My concerns in this essay are the following. One is a form of relativism that leads to shallow and flat forms of life and thought. It suggests that it does not matter what one does with one’s life or what one believes. All forms of life of life become equal and all beliefs become equal. Two is a form of rationality that inordinately raises knowledge in science, math, and logic to the point where moral and religious forms of thought and life are no longer rational. However, a human world does not function in such a flat and smooth way as mathematics does. A human world functions at many dimensions, in complex relationships with each other, and is quite rough and bumpy terrain. Rationality must have the capability of guiding human thought and behavior in this human world rather than an mathematically abstract world. Three is a form of fundamentalist religion that abandons rationality in favor of appealing to ancient religious texts for the formation of cultural life today. Human rationality does not proceed from such sure foundations.
I want to explore the possibility that epistemology needs to abandon its modern quest for certainty of knowledge. In fact, the pursuit of knowledge may not be the overriding objective of human rationality. Epistemology needs to focus its attention upon what human beings need to do to move toward excellence in the exercise of the rationality they already have. Because of the richness of human experience and therefore rationality, some of these expressions of rationality may appear at odds with each other. However, epistemology needs to show how they contribute to each other as well as interfere with each other. This approach suggests that the pursuit of human rationality may be the pursuit of human flourishing, the fullness of a human life, and therefore the pursuit of truth.
As I have pursed the questions I have, I discovered that what some might consider pure epistemology did not satisfy my questions. Our modern social world values the truths of logic, math, and science; they are the means that we use to gain assurance about reality. Our history and tradition as free societies have taught us the value of this direction for gaining reliable knowledge of our world. However, no matter how much knowledge we gain, our knowledge is not complete because we cannot consider all of the interrelationships of things in the world, including our own role in them. Incidental, apparently irrelevant and negligible matters mean that we cannot possess immanent intelligibility of the world. We tend to focus upon the essential, significant, and important that assists us in developing connections and thoughts about the world.
Human thought is but a tiny, grammar-bound island, in the midst of a sea of feeling. So long as we regard only scientific and material semi-scientific thought as cognitive of the world, this peculiar picture of mental life must stand. So long as we admit only discursive symbolism as a bearer of ideas, we must regard thought in this restricted sense as our only intellectual activity. It begins and ends with language; without the elements of scientific grammar, conception must be impossible. A theory that implies such peculiar consequences is itself a suspicious character.
As I have puzzled about rationality, reason, and human knowledge, I have increasingly realized that I had to remove my former impressions. I may have thought that human rationality functioned something like mathematical theorems, in that rationality generally followed the smooth and flat flow of mathematical problems. Somehow, part of my thinking about human life became that of confronting a problem in life as if it were mathematical problem. If so, then all I would have to do is apply the right theorems and axioms, and I would solve problems in human life and community. I thought such a process defined rationality. Any process that did not fit this process was irrational or emotional.
What I have discovered is that rationality is far more dimensional, rich, and thick. The terrain of rationality is a bumpy one. I found that I needed to consider the profoundly social and temporal character of human rationality. I have also found a discussion of the significance of language for human life an important part of this discussion. I have found that human rationality, and therefore human knowledge, is not a matter of having tools. I have found that I need to begin with gaining a better grasp of the richness of human experience and social beings and sign-bearing (language) creatures. As we discover the richness of human experience, and the complexity of human rationality, we also discover a new simplicity of thought and life.
In one sense, epistemology is a rather modest enterprise. This area of philosophical reflection is not the place to pre-determine the judgments one makes in matters political, ethical, or religious. Rather, it ought to lay out an understanding of human rationality that allows individuals and communities to make their world increasingly intelligible. Epistemology needs to lay out the way in which people of varying beliefs can still be at the table in a modern social world. What one can legitimately hope is that this world will become increasingly a home as we understand thinking itself. The natural world and the social world constitute the only home we will have. Understanding rationality helps us in the process of domesticating the world.
Epistemology is the study of the shape that human beings give to make sense of the world, as well as the refinement of rationality to accomplish best that end. Intelligence enables human beings to secure information for survival. We cannot survive or thrive without reliable information. Rationality is the intelligent use of rational judgment to determine the best choices for the best possible reasons. Optimizing rationality is crucial for making intelligible judgments. Making rational and responsible judgment is an epistemic skill. Knowledge is an intricate web of justifying explanations whose meaningfulness is always relational.
We find the nature of human rationality in the way we use our intelligence to pursue particular epistemic goals and values, of which intelligibility may be the most important. The value of intelligibility discounts ignorance. It assumes that if we do not understand something now, we will gain knowledge in the future. Our quest for understanding our world and ourselves optimally is the most typical of our human intellectual endeavors. Intelligibility is primary value human rationality seeks.
Humanity distinguishes itself from other animals by language. This rather small genetic difference from highest order apes creates a qualitatively different and continually expanding arena of possibility for human beings. Higher order animals have some process of thinking and symbolization. Yet, language and its refinement in thinking is a qualitatively different experience. Whenever we envision our future, we envision it in terms of intellectual growth. Further developments in the process of rationality are of vast importance to the human race. They may even determine the duration of human existence on the planet earth or in the universe. The possibilities open to thinking are the possibilities of recognizing relationships in nature and in the social world.
Since thinking comes so naturally to us, we believe that we instinctively know how to think and to communicate. In reality, we usually do neither well. We can use “thinking” broadly and loosely, for anything that passes through our minds. In this sense, we never stop thinking. The way people commonly understand the function of doubt in science leads many modern persons to distrust the rationality that has brought such vast improvements in the daily lives of so many.
The integrity of the modern social world rests upon reason. Reason depends upon philosophy to uphold it. We have vast amounts of knowledge. The globalization of our world has led to endless varieties of that knowledge. The task of sifting through our knowledge to what is important has become an increasingly greater challenge. Thinking is a process, with a course or direction, a lapse of time, and a series of steps or stages that lead to some result. When we deliberately seek adequate support for what we think, we engage in the process of reflective thought. This is thinking in its best and highest sense. Active, persistent, and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it, and the further conclusions to which it tends, constitutes reflective thought. To think well is a laborious, often painstaking process until we become accustomed to being thoughtful in developing what we believe. The playful attitude is one of freedom. Philosophy can assist in healing the ills of the modern social world only as it restores reason to its proper place, thereby reanimating the human spirit. When we abandon reason or rationality, we open the door for the destruction of the modern social world.
The sickness revealed in Colonialism, Nazism, Communism, and Terrorism are rebellions against reason. We can see the sickness in religious systems that dominate civil society, such as some Roman Catholic countries, every Moslem culture, and Hindu and Buddhist cultures. The loss of philosophy is the primary origin of our sickness, for it is a loss of reason and the drive toward the universal. I do not mean a unitary philosophical system is the goal of knowledge. Rather, diversification and anticipation are central to our understanding of the universal. The sickness of much of modern thought is arrogance, cutting the individual away from the philosophical dialogue with tradition and others.
The concept of anticipation brings the element of time into play in the understanding of knowledge itself. In the light of the historicity of experience, we disclose all consciousness of meaning as changeable, and every claim to knowledge as an anticipation of some future confirmation. Any sense of a meaningful individual life, any sense of constructing a meaningful social world, any knowledge of the physical world, is an anticipation that requires future confirmation.
The discomfort many people in modern societies have with rationality is that a world of clear and distinct knowledge with reliable foundations is no longer possible. People who live in modern societies must make peace with what they can know about their world. Our knowledge of the natural and social world relies upon the openness to others and to the future implied in the dialogical nature of knowledge. All knowledge is dialogical; no human knowledge arises from sources independent of the communal nature of human beings. This world is our home; however, we must make it so through becoming content with what we gain through mapping or models of our world, knowledge that we gain in dialogue with others, whether of the physical or social world.
The whole realm of the modern social world is quite open to ambiguity. In the understanding within the modern framework of society, we gain such knowledge through the exercise of our liberty and through sharing our reasons why we think what we think with others. Although we can be grateful for certain aspects of tradition, modern societies do not obey tradition; they discern what is worth keeping and let go of the rest. Modern societies recognize they will make mistakes; they do not live in utopia. Thus, the government, religious institutions, or a political party, ought not to have control of what is acceptable knowledge. The free exchange of ideas between individuals and groups within society will provide the basis for the forward momentum that humanity to discover the best human life as individual and in our life together.
Human beings have the capacity to decline in personal and communal life and generating absurd situations, doing so through inattention, obtuseness, unreasonableness, and irresponsibility. Ideologies corrupt minds. Compromise and distortion discredit progress. Absurd situations do not yield to treatment. Corrupt minds have a flair for picking the mistaken solution and insisting that it alone is intelligent, reasonable, and good. The basic form of alienation is humanity’s disregard for attentiveness, intelligence, reasonableness, and responsibility. Ideology is a form of thought that justifies such alienation.
This essay proposes a non-foundational view of the life-world that arises from the richness and complexity of human life and human community. We begin with the world rather than consciousness. We find ourselves in a world whose social nature is a given, something to be understood rather than created. We take our bearings from the pre-given nature of the world. What we need to is clarify what takes place in daily life, rather than make a hasty abstract leap to individual consciousness. We need to refuse to leave the world of daily life.
Science has its grounding in the life-world. The only science worthy of the name clarifies its roots in the life-world. The scientific outlook on the life-world assumes that the mathematical approach in nature is a model for the human sciences, all realms of being are accessible through the sciences of phenomena, and that all reality not accessible the sciences of phenomena are either irrelevant or illusions. Such a view totalizes the realm of science, elevating its experience of the world to the only valid experience of the world. In reality, the scientific community needs contact with other local communities in the culture. Science can overcome its distance from the rest of culture only as it grounds itself in the life-world out of which it arose. Science must trace its concepts to their origin in the world of immediate experience, display the intentional constitution of all fundamental terms of discourse, and sense in person the formative elements of the life-world.
Rationality has its source in the social and contextual resources available to individuals. Human beings learn from others in their generation, they learn for cultural traditions, and they learn from ancestral heritage. This cultural setting means that the power of the cultural setting can be oppressive or liberating. One reason the early enlightenment emphasized the autonomy of the individual is that it used this ideology to move against the oppressive force of the political state. Relational epistemology must preserve the responsibility of the rational agent and the embedded character of individuals in communal life.
The introduction of new ideas for testing depends on cooperation. Any human being who rejects inputs from other human beings runs out of ideas sooner rather than later, and begins to consider only ideas that in one way or another reflect the prejudices he has formed. Cooperation is necessary both for the formation of ideas and for their rational testing. Yet, that cooperation must be of a certain kind in order to be effective. It must obey the principles of discourse ethics. Where there is no opportunity to challenge accepted hypotheses by criticizing the evidence upon which their acceptance was based, or be criticizing the application of the norms of scientific inquiry to that evidence, or by offering rival hypotheses, and where questions and suggestions are systematically ignored, the scientific enterprise always suffers. Cooperative activity involves inquiry.
Rationality is cognitive, evaluative, and pragmatic. It involves giving good reasons for what one believes, values, thinking, judgments, choices, and actions. It aims toward a coherence of such reasoning. Good reasons involve offering reasons for believing based on good and appropriate evidence. It involves choosing right things for right reasons. In everyday life, rationality moves one toward giving good reasons on request. Everyday beliefs are the largest domain of beliefs we have, and they are about one’s own self-awareness, about other people, about how we relate to one another and live our lives, and how we find meaning in life. The everyday beliefs of our pre-scientific everyday lives indeed are a paradigm case for rationality and are more fundamental than scientific beliefs because we cannot avoid believing them and at the same time function normally as human beings. The rich domain of human rationality stretches wide, and includes our day-to-day lives, our art, our religion, science, and technology.
Every person has some form of self-awareness, some image of the kind of self he or she has been, or wants to become. This self-conception shapes what we regard as the most plausible reasons for the choices we make, the beliefs to which we commit ourselves, and the actions we take. Trust in our personal convictions is open to intersubjective assessment as we walk the fine line between our personal standards and the standards of what we regard as the ideal epistemic community. We receive necessary feedback relationships between the self-aware individual and his or her social context. Rationality entails an unavoidable investment in the interest of others. The intelligent use of the human ability for rational judgment is one that all human beings share in principle. Rationality is person-relative, and as such directly shaped by the richness of the various contexts in which humans as rational agents find themselves embedded. What is rational to believe, choose, and accept is always person and situation relative. It also explains why we need a feedback relationship between the self-aware individual and his or her social context, the kind of epistemic relationship where we learn with discernment how to acquire rational beliefs about our world, about ourselves, and about other people, other contexts, and other reasoning strategies.
Rhetoric bridges the gap between discourse and action. Rhetoric establishes one’s place in the community for community and persuasion. Rhetoric involves convincing others of the responsible nature of one’s judgment, assessment, and action in a specific circumstance and social context. This means that, far from detaching ourselves from reality, we already find ourselves relating to it. We might call this a relational epistemology. The social context embeds each individual. Rationality involves openness to all domains of human experience, suggesting that no local practice of rationality has universal application. This suggests the importance of interdisciplinary dialogue, for human beings already practice rationality at pre-analytic level in everyday life. In fact, the primary resource for rationality is common sense. Rationality is interpersonal centered and specific to the various domains in which human rationality expresses itself. This movement between epistemic skills of responsible judgment and interpreted experience is crucial to human rationality. Human beings have a pre-analytic reasonableness of a broader kind of common sense rationality that informs everyday goal-directed actions. It suggests a de-centered self, recognizing the openness of individuals to their social world in the formation of self.
Our value judgments (the way we see self, the other, and the world) shape our human quest for optimal understanding. Our value judgments function as prejudgments in our communication with each other and our world. Those prejudgments display our embeddedness in linguistic communities and our involvement and participation in a world of dynamic social practices. Our rationality develops within our life-world. Rationality is present and operative in and through the dynamics of our words and deeds. It is alive and well in discourse and action. This background contextualized prejudgment, habit, and skill inform our participation in our communal world. In many areas of human life, the role that value judgments play in our decisions to commit ourselves to specific viewpoints, theories, and doctrines become crucial.
What are the criteria of verifiability in a modern society for paradigms, intellectual frameworks, theories, or belief systems? These criteria are not optional in modern society. If a local community wants a seat at the table of modern society, it must embrace these three criteria for rationality. Any group unwilling to do so has placed itself outside of modern society. The risk is that the local community will not benefit from interaction with other local communities. The loss to modern society is that the local community may have insights into human life that its members need. I want to insist, however, upon these criteria. My concern is that religious communities often resist these criteria. However, I hope I can show that such resistance is not necessary. One can hold firmly to religious belief and hold to these criteria.
