VII. The Transcendental Argument (TA hereafter)
A.1. Formally stated:
1. In order for phenomenon P to be the case, Q must also be the case, since Q is the necessary precondition of P.
2. P is the case.
3. Therefore, Q is necessarily the case.
“[A TA is] an argument that elucidates the conditions for the possibility of some fundamental phenomenon whose existence is unchallenged or uncontroversial in the philosophical context in which the argument is propounded. Such an argument proceeds deductively, from a premise asserting the existence of some basic phenomenon (such as meaningful discourse, conceptualization of objective states of affairs, or the practice of making promises), to a conclusion asserting the existence of some interesting, substantive enabling conditions for that phenomenon” (The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, 925).
“Transcendental arguments seek to answer scepticism by showing that the things doubted by the sceptic are in fact preconditions for the skepticism to make sense. Hence the skepticism is either meaningless or false. A transcendental argument works by finding the preconditions of meaningful thought or judgment. For example, scepticism about other minds suggests that only the thinker themselves might have sensations. A transcendental argument which answered this scepticism would show that a precondition for thinking oneself to have sensations is that others do so as well. Expressing the scepticism involves thinking oneself to have sensations; and the argument shows that if this thought is expressible, then it is also false” (Ross Harrison, “Transcendental Arguments,” in Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 9:452).
A word on TAs and the Van Tilian presuppositional apologetic by Dr. Gregory Bahnsen:
“The term “transcendental” should not be confused with the similar sounding word “transcendent” (an adjective for whatever goes beyond human experience). Transcendental reasoning is concerned to discover what general conditions must be fulfilled for any particular instance of knowledge to be possible; it has been central to thinkers such as Aristotle and Kant, and it has become a matter of inquiry in contemporary, analytically minded philosophy. [Cornelius] Van Til asks what view of man, truth, language and the world is necessarily presupposed by our conception of knowledge and our methods of pursuing it. For him, the transcendental answer is supplied at the very first step of man’s reasoning—not by autonomous philosophical speculation, but by transcendent revelation from God” (Van Til’s Apologetic, 5—6, n10).
B. 1. Illustrated form the pedestrian example of necessary conditions—fire:
i. In order for this (P) house fire to have occurred, there necessarily had to have been (Q) an ignition source.
ii. (P) the house fire did occur.
iii. Therefore, (Q) there was necessarily an ignition source (as oxygen, fuel, and ignition are individually necessary conditions for fire; taken together, they provide the sufficient condition).
B. 2. Illustrated from Logic:
(Granting the mislogical atmosphere of the spirit of our age, this example, which dates back to Aristotle, is quite practical.)
i. In order for our (P) debate over the laws of logic to be possible, the (Q) law of non-contradiction, a most fundamental logical law, must necessarily exist, since its denial makes debate unintelligible.
ii. It is the case (P) that we are debating.
iii. Therefore, (Q) the law of non-contradiction, the precondition of debate, must also exist, and exist necessarily.
B. 3. Illustrated from the three-word heart of Van Til’s thought—“Antitheism presupposes theism”:
i. In order for (P) an objective, universal standard of morality to exist—one in which Christianity’s critics could use to judge the God’s dealings with the nations of Canaan—(Q) the God of Christian theism must exist necessarily, since he alone provides the precondition of objective, universal standard of morality.
ii. The antitheists insist upon (P) just such a standard of morality.
iii. In so doing, therefore, (Q) the God of Christian theism is presupposed as the necessary condition of the very criticisms that the antitheist would invoke to argue that God doesn’t exist.
This concludes our series on valid arguments. It is our prayer that you’ve been blessed by this cursory summary, and thereby you will be better equipped to serve, love and glorify God in Christ with all you mind!
Blessings on the you, the people of the living God!
I call upon You, Lord, God of Abraham and God of Isaac and God of Jacob and Israel, You who are the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God who, through the abundance of your mercy, was well-pleased towards us so that we may know You, who made heaven and earth, who rules over all, You who are the one and the true God, above whom there is no other God; You who, by our Lord Jesus Christ gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit, give to every one who reads this writing to know You, that You alone are God, to be strengthened in You, and to avoid every heretical and godless and impious teaching.
St Irenaeus of Lyons, Against the Heresies 3:6:4
St Irenaeus of Lyons, Against the Heresies 3:6:4