Speculative Epistemology and Superstitious Ethics
Colossians 2:19–22 (NKJV)
19 …… the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God.
20 Therefore, if you died with Christ from the [first] principles of the world, why, …. do you subject yourselves to ….the commandments and doctrines of men(i.e. world)?
With an indicator phrase such as, “therefore if,” there is good reason to suppose a hypothetical syllogism is present. As said before, Paul will put these hypothetical syllogisms into a question as he often does with basic declarative propositions for literary effect. So, the first thing to do is to remove the question and see the propositions Paul is making.
In addition to this we need a quick clarification of terms.
Human Speculation. The unjustifiable premises that come man’s or one’s inner self, usually from one’s own observations, feelings and experiences. These are the premises of a syllogism, that are not justified.
Human Superstition. I use similar to how John Robinson said that superstition is the logical void or abyss that is between premise and conclusion. After human made premises, one adds human invalidness. This is the invalidness from premise to conclusion.
When the verse says, “first principles of the world” this is philosophy 101. Paul is purposely going into philosophy. This phrase means the “world’s epistemology,” or “the world’s first principle of knowledge.” This is contrasted in Chapter 2 when Paul says that our first principle of knowledge is the treasure of knowledge found in the Father and Son, which is now revealed to us. Going back to our text. When it says subjecting yourselves to the “doctrines of men,” Paul is making a point of connecting this back to “first principle of the world.” In a system-of-thinking or worldview one either deduces or fallaciously induces “doctrines” from their “first principle,” whether it is the Scripture for Christians, or empiricism for atheists. And so, “first principles of the world,” is used with inferences of “human doctrines,” from this. Thus, “world” and “human” are interchangeable.
Paul is using the terms “human/worldly starting point” in the way, we in philosophy, use empiricism. That is, even Socrates and Aristotle used empiricism to form universals (i.e. the Socratic Method), even universals about their ideas of the gods. Empiricism is not only used for the scientific method but for any knowledge that is produced by human sensation and observation about anything. Because ethics and values are not descriptive premises, and since empiricism (at best—for sake of argument) produces descriptive premises, then all conclusions of values and ethics are logical blunders and category fallacies. Thus, by definition, all human value and human ethical statements are “superstitions.” That is, they are logically invalid. Therefore, all human doctrines if they are true, then they are false.
And so, we see that “(P) If one had died from the first principles of the world, (Q) then one ought not subject themselves to the doctrines of the world.”
An epistemology of human speculation will result into superstitious doctrines. (Worldly starting points necessarily results into worldly doctrines.) This is contrasted to the Christian epistemology, which is divine revelation that is separate from empiricism. The metaphysics of Christian knowledge is God’s direct and absolute sovereignty.
Denying the Consequent. (Reductio ad Absurdum). Paul is showing what their religious practice infers.
This argument is a chain modus tollens argument, and is best for natural deduction: however, we will just use a basic propositional format. If (P) then (Q); If (Q) then (not R). Not (not R). Thus, not (P). (and also by inference not (Q).
H.1. (P) If died with Christ, (Q) then died from human epistemology.
H.2. (Q) If died from human epistemology, (~R) then no submitting to human doctrines.
H.3. ~(~R) In practice submitting to human doctrines.
H.4. Thus ~(Q) not died from human epistemology and ~(P) not died with Christ.
Paul is making a “Reductio ad Absurdum,” argument by accepting what they say about themselves (P) and then following up with what they are doing (R). The absurdity comes from the contradiction in the consequent —which is like a proof by contradiction in math (in this you assume a false premise in the antecedent and then show the contradiction in the consequent.)
Paul demonstrates they have not died to (are not intellectually separated from) the first principles of the world. Paul uses their claim, that they are intelligent, against them, to lead them to repentance and correction.
They claim they are (P) intellectually separated from the first principles of the world, but their ~(~R) human superstitions and doctrines indicates that ~(P) they are not. Practices based on speculative ethics and invalid inferences indicates that one’s claim to be standing on God’s word alone is defective and broken.
Affirming the Antecedent (modus ponens). This argument is affirming what should be happening.
Terms. In context, “died from the world,” is referring to an intellectual aspect, which later (chapter 3-4) Paul shows has moral implications.
These human doctrines are mainly dealing with ethics (i.e. “I ought to worship an angel”), or in this case, human superstitious ethics produced by human speculative axioms (i.e. empiricism and observation).
R1. (P) If died from human epistemology, (~Q) then no following of human doctrines.
R2. (P) Christians have died to human epistemology.
R3. (~Q) Therefore, no following of human doctrines.
 The first says “basic,” which means “first” or “rudimentary.” A first principle of a system of thinking is a referring to epistemology, which means a “first principle of knowledge” for a system of thinking.
 John Robbins, Forward of Gordon Clark’s book, Three Types of Religious Philosophy