On Antinomies and Paradoxes


Note: This post builds on and relates to a number of earlier posts where I am thinking through the nature of theological reasoning and logic. If you read this and it seems thin and implicit, try reading the other articles with these tags to flesh out the picture.

I define antinomies as actual contradictions; paradoxes are seeming contradictions. Here I follow Kant’s jargon that defines antinomies as the combination of a rationally-justified (and true?) thesis along with a rationally-justified (and true?) antithesis. If knowledge is defined as justified true belief, such an antinomy produces contradictory knowledge. That is, I know P and not-P. In the language of some of my earlier posts, an antinomy is a strong “conjunctive binary”.

Contrarily, a paradox produces seeming contradiction. There is a rationally-justified (and true?) thesis and an unjustified (and untrue?) antithesis; however, both are believed. Thus, I believe that I know P and not-P; however, I only know P and merely believe not-P, such that I can be made to rationally disbelieve not-P. So much for introductory definitions.

Now, I have questioned the truth value of the propositions when describing both antinomies and paradoxes. The justification is the defining characteristic and differentiator; the truth value of either P or not-P must be in question because Truth resides in the 2-D realm (for this analogy of Reality, Truth, and Correctness to dimensionality, see this earlier post), whereas justification resides in our Blurry Vision realm. I am only concerned with that third realm in this post.

I believe that the central tenets of Christian theology are best understood as antinomies in the Truth realm of 2-D representation, but paradoxes in the Correctness realm of our blurry vision (Of course, in the Reality realm of the 3-D, such binaries are void and these terms are meaningless). By this I mean, we ought to presuppose that theological propositions will be paradoxical to our minds. Our thinking exists in that blurry realm of Correctness, two degrees separated from the reality of God; so, our fundamentally assumption should be, I believe, that thoughts about God will be seeming contradictions to us.

Practically, I am suggesting that if we initially think that a theological position is simple and one-sided, then we should immediately pause and assume we are being overly simplistic. Moreover, when someone disagrees with us on a theological position, I am suggesting that it would be responsible first to meaningfully investigate the truth of that other position.

The issue though is that at the 2-D level of Truth, that seeming paradox still cannot be finally resolved. We will come face-to-face with an antinomy. Yet this ought not to lead to epistemic cynicism, as we know that the antinomy presupposes a human binary epistemology (for an initial articulation of why we might want to consider binary epistemologies to be essentially broken and fallen, see this earlier post). It is thoroughly difficult (impossible?) not to think in binaries, so we will likely be stuck holding “contradictory” propositions (e.g. God is One; God is Three). Yet we also know that this is not a fully true contradiction, because there is something beyond the 2-D realm – the 3-D reality.

Thus, in the 3-D:

Q (a single, complex proposition) simply is.

In the 2-D representation:

Q is (re-)presented as both P (a single, simple proposition) and not-P, each rationally-justified and each true (inasmuch as both are Q).

But, in the realm of our Blurry Vision:

P and not-P are a priori presupposed to be paradoxes, such that finer and finer distinctions will allow us to think what in even the 2-D representation is unthinkable.

I am hopeful that these divisions between the epistemic realms and distinctions of knowledge may help us to think about God more humbly and clearly.