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Archive for the ‘Philosphy’ Category

If we limit “knowledge” to statements that meet this standard of certainty, we end up having to say that we know precious little. Even if we could attain certain and infallible knowledge, that “knowledge” would be so sterile and disconnected from both the knower and the known reality as to be useless. Even if you grant, for example, the legitimacy of statements such as “This here red,” all that tells you about is what is inside your head; it offers you no access to the world outside it.

The Western tradition, thanks to its very verbal source (Plato, you might say, made defining terms the essence of philosophy), has unquestioningly assumed that knowledge is limited to what can be put into words and justified. We think of knowledge as statements and proof. But here’s another indicator of the misfit of this approach: If scientists had been so limited, no scientific discovery ever would have taken place. If students had been restricted to statements and proof, no learning ever would have taken place. For whatever the discovering and learning processes end up with, with respect to statements and certainty, they cannot possibly begin with statements and certainty. How can you verbalize your cluelessness? How can you verbalize your clues at the point at which you are guided by them? How can you make justified statements about what you have yet to learn or discover? But learning and discovery occur regularly. Therefore . . . write the conclusion yourself.

What of the ideal of certainty itself? If I must accept as true only those claims of which I am certain, what about the claim that I must accept as true only those claims of which I am certain? Am I certain of it? What reasons would I use to prove it? The ideal does not even meet its own standard. It is a claim of which I cannot be certain. We might say that it is an expression of faith.

The donkey plods hopefully after a carrot dangling from a stick before him. Certainty—that fat old carrot that’s been tantalizing us for centuries—is a misguided ideal. The donkey would be far better rewarded if he got to his own carrot than we have been or ever would be by reaching ours.

— Esther Lightcap Meek, Longing to Know

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Context determines the meaning of every utterance, and every word of every utterance. Because we exist in time, the context that determines the meaning of every utterance and every word is constantly expanding. Each moment there is more context. What I said yesterday will be understood not only in its original context but also in the context of the events of today. “I am not a crook,” said Richard Nixon, but subsequent events convinced many Americans that he was indeed a crook, and the subsequent events now set the context for the original statement. The ultimate meaning of any utterance is deferred until history is done, until the last word is spoken, until context is closed off once and for all.

But what if that never happens? What if context determines meaning, and context keeps expanding indefinitely, forever and ever without closure, without a last word, without a final judgment, age after age, amen? This is Derrida’s view, and he uses explicitly theological language to confess what he disbelieves. He rejects eschatology, any hope that there will be “messianic” finale to human history.39 Context will expand forever, and therefore meaning, which arises from difference, will be deferred forever. We can never know in fullness what our texts or utterances mean, much less the texts produced by another, because we can’t know how the future context, and future texts, might affect the meaning of what we write and say.

This is Derrida’s concept of differance, which he punningly spells with an a rather than an e to capture the twin notions of “difference” and “deferral.” Meaning arises from difference, but precisely for that reason, meaning is endlessly deferred.

— Peter Leithart, Solomon among the Postmoderns 

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I do not believe that skepticism is the default mode for humans. For one thing, we are bothered by the inconsistency of saying that we know that nothing can be known, or that it is true that there is no truth.

But I believe also that we all feel within ourselves the misfit of skepticism, as Cinderella’s stepsisters did the glass slipper. (And you might say that for centuries we have been cutting off our big toe to make the slipper fit.) For knowing nothing at all, you and I seem to know quite a lot. Or at least we seem to live like it—that is, when it isn’t more personally advantageous to be skeptics. Vast portions of our lives and jobs and society are devoted to information, learning, and discovery. What’s more, we continually make advances from unknowing to knowing, whether in the classroom or the science lab or in the ordinary affairs of life. This is the story of our lives. This belies skepticism. We’ve felt compelled to call ourselves skeptics in the name of integrity. But all along we felt the inauthenticity of such a label, since our human lives, just because they are human lives, are a tapestry of acts of knowing.

— Esther Lightcap Meek, Longing to Know 

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[H]ere is the storyline I suggest: The Renaissance saw that life was vapor, and it either rejoiced or despaired, but in the main considered vapor to be an unavoidable feature of human existence. Renaissance humanists had a high tolerance for uncertainty, probable knowledge, political tumult, social mobility. Following the Reformation, however, Europe was decimated by a century of war. Modernity began not from the Renaissance but in the wake of religious war, and modern thinkers, politicians, and scientists set out on a centuries-long project of controlling the vapor and roil of the world, so as to ensure that the world would never again be thrown into the tumult of what they described as religious conflict. Modernity’s control has been so effective that some believed it had been achieved, until mist leaked out under the laboratory door. As an economic and social system, postmodernity is a historical demonstration that modernity’s control was illusory in important respects, and postmodern theory is the intellectual reflection on this historical demonstration.