What I want to propose is nothing less than a way of understanding the growth of human rationality in a modern society. I think I describe what actually happens. However, since I have not seen it presented the way I do here, I may be quite wrong. In any case, I think that modern society would itself better if it became common to think of culture as part of the human growth in rationality.
I want to consider a few truths in epistemology that seem so universal that any philosopher would have to produce strong reasons for denying them. Philosophers who try to deny them often resort to solipsism, skepticism, or ideology. I do not find any of these approaches particularly helpful. I am sure that some of the things on which the essay touches do not puzzle the reader at all. The same is true for me when I reflect upon each of the following five statements.
1. People everywhere today and throughout history act and speak as if the world exists independently of our thought, experiences, and language.
Human beings seem hard-wired to keep track of objects in the world. People have an innate perception of line, angle, and motion. These objects that exist independently of our perception of them occupy one place, exist for a continuous span of time, and follow some pattern of motion and force. Human beings have a sense of space in order to navigate through this world and keep track of where things are. Human beings have an innate sense of number, counting quantity and amount.
When we discuss epistemology, we need to have a robust sense of reality and its independence of anything we say or do. Modern science has its foundation in this common perception of the world. The world is pre-linguistic and pre-cultural. The problems philosophy encounters have their foundation in the pre-linguistic and pre-cultural human experience of the world. The precision with which human beings can encounter this world is through advances made in mathematics, logic, and science.
The world is not a product of our knowledge or will. It is just the world. The natural and social world embraces us. Our image of the world cannot be justified by anything but is successful as judged by the interests and values that evolve and get modified at the same time and in interaction with our evolving image of the world itself. The world is not the product of our will, or our dispositions to talk about the world in certain ways
2. People have direct sensual contact with the external world, especially through sight, vision, and hearing.
We are of the same stuff as the rest of the world. Our bodies operate with the same biological and chemical rules as the rest of life. Even what is unique to human beings, in language, culture, and ability to pass knowledge from one generation to the next, has roots in electrical functions of the brain. Evolution has intimately woven our bodies into the fabric of this world, and ultimately into this universe. This intimate connection shown by physics, biology, and chemistry gives us confidence that the basic operations of this body have a design for living reasonably happily and reasonably well in this world. The objective world, the language we use to describe it, and our consciousness that we are active agents in this world, show that human life is part of the flow of life on this planet and of life in this universe. Human symbolization in all its forms are part of the world. States of affairs lend themselves to symbolization, as the development of the brain shows. At a basic level, science helps us to understand how wrong Heidegger is when he says that we are homeless and abandoned in this world, as if thrown into this world from – somewhere. This world has made us. We belong to this world. Our bodies are the way they are because they best suit our functioning in this world.
3. The gestures and signs, especially in words, propositions, and stories, refer to and talk about real objects and forms of life in a world external to us
As we direct our attention toward language, skepticism becomes a less likely avenue of life. Impersonal, objective meaning does not exist. Meaning exists only in the context of people. Linguistic meaning has to do with the relationships between parts and a whole within the context of a discourse. Assertions claim to be true in the sense that the meaning of such sentences attempts to represent an objectively existing meaning, a state of affairs.
4. Individual statements or propositions are true or false in the degree to which they correspond to the facts of the case
We can get mathematics problems wrong. We can make practical judgments and get it wrong. We can make scientific guesses, based upon adequate information, and still get it wrong. We make judgments about policy, and the policy may not accomplish what planners intend. Business leaders may make judgments about what the market will bear, and get it wrong. My point, of course, is that if we can get it wrong, the assumption is that we can get it right. When I say “right,” I mean only in the sense that it is open to further information in the future that may still falsify the judgment we make. What interests me in this essay is the way in which human beings can get it right. I am interested in the process that we go through, assuming the social context of a scientific, secular, and free culture, and therefore in the context of a liberal democracy, in order to get it right. I stress the social context because many of us have come to assume the benefits of a free, scientific, and secular society. People in a primitive culture would not go through the same process. The same would be true in any oppressive system of society, whether communist or military dictatorships. The same procedure would not hold true in any society in which religion dominates, for then the word of sacred texts would matter.
5. Cause and effect are real relations among objects and events in the world
Human beings have an innate sense of probability, where we keep track of the relative frequency of events.
Theories may be superior to others in two ways; they may explain more; and they may be better tested. There is only one element of rationality in our attempts to know the world: it is the critical examination of our theories. These theories themselves are conjecture and refutations. There are better and worse norms and standards. We use a method of trial and the elimination of error; we admit the general fallibility of human knowledge or, the conjectural character of human knowledge. We can explain all our achievements in terms of the method of trial and the elimination of error.
Our conjectures are our trial balloons, and we test them by criticizing them and by trying to replace them, by trying to show that there can be better or worse conjectures, and that they can be improved upon. Some of our conjectures are preferable to others; we may also improve our conjectural knowledge. We want new and interesting truth. We are led to the idea of the growth of informative content, and especially of truth content. We let these bold theories compete, by discussing them critically and by testing them severely. We may have preferences for those competing conjectures that are highly informative and which so far have stood up to eliminative criticism. These preferred conjectures are the result of selection, of the struggle for survival of the hypotheses under the strain of criticism, which is artificially intensified selection pressure.
In particular, religions need to re-affirm their empirical nature. Their success or failure rests upon their ability to persuade people to believe and to adopt the form of life urged within the religion.
In order to understand human rationality, we need to have a rich understanding of human experience. I hope that what I have said so far moves us in that direction. What I want to accomplish now is applying this richness to the process of rationality. We must find our truth inside what we say, see, and believe, rather than far from the beaten path of human beings (Plato). Human knowledge depends upon experience. Yet, human knowledge also shapes and guides experience. Good philosophy makes one operate within these limits. We must regularly bring our reflections about life into interaction the sense data and linguistic usage of human experience.
The desire to know is the dynamic orientation manifested in questions for intelligence and for reflection. It carries us from sense and imagination to understanding, from understanding to judgment, for judgment to the complete context of correct judgments that we call knowledge. It is the inquiring and critical spirit of humanity. It involves us in the self-correcting process of learning. If questions go unanswered, we cannot be complacent.
One cannot build an understanding of rationality or full epistemology upon a theory of perception. However, I do not think we can avoid perception and its role in our understanding of the richness of human experience.
We have a basic anticipation (apprehension) of objects. Our environment, our world, our field of perception, is given. This given quality is never adequate; it is an anticipatory mode. It excites or awakens perception in me through particular objects. Identity assumes some time consciousness. The field has a complicated structure involving contrasts like affinity and strangeness; homogeneity and heterogeneity; contrast and affinity or similarity; repetition; blending, and association. They have their own affective power, though we must take in their power. We give attention to objects as they gain our interest. We have anticipations that either find satisfaction or disappointment (fulfillment and negation are part of perception and before making judgments). At this stage, we have a presumed existence, possibility becoming part of our experience. Some are questionable in terms of open possibility or problematic possibility. The general indeterminateness has a field of free variability. It is a member of an unbounded field of more precise determinations that can be accommodated to this framework but which, beyond this, are completely uncertain. This constitutes the concept of open possibility. In problematic possibility, there are inclinations to believe that are in conflict with each other and are motivated by the perceptual situation. A new investigation of the phenomenon of doubt makes this clear. To the essence of doubt belongs the possibility of its solution and eventually an active decision.
Then we have an awareness of the object as we have already known in some way, its internal horizon. Consciousness is always consciousness of something, which means that we have turned our gaze or attention toward something that was part of the background of the field of reality.
Then we have an awareness of its relation to other objects, its external horizon. Apprehension singles out every perceived object from a background in experience, in the field of intuition. We give our look or gaze upon the object. The intentional object is that which is valued, enjoyed, beloved, hoped. Since we have a stream of experience, our perception of objects changes. However, we experience reality, not just an image. Our sense data are signs of the existence of something independent of our perception and us. Further, sensation is always incomplete. Thus, the unity of every object occurs in time, and therefore the unity must catch up with itself. Therefore, all sensation is part of a field. The act of looking or turning our gaze upon some object in that field is prospective or anticipating the future experience of that object. Perception retains the past in the depth of the present. The object has its unity through time. Perception always allows the present to slip away into the past as fast it must catch up. Every perception is full of meaning. Space, however, is the power connecting experience, not just a container for it. Space is part of the phenomenal field. Perception occurs against a background already familiar to us. Perceiving is placing faith in one’s future, without the guarantees of that future. The things are stable and constant, yet part of an open system because of time. The synthesis of horizons that occurs in perception is a temporal process.
We also realize that our perceptual field includes other people. The body and mind form a unity. What is true of the body is true of all perceived things. The perception of space and the thing are not two separate things. We experience a unity of self in body. We cannot detach subject from object, speech from thought. We turn our gaze upon a sector of the landscape; we see a universe of beings that display themselves. To look at an object is to inhabit it. The merging of horizons in perception is nothing but an anticipation of a synthesis. Our bodies are not objects to us. The phenomenal field presupposes space, and we inhabit it through our bodies. Bodily experience forces us to acknowledge an imposition of meaning that is not the world of a universal constituting consciousness, a meaning that clings to certain contents. My body is that meaningful core that behaves like a general function, and which nevertheless exists, and is susceptible to disease. In it, we learn to know that union of essence and existence that we shall find again in perception generally, and that we shall then have to describe more fully.
We have a relation through contemplation that allows us to observe the connection in the midst of plurality. Separation/unity do exist. These are pieces of the same objective world. It is the life-world of human community, our earth. There is no perception that is not full of memories. Pure perception is no more in the sensory centers than in the motor centers. It measures the complexity of their relations, and is, in fact, where it appears to be. The aggregate of images is given to begin with, I can see clearly how my body comes to occupy, within this aggregate, a privileged position. There is the aggregate of images, and then there are centers of action from which the interesting images appear to be reflected. In this way, we give birth to perceptions and actions. My body is that which stands out as the center of these perceptions.
While perception measures the reflecting power of the body, affection measures its power to absorb. Perception measures our possible action upon things, and thereby the possible action of things upon us. The greater the body’s power of action, the wider is the field that perception embraces. My perception is outside my body and my affection within it. We must correct our theory of perception. There is no perception without affection. Affection is that part or aspect of the inside of our body that we mix with the image of external bodies. It is what we must first subtract from perception to get the image in its purity. Sensation is only vaguely localized.
There is in the images taken together, a privileged image, perceived in its depths and no longer only on the surface, the seat of affection and the source of action. I adopt this particular image as the center of my universe and as the physical basis of my personality. The process by which sensation arrives at extension, and the choice by each elementary sensation of a definite point in space, remain alike unexplained. Matter remains a mysterious entity. Our own nature remains enveloped in equal mystery. For these elementary unextended sensations that develop themselves in space, whence do they come, how are they born, what purpose do they serve? This hypothesis of ours is that instead of starting from affection, of which we can say nothing, we start from action, that is to say from our faculty of effecting changes in things, a faculty attested to by consciousness and toward which all the powers of the organized body are seen to converge. We place ourselves in the midst of extended images. This is my schematic theory of external perception. It is the theory of pure perception.
Attention is an adaptation of the body, the consciousness of an attitude toward an object in the flow of experience. Memory thus creates anew the present perception, or rather it doubles this perception by reflecting upon it either its own image or some other memory-image of the same kind. Every attentive perception truly involves a reflection. Attentive perception is often represented as a series of processes that make their way in single file. We must attribute to perception and to memory separate nervous elements. Perception is originally in things rather than in the mind, without us rather than within. Consciousness and mater, body and soul, meet each other in perception.
We have an intuition of the time-given character of this world. Every object has a temporal orientation. Connection, unity amid plurality has its foundation in this temporal plurality has its foundation in this temporal connection. Perceptions and experiences are related to a single time. Such connections are important to a phenomenology of time-consciousness. Everything that is engulfed in the continuum of pasts. It is the identical in the flux of change from the present to the enduring past. Enduring has its constitution in the flux of an ever new becoming: continual springing up and passing away. Objects have a perceived unity within an intuitive present horizon. However brief we suppose any perception to be, it always occupies a certain duration, and involves an effort of memory that prolongs, one into another, plurality of moments. An image may be without someone perceiving it. If, in order to pass from presence to representation, it were necessary to add something, the barrier would indeed be insuperable. Now, here is the image that I call a material object. I have the representation of it. How then does it not appear to be itself that which it is for me? It is because, being bound up with all other images, it is continued in those that follow it, our representation of things would thus arise from the fact that they are thrown back and reflected by our freedom. There is for images merely a difference of degree, and not of kind, between being and consciously perceiving being. The perception of any unconscious material point whatever, in its instantaneousness, is infinitely greater and more complete than ours, whereas our consciousness only attains to certain parts and to certain aspects of those parts. Consciousness concerning external perception lies in just this choice, namely, discernment. The sole question is to know how and why this image is chosen to form part of my perception, while an infinite number of other images remain excluded from it. We perceived it in itself and not in us. In hallucination and dreams, memory plays the chief part. Pure perception is no more in the sensory centers than in the motor centers. It measures the complexity of their relations, and is, in fact, where it appears to be.
A somewhat provocative way to put all this is to suggest that believing and trusting aid the rational process as much as doubt does. More often, scientists stress the importance of doubt to the scientific method, for this method helps in uprooting commonly held beliefs. Doubt and Belief often relate to the religious community. Here I use them to designate the starting of any question and the resolution of it. All human beings lead a form of life shaped by a set of background assumptions, including ancestral heritage, local custom and belief, and the specific culture and its traditions. Our belief system provides the intellectual framework that guides our search for all knowledge. The element of faith shapes all knowing. All we know is with us. It is present and operative within our knowing. It lurks behind the scenes, and it reveals itself only in the exactitude with which each minor increment to our knowing is affected. The business of the human mind in this life seems to be, not contemplation of what we know, but rather relentless devotion to the task of adding increments to a merely habitual knowledge. The growth of technology means that the global setting and the global culture will increasingly shape individuals in profound and unpredictable ways.
One way to note the importance of believing and doubting is through understanding paradigms or theories in rationality. What one sees depends on what one look at and what previous history determines we see. Indeed, such paradigms are a pre-requisite for seeing anything. We do not see the world in pieces, but as a whole. The pattern of rationality is conscious and operative before we inquire into its processes. Our intellectual framework acknowledges an already existing faith. The beginnings of perception require belief since belief in a world that we do not know. The striving toward knowledge of the objects in the world requires some belief in them and the world. All knowing implies unproved beliefs. Our norms and standards always reflect our interests and values. Our picture of intellectual flourishing is part of, and only makes sense as part of, our picture of human flourishing in general. All human knowledge is human; we mix knowledge with our errors, our prejudices, our dreams, and our hopes: all we can do is grope for truth even though it is beyond our reach.
