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Revealed Testimony in Saadya Gaon, al-Ghazali, & Thomas Aquinas

In the Abrahamic faiths, God speaks. If God is a speaker, then theories of inspiration or textual revelation are fundamentally testimonial. Since testimony is knowledge obtained by hearing (and believing) what a speaker says or writes, testimony (and subsequently Scripture) has been historically deemed an inferior form of evidence compared to immediate personal experience and reason. This is particularly relevant for thinkers in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam who valued the testimonial nature of Scripture as a trustworthy and reliable source of knowledge. New studies in contemporary social epistemology can account for stronger forms of testimonial justification, but medieval philosophers rarely provided clear philosophical accounts on testimony, and few analytic assessments of medieval testimony have been codified. Yet, this did not mean that thinkers of the Abrahamic traditions had no theory of testimony and were in any way unprepared to answer devaluations of Scripture. My aim is to show that, while social epistemology is a new field, its concepts of testimony and testimonial “justification” have always been present in historical thinkers using different terminology to affirm the reliability of Scripture and general everyday practical epistemology. After an overview of testimony in present day studies, I show how religious knowledge is trustworthy when Scripture is given through a form of testimony and when religious authorities transmit revealed propositions to believers. In accordance with contemporary social epistemology’s standards of testimonial justification, I analyze the testimonial accounts of Saadya Gaon, al-Ghazali, & Thomas Aquinas, three thinkers from each of the Abrahamic faiths who viewed Scripture as the testimony of God to man. This analysis shows how these thinkers maintained a rational theory for the credibility of religious knowledge in propositional form which allows humans to subsequently pass the same propositional knowledge to other humans with the same level of testimonial warrant (avoiding the thorny issue of translating ineffable revelatory experiences into propositional words of God). This dissertation thus shows that medieval theories of testimony can be understood through the contemporary framework of social epistemology by establishing a method for identifying testimony while explicating how testimony accounts for the generation and transmission of religious knowledge for these three thinkers.

Date:19 Sep 2018  →  Today
Keywords:Testimony, Social Epistemology, Prophecy, Medieval, Inspiration, Scripture, Aquinas, Saadya, Ghazali, Revelation, Judaism, Islam, Christianity
Disciplines:Theory and methodology of philosophy
Project type:PhD project