So: Modernity builds a glass and steel office box-building, a housing project that looks like and is intended to be a “machine for living”; postmodernity’s buildings are ironically decorated with symbols from a half-dozen architectural styles. Modernity zones the city into commercial, residential, educational, and other areas; postmodernity integrates life, work, and leisure in a local neighborhood. Modernity mechanizes the universe and the human person; postmodernity disperses the self and the universe in a fluid organism. Modernity is a Newtonian universe, a machine operating by mathematically expressible laws; postmodernity is an expanding universe, which is perhaps alive, and postmoderns are convinced that scientific laws are less discovered than invented. Modernity says bigger is better; postmodernity says, Not necessarily, and Who says? Modernity unifies diverse groups into a nation-state, an ethnically and culturally homogenous national community, organized by a central bureaucracy, perpetuated by universal public education; postmodernity diffuses into a multiethnic nation that threatens to fragment into a loose confederation. Modernity drums out regular rhythm, like a piston; postmodernity is syncopated. Modernity manages the economy, whether through a centralized party bureaucracy or through a central bank’s manipulation of credit; postmodernity thrives on a flexible global economy that escapes the management and control of any single government. Modernity reduces the world to hard particles; postmodernity reduces the particles until matter dissolves into energy. Modernity tracks GNP, GDP, and the trade deficit, convinced that a change in policy can improve them; postmodernity is more interested in quality of life and sustainable growth, with attention to the ecological impact of economic activity. Modernity marches; postmodernity flows. Modernity is statistical analysis; postmodernity is outcomes-based and qualitative. Modernity shops for goods in a one-stop department store; postmodernity shops for pleasure in a megamall of specialty shops. Modernity systematizes theology and declares popes infallible; postmodernity says theology is more like poetry, turns the priest around to face the congregation, and gives him a banjo. Modernity neatly divides human life into zones of activity and interest— separating home and workplace, work and leisure, business and high culture, religion and politics; postmodernity breaches those boundaries by returning work to the home, by making work fun, by selling elegantly styled cultural products, by mixing religion and politics, by displaying a urinal in an art museum. Modernity gets down to business, testing hypotheses with well-designed experiments and diligent library research; postmodernity frets aloud about whether research is even possible, grumbles about the difficulties of knowing anything about the world or the past, and hedges all conclusions with a fifty-page theoretical introduction to every book. Modernity hopes that high culture will seep down and raise the stinking masses from their slough; postmodernity destroys the boundaries of highbrow and lowbrow and swallows everything up in a mass of commercialized pop culture. Modernity wears a suit to the office and slippers at home; postmodernity works at home in a bathrobe and wears jeans to the office. Modernity is a city under smog, its buildings blackened by factory smoke; postmodernity is the green belt around London. Modernity is a clock; postmodernity is a turbulent stream, a swiftly moving weather system. Modernity is checkerboard; postmodernity is fractal.

In a word, modernity is mid-twentieth-century Detroit; post-modernity is Vegas.

— Peter Leithart, Solomon among the Postmoderns

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For the subjectivist, value judgments don’t apprehend anything. There is no feature of the world that would make them true or false, since they merely express private feeling. It follows that your moral and aesthetic outlook can’t become more discerning. It can’t deepen or mature, it can only change.

— Matthew Crawford, The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming and Individual in an Age of Distraction

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To see where they lead

What the seed is to the fruit, the premise is to the conclusion. Many of us might never be able to distinguish one variety of seed from another, but we have no trouble in telling an apple from a pear or a cauliflower from a cabbage.

The same is true of presuppositions and conclusions. Find out what people in doubt are believing wrongly and help them follow the logic of these presuppositions to their necessary conclusion. Challenge them to check the full-blown consequences of their ideas to see where they lead.

— Os Guinness, God in the Dark

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[Post-Enlightenment] people now believed we were not created primarily to serve God for his benefit. Rather, God had made the world for our benefit. But, Taylor goes on, it was this deistic concept of God—not so much the traditional Christian view—that the Lisbon earthquake threw into crisis. He wrote:

Once we claim to understand the universe and how it works; once we even try to explain how it works by invoking its being created for our benefit, then this explanation is open to clear challenge. . . . In Lisbon, 1755, it seems clearly not to have [worked for our benefit]. So the immanent order ups the ante.

If you believe that the world was made for our benefit by God, then horrendous suffering and evil will shake your understanding of life. Horrendous evil is now a much bigger problem for those with a residue of Christianity—with a belief in a distant God who exists for our benefit—than it was for a full-blown orthodox faith not weakened by the immanent frame. In other words, suffering and evil disprove God’s existence only if you have a particular view of God that is already a departure from the more traditional, orthodox view. The skeptical conclusion is largely inherent in the premises. You could argue that, within the immanent frame, the game is rigged against the God of the Bible when we come to evil and suffering.

— Timothy Keller, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering

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