let's examine each of the remaining attributes.

Pure Act is immutable. If Pure Act could change, then it would be composed of potency. However, there is no potency in Pure Act. Therefore, Pure Act is immutable (or, unchanging).

Pure Act is eternal. If Pure Act were to come into existence, or go out of existence, then that would require some change in its essence. But as demonstrated above, Pure Act is immutable. Hence, Pure Act is eternal.

Pure Act is one. If there were more than one Pure Act, then there would be distinctions between them. But, distinctions entail limitations, and limitations entail a composition of potency. Again, we have demonstrated that Pure Act is not composed of potency, so it must be one.

Pure Act is omnipotent and omniscient. Partly actual beings, like ourselves, have some power and some knowledge. Something purely actual (re: Pure Act) would therefore possess all power and all knowledge. One might object that Pure Act would also have to possess all ignorance, but this misconstrues the nature of ignorance. Ignorance is simply a lack of knowledge; it's a privation, rather than something positively actual.

With all of the above taken into consideration, we have shown that there exists a purely actual, immutable, eternal, one, omnipotent, and omniscient being. This matches our definition of God, and since this being exists, it can be concluded that God exists.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Argument From Gradation - A Reductio Ad Absurdum

Given that God is defined as a perfect being:

Prove A: There is a perfect being.
Assume ~A: There is no perfect being.
~A --> B: If there is no perfect being, then no flaws can be known.
~B: Flaws are known.
Hence, ~~A: by modus tollens.
Therefore, A: There is a perfect being.

(~B) is fairly certain. We know that, "bachelors are married," is a false proposition. We also arguably know other intangibles, such as, "Rape is morally wrong," where such a proposition posits moral realism. Hence, (~A --> B) is the key premise.

C.S. Lewis' famous analogy pointed out that one wouldn't call a line crooked, unless there is already knowledge of what a straight line looks like. It seems, then, that in order to know that something has a defect, or "flaw," that something perfect must be the standard for making such a determination.

One weakness of this argument is that it appears to only demonstrate the necessity of some abstract notion of a perfect being. In what sense does God interact with the universe, and with human beings in particular? Descartes' answer was that the idea of a perfect being had to have been caused by a perfect being, since a finite being (i.e. a human intellect) is unable to produce anything perfect. I'm not completely satisfied with this answer, though. One might object that the concept of a perfect being can produced by a human intellect, even if the reality of a perfect being cannot.

We might supplement Descartes' argument with an appeal to some form of general realism. There are certain intangible truths that are true independently of whether humans recognize them as true or not. Moreover, what is it that provides unity between the universality of some truth and the particular mind that knows it? The principles of one cannot be used to explain the principles of the other. If there is something that provides such unity, then presumably this would be something like the mind of God.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Robert Hood and the AIDS Crisis on a Popperian Methodology

The late twentieth century was the focal point of a renewed interest in scientific method. The logical positivism of the earlier part of the previous hundred years had been largely undermined and almost universally rejected by contemporary philosophers of natural science. However, when one theory is laid to rest, often a whole host of new problems is brought to surface. In the advent of the HIV/AIDS crisis, a number of approaches have gained the medical community’s attention. While past attempts to settle the issue have for the most part fell short, there is an underlying assumption in the process of coming up with a solution. This assumption, specifically, is that old theories ought to be replaced by new ones that have broader scope and bring more immediate results that will continue having a prolonged effect. Robert Hood’s "AIDS, Crisis, and Activist Science," is an appeal to the conscience of scientists who wish to provide the best possible treatments for HIV/AIDS victims. This appeal can be understood and further explicated in epistemological terms, especially through the use of Karl Popper’s theory of knowledge. The theoretical knowledge that Popper’s method intends to bring about is then translated into practical knowledge that may serve to prevent and treat the AIDS epidemic.

Before detailing Hoods treatment of the AIDS crisis and how it relates to the epistemological concerns at hand, it may be helpful to first understand how Popper’s views can be considered. How does a Popperian methodology approach the issues of science, and consequently the ethics of science? In short, Popper proceeds to analyze past scientific theories in light of new ones. Take Newtonian physics, for example, and call it T-1. T-1 can be contrasted with T-2, Einsteinian physics. For Popper, in order for T-1 to be a successful scientific theory, it must be able to account for all of the problems it sets out to resolve, and it must have broad scope. Once a new problem enters in that the axioms of T-1 are unable to account for, then a revolution of sorts takes place and T-1 will eventually be replaced by T-2. T-2, in turn, must be able to both account for all that T-1 was able to, as well as the new problem(s). In the world of physics, Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity has been able to account for much more of the theoretical content than traditional Newtonian physics. Once T-2 faces a problem that it cannot account for, T-3 is anticipated. How, then, does this relate to the AIDS crisis?