A skeptic holds out an impossible human ideal of knowledge in which beliefs play no role. They have a life most like that of the freely swimming fish, who listens only to the promptings of instinct and perception; a life without commitment. A skeptic does not believe that false belief is the problem; he or she believes that having beliefs are the problem. Beliefs ought not to be a source of commitment, concern, care or vulnerability. The question is whether anyone can escape such commitments, whether conscious or subconscious. Yet, do we not swim around in our beliefs? They do not approach beliefs as having partial truth. Every belief is a disease, and the aim of the skeptic from the beginning is to subvert them. They do not seek truth from any source. This lack of commitment to others and emotional attachment to the world ought to be disturbing, even if it is a conceivable path of life. Yet, can such a pattern of life lead to a whole, meaningful, fulfilled life?
Of all things that we can know, it is but an insignificant proportion of what one could truthfully say. We do not have a hierarchical structure of beliefs, with higher members resting on lower members. There are things I know too well to have current reasons for believing them; too well to believe them for reasons. As a picture of how an individual’s belief system is organized in his mind, the thesis we are considering is unrealistic. Observation propositions are at least the ultimate checkpoints of knowledge. This is a more modest claim. We could not observe without the belief system that we hold. The function of relevant observations is often to give one access to the beliefs of another. Though all beliefs contain the possibility of doubt or question, any serious question concerning history, natural science, or practical affairs presupposes an enormous framework or background of things that we know. The formation of our corpus of belief is the causal outcome of our exposure to the world, including the instruction he receives from other members of his community. Such exposure involves observation, seeing and hearing. As Wittgenstein noted, when we first begin to believe anything, what we believe is not a single proposition; it is a whole system of propositions. Such modest elements of truth we can and must retain from the ruins of the foundationalist thesis. Not every accepted belief or purported piece of information can we check or test against the evidence of our eyes and ears; but some can be and should be.
A radical and all-pervasive skepticism is at worst senseless and at best idle. But one of the things we learn from experience is that a practical and selective skepticism is wise, particularly when what is in question are the assertions of interested parties or of people with strong partisan or ideological views, however personally disinterested they may be. Doubt arises when we question what we believe. Yet, we do not question everything at once. The suspension of belief in one area of our lives is supported by other beliefs. As we encounter objections to our belief system, we deal with them one by one. We allow the system to expand automatically when we encounter new knowledge. To believe anything is to assume that it could be false. We can only believe in something that might be false. Our personal commitment to knowledge means we actively enter upon an activity. Such activity carries the risk of failure. Therefore, all knowledge is personal. Such personal commitment leaves no room for impersonal, objective truth or falsity.
We excite the action of thought by the irritation of doubt, and cease when we attain belief. The energy we place into thinking and rationality is arrival at reasonable belief. However the doubt may originate, it stimulates the mind to an activity that may be slight or energetic, calm or turbulent. Images pass rapidly through consciousness, one incessantly melting into another, until at last, we find ourselves decided as to how we should act under such circumstances as those that occasioned our hesitation. In other words, we have attained belief. Thought is a thread of melody running through the succession of our sensations.
This process does not become intentional until one has experiences that cause one to question what one has assumed. We must set down the relevant appearances. The views that any philosopher formulates are always essentially a response to some question that presents itself as coming from the outside. Any view becomes a live option, so long as someone succeeds in raising a question about it in their own or someone else's mind. To get anywhere, we need to start somewhere. We need starting points, but those starting points do not need to be here rather than there.
What should be the relation between the beliefs we form about the world, with their aspirations to universality, and the admission that the world might be completely different from the way we think it is? In essence, we produce a split in the self that will not go away. The split is between what we believe now, and what we shall be in the future. The world is beyond what we can conceive, and thus is beyond the reach of our minds. Most of what occurs in the universe occurs independently of our thought or action. Our knowledge of the world is partial knowledge. The world includes things of which we cannot and never could conceive. We are embedded in a world larger than we can conceive. Yet, our development of concepts of the world is not a mistake. It is an important part of our attempt to situate ourselves in the world, come to commitments, beliefs, and values, and order our lives and world.
We move from experiencing to the effort to understand as constitutive of our conscious intelligence. We must set out the puzzles or dilemmas with which they confront us. The phenomena present us with a confused array, often with direct contradiction. They reflect our disagreements and ambivalences. Reflective thought requires perplexity, confusion and doubt, as well as a search directed toward bringing to light further facts that serve to corroborate or to nullify the suggested belief. We must bring conflicting opinions to surface and set them out clearly, marshaling the considerations for and against each side, showing clearly how the adoption of a certain position on one issue would affect our positions to others. Without this serious attempt to describe the puzzles, we are likely to accept too quickly a solution that disguises or avoids the problem. In order for understanding to progress, we must bring the argument to the experiences of belief and doubt, to the originating inquiry that generated the puzzle, and show that our account preserves the truthfulness of the experience.
Given a difficulty, the next step is suggestion of some way out, which immediately suggests the opposite movement of faith, trust, and commitment. This means the formation of some tentative plans or project, the entertaining of some theory that will account for the peculiarities in question, and the consideration of some solution for the problem. Reflective thinking is always more or less troublesome because it involves overcoming the inertia that inclines one to accept suggestions at their face value. It involves willingness to endure a condition of mental unrest and disturbance.
Reflective thinking means suspending judgment during inquiry. That suspense is likely to be painful. The most important factor in the training of good mental habits consists in acquiring the attitude of suspended conclusion, and in mastering the various methods of searching for new materials to corroborate or to refute the first suggestions that occur. To maintain the state of doubt and to carry on systematic and protracted inquiry – these are the essentials of thinking.
The adequacy or correspondence of form and content has an anticipatory character. The anticipatory form of knowledge corresponds to an element of the not yet within the reality toward which knowing directs itself. The identity of things in themselves is not yet complete. Analysis of the historicity of experiencing that the meaning of the events and things that we experience changes with the alteration of the context over the course of time. We cannot equate the essence of things and events automatically with their meaning for us. We have our location in a particular space and time, and thus experience the essence of things and events as we perceive them in our space and time. Events and things themselves already stand within contexts that change over the course of time.
The possibility of attaining knowledge through rationality presupposes correspondence between rationality and the reality toward which rationality directs itself. Evolution has proceeded in such a way that human beings have brains with the capacity to reflect upon the world, engage with the world, and understand oneself as immersed in that world. Yet, this does not require reduction to physicalism in the sense of viewing the brain as nothing more than a computer. Biology and genetics form the basis of all of human life; they do not form the totality of human life. Human beings find their wholeness outside themselves, rather than working out a genetic code. The world is a puzzle for human beings, a puzzle that keeps challenging us to make this world increasingly more like a home. The natural world is a puzzle, with the harshness of life, diseases, as well as its beauty and tenderness. The social world is a puzzle in that we struggle with how we can best form our life together. The emergence of rationality is the form that evolution took to help human beings make the world intelligible to them.
Knowledge is always open to further verification or falsification by additional information from the senses, as well as our individual intuitions and the community of persons who seek knowledge. We do not need to have an impossible ideal for the standard of knowledge in order to have confidence of the world in which we live, as well as confidence in ourselves. We can have confidence in what we know without being certain. Knowledge requires only the best possible reasons for believing what we know. I may be wrong and the other may be right. By an effort of reasoning, we get closer to the truth. Everybody is liable to mistakes. People should be their own judge. This view suggests the idea of impartiality. This confidence in rationality is not just in my own, but also in the rationality of others. Other people have a right to express themselves and defend their arguments. This implies tolerance.
The skeptic often challenges others with the observation that we cannot know what we think we know with certainty. As I have suggested, the nature of human knowledge is such that it is never closed. I could be dreaming. I could hallucinate. The only way I can verify what I perceive and know in this instance is to dialogue and confirm with others. Generally, the skeptic assumes that others view their knowledge as a closed system. I have suggested that most of us understand that what we know today is open to further amendment through experience and dialogue.
Every solution of a problem raises new unsolved problems. Though there are no general criteria by which we can recognize truth, there is something like criteria of progress towards the truth. Scientists accept the lack of specificity in human knowledge. People learn by trial and error. Notions, paradigms or rules, these ways of looking at the world, while generally needed and helpful, can blind us to evidence that does not fit our notions. Thus, to realize that whatever truths we live by are not the only truths is an important step for us to take. We need to become open to that which does not fit our notions. We need to listen to what is actually out there, in the world. As important as those rules or notions are, they need not inhibit us from making new discoveries.
Scientists develop the skill of destructive analysis, or doubt. This requires rigorous honesty. We need to be scrupulous with others about our data, logic, and procedures. We need to be honest about the limitations of the present state of human knowledge. This requires humility before the data, especially as one develops hypothesis to explain that data. Only observations and experimentation will verify their truth.
We move from understanding with its various and conflicting expressions to critical reflection, a process constitutive of our critical rationality, the demand for sufficient reason that operates prior to formulation of the principle sufficient reason. The principles or procedures we use suggest that what appears universally believed we do not entirely discard and that nothing we have to be using in order to argue or inquire can be thrown out. Education and experience should bring sensitive awareness of the communal process of rationality and intelligence intellectual habituate us.
The notion of judgment is the yes/no of commitment. The notion of judgment involves personal commitment. A judgment is the responsibility of the one that judges. The reflective understanding is prospective judgment. It relates present to the past, relations within the present, and relations of the present to the future. Giving assent and dissent results in personal commitment. One may merely consider a proposition. One may also agree or disagree with a proposition. It is an object of thought. It may also be the content of an act of judging. We also relate propositions to questions.
The most important source of our knowledge is tradition. Our norms and standards of warranted assertions are historical products; they evolve in time. A standpoint delivers to us a piece of the world, a view of the world, a perspective on the world. A standpoint renders the world accessible. The world has its own intelligibility. Intelligibility is inherent in the world and ontologically independent of our perspectives. This intelligibility is coherent to human beings through language. Meaning is a not a mysterious gift from outside nature. An ontological gap between world and us does not exist. Our beliefs are answerable to the world.
Rationality treats individuals and groups as responsible agents of history. However, once we view ourselves as parts of the world, assigning responsibility to individual agents of action becomes difficult. Everything about the individual seems to blend the individual into the surroundings over which the individual has no control. Our assignment of blame or praise is an important awareness of responsibility on the part of individuals, even if we cannot fully justify this action to ourselves or others. The judgment implies alternatives open to the individual. I may feel my action as originating in me, even if objective analysis may point to many external factors that led to that action.
This conception of ourselves as agents suggests that we are not impotent spectators of our lives, thus conferring a sense of our freedom in the midst of choices. As much as we view ourselves as intimately connected to a web of relationships, we ultimately come back to a connection with our actions that form us and influence others. We live in a world in which giving reasons makes sense, for the world is independent of what I think. The problem we face is to discover the form that reasons for action take. The same is true with values.
Although many arguments advance relativism at this point, the fact that we can carry on this discourse, come to some resolution, and make genuine advances, suggests something real exists that we call value, ethics, and morality. We investigate something real, namely, how to live well in our life together. As technology has advanced us toward a global culture, the problem becomes increasingly acute. Agent neutral values and beliefs are the reason we engage in discourse and giving reasons to others.
Our knowledge of the world, as well as of ourselves, is genuine only to the extent that we can give adequate reasons for believing what we know. This statement holds true for all forms of knowledge, whether in science and technology, economics, politics, morality, or religion. The fact of differences of opinion or belief does not mean that we cannot gain confidence in these areas.
Yet, the notion of judgment raises the question of the criteria by which one judges. Criteria are “criteria for something’s being so,” not in the sense that they tell us of a thing’s existence, but of something like its identity. Criteria do not determine the certainty of statements, but the application of the concepts employed in statements.
Criteria are specifications a given person or group sets up based on which to judge whether something has a particular status or value. When we appeal to the application of criteria, we do not have a separate stage at which one might appeal, explicitly or implicitly, to the application of standards. We want to think that evidence governs our knowledge. However, criteria govern all our knowledge, everything we assert or question. That suggests that every surmise and each tested conviction depend upon the same structure or background of necessities and agreements that judgments of value explicitly do. Both statements of fact and judgments of value rest upon the same capacities of human nature. Only a creature that can judge value can state a fact.
Whether a statement is warranted or not is independent of whether the majority of one’s cultural peers would say it is warranted or unwarranted. Scientists work with certain operating assumptions that guide their work. This framework helps them to interpret new facts that may come their way. However, new facts may also change the framework with which the scientist operates. That kind of change, as for most of us, is difficult to make. The scientific community recognizes the importance of tools and the framework of knowledge. We have tools to gain knowledge. We have a framework of intellectual assumptions that determine what we see. The scientist desires that his or her framework will increasingly reflect the universe as it is. Normal science does not seek novelty, and when successful, finds none. It is committed to a set of rules, and finds that those rules or paradigms confirmed in the tests and experiments that scientists perform and problems that are solved. In fact, such paradigms guide scientists as to what problems to deal with and help them solve the puzzle. We see what is consistent with our pre-conceived notion of what we ought to see. All of us have such notions. They are useful in that they establish the boundaries of our experience and they help us become successful within those boundaries.
The philosophical appeal to what we say, and the search for our criteria based on which we say what we say, are claims to community. I have nothing more to go on than my conviction, my sense that I make sense. It may prove to be the case that I am wrong, that my conviction isolates me, from all others, and from myself. The wish and search for community are the wish and search for reason. Some philosophers voice our secrets, secrets we did not know were known, or did not know we shared. Our ability to establish criteria depend upon a prior agreement in judgments. It is also a way of settling judgments. Criteria calls to consciousness the astonishing fact of the astonishing extent to which we do agree in judgment. Eliciting criteria goes to show therefore that our judgments are public or shared. What makes this astonishing is that the extent of agreement is so intimate and pervasive; that we communicate in language as rapidly and completely as we do. We cannot have agreed beforehand to all that would be necessary. Language presumes the attunement of one human being’s words with those of others. They sometimes are out of tune, they do not agree.
We move from judgments of fact or possibility to judgments of value, decision, and commitment as constitutive of us as conscientious, responsible persons. Making decisions through this process involves change. Some will be relatively minor as we make slight adjustments to the system of belief of which we are aware. Others will changes will bring dramatic shifts. Such change does not occur easily.
