Question: What is the best way to define Latter-day Saint epistemology?

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Question: What is the best way to define Latter-day Saint epistemology?

Latter-day Saints take no uniform approach to epistemology. Belief is found at a confluence of reason and revelation

There are several schools of epistemology—each defining the best and most important sources of knowledge. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has no uniform position on defining epistemology—only to understand that it is the result of reason and revelation. Latter-day Saints highly value the proposition of a good education and the primacy of reason. But they also seek to understand things by faith. Several scriptures in the Latter-day Saint canon affirm the primacy of reason and of learning through the Spirit--used interchangeably with "faith"--because there are times where one needs to strengthen the other:

10 But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.

11 For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.

3 Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.

4 And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.

5 And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.

Noted is how this short passage begins by emphasizing a moment of pondering and reflection before seeking revelation.

2 Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart.
7 Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.

8 But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.

9 But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; therefore, you cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me.
40 For intelligence cleaveth unto intelligence; wisdom receiveth wisdom; truth embraceth truth; virtue loveth virtue; light cleaveth unto light; mercy hath compassion on mercy and claimeth her own; justice continueth its course and claimeth its own; judgment goeth before the face of him who sitteth upon the throne and governeth and executeth all things.

77 And I give unto you a commandment that you shall teach one another the doctrine of the kingdom.

78 Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand;

79 Of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms—

Noted in this passage is its instruction to seek learning from all disciplines so that we can be better instructed in how to think about and live out our faith. Thus, we gain revelation from a prophet, but understanding how God communicated to that prophet, understanding what the intention is behind certain scriptures, and finding the blessings from following commandments comes largely from our own independent research and reason. We attempt to approach the scriptures contextually and holistically to understand their full significance and our role in God's plan.

118 And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.

Noted here is that secular learning and devotional learning are commanded for increasing the faith of those who struggle

36 The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth

18 Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection.

19 And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come.

Our form of epistemology does stress the importance of the Spirit more frequently than we do reason and that is because of a general perception of the fleetingness of reason, scholarship, and science in a certain regard. Obtaining and listening to the spirit is central to conversion to the Church since we are given the opportunity to seek answers from God himself. An assurance from the Spirit is used as a means of coping with uncertainties that we might have at various times of our development in the Church and our convictions. This assurance gives us the belief that, like the apostle Paul stated, that the Lord will "bring to light the hidden things of darkness" so that one day every one may have a praise of God (1 Cor 4:5).This should not, however, be understood to mean that Latter-day Saint testimonies rely solely on feelings. Spiritual understanding for Latter-day Saints is arrived at the confluence of reason and revelation, with a stress on revelation.

Reason is obviously only an intellectual exercise (primarily of the mind), while revelation is an effort that requires all of our faculties

We can obtain knowledge and truth through many sources. But one reason we stress the importance of revelation is that it appeals to our whole body for verification. It involves “our faculties” (Alma 32: 27). Latter-day Saint doctrine also affirms that the body and spirit make the soul (D&C 88:15).[1] Thus, spiritual experiences and coming to spiritual understanding for Latter-day Saints involve much more than simply good feelings as some have criticized us for, but for seeking to “study [something] out in our mind” and then asking for confirmation of it (D&C 9:7-9). We also teach that when the Spirit does touch our souls, that it is an experience that should feed both mind and heart (D&C 8:2). There are times when we have to rely solely upon revelation given to us in our hearts (1 Nephi 4:6), there are other times when we need both revelation and reason (D&C 8:2), and there are other times when we simply need to do something based only upon reason and what we know is good (D&C 58:26-29).

Notes

  1. This is essentially the view that biblical scholars recognize as being advocated in the Bible. Donald R. Potts, "Body" in Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible ed., David Noel Freedman (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000) 194; Henry L. Carrigan, Jr., "Soul" Ibid., 1245; Alice Ogden Bellisb, "Spirit" Ibid., 1248.