Robert Hood’s concern with the AIDS epidemic is that too many people are not receiving adequate treatment for their condition. Some of the failed, or less useful treatments are still being used by the medical community for those suffering with the virus. In 1994, the most effective treatment for the prevention of AIDS transmission from mothers to infants was known as the ACGT 076 protocol, which was used predominantly in industrialized countries. A shorter trial was developed, and came to be known as AZT. It was the AZT that was used comparatively with a placebo trial in a control group. To state this explicitly, those in the placebo group were not receiving any treatment for the transmission of AIDS. [1] This process can be related to Popperian methodology if we call the ACTG 076 protocol, T-1. This became the standard treatment of AIDS prevention in industrialized nations and it was capable of solving a number of health-related (and therefore, scientifically-related) problems. However, a new problem arose, which was the needed expedience for treatment of the AIDS crisis in Africa. Something had to be done quickly. As a result, the original ACTG 076 protocol, which was a long-term treatment, was seen as insufficient for the current emergency. It was discovered that AZT could provide similar results in lesser time, so this became T-2, which was able to resolve the problem of how to quickly and safely treat those who were victims of AIDS. With respect to the new problem, then, T-2 is a better theory to be put into practice, so long as it is safe and effective. Hood argues that T-2b, the placebo trial, is unethical because it had already been widely known that the AZT treatment would be the best route to go. Scientists, therefore, he reasons, have an ethical obligation to provide developing countries with AZT. Hood points out that critics’ apparent criticism of those scientists who were conducting the placebo research is that the research itself was seemingly superfluous. If they already knew it would not do anything to prevent the transmission of AIDS, then why not simply go with the AZT?

Unfortunately, as Hood illustrates, it is not that simple. For one thing, he says that much of the population in developing countries would not have access to the AZT anyway, since there was such a limited supply. Further, because they had not been wronged, there was no breach in their rights to health care. He also points out that defenders of the placebo trial have indicated a number of other important factors that may have an impact on the results of AZT, such as the diversity in the virus itself in Africa as opposed to Europe and North America, as well as cases of anemia in the victims. [2] With all of these complications, it is no easy matter to determine the best course of action for those inflicted and need treatment. On the one hand, advocates of the placebo study argue that the trial will provide the clearest results; whereas those opposed to the placebo trial believe that research subjects ought to be provided with at least some minimum standard of medical care.

In any case, Popper’s approach is best understood as reflecting much time and patience. Just as it took centuries to go from Newtonian to Einsteinian physics, it may take quite awhile to develop a clear understanding of how theoretical knowledge of HIV/AIDS treatment can be translated into practice. Popper points out that, “a scientific revolution, however radical, cannot really break with tradition, since it must preserve the success of its predecessors.” [3] One might ask, then, which of the two options are more faithful to this line of reasoning? Although there is a state of crisis and dire need in Africa because of AIDS, should researchers compromise their use of steady and deliberate procedures in order to provide a controversial, yet potentially beneficial treatment? At this point one might be tempted to say that the subjects have nothing to lose. Why not just try it? Even though this seems like a reasonable conclusion on the surface, it may be the case that placebo studies are necessary for the long run. On the other hand, Hood points out that a Thai study demonstrated the effectiveness of AZT without using a comparative placebo group, on the basis that it would be unethical. [4]

With that said, it becomes unclear as to whether an unambiguous T-2 theory can be an improvement. It seems that no matter what the decision researchers make, any benefits that result will undeniably come about at some kind of cost. Reason would suggest that researchers ought to minimize the cost in order to fully expand the benefits. Although this is economic language, it can certainly apply to issues of socio-economics, and also to the science that deals with problems related to socio-economics. People are certainly not capita, but there are only so many ways to express this.

However one looks at the issue of AIDS and AIDS treatment, one’s certainty of knowledge will always be susceptible to error and to improvement. This is perhaps the greatest strength of Popper’s epistemology. While new problems are brought to surface in the course of solving original problems, theories are constantly being revised, updated, and sometimes done away with completely in order to accommodate the new knowledge that becomes available. Although this view can be contrasted with Kuhn’s notion of a scientific revolution, ultimately theoretical knowledge must be put to use in practice, and there would be little disagreement between them that the best theory ought to be practiced. In this case, it is highly speculative to venture on what the best possible treatment of AIDS is. The only course one can take at the moment is what is feasible, rather than what is possible. Hindsight may tell scientists sometime down the road whether the placebo trials were necessary or not, but for now, it is extremely difficult to say with any precision what the best course of action would be. It may be best to put aside notions of ethical fault, since both sides agree that the most effective treatments ought to be used. What they disagree on is the way in which this treatment can be discovered.

In short, Karl Popper’s theory of knowledge has its proponents and opponents. Likewise, Robert Hood spells out nicely what some of the relevant issues are concerning AIDS treatment and how there are proponents of one view, and proponents of another competitive position. The axiom that old theories should be replaced by broader theories is fundamental to the question of research of any type. When it comes to health care and medical treatment, the question remains the same. How should scientists go about discovering the best theories and putting them into good use?

Works Cited

[1] Robert Hood, “AIDS, Crisis, and Activist Science," in Science and Other Cultures, Edited by Robert Figueroa and Sandra Harding, Taylor & Francis Books, Inc., 2003, p. 17.

[2] Ibid., p. 20.

[3] Karl Popper, “The Rationality of Scientific Revolutions,” in Scientific Revolutions, Edited by Ian Hacking, Oxford University Press, 1981, p. 106.

[4] Hood, p. 19.