I've meant to comment here on the Sunstone blog's post on Alma 32 as logical fallacy. I made quite a few comments there but thought I'd repeat some here.
The common reading many take sees Alma 32 as espousing a William James like view of truth as "good for." Now I don't think that a fair characterization of Jamesian truth. James did sometimes speak in more Peircean terms.
"Pragmatism asks its usual question. "Grant an idea or belief to be true," it says, "what concrete difference will its being true make in anyone's actual life? How will the truth be realized? What experiences will be different from those which would obtain if the belief were false? What, in short, is the truth's cash-value in experiential terms?" (Pragmatism, 97)
"True ideas are those that we can assimilate, validate, corroborate, and verify. False ideas are those that we cannot" (ibid)
"Truth for us is simply a collective name for verification processes" (ibid, 104)
But certainly pragmatism is often (and unfortunately) taken in terms of truth being what is good for us without adding that "in the long run" that even James added and certainly Peirce did. The question is whether Alma ought be taken in this fashion.
First, I think Rory at Sunstone does note that what is described in Alma isn't "utility" per se but rather a feeling of goodness. That is something is true if it feels good. Certainly Alma seems to push that way. I think Alma's going more for an analogy of a kind of spiritual phenomena rather than a pragmatic sense of truth. (I've vacillated in that view, but I don't think Alma 32 can be taken pragmatically in the simple sense) But does feeling good entail truth? Of course not. One can feel good about a lot of things that aren't true.
The point one must make though is that Alma is making an analogy so one has to be careful how one pushes it. One can argue that the spirit can manifest itself as a phenomena without necessarily merely being a good feeling. I've made that point in the various posts on Mormon epistemology. Further in the context of the analogy there isn't just a good feeling. Rather one can discern growth (the seed swelling). Thus one knows it is a live seed rather than a dead one. One also has ones "soul enlarged" (28), increased understanding, and "is delicious." Thus there is much more going on and I do think that at this stage one is getting closer to James and Peirce.
The big question I have of Alma 32 is what the "words" which are analogized as seeds are. Are they statements about particular existential claims? (i.e. that something exists as a particular) Or are they more ethical claims expressing generals? I think the later since the context appears to be repenting. Thus I think the content Alma is dealing with is largely ethical claims. He claims that if you try out his words (i.e. actualize the behavior in your life) you can know that it is true. Thus the "good" isn't as much of an analogy as it appears. Rather the focus is actual ethical content. That is, how can we know if something is good qua goodness.
And in that I do think we have a pragmatic process.
The only way to know if something is good is to see what differences it would make in our conduct and experience. What's more interesting is that Alma sees the mark of goodness to be something Nietzsche might call an expansion of power or a feeling of power. One also might note Alma's comment about seeds bringing forth their likeness. I take that to imply that as one lives by a word then we look to the person as the embodiment of that word and simply judge if the person qua sign is good. Alma's really just giving the old Jewish parable about fruits. It's a common metaphor often put in varying contexts. (Compare it with say Jacob 5 or even Galatians 5)
So in my opinion we're talking behavior and to read Alma 32 as dealing with a general epistemology is wrong. It can't really deal with say whether the Book of Mormon is true in a historical sense. After all in that sense what would it mean to plant the seed? What would utility bring us? Especially in the pragmatic sense which is tied to empirical verification in the future.
When applied to the LDS church (as I'll fully admit some do, such as Rory did) at best Alma 32 can establish a kind of ethical utility. i.e. that belonging to the LDS Church helps one be a good person. But I think most LDS would agree this is true of many religions and even ethical programs not religious at all. Unsurprisingly it doesn't say much about what most LDS consider religious truth.
Now to the extent Rory expresses this I agree with him. Being ethically useful is not the same as being existentially true. I'm not sure that's a logical fallacy mind you. But I think his point is apt. Having said that though, let me return to my original point of not reading Alma 32 pragmatically.
Let us now say that instead of taking this as an ethical experiment on ethical claims we take it as a discussion of how to engage spiritual phenomena. That is the seed's growth isn't about ethical utility but spiritual phenomena. In this case then as we live the gospel we notice things about ourselves that change. These aren't merely ethical. And indeed verse 28 that I mentioned earlier seems to have elements that are beyond the ethical. Thus "enlighteneth my understanding" is taken to be an actual increase in knowledge. I know things I once didn't. One can, of course, dispute the grounds for this. But if we take a more literalistic view, then perhaps "good" in this sense means "good for knowing" rather than merely "good for behavior."
I'm not entirely sure this is how one ought read it. But if the experience is more than just feeling good and finding the words useful then perhaps it is a vague description of a spiritual experience that can ground existential knowledge. I'd note that Peirce grounds epistemology on ethics since the quest for knowledge and justification is the question to only believe what one should believe. That is, it is ethics. In this case the seed isn't simply words as commands but words as the combination of seed and growth: that is words and their justification.
It might not be entirely clear which position I'm taking in the above. I favor the ethical reading. But I bring up the stronger spiritual phenomena reading at the end as I think it can work. I don't favor the "pragmatic" in the sense of "truth is good for" reading although I'll admit that is a natural way of reading Alma 32. I just disagree with that position (and don't think it really captures James)
My apologies for any unclarity. I wrote the above quickly.
Clark - just a note for clarification - I didn't write the post on Alma 32, it was submitted by a guest to be posted and discussed. I only posted it as a regular contributor.
In your post above you credit me for the thoughts, but they are not mine. If you edit your post, feel free to delete this comment.
My apologies. I quickly looked at the "by Rory" and assumed that was the author of the guest post.
"Alma is making an analogy so one has to be careful how one pushes it."
Yes, let's keep this simple. Alma is not trying to make epistemological points with the poor and disenfranchised who are standing on the hill listening to him. He just wants them to know how the Holy Ghost works in helping them discern truth.
It is the workings of the Holy Ghost in him that determines his reality: "Oh, then, is not this real? Yea, because it is light; and whatsoever is light is good, because it is discernible." This is a continuation of his worldview which he laid out to Korihor. To him, Korihor's request for a sign makes no sense, since the Holy Ghost bares witness to him that "all things denote there is a God" Alma feels he understands truth because the inward promptings bare witness to the outward reality.
Both the practical and pragmantic applicable truth contained in a statement, along with the degree of historocity of an account or narative, can be derived by the degree to which truth is manifested to the individual in a manner that ultimately is not relatable in any empirical or inter-human communicable. The proximity to ultimate and eternal truth, in all aspects, is discernable through the degrees and details of the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
I'll leave it to the Spirit to either confirm or deny my view as just presented in the hearts and minds of those who'll read it.
Larry, while I agree Alma isn't talking epistemology as such, I think analyzing the content and implications of his words has quite a bit to do with epistemology. Further, as the author of the Sunstone post pointed out, Alma 32 is taken to make fairly wide ranging epistemological points by many people.
Of course it is an important point to note that no scripture is written to a sophisticated technical audience but rather the everyday sort of folk. Thus the analogy. But I think analogies can convey important points. It's just philosophers who in attempting to understand put it in more rigorous language.
Hive Radical, I'm not quite sure what you are saying. When you say that pragmatic truth in a statement can't be relatable in any empirical or human communication I disagree. I take you to be saying that the spirit is the only way to know anything, but that seems wrong. If anything knowing by the spirit, while it may lead to sure knowledge, is initially far more difficult to know by than empirical means. Indeed that's the point of all this discussion series.