We have this power for conceiving and contemplating a future possibility and of imagining other people, things, or situations (envisagement), which puts on us a burden that purely alert, realistic creatures do not bear, the burden of understanding. We live not only in a place, but also in space. We live not only at a time, but also in history. We must conceive a world and a law of the world, a pattern of life, and a way of meeting death. Our characteristic function and highest asset is conception, our greatest fright is to meet what we cannot construe.
One way to
approach decision-making and change is to look again at paradigms. Science can
experience a shift in paradigms when it experiences the awareness of an anomaly
that the dominant paradigm cannot explain or predict. The scientific community gradually observes
the pervasive nature of the anomaly and recognizes it as a legitimate
problem. Such observations can be on
such a massive scale that they require the community to adopt a completely new
view of the world, as in the shift from Ptolemy to Copernicus or from
We have a tacit awareness of life. Few have an insight into the whole that logically precedes our grasp of individual beings. Since such questions arise out of our own inquiries, they arise out of our awareness of self and world. Such questions are always inquiries into our own self, as well as into the world. The answers to our questions are not obvious. We inquire both about individual things and about the nature of the one who inquires about it. We know this totality in a tacit, provisional way, given the fact of our inquiry. We inquire about what we already know. Knowledge is an activity by which the one that knows returns into the self. This is the tacit character of knowledge and meaning. Within a framework, we anticipate the new and unprecedented. Given new knowledge, we assimilate into our framework, or we adapt our framework to the new facts. We live with the paradox of self-reliance, while at the same time believing that reality will show itself in unexpected ways. We believe we possess intellectual control over a wide range of issues. Yet, we also anticipate that we will meet novel things and have unspecified results. To perceive a problem is to add to our knowledge. We assume the existence of hidden possibilities that lead to resolution of the problem. This is the process of discovery. Only the future can demonstrate the truth of falsehood of the stated problem.
In the time when there are competing paradigms, the scientific community actually has alternative visions of the world. To transfer from one paradigm to another require something similar to a conversion that no one can force. It often takes a new generation of scientists before the new paradigm is accepted. The issue becomes which paradigm should guide future research. Very simply, there is not evidence or proof that anyone can give. There must be reason enough to place one's faith in it.
Such a shift in paradigms is something like conversion. Conversion introduces something new and distinct and puts everything on a new basis, while at the same time needs, includes, and preserves the previous horizon and carries it forward to a fuller realization within a richer context. The opposite of a conversion is a breakdown of one’s horizon of meaning. The presence of complementary horizons can build bridges. The presence of dialectically opposed horizons involves mutual repudiation.
Our understanding is always subject to revision when confronted with more convincing evidence and interpretations. The hermeneutical circle concerns this tentative nature of understanding. We start with vague anticipations of the whole, which we revise the more we engage the text and subject matter itself. It suggests some coherence between the whole and the parts. True experience leads to an openness to every newer experience. Someone with experience will also be ready to leave things open, to tolerate a plurality of possible interpretations, because no single one really exhaust the possibilities. Human beings cannot achieve closure to their understanding. Our understanding implies our presence in our understanding. We bring ourselves into our understanding. Yet, we can transcend those perspectives that prove fruitless or inept. This hermeneutical circle is the constant process that consists of the revision of the anticipations of understanding in light of a better and more cogent understanding of the whole. This coherence of the whole and parts is guided by the anticipation of perfection of what we seek to understand. This tacit anticipation means understanding presupposes that the meaning to be understood builds a perfectly coherent whole, until all else fails.
This hermeneutical circle helps us to move toward an increasingly humble approach to any conclusions we draw. Human understanding is always – human. The finitude of human knowledge points to the conditions of human knowledge that our knowledge itself cannot hope to survey in order to predict how they will operate in any given situation. Finitude points to a dependency of knowledge on conditions that the human knower can never fully know. If one cannot know fully these conditions, then this challenges us to revise our understanding of the type of autonomous control we can hope to exercise over our own cognitive endeavors. This thought of our finitude forces us to rethink our self-understanding of what it means to be a free agent in the realm of knowing. History and language function as conditions of our knowledge that outstrip our ability to identify and justify fully our dependence on them. They are known partially, but our knowledge cannot encompass all the possible ways these factors function as conditions of knowledge. If we cannot survey these conditions exhaustively, making them transparent to our reason, we cannot hope to be certain about how they will exercise their influence. One cannot completely know the knower and the conditions of the knowledge the knower.
comes in many forms. Conversion may have the form of lengthy inner development
or an immediate and total transformation. It will have something to do with
Intellectual conversion is a radical clarification and the elimination of an exceedingly stubborn and misleading myth concerning reality, objectivity, and human knowledge. Our intellectual framework is difficult to dislodge. For this reason, a negative result of our need for a belief system is that our devotion to our framework tends to prevent the generation of alternative concepts based upon new evidence. Yet, norms and standards of anything are capable of reform. Scientists learn the process of integrating knowledge from various areas of science. The smaller bits of knowledge, when integrated properly, can lead to resolving the issues that science must face.
Moral conversion changes the criterion of one’s decisions and choices from satisfactions to values. The norms and standards one has in the values that shape one’s life are capable of reform.
Religious conversion is like falling in love without reservation, a surrender of self without conditions. The norms and standards one has in determining what gives ultimate value and meaning to life is capable of reform.
Whatever agreement we get is rooted in a persuasion that goes beyond a commitment to objects. It involves a way of life. Belief, or faith, is where we start. It is also where we end.
A friend and I stand before a landscape, and I attempt to show my friend something that I see and that he does not yet see. We cannot account for the situation by saying that I see something in my own world and that I attempt to give rise to an analogous perception in the world of my friend. There are not two numerically distinct worlds plus a mediating language that alone would bring us together. There is a kind of demand that what I see be seen by him also, demonstrated when I become impatient with him. At the same time, the very thing that I am looking at requires this communication. The thing imposes itself not as true for every intellect, but as real for every subject who is standing where I am. This unity is not an illusion. I must find myself in relation with another “myself,” who is open to the same truths as I am, in relation to the same being that I am. I see another subjectivity invested with equal rights appear, because the behavior of the other takes place within my perceptual field. My body founds the unity of the objects that I perceive. The body of another tears itself away from being one of my phenomena and offers me the task of true communication. Such are the elements of a description of the perceived world.
Where does the why come from? This primordial drive is the pure question. It is before any insights, any concepts, and any words. Direct insight meets the spontaneous effort of intelligence to understand; it grasps the point, sees the solution, or comes to know the reason. Inverse insight responds to a more subtle and critical attitude, apprehending that the point is that there is no point, the solution is to deny a solution, and that the rationality of the real admits distinctions and qualifications. Any given insight or cluster of insights has essential, significant, and important results. The incidental, irrelevant, and negligible consists in the empirical residue that is left over without explanation even when a science or group of sciences reaches full development.
ideal detective story, the reader receives all the clues yet fails to spot the
criminal. We may advert to each clue as
it arises. We need no further clues to
solve the mystery. Yet, we can remain in
the dark for the simple reason that reaching the solution is not the mere
apprehension of any clue, not the mere memory of all, but a quite distinct
activity of organizing intelligence that places the full set of clues in a
unique explanatory perspective.
inquiry aims at insight.
also learn to look for clues and listen to their own hunches as they work on a
scientific problem. They learn to accept the role of feeling and intuition. In
a subtle way, they learn the role of personal commitment and devotion to the
task. If the vision and the task are large enough, scientists can invest large
amounts of time and energy into a scientific problem. Such commitment requires
faith that there is a solution. Such commitment requires belief in a solution
that they do not yet see or understand. Such commitment requires belief in the
now hidden possibilities of solving the scientific problem that has attracted
their attention. The process of discovery is often a matter of a person seeing
something there while others saw nothing.
The scientist focuses attention on one object, while there is also the
field that lies in the background and occasionally comes to the awareness of
the scientist. That background is always
present and undoubtedly affects the scientist's knowing in ways he or she could
not identify. That background affects
awareness of what we study. This
subjective, informal act of the scientist is an important part of the work of
the scientist. The objects of scientific knowledge, even the smallest part of
nature, do not reveal their secrets easily. The time spent in school studying,
the time spend in research, requires a sense of calling. The assimilation of
the framework of science helps the scientist makes sense of experience. Such
commitment is an act of responsible decision-making. The individual submits to
what he or she claims to be true. Such a decision is an act of hope that
determines one’s calling in life. We cannot downplay the importance of personal
commitment and passion in gaining the knowledge that scientists seek. We have the joy of discovery and exploration.
We experience the restlessness of the human mind. We are not satisfied with
what we have and know. Passion in science helps to distinguish between what is
important or significant from what is not. In the ideal detective story, the
reader receives all the clues yet fails to spot the criminal. We may advert to each clue as it arises. We need no further clues to solve the
mystery. Yet, we can remain in the dark
for the simple reason that reaching the solution is not the mere apprehension
of any clue, not the mere memory of all, but a quite distinct activity of
organizing intelligence that places the full set of clues in a unique
Our love of truth guides the process of human knowing, as Plato, Aristotle, Locke, Kant, Hegel, and Descartes have suggested. Science directs us toward the oneness of truth and the unity of the totality of reality through the concepts of the field theory and the theory of relativity. All human knowledge is an attempt, through personal conviction, to gain access to truth and to the totality of reality. Our desire to gain genuine contact with a reality that is external to us helps us to avoid skepticism and subjectivity. Our intention is knowledge that all persons will acknowledge.
The joy of discovery in knowledge is not just for us as individuals. We submit what we know to the independent judgment of the public arena. We do this in the hopes that our argument will be compelling and satisfying to others. In this way, knowledge is personal, but not subjective. Our personal involvement in knowledge means that we perceive reality and truth in many ways.
Intelligence is not limited to the professional scientist and mathematician. Farmers, employers and workers, technicians and mechanics, doctors and lawyers, politicians and diplomats, all have intelligence. In every case, they show a grater readiness to catch on, to get the point, to see the issue, to grasp implications, in acquiring know-how. It can unfold in math and science in a methodical way. The child has a secret wonder, especially after he or she unravels the mystery of language. We experience spontaneous inquiry and the accumulation of related insights. Common sense is a specialization of intelligence in the particular and the concrete. It is common without being general, for it consists in a set of insights that remains incomplete until there is added at lease one further insight into the situation in hand. Once that situation has passed, the added insight is no longer relevant, so that common sense at once reverts to its normal state of incompleteness. Thus, common sense may seem to argue from analogy, but its analogies defy logical formulation. It never aspires to universally valid knowledge. It never attempts exhaustive communication. Its concern is the concrete and particular. Its function is to master each situation as it arises. Its procedure is to reach an incomplete set of insights that is to be completed only by adding on each occasion the further insights that scrutiny of the occasion reveals. It would be an error for common sense to attempt to formulate its incomplete set of insights in definitions and postulates and to work out their presuppositions and implications. It has no use for a technical language and no tendency towards a formal mode of speech. It agrees that one must say what one means and mean what one says. Its correspondence between saying and meaning is at once subtle and fluid. It undertakes communication, not as an exercise in formal logic, but as a work of art. The plane of reality envisioned by common sense is quite distinct from the plan that the sciences explore. Science concerns itself with relations. Common sense is not concerned with the relations or technical terms. Yet, both concern themselves with the senses. We are capable of aesthetic liberation and artistic creativity, but in our own daily living. The way we clothe ourselves, house ourselves, and even eat, has artistic quality.
We are artists. Our practicality is part of our dramatic pursuit of dignified living. This occurs in inter-subjective community. Society constrains the individual in many ways. We have no choice about wanting to understand. We are committed not by any decision of our own but by nature to intelligent behavior. We may want a different social order, but we never give ourselves completely to anarchy. This is the radical tension within community. The advantage of one group commonly goes against another group. Some part of the energies of all groups diverts itself to the supererogatory activity of devising and implementing offensive and defensive mechanisms. Instead of being developed by our environment, we turn to transforming our environment in our own self-development. We anticipate possible schemes and discover emergent probability. Common sense is unequal to the task of thinking at the level of history.
Common sense is that vague name given to the unknown source of a large and floating population of elementary judgments that everyone makes, everyone relies on, and almost everyone regards as obvious and indisputable. It rests upon collaboration.
We have not asked whether those who know have knowledge of the self; we ask solely whether the knower can perform the act of self-affirmation. To affirm consciousness is to affirm that cognitional process is not merely a procession of contents but also a succession of acts. Were the unity of consciousness not given, it would have to be postulated. To ask, “am I a knower” is rationally conscious. Yes is a coherent answer, while no is incoherent.
We use practical reason as we examine the natural attitude toward the world. We experience daily life in naïve terms and take it for granted. We believe in the world; we have faith in the reality of the world; we have faith in the given quality of the world. We discover this world in the natural attitude immediately and intuitively; we can speak of an unmediated seeing. We accept the experience of inter-subjective and inter-cultural reality. We accept the given quality of an inter-subjective reality in which essentially the same world exists for all of us. In the natural attitude: 1) the fact-world, the mundane world of daily life, has no origin; it is simply there; 2) this fact-world is an inter-subjective reality which we tacitly accept as a shared world; 3) any doubt we experience is either piecemeal doubt or wholesale doubt concerning the world. However, such wholesale doubt is not possible in the purest sense of the term, for we cannot doubt everything. No matter what we doubt or how much we doubt, we stand somewhere firmly. We might suggest that it would be better to believe everything than to doubt everything, for then we could at least discern if some of the things we believe are not appropriate. If we doubt everything, we theoretically have no place to stand, a place none of us can be as human beings. We can point out features of the natural attitude, even while we cannot say that the daily life of people has such self-conscious awareness.
Most people experience the structure of daily life in a naïve way. Thus, each of us has a body; we locate the bodies of others at some distance from our bodies. Each experience presents itself to us as a horizon of potentiality. The presented experience seizes us from some perspective, the range going from epistemological to cultural placement. The natural attitude both is a fundamental horizon and includes horizons. Perception as horizon has common sense implanted in it. Reality presents itself in aspects, profiles that reveal the unity of the object or event in gradual ways. Every experience presents itself in that some facet of the totality shows itself and at the same time reveals a further segment of the whole. All profiles point beyond themselves to the hidden frame of unity in which they participate in or disclose. Our consciousness has a past horizon and a future horizon; it has the capacity to retain and to anticipate. We extend the present as a living present, a multi-dimensional reality.
Horizon suggests a boundary. As one moves about, the horizon recedes in front and closes in behind so that, for different standpoints, there are different horizons. For each different standpoint and horizon, there are different divisions of the totality of visible objects. Beyond the horizon lie the objects that we cannot see. The horizon is an adequate picture of the boundary or limit we face in our field of vision, the scope of our knowledge, and the range of our interests. What lies beyond one’s horizon is simply outside the range of our knowledge and interests. Horizons are the sweep of our interests and of our knowledge. They are the fertile source of further knowledge and care. They also are the boundaries that limit our capacities for assimilating more than we already have attained. Differences in horizon may be complementary.
The essence of consciousness is its directionality. Self-consciousness is simply perception of self. We find ourselves as confusing and unintelligible as we find the external world. We must set about to learn the structure and activities of our inner life no less than those of the external world. In time, we learn about ourselves through a process of conceptual development and learned discrimination. We are attentive animals; we can give our attention to relatively faint stimuli. We can pick out sounds at a distance. All perceptual acts have one dominant characteristic in that they point toward or intend, some object. All thinking is thinking of something; all willing is willing of something; all imagining is imagining of something. Perception is not a state but a mobile activity. Perception projects itself toward its intended object, but we do not understand that object as a thing, but as the correlate of its accompanying act or acts. What remains is the object as meant in terms of its given quality. In phenomenology, the natural attitude recognizes the real thing and engages the actual perception.
Analysis arises out of our quarrel with the natural attitude of everyday life and out of our quarrel with ourselves. The attention we give enables us to organize the field of experience in which we are going to act; we act and determine the environment. We go out and determine that to which we respond, and organize our world.
The lack of certain, definitive knowledge ought not to discourage us. The more knowledge we have, the more we realize how little we know. Every bit of knowledge we gain opens up more questions. This is true, even for the exalted discipline of science. Science is not an ivory tower or revelation from another world. Science is not a ghetto of knowledge separated from other human endeavors. Science is part of our common desire to know, rooted in common sense and the home-world of everyday life. Such foundations make it impossible for the conclusions of science to have the same certainty as deduction in mathematics and logic.
The role of the local epistemic community in communicative action becomes crucial in this relational epistemology. Each epistemic community has values that guide it toward certain goals and forms of life and discounts others. For example, important differences exist between the physical sciences and the human sciences, and between them and theology. However, we can identify some common elements when rationality is at work. First, evaluative critique involves linking up with some social practices, modifying other social practices, and rejecting still other social practices. Human beings have the capacity to offer rationally asses situations and make judgments based upon those assessments. Even making moral and religious choices involve similar uses of rationality in making evaluative judgments as human beings use in everyday life, science, and other domains of human life. Second, engaged articulation gives good reasons that both recollect the past and anticipate the future. Third, incursive disclosure involves connecting and accurately representing the world, thereby moving beyond language and to the natural and social world the language directs us.
I would suggest several such communities in a modern society. What modern society needs is a form of communication and integration of knowledge across the various sub-cultures of which modern society consists. This means moving against the tendency toward segmentation and appreciating the need every local community or sub-culture has for its own fullness to interact with others. This means that no single sub-community within a modern culture has the resources for creating a meta-narrative that justifies all knowledge.
Individuals typically trust their local epistemic communities, unless something occurs that shakes such trust. Truth first functions in such local contexts, and only slowly achieves some form of standardization across communities and possibly across cultures. This shows the open-ended and temporal nature of truth. Science, math, logic, and technology have achieved applicable in multiple cultural contexts. The point is that since human rationality and human experience are the source of these communities, and that the objective is to make the world intelligible, relational epistemology applies within communities and across communities.
The fact that no objective reference for knowledge, and therefore no definitive and certain foundation for knowledge, exists in a human world means that all theories and all knowledge are fallible and open to future configurations of truth. Formulations of truth as consensus of a community become provisional and anticipatory in nature. Rationality is accountable to experience. We relate to the world epistemically through mediated experience. We acknowledge the theory-laden character of data in experience. This view reminds us of the ambiguity of meaning, for empirical and uninterpreted facts do not exist. It also reminds us of the richness of experience. Such a relational epistemology recognizes that local communities have their source in the universal experience of human rationality and have a weak objective in the universal application of truth. This view of epistemology is not simple relativism because each local community is embedded in a larger cultural context, and each culture is part of a global culture. This relational epistemology recognizes unity in the common experience of rationality and anticipation of a weak link to the potential unification of truth. The particular experience in local epistemic communities gives human beings a sense of the universal pursuit of truth. One who does not see the point of a language game cannot tell if one uses the criteria or rules in the game properly. This allows appeal to enter the public arena with their strong beliefs in tact, while remaining open to what one may learn from other communities.
I would now like to provide what I am sure is an incomplete list of local communities in a modern society.
One is the social or cultural community. This community values the human experience of life together, individuals coming face to face with each other, and the embedded nature of the individual life in the social world. Tradition and community become important considerations in ethical reflection. It considers the ethos or worldview through which one experiences one’s world. Reflection upon this region of life attempts to bring to clarity and consciousness that which most people simply assume to be true. The form of life in a culture is broader than any single domain of human endeavor. Science, ethics, religion, or politics, do not monopolize or determine the form of life of a society. It involves the language and culture that shape the way people interact. A largely free society is so important because the pursuit of truth is open-ended. Humanity has few areas in which there are final answers. Freedom of inquiry best suits this openness of humanity to the unfolding future. Freedom of inquiry is the way society educates itself.
Two is the ethical community. Although this community includes everyone, it specifically includes a variety of communities that have as a primary part of their purpose reflection upon ethical life, such as religious communities and moral philosophers. Ethical reflection values individuals in distinction from the value they have for society. However, ethical reflection cuts across many communities. It has its source in the human experience of good and evil, the tension between what I ought to do and I in fact do, and the experience of guilt or shame and self-affirmation of behavior. It is a reflection upon the guilt of not treating the other well or pleasure in treating the other well. Such universal experience combined with rationality lead us to consider that ethical life is not simply a local affair. Ethical discourse, like other domains of human community and discourse, have universal implications. Ethical life is not simply true for the people who abide by that life, but also have implications for others.
Three is the aesthetic community. It consists of philosophers of art and those who express themselves in artistic ways. It has its source in the experience of the beautiful and grotesque. It values the distinction between what attracts and repels, what motivates us toward creating beautiful things, rather than simply useful things.
Four is the political community. I include in this community those who practice political life, those who teach political theory and government, and those who research and study it. It has its source in the experience of organizing life together in just ways. This community values some degree of order over chaos, justice and fairness over oppression. It considers the relationship between government and the rest of society.
Five is the economic community. I include in this community actual business community as well as those who teach business and economics. This community values the growth of wealth in a country and moves against poverty.
Six is the legal community. It has its source in the experience of lack of fairness and oppression in life, and desires justice. This community values justice as over against oppression.
Seven is the family as a social community. It has its source in the experience of loneliness and the desire for intimate connection with another. This community values intimate friendships, sexuality, and the raising of children.
Eight is the education community. It has its source in the experience of ignorance and the desire to increase knowledge. This community values growth of the knowledge needed to make one’s way in a modern society. Education is the society renews itself.
Nine is the scientific community. This community focuses upon understanding the natural world, of which human beings are the most complex products of the evolutionary process.
Ten is the medical community. It has its source in the experience of sickness or disease and the desire for health. It values health over sickness.
Eleven is the psychological community. It has its source in valuing mental health, personality, temperament, over distorted thinking of self or others. This community focuses upon the human experience of growing a self or self-identity in the context of family and community.
Twelve is the philosophical community. This community has its source in the human experience of rationality and the various shapes that rationality takes in personal and institutional life.
Thirteen is the religious community. This community focuses upon the human experience of the finite and temporal as carved out of the Infinite and Eternal.
I do not pretend to “get” much of what philosophers and mathematics are about. However, allow me to share the portions of this branch of philosophy that I can understand and consider significant. What we deal with here are questions of first principles. We grasp them and use them already, inside our experience. To enunciate them is to attempt to understand principles we already use.
Logic concerns itself with the soundness of the claims we make. It concerns itself with the solidity of the grounds we produce to support them and the firmness of the backing we provide for them. It concerns itself with the sort of case we present in defense of our claims. Logic is generalized jurisprudence. Arguments can be compared with lawsuits, and the claims we make and arguments for in extra-legal contexts with claims made in the courts, while the cases we present in making good each kind of claim can be compared with each other. This parallel between logic and jurisprudence helps to keep the critical function of reason at the center. A sound argument, a well-grounded or firmly backed claim, is one which will stand up to criticism, one for which a case can be presented coming up to the standard required if it is to deserve a favorable verdict. The form in logic does not guarantee the soundness of argument. The chief attraction of the mathematical approach to logic has always been that it alone gave anything like a clear answer to the question of the soundness of reasoning. The notion of logical form remains impenetrably obscure, at least for this author. The analogy between rational assessment and judicial practice presents us with a rival model for thinking about the idea of logical form. It now appears that arguments must not just have a particular shape. They must be set out and present in a sequence of steps conforming to certain basic rules of procedure. The fear of lapsing into psychology has led to numerous twists and turns in the mathematical logic that make discussion of terms like possibility and probability incredibly obscure. Logic is critical science and not a natural science. Logic does not describe a subject-matter and is not “about” anything. When we qualify assertions, we do nothing more than put our listeners on alert to more or less stock in the assertion. Aesthetic judgments and predictions may never attain more certainty than this. The model of jurisprudence suggests that we begin with data that suggests certain conclusions. We must be able to give certain rational arguments to warrant the conclusion. Every conclusion has a possible rebuttal, and we must be able to deal with this “interlocutor” in our presentation of the case. Analytic arguments create an exaggerated appearance of uniformity as between arguments in different fields. They tend to disguise great differences. Analytic arguments are those in which the backing and warrant for the conclusion are contained in the conclusion itself. That toward which we aim is a substantive argument in which the conclusion does not already contain the backing and warrant one uses to establish it. Mathematical arguments are seductive as model because of their elegance. They do not represent how human beings actually argue their case before others.
The categories of formal logic were built up from a study of the analytic syllogism. This is an unrepresentative and misleadingly simple sort of argument. Many of the paradoxical commonplaces of formal logic and epistemology spring from the misapplication of these categories to arguments of others sorts. Formal logicians have misconceived their categories and reached their conclusions by a series of mistakes and misunderstandings. These over-simplified categories of formal logic fit nicely into the prejudice that logicians from the time of Aristotle have had for geometric proportion, an attraction that the model of jurisprudence could never overcome. However, an idealized logic cannot keep in serious contact with its practical application. Rational demonstration is not a suitable subject for a timeless, axiomatic science.
What adequate grounds do we have for the claims to knowledge that we make? Are the grounds on which we base our claims to knowledge every really up to standard? In reality, no amount of data we accumulate will match the certainty that analytical arguments achieve. We cannot salvage our everyday claims to knowledge, apart from pure mathematics, on the basis of the mathematical ideal.
This suggests that logic and epistemology need to come together. This applied logic becomes a comparative affair, suggesting that arguments in one field are not superior to those in another. We must re-introduce historical, empirical, and psychological considerations into logic and epistemology.
Mathematics refers to an ideal, motionless space that does not exist. Instead, space and time becomes, the snapshot we possess is a moment in movement. The geometric plane has length and breadth, but no height. The line has length, but has no breadth or height. The point has no length, height, or breadth. The discovery of non-Euclidean geometry created a philosophical problem in that it appeared that we now had two realities. The result is that mathematics has an arbitrary character. Here are some of the assumptions that mathematics must make:
§ 0 is a number.
§ The successor of any number is also a number.
§ No two distinct numbers have the same successor.
§ 0 is not the successor of any number.
§ If any property is possessed by 0 and also by the successor of any number having the property, then all numbers have that property.
Epistemology includes the study of the foundations of mathematics in logic and set theory as one of its departments. Modern logic has served as a practical tool in advancing our theoretical understanding of what goes on in math. One might think that because of the significant advances in this area, it would be an example of what epistemology could accomplish in all areas. However, mathematics reduces only to set theory and not to logic proper. Such reduction still enhances clarity, but only because of the interrelations that emerge and not because the end terms of the analysis are clearer than others are. As for the end truths, the axioms of set theory, have less obviousness and certainty to recommend them than do most of the mathematical theorems that we would derive from them. Moreover, we know that no consistent axiom system can cover mathematics even when we renounce self-evidence. Any set of mathematical definitions and postulates gives rise to further questions that we cannot answer based on the definitions and postulates.
We know logical principles. Logical principles cannot be themselves proved by experience, since all proof presupposes them. A judgment as to the intrinsic desirability of things, that is, ethical value, is non-logical a priori knowledge. They cannot be proved by experience. All pure mathematics is a priori, like logic. When we call a proposition a posteriori or analytic in any sense, it is a judgment about the ultimate ground upon which rests the justification for holding it to be true. If it is impossible to give the proof without making use of truths that are not of a general logical nature, but belong to the sphere of some special science, then the proposition is a synthetic one. For a truth to be a posteriori, it must be impossible to construct a proof of it without including an appeal to facts. If we can derive its proof exclusively from general laws then the truth is a priori. A statement may be described as analytic simply when it is synonymous with a logically true statement. Here are the core affirmations within logic.
§ The law of identity: Whatever is, is
§ The law of contradiction: Nothing can both be and not be.
§ The law of the excluded middle: Everything must either be or not be.
§ The Law of tautology: p is true; p and p is true; p or p is true.
§ The law of transposition: if p implies q then not q implies not p.
§ The law of absorption: p implies q is equivalent to p is equivalent to p and q.
A paradox is any conclusion that at first sounds absurd but that has an argument to sustain it. An antinomy brings a crisis in thought by producing a self-contradiction by accepted ways of reasoning. It produces a sentence that is true if and only if it is false. First, let us consider the paradox of the village barber. In a certain village there is a man who is a barber. This barber shaves all and only those men in the village who do not shave themselves. Query: Does the barber shave himself? Answer: the barber shaves any man in this village if and only if he does not shave himself. Therefore, in particular the barber shaves himself if and only if he does not. We are in trouble if we say that the barber shaves himself and we are in trouble if we say he does not. The proper conclusion to this paradox is that there is no such barber. This is the reductio ad absurdum argument.
Second, let us consider the paradox of the first cause says that since we can have no effect without a cause, we can never attain an account of the beginning. Yet, in the probabilistic world of quantum physics, the concept of cause is not as clear as we might like, since it depends upon the chaotic conditions of the beginning of the universe, as well as at the present subatomic level.
Third, the paradox of getting something from nothing, remains an issue for us.
Fourth, the Epimenides or liar paradox: This statement is false. Here is a statement that falls back upon itself.
Fifth, the paradox of infinite regress suggests that, no matter what original condition of this universe, we can always ask from which condition that came from. This paradox assumes that time is infinitely divisible, but if we assume chaotic conditions, then space and time were fragmented. Logically, however, this paradox may not find a scientific answer.
Sixth, Russell’s antinomy of 1901 is the most celebrated of all. It has to do with self-membership of classes. Some classes are members of themselves; some are not. For example, the class of all classes that have more than five members clearly has more than five classes as members; therefore, the class is a member of itself. On the other hand, the class of all people is not a member of itself, not being a person. What of the class of all classes that are not members of themselves? The key words here are class and members. Since its members are the non-self-members, it qualifies as a member of itself if and only if it is not. It is and it is not. The tacit and trusted pattern of reasoning that is found wanting is this: for any condition you can formulate, there is a class whose members are the things meeting the condition. We do not give up this principle easily. Frege thought he had secured the foundations of math in the self-consistent laws of logic. When Russell made this paradox known, Frege responded, “Arithmetic totters.” He said in an appendix to the second volume, “A scientist can hardly encounter anything more undesirable than to have the foundation collapse just as the work is finished. I was put in this position by a letter from Bertrand Russell.” This paradox is similar to that of the barber, but it created an antinomy because the principle of class existence that it compels us to give up is so fundamental. It struck at the mathematics of classes. We appeal to classes in an auxiliary way in most branches of math, and increasingly so as passages of math reasoning are made more explicit. The basic principle of classes that is tacitly used, at virtually every turn where classes are involved at all, is precisely the class-existence principle that is discredited by Russell’s antinomy.
The axiomatic development of geometry made a powerful impression upon thinkers throughout the ages. A climate of opinion was thus generated in which it was tacitly assumed that each sector of mathematical thought can be supplied with a set of axioms sufficient for developing systematically the endless totality of true propositions about the given area of inquiry. Principia Mathematica is the landmark work on mathematical logic and the foundations of mathematics written by Alfred North Whitehead and Bertrand Russell. Russell was the primary mover of this work. He wanted to defend logicism, the view that mathematics is in some significant sense reducible to logic. It is often explained as a two-part thesis. First, it consists of the thesis that all mathematical truths can be translated into logical truths or, in other words, that the vocabulary of mathematics constitutes a proper subset of that of logic. Second, it consists of the thesis that all mathematical proofs can be recast as logical proofs or, in other words, that the theorems of mathematics constitute a proper subset of those of logic. In Bertrand Russell’s words, it is the logicist’s goal "to show that all pure mathematics follows from purely logical premises and uses only concepts definable in logical terms." The book was instrumental in popularizing modern mathematical logic. Next to Aristotle’s Organon, it is the most influential book on logic ever written. A logical system relies upon primitive propositions that it assumes to be true. The fewer such statements, the more likely the logical system is to be true. The proof of a logical system is its accuracy and its coherence, of which Principia Mathmatica has seven. It also contains several important simple propositions: the law of the excluded middle, the law of contradiction, the law of double negation, the transposition, the law of tautology, and the law of absorption. Symbolic logic eliminates the general structure that controls the words used, allotting to words their places within comprehensive relations. Symbolic logic is able to analyze structures that traditional Aristotelian logic never has understood. Such logic is a theoretical science.
These assumptions of logicism are untenable. The axiomatic method has certain inherent limitations, which rule out the possibility that even the ordinary arithmetic of the integers can ever be fully axiomatized. What is more, it is impossible to establish the internal logical consistency of a very large class of deductive systems, elementary arithmetic, for example, unless one adopts principles of reasoning so complex that their internal consistency is as open to doubt as that of the systems themselves. In the light of these conclusions, no final systematization of many important areas of mathematics is attainable, and no impeccable guarantee can be given that many significant branches of mathematical thought are entirely free from internal contradiction. The prospect of finding for every deductive system an absolute proof of consistency that satisfies the finitistic requirements of Hilbert’s proposal, though logically possible, is most unlikely. There are endless numbers of true arithmetical statements that cannot be formally deduced from any given set of axioms by a closed set of rules of inference. It follows that an axiomatic approach to number theory cannot exhaust the domain of arithmetical truth. It follows that what we understand by the process of mathematical proof does not coincide with the exploitation of a formalized axiomatic method. A formalized axiomatic procedure is based on an initially determined and fixed set of axioms and transformation rules. There are innumerable problems in elementary number theory that fall outside the scope of a fixed axiomatic method, and that such engines are incapable of answering, however intricate and ingenious their built-in mechanisms may be and however rapid their operations. By using the methods of logic we can demonstrate the impossibility of a complete number theory. Principia Mathematica was a self-referential, formal system, which was what Russell sought to keep out of the system through his theory of types. If a mathematical system could talk about itself it was the kiss of death, for self-reference would necessarily open the door to self-contradiction, and thereby send all of mathematics crashing to the ground. Russell’s system was powerful enough to perceive itself and become aware of itself. We cannot keep meaning out of a formal system when sufficiently complex isomorphism arises. Self-reference existed at the beginning of the book, and was due not to its weakness, but to its strength. Axioms simply assert that certain whole numbers have certain properties or relationships to each other. Any formal system designed to spew forth truths about mere numbers would also wind up spewing forth truths about its own properties, and would thereby become aware of itself. This suggests the essential incompleteness of formalized mathematics. Meaning has causal power in a rule-bound but meaning-free universe. Provability is a weaker notion than truth, no matter what axiomatic system is involved. No fixed system could represent the complexity of the whole numbers. Nor could anyone prove the consistency of a system such as that presented in Principia Mathematica. There are endless numbers of true arithmetical statements that cannot be formally deduced from any given set of axioms by a closed set of rules of inference. Therefore, an axiomatic approach to number theory cannot exhaust the domain of arithmetical truth. In addition, what we understand by the process of mathematical proof does not coincide with the exploitation of a formalized axiomatic method. A formalized axiomatic procedure is based on an initially determined and fixed set of axioms and transformation rules.
Given a definite problem, a machine might be built for solving it; but no one such machine can be built for solving every problem. The human brain may have built-in limitations of its own, and there may be mathematical problems it is incapable of solving. Yet, the brain appears to embody a structure of rules of operation that is far more powerful than the structure of currently conceived artificial machines. There is no immediate prospect of replacing the human mind by robots.
One of the possible lines of thought in application outside of mathematics is that recursive enumerable sets are generated from a set of starting points or axioms, by the repeated application of rules of inference. We define something in terms of simpler versions of itself, instead of explicitly. Recursive enumeration is a process in which new things emerge from old things by fixed rules. Suitably complicated recursive systems might be strong enough to break out of any predetermined patterns. They can invent programs that can modify themselves, programs that can act on programs, extending them, improving them, generalizing them, fixing them, and so on. This kind of tangled recursion is the heart of intelligence.
Science has the categories of space and time to form the basis of its field objects. They are universal concepts, and not just intuitions. They have a categorical or unconditional character. The transformational equations for space and time in physics guarantee their homogeneity, which is the condition for all measurement. Modern physics would add mass and force, as well as law. The category of law is foundational for the theoretical context of modern natural science.
Science is not merely the outcome of instinctive faith. It also requires an active interest in the simple occurrences of life for their own sake.
Science does not consist in collecting what we already know and arranging it in particular patterns. It consists in fastening upon something we do not know, and trying to discover it. That is why all science begins from the knowledge of our own ignorance. History finds out what the actions of human beings have been in the past. History proceeds by the interpretation of evidence: where evidence is a collective name for things that singly are called documents, and a document is a thing existing here and now, of such a kind that the historian, by thinking about it, can get answers to the questions he asks about past events
A principle that figures as a tacit guide of science is that of sufficient reason. Scientific method is a matter of sensory stimuli guiding us. Pierce was tempted to define truth outright in terms of scientific method. Where it makes sense to apply true is to a sentence couched in the terms of a given theory and seen from within the theory, complete with its posited reality.
We must take some time to dispel the myth of scientific objectivity. All branches of science perpetuate the myth of scientific objectivity. They have developed a language of objectivity and dispassionate observation. They conduct studies and administer tests, thereby assuring objectivity. Scientists of various types seek to understand the rational principles of the behavior of nature, the individual, and society. Most scientists learn to downplay the influence of their passion and commitment, their joy and their sorrow, as they seek genuine knowledge.
As objective as scientists seeks to be, they cannot deny that intellectual beauty is an important aspect of the scientific vision of reality. That beauty is part of the attraction it has upon their minds and hearts. It is not only a rational account; it is also a beautiful one. We who observe reality are part of that realty. Assertions need accuracy, systematic relevance, and intrinsic interest. Yet, we must recognize the power of intellectual beauty. The gift of the empirical tradition is that it keeps science from empty speculation. No science is beautiful if it is false. The intellectual passion of the scientist seeks public verification. This requires the acceptance of an authoritative community. It also provides the foundation for creativity.
Science and math set a standard of clear and distinct ideas that is not attainable in other areas in which we apply human thought. Its signs and symbols in the language context of equations gives it the appearance of a god-like perspective, a perspective divorced from the ambiguities of the human world. If all we needed was knowledge of atoms and cells, we could have far more certain knowledge. However, we also need knowledge of the psyche, culture, economics, political theory, art, meaning, and so on. From the perspective of science, the theories contained in such human sciences are like giving the explanation that a leprechaun is the reason why this watch functions erratically.
One way to view progress in science is the interaction of competing research programs or paradigms, rather than the dominance of one paradigm. Of course, the competition could also lead to degeneration. Science progresses by revolutionary processes by which one research program competes with another. Yet, criticism of a dominant program is a long and often frustrating process. This adherence to a research program or paradigm is understandable and rational. It allows us to find out what is in a theory. Scientists hesitate to give up a theory until the theory has an opportunity to show its strength. No theory could have positive influence without this tenacity from its adherents. In order for research programs to show themselves in their power and weakness, they require scientists who believe in them strongly and engage in dialogue and competition with other research programs. We best view science as a battleground of competing research programs rather than isolated theories that have no connection with each other. The history of science is a history of competing research programs or paradigms. Competition stimulates progress in science far more than “normal science” as the application of a set paradigm. Theoretical pluralism best describes the scientific community. Most scientists work within the framework of an accepted theory, such as special relativity, quantum theory, or evolutionary biology. These theories or paradigms become a basis for their work. Although one such program will have some degree of acceptance, it often contains anomalies that eventually lead to new theories. Scientists meet the challenge of anomalies in a theory by logic, experiment, or observation. Scientific observation involves itself in a web of scientific theories. As with all forms of knowledge, scientific knowledge is mediated knowledge through its theories. Scientists properly aim to invent theories that explain observed phenomena, doing so in terms of real objects. Science decides in favor of certain programs because of their greater ability to explain or interpret the world. This usually means that the scientific community will embrace a new theory when it solves all or most of the quantitative, numerical puzzles that its predecessor treated. Rationality works slowly and fallibly. Scientists often do not recognize particular experiments as crucial until several years or decades. The degree of specificity, clarity, and definiteness required in the studies of nature give science primacy of place in terms of what rationality can accomplish. The decision to have science at all implies value judgments as to the superiority of knowledge, intelligibility, and truth. Science employs value judgments at crucial epistemic junctures. Knowing what scientists value help us understand what problems they will undertake and what choices they will make in particular circumstances of conflict. The role of values in science is so basic that the common sense procedures of evaluation and deliberation are essential to scientific rationality. If procedures of evaluation, assessment, and deliberation are rational, then value judgments are essentially part of the process of scientific reflection, and we should thus regard them as rational. This view is contrary to Kuhn, who assumes that such judgments are psychological and religious in nature. Value judgments as used in science have a similar role to the values used other domains of human rationality.
Science is a coherent system of superior knowledge, upheld by people mutually recognizing each other as scientists, and acknowledged by modem society. This superior knowledge will be taken to include all that is coherently believed to be right and excellent by people within their culture. In essence, we respect human greatness, submit ourselves to it, and commit ourselves.
The scientific community requires conviction, fellowship, cooperation, and authority. Scientists form an identifiable community that has shared values and commitments. They learn skills as they become part of a community of scientists. Someone mentors them into this community. The master scientist passes on the scientific method to the apprentice. The master does this through example, not by simply providing the student with a set of rules. The student must submit to scientific authority and trust it. The student must surrender himself or herself uncritically and imitate the master. For example, they learn to doubt assumptions and standard approaches, especially when they get in the way of solving a problem. The tacit sharing of knowing underlies all articulate communication within human community. It requires authority, trust, persuasion, submission, and fellowship. They learn to accept the traditions of the scientific community. This requires a sense of gratitude toward those who have prepared the way. They recognize that they must build upon a foundation that other scientists have established. They accept their responsibility to the community of scientists by writing papers that they submit to the community in the hopes of persuading others to see an issue the way they see it. One example of the role of tradition is common law. It can change over time, but it does so building upon precedent. Understanding and interpreting law is the work of application, that is, judgment and an existing order. This interpretation occurs only within tradition. The scientist develops the skill of the connoisseur. The scientific community passes on this knowledge by example, not rules. It is the skill of testing and tasting, the finesse of science. It is placing a high value on creativity and imagination.
When scientists occupy themselves with the formation of hypotheses and with testing them, they proceed by means of anticipation. Science benefits greatly from the logical and mathematical nature of reality. At least since Descartes, modernity has valued clear and distinct ideas. The mathematical and logical nature of physical reality allows for a degree of certainty and specificity that other forms of human knowledge cannot attain. Yet, the reduction of science to the certainty of logical and mathematical constructions omits the dimension of exploration and discover central to the scientific enterprise. Hypothetical thought is more accurately anticipatory in the sense that it reaches out toward or anticipates empirical constellations by means of assertions, which then require confirmation or refutation through experience. Every assertion has an anticipatory structure since its claim one can call into doubt and discuss. This implies that whatever truth it claims is not yet definitive or settled.
Concept means the act of conceiving some designated thing. Construing them as anticipations draws explicit attention to a structural component that otherwise remains hidden. The dependence of the concept upon verification through the thing that it grasps is a verification that transcends the mere concept. Characterizing concepts as anticipations intends to do more justice to rationality. Even Kant, in Critique of Pure Reason, A 246, characterized as an important result of his transcendental analytic “that the understanding can never accomplish more a priori than to anticipate the form of possible experience in general.” He also said in A 166 that “one can label as an anticipation each item of knowledge through which I can know and determine a priori that which belongs to empirical knowledge.” The structure of anticipation contains within it dependence of the validity claims upon what the concept anticipates. This temporal structure brings clearly to view the dependence of the anticipated concept upon the thing to which it refers. Further, anticipation refers to the form of every possible experience, such that form relates to content as the anticipation relates to what the content anticipates. These anticipations anticipate not only the form, but also the matter of perceptions. The structure of anticipation that characterizes the concept has a close relationship to its formal nature.
The infinite horizon has more the form of an intuitive seeing or a feeling. Concepts formed within this horizon have an anticipatory character as do also assertions which look forward to truth itself and thus also to being. Anticipation expresses in an integrated way, on the one hand, both concepts and judgments claim for themselves as identity with the thing conceived, and on the other hand, the mere concept of the thing that we attempt to conceptualize is different from it, just as the judgment, as a mere assertion, is different from the asserted state of affairs. In the process of the relationship between identity and difference is determined temporally. The anticipation is not yet identical in every respect with the anticipated thing. It remains exposed to the risk of untruth. However, in the anticipation the thing is already present.
Any vision of reality must take into consideration the scientific account of the universe. In fact, any view of the universe that is not consistent with science rightfully will not have integrity. Psychology, sociology, economics would like to have the same status of science, but since they deal with values, they cannot be purely descriptive of what happens. Science has provided our culture with a basic perspective on how we arrive at knowledge of what is true. The question is not whether knowledge exists but what precisely is its nature. The content of knowledge is only incomplete and in the form of schematic.
The progress of civilization is not wholly a uniform drift towards better things. This quiet growth of science has practically re-colored our mentality there can be no living science unless there is a widespread instinctive conviction in the existence of an order of things, or an order of nature. Every philosophy is tinged with the coloring of some secret imaginative background, which never emerges explicitly into its trains of reasoning. Science is not merely the outcome of instinctive faith. It also requires an active interest in the simple occurrences of life for their own sake.
Science does not consist in collecting what we already know and arranging it in this or that kind of pattern. It consists in fastening upon something we do not know, and trying to discover it. That is why all science begins from the knowledge of our own ignorance. History finds out what the actions of human beings have been in the past. History proceeds by the interpretation of evidence: where evidence is a collective name for things that singly are called documents, and a document is a thing existing here and now, of such a kind that the historian, by thinking about it, can get answers to the questions he asks about past events
A principle that figures as a tacit guide of science is that of sufficient reason. Scientific method is a matter of sensory stimuli guiding us. Pierce was tempted to define truth outright in terms of scientific method. Where it makes sense to apply true is to a sentence couched in the terms of a given theory and seen from within the theory, complete with its posited reality.
We must take some time to dispel the myth of scientific objectivity. All branches of science perpetuate the myth of scientific objectivity. They have developed a language of objectivity and dispassionate observation. They conduct studies and administer tests, thereby assuring objectivity. Scientists of various types seek to understand the rational principles of the behavior of nature, the individual, and society. Most scientists learn to downplay the influence of their passion and commitment, their joy and their sorrow, as they seek genuine knowledge.
Assertions need accuracy, systematic relevance, and intrinsic interest. Yet, we must recognize the power of intellectual beauty. The gift of the empirical tradition is that it keeps science from empty speculation. No science is beautiful if it is false. The intellectual passion of the scientist seeks public verification. This requires the acceptance of an authoritative community. It also provides the foundation for creativity.
The category of whole is foundational for the theoretical context of modern human sciences. Although the category of whole applies to natural science as well, it does not occupy the natural sciences except in an undifferentiated way. Natural science brings homogeneity of space and time through law, thereby neglecting the individual occurrence. In the human sciences, by contrast, individual appearances are the primary interest. They concentrate on specific texts, historical occurrences, and forms.
Gestalt or form is midway between the category of law in the natural sciences and the interest in individual life-forms discernible in history and philology. It can characterize what is peculiar to the individual as well as what is typical, and is therefore especially important for biology. The natural sciences presuppose the equal validity and indifference of all individual appearances. By contrast, the category of the whole, with its interest in the individual, is the leading category in the human sciences. After all, every individual is a whole. Every individual appearance occurs within a context that is unique, and which forms a whole in which the individual appearances have a place. Each appearance is part of such a whole.
Human beings cannot arrive at the same verification of an idea in the realm of human sciences that they can in the physical sciences. Simply put, human beings do not behave with the degree of regularity that the rest of nature does. One cannot verify freedom, faithfulness, respect for life, pluralism, tolerance, the value of science and technology, authenticity, self-fulfillment, love, hate, and so on, in the same way that one verifies scientific theory. Psychology continually arrives at new theoretical formulations to describe interior life. The id, ego, and superego, the unconscious, the collective unconscious, the male and female portions of personality, the goal of self-actualization, and so on, have no more scientific verification than the reality of the soul or of a personal God. Even the knowledge that we have of ourselves through introspection is indirect, in that what we have in our minds arises out of our interaction with others.
We can approach the ambiguous nature of human knowledge from several perspectives.
One is that we are not God; we will never possess absolute knowledge of anything. Therefore, all of our knowledge has an open quality to it.
perspective is that of the distinction between theoretical and practical
knowledge. Theoretical reason involves developing reasons for what we believe.
Theoretical knowledge, such as the core mathematical and logical theorems, have clarity and definiteness that we need. The precision of
the knowledge we have through manipulating numbers is amazing. If you have had
surgery, if you ever fly in a plane or go to a planet, you will appreciate the
precision of the knowledge we have through such principles. Yet, such
principles apply to our knowledge of the physical world, and even that
knowledge changes its theoretical perspective, as the change from
Another perspective is that our past never stops changing. We keep finding new dimensions of the past that one generation found liberating and another finds oppressive. The past keeps changing its meaning in that the present appropriation of the past modifies that which motivates us from the dimensions of the past.
The contingent character of human knowledge should not create a scandal. Anyone who wished to escape this contingency of historical encounters and stand apart from the game in the name of a non-situated objectivity would at most know everything, but would understanding nothing.
This approach means that religion cannot fall back upon a special and epistemologically isolated position of revelation and still ask for a viable place at the table in a modern society. This uncritical approach to its own premises means religion becomes lost in dogmatism; its statements would have cogency to those already predisposed to adopt them. It accepts without question the tenets of its source texts and creeds in an authoritarian way. Such an approach may clarify for the believer his or her own beliefs and may help the religious community understand itself better. Yet, such an approach does not earn one a right to sit at the table of modern secular society. Instead, religions will need to learn to take a critical and self-critical scrutiny of its own premises. Religion will need to take its own pragmatic and empirical dimension seriously.
At the same time, this approach takes seriously the commitment religion makes to its religious sources and to the assumption of its universal character as it strives toward truth. Classic religious texts refer to experiences of ultimate reality. Continuing reflection upon these source texts by interpreters seek to make that experience lively for contemporaries.
The classic texts of any religion provide the core metaphors indispensable to that religion. Further, those metaphors need to show themselves to individuals and communities as adequate interpreters of reality. Such source or classic texts claim exclusive access to ultimate reality. These texts provide the metaphors through which the religion seeks access to ultimate reality and is a guide to adequate knowledge of that reality. However, such classic texts are not objective, foundational, and pure basis for such reflections upon ultimate reality. The reason is simple. In the contemporary setting, people already have a set of beliefs, opinions, and experiences that shape how one reads the text. Classic religious texts are an indispensable part of one’s reflection upon ultimate reality. The classic text is one component of a larger, increasingly comprehensive argument. This means that an individual statement or proposition is not true simply because it occurs in a classic text. One understands that statement in the context of a larger system of belief which itself needs the test of individual and communal life to verify it.
Religious texts refer to an ultimate reality that the writers experienced. Readers in the present judge a religious text by its continuing ability to evoke a sense of that ultimate reality, to some degree reproduce that reality in the present through individuals and communities, and participate in continual study of the text.
In terms of Christian theology, for example, credible theological argument is possible as one acknowledges that no theologian can formulate meaningful statements without being involved in the question of truth. Theological statements aim to be meaningful, valid, and comprehensible and make a provisional claim to truth and the depiction of reality. This means that theological statements are testable. This testing occurs in the community of believers, as they rationally piece together their beliefs, practice their beliefs, and seek to persuade others. Religious beliefs become justifiable in a modern setting in terms of logical consistency and their ability to integrate human experience of reality.
The idea of objective reality guarantees that such a picture will not comprehend everything. The perceiving subject is the first obstacle to such an ambition. To be objective, we need to figure out how our subjectivity fits into the flow of reality. We perceive the action of other things upon us through their effects upon our bodies. The nature of these physical objects that influence our perceptions is such that they are independent of our perceptions. We then try to form a conception of the true nature of the object independent of our perception or the perception of other persons. This means we seek a viewpoint beyond our particular point of view and move toward a more general human perspective. This is the universalizing trend in the quest for human knowledge.
The trend of consciousness toward a holistic perspective does not reduce well to reductionist trends in science, as if biological instincts or electrical impulses determine human drives and behaviors. Drawing the analogy between the mind and the computer does not work for this reason. The result that we see in the functioning of the computer is a result of foundational information given at the beginning. The computer is reducible; the mind and human behavior is not. While the brain functions through a hierarchy of electrical impulses that appear to have increased symbolization and complexity to a point where the individual can understand the symbols, the fact is that the top of the hierarchy influences in the reverse direction to basic electrical impulses. We have reason to think that the connection between mental life and the body is close enough to suggest that without a physical change in the brain no mental event changes. Yet, mental events are not just physical events. The center of human activity is actually outside of the person, in the interactions of individuals with each other and in the context of culture. Once we de-center the self in this way, we have an understanding of why reality has more to it than what a purely physical conception of objectivity can accommodate. Physical conceptions of objectivity are operations of our minds. We have no reason to assume that a narrow conception of physical causality will provide adequate conception of reality. We are in a world in which we are not the center. We view our own experiences from outside, as events in the world. In fact, one can reasonably wonder whether anything in the mind of the individual originates with the individual. Rather, human beings are so open to the natural and especial the social world that everything in the mind derives from the outside. Only slowly do we gain an image of the world that includes us as bodies. Yet, in following a rule in our relationships with others, we have already assumed a standpoint where we can compare our practices with that of our community. We have already taken a step outside of ourselves to evaluate ourselves in terms of following a rule. We have evidence for a rich internal life of consciousness, even if have limited ability to describe it. Our limited grasp of our subjectivity is one instance of our limited grasp of objectivity as a whole, since as subjective agents we would need to give an account of the objective world. If we approach this matter from the view that reality is objective, then our problem because how to fit ourselves into that reality, how to fit one’s point of view in that reality, the point of view of other selves, and relating the various types of judgments one makes from these perspectives.
The possibility of speaking of a self implies a theory of conscious organisms as physical systems composed of chemical elements and occupying space, which also have an individual perspective on the world, and in some cases a capacity for self-awareness as well. Human beings are examples of complex, biologically generated physical systems that have rich nonphysical properties. We may puzzle how a universe without a center has produced a being with the unique capacities that this person has. Why does this specific being exist?
The wish to live our lives as far as possible from a universal or objective perspective, in full recognition that it is not possible, has a religious impulse about it. That fact that we exist is incredibly contingent, even as we normally take our existence for granted. Further, the fact that this person exists seems quite insignificant. Viewed objectively, I might find it difficult to take this life seriously. This raises a further religious question concerning the meaning of life. Some people are more susceptible to this question than others. Yet, we cannot ignore it. Finding that the center of self is outside us, that we are not the center of the world, can lead to alienation, drive us to find a larger meaning, and to even greater absurdity. A life permeated by trivia or neurotic obsession or by the need to respond to external threats may feel absurd. A life in which possibilities for genuine independence and development may seem deficient in meaning. Someone faced with such a life may lack the will to live. Yet, each individual has a life to live. Many of the conditions of success and failure that define our possibilities are simply given. We may lead highly specific lives within the parameters of our place, time, species, and culture. The question is whether any of it matters. The question is whether my life has any importance for me. The question of meaning is another form of the skeptical argument, only this time applied to human motivation. Although we cannot hope to have objective resolution to the question of meaning, we can at least admit that certain things are uniquely important to us. We care about ourselves, and certain things and people around us. These have largely local significance. Such humility may seem incompatible with the full immersion in one’s life that we experience. We can lead complete lives without overvaluing them hopelessly. We can even resist the tendency to overvalue the historical present. The present is not especially important simply because it is contemporary with us.
Religion has passion for the Eternal and Infinite as it does not want to get hung up on the transitory. Religion yearns for eternal beauty and happiness. The yearning is subjective, although it is oriented toward an end beyond the finite and temporal. One who does not have this lack of satisfaction derived from the temporal and finite and the wonderment of fulfillment in the temporal and eternal can hardly identify with the religious quest. Religious communities make a truth claim that requires justification beyond simple adherence to their traditions. Religious communities serve humanity by becoming part of the dialogue of modern society. Religious communities will need to demonstrate their ability to help people live meaningfully and well in a modern society. The simple appeal to textual authorities or to faith is not sufficient at an epistemological level. Why choose one language game over another? This becomes an issue of judgment. We make what we believe to be a responsible judgment in favor of a theory, a viewpoint, or a research tradition, of which we are convinced, with good reasons. We believe it has the highest problem-solving ability for a specific problem within a specific context. The rationale for the acceptance or rejection of any theory is the problem-solving progress within a broader research tradition. We find it the most compelling. We judge it to have the highest problem-solving adequacy for a specific problem within a specific context. The choice for the problem-solving ability of a research tradition is a strategy of interpretation. If a research tradition has solved more problems than its rivals, then accepting that tradition would be the rational thing to do.
Religious beliefs describe the rites and practices of believing communities, express psychological and sociological needs in the language of faith, and also answer philosophical questions in religious terms. In short, religious beliefs help to explain the world and the place of believers in it. In doing this, religious beliefs reflect a general sense of meaningfulness on the part of the believer, a meaningfulness that extends from an existential level to the level of particular theories and dogmas. They are not just a theory, but a way of life that, if not lived and shaping one’s life, is dead. One does not live a scientific theory. A religious view of life experience everyday life in the context of the Infinite and Eternal. It is a choice of how one lives one’s life. Religion cannot escape from its impulse that it refers to and explains reality in some way that applies to all humanity, and not just to believers. Theology is a reflection an interpreted religious experience, in an interaction model of rationality and transactional realism, a pragmatic critical realism. What we provisionally conceptualize somehow exists.
Theology is a reflection upon the religious experience of the finite carved out of the Infinite, the temporal carved out of the Eternal.
Religious claims to truth will always be provisional, as they provide contexts of meaning and clarity to modern experience. No justification is possible for such ultimate commitments apart from the form of life in which that commitment plays a part. The search for universal meaning and the significance of human life beyond this finite world is an important part of the human quest. Each religion represents a way human beings have sought to give objectivity to this quest in myths, historical accounts, propositional statements, forms of life, and institutions. The beliefs implied in a commitment are open to criticism. The truth claims of religion are susceptible to the same contingency inherent in all philosophical and historical theories outside of physical laws. This suggests that all believers in a religion need modesty and recognition of the incomplete nature of their propositions and claims to truth.
The category of whole is significant for theology as a modification of the category of the whole in the human sciences. Theology continues the concern for the individual. The incarnation in Christian theology places the connection between theology and the human sciences. Although Christian theology will focus upon Jesus of Nazareth as a particular individual and historical context, it will also concern itself with the present relevance and truth of the history and person of Jesus. They are problems of the same kind as occur in the human sciences. The category of the particular and the whole in textual interpretation as it does for the other literary and historical disciplines.
The idea of God conditions the category of the whole for theology. Using the word “God” makes a claim about the totality of what exists finitely. The sending of Jesus by God has the intent of reconciling and redeeming the world. The eschatology of the New Testament makes this universal dimension of Christianity clear. Reference to God without reference to the totality makes talk of God empty, thoughtless, unnecessary and bothersome, from which humanity needs to free itself. The category of the whole, existing in the background of the human sciences, becomes an explicit theme in theology.
Since the whole depends on the particular or part, the whole is not identical with God. The whole is not self-constitutive. The whole is a unified unity that presupposes some ground of itself as unifying unity. God is distinct from the totality of the finite, though not fully distinct. If God were merely distinct from the whole, God would be finite. God is the continuing condition of the unity of the whole and thus immanent in the world. We have two options. God could be the condition of this unity as the ground of this unity, which then independently continues to exist. God could also be the force that continuously brings about the unity of the parts and thus remains immanent to the world of the finite and present to its parts. If God is the unifying force that joins pre-existing elements into parts of a whole, God would be finite and conditioned by another. We can maintain the infinite of the unifying unity if it is both the source of the unity and the source of the parts themselves. We then conceive of God as the creative source of the world.
This argument is not a proof for the existence of God. The argument presupposes that the parties condition the whole of the finite world. This presupposition attributes to the parts independence over against the whole. Further the category of unity, or One in Aristotle, is so general that it is empty and cannot be what religion means by God. The value of this argument is that it provides a preliminary way of relating the word God to the concept of world, whole, and the whole of finite reality. The category of unity and whole outlines the dimension in which the question of God becomes discussable. The notion expresses this relationship in a way that does not pre-determine the meaning of the word God.
We need to continue this reflection through the contrast of God and world as unifying and unified unity. We need to develop an idea of God that we can conceive coherently without losing the distinction of God from the world in the process. The notions of activity, ground, and force are only partially relevant. We cannot expect any final answer to the question of the reality of God. We destroy the idea of God when we conceive God as an application of the highest instance of some general structure. The category of the whole suggests God mediates individual definiteness. Religion becomes a vivid and deeper apprehension of reality in becoming conscious of the infinite and whole in the individual and finite. This view carves out each individual thing by means of its definition and its determination.
Theology makes reflection on the totality of finite reality as the horizon of meaning of all individual existence, to show its relatedness to the realty of God. In Christology, Jesus, in bringing close to individuals the meaning tied up with their wholeness, discloses to them their wholeness and meaning within a history that is not yet complete. The category of the whole has its specific significance for theology in that it makes possible the conceptual mediation between the finite and the absolute reality of God. The category of the whole relates to the process of mediating what is finite with itself through the process of history. However, this is so abstract that it cannot answer the question of the true form of the divine reality in this process. It also yields a general description of a field of possible experiences and inquiries without predetermining their specific solutions.
Skeptics have largely won the argument concerning the certainty of knowledge. They rightly emphasize the active nature of every act of perception and knowledge. For this reason, human beings will never have knowledge that is free of the logical possibility of falsification. However, when they suggest that we can possess no knowledge about anything unless we are sure about it, they are wrong. They assert that only if there is no possibility of our being wrong can we claim knowledge of anything. Given this standard, it is relatively easy to show how all knowledge is at least logically possible to be wrong.
If we claim to have knowledge through perception, the skeptic can easily point to the many times when human perception has been wrong. If we claim to have knowledge through memory, skeptics can point to defects in memory. If we claim to have knowledge through interaction with other minds, skeptics can point to how that interaction remains flawed and must change over time. If we claim to have knowledge through induction, skeptics can point out that we never have knowledge of the facts to claim valid knowledge. Skeptics can place the standards for gaining knowledge that no human endeavor could attain it.
The demand for such an absolute standard for the certainty of knowledge is an illusion. Absolute or certain knowledge, knowledge with no possibility of falsification, is an illusion. However, for human knowledge to grow and mature, it is not necessary that we should have such knowledge. In fact, precisely because human knowing is so open to the future and to dialogue with others, we have vastly increased our knowledge of reality. We can only gain a glimpse of the reality that is independent of human thinking. Reality is still in the making, and awaits part of its completion from the future. The universe is unfinished, growing in all sorts of places; so is human knowledge. Human knowing is cyclic and cumulative. It is cyclic inasmuch as cognitional process advances from experience through inquiry and reflection to judgment. It is cumulative, not only in memory’s store of experiences and in understanding’s clustering of insights, but in the coalescence of judgments into the context named knowledge or mentality.
I would like to suggest a weak connection between truth and rationality as we seek a better estimation of a truth we will never possess. Truth itself is far too vast, complex, and multi-dimensional for that. This view acknowledges that later theories may have better estimation of truth. However, epistemology involves the pursuit of truth.
Human beings pursue truth in community. Communal consensus is an important element of emerging truth. However, the lack of consensus is just as important. Present communal consensus does not determine truth. People in the same epistemic community do not have to reach agreement on meaningful issues. Rationality consists in the appropriate alignment between our beliefs and the persuasive reasons we have for hanging on to them. Different individuals will often confront different bodies of evidence, identify different reasons as good reasons, and therefore evaluate them differently. Rationality and rational procedures do not necessarily lead to community consensus. It is rational to do the best we can in light of actual prevailing conditions.
Truth-claims are historical in the sense that human beings frame them in some tradition of inquiry. Tradition sets the normative context of inquiry for a community of learners. A normative tradition determines the questions. It also plays a substantive role in determining what counts as a good answer to these questions. Human beings engage in such reflection over generations of inquirers and we pass them on explicitly and implicitly as the norms of a community of inquiry. Inquiry takes place in history and within an ongoing tradition of discourse. The traditions that govern inquiry exercise authority should not surprise us. Normative claims impose themselves on us. They make authoritative demands on us or address us as they had a right to be heard. Authority is a rational principle. A tradition earns authority by demonstrating its value in the pursuit of knowledge. Our freedom is always situated or finite freedom. Traditions shape us, and we contribute to the development of tradition. One deeply formed by a tradition is also capable of modifying those traditions in meaningful ways. Inquiry presupposes participation in a normative tradition whose foundations we can never completely unearth. Tradition places a real limit on the completeness of our knowledge. However, it also allows for real knowledge of ourselves, others, and the world.
Anomalies often emerge at the edges of theory. In science, for example, individuals can pursue such anomalies until they anticipate a future consensus that does exist yet. A genius or prophet relies on standards of an as yet non-existent communal consensus. As embedded as individuals are, they have the capacity as rational agents to have their own reasons for believing, acting, and judging.
Rationality does not presuppose consensus. The epistemic tolerance that emerges from this pluralism flows from the experiential and contextual nature of rationality. The presence of scientific revolutions suggests that science, the best expression of human rationality, requires both consensus and attention to anomalies that frustrate the consensus. Evaluation of such theories is an inter-subjective enterprise. Persons who do not yet agree on theory remain in dialogue with each other. At times, even scientific debate becomes rather heated and intense.
Scientific rationality is the best form rationality takes. Everyday rationality is what human beings do most. Science has significance beyond the culture that gave it birth. It may be that other expressions of rationality do so as well. Thus, humanity may arrive at an economic system and/or a political system that may have universal implications. Humanity may come to an understanding of basic ethical and moral behavior that transcends culture. Humanity may affirm certain religious beliefs and values as having reasonably universal application. The fact that we do not have such truth in history yet remains testimony that we have not reached the end of the journey.
Impersonal and objective knowledge is not available to us. A human life is far to rich and multidimensional for that. We cannot arrive at an understanding of the world and our position in it from a comprehensive point of view. Things are not as they are in some single “thing in itself.” When it comes to knowledge, we take ourselves with us wherever we go. Human beings have an interlocking network of experiences, imaginative insights and intuitions, concepts and theories, which in turn affect how we view the old experiences and any new experiences. Human life has an open-ended nature. As a result, our beliefs need continual testing as we live with them. We remain open to interpreting our experience of life in new ways through our encounter with others. At one level, we long for objectivity. Yet, attainment of knowledge by human beings requires greater participation in the world rather than detachment from it.
Human beings have no “foundations” for knowledge. All knowledge and justified belief rest ultimately on a foundation of non-inferential knowledge or justified belief. One needs to examine the frustration that an infinite series of beliefs presents intellectually needs from the perspective of a multidimensional object. Foundations for belief do not have foundations because of the richness, complexity, and multidimensional character of human life and human community. Every level leads to another level, every room opens into another. When we think in terms of infinite series of reasoning, we think in terms of a flat surface upon which human rationality occurs. Such is not the case. If we think of a multidimensional object with many hierarchical levels, we are closer to the complexity of human living and human communities.
The attempt to find foundations to human knowledge is an attempt to defeat skepticism. However, giving up on reliable foundations for human knowledge reminds us of the fallible nature of the human quest for knowledge and truth. Recognizing the fallibility of human knowledge commits us to ever-present possibility of having to change our minds when the weight of evidence against us. Yet, this commitment also means that our judgments may be closer to truth than other claims to truth. We can also provide sufficient warrant to justify our self-confidence. We can develop, apply, and retest criteria of knowledge that can give us enough reliable evidence or rational assurance to claim that we in fact know something and do not just surmise or opine.
reflection suggests that the vast majority of the propositions we know or
justifiably believe have that status only because we know or justifiably
believe other different propositions. Therefore, for example, I know or
justifiably believe that Jesus was executed by Roman leaders in
I do not seek foundations in logical relations between the mere fact that someone believes some proposition and the truthfulness of a proposition. Even if one could establish some infallible point or some necessary fact, one cannot presume to draw infallible inferences from it. On infallible belief, infallible justification, or direct acquaintance theories of foundational justification, there is precious little included in the foundations of knowledge. We cannot hope to get behind the vast body of knowledge that we pre-philosophically suppose we have.
All beliefs appear to require other beliefs outside of the system of beliefs. This view of epistemology rejects a foundational approach, in which a set of beliefs the foundation of all other beliefs. Why choose one theory over another? Our judgment is that it solves more problems. It is a strategy of interpretation. If we thus admit that we can find no authority beyond the reach of criticism within the whole province of our knowledge, then we can retain the idea that truth is beyond human authority.
One name to this approach is critical realism as an epistemological thesis about the goals of scientific knowledge and the implications of theoretical models in science. Another name to which we might give this form of epistemology is that of transactional realism, anticipatory realism, or a realism of hope. Correspondence between idea and object becomes a regulative principle. It recognizes the social context of scientific theories. Yet, it also recognizes cognitive claims in their propositions. This approach is a theory about the epistemic values that shape scientific rationality. It implies a fallibilist epistemology, revising and correcting theories by further exploration of experience. It settles for an approximate concept of truth, where pragmatic adequacy is our guide. One makes tentative assertions about realities and assertions that we believe are more adequate to these realities than other assertions. The realities that we dimly perceive and the theories that we develop concerning them, when subject to appropriate scrutiny, are worth the risk of living by. One cannot provide literal description of reality. Humanity gropes after reality in words, images, and ideas that are part of a tradition. Theories are the result of discovery and exploration as much as they are the result of construction and invention. Human imagination is important in the development of theory, while there are also structures in reality not created by the mind. Models become valid but provisional. Valid theories actually do refer to reality, and thus are not fiction. The model becomes a grid through which one perceives reality. The success of science suggests that its models are probably approximately true. Adopting a theory in this sense means one believes this theory more adequately refers to reality than other theories. People of the present refashion this material in light of present experience. Experience is a transaction between self (social and biological) and world (social and physical). Experience is a complex interaction between language and lived feelings, between organism and environment. All experience is interpreted experience. Individuals and communities have no direct access to reality. This theory can also give a philosophical account of the possible aims and the structure of religious and theological reflection and of the epistemic attitudes presupposed by this kind of reflection. One does not have to abandon religious and theological reflection in the modern context. In fact, science and religion can illuminate each other through their respective approaches to reality. Science seeks adequate and intelligible depiction of physical reality. Religion seeks adequate and intelligible depiction of the meaning and significance of individuals and the human race. Religion seeks to make ultimate meaning intelligible, even if in a provisional way. Critical realism seeks warrants for the basic realist assumptions by which religious people live and thus tries to determine the epistemic values that shape religious and theological reflection.
As a contrary belief, foundationalism holds that the chain of justifying belief cannot go on forever. A foundationalist constructs a system based upon a self-evident truth, self-authenticating, and basic truth. A privileged set of beliefs determines ultimate terminating points in a chain of justification of belief. Such an approach destroys any possibility for interaction between science and religion. In science, empiricism, positivism, and scientific materialism, render religion meaningless. In theology, biblical literalism and a self-authenticating word from God isolate theology from genuine engagement with the modern world.
A paradigm for this truth is that words occur in a sentence, and a sentence within a discourse, and the context of the situation in which one originally formulated it. We could progress along both of these lines from smaller to larger totalities. We could progress from individual segments of discourse to the whole of the discourse or the work in question, and on to its place within the works of the author. We can progress from the situation of the individual sentence and the individual discourse to the whole of the social world and to the cultural epoch in which they are located. The whole in its significance for the human sciences is essentially a semantic whole, within which levels of meaning totalities one can differentiate, levels that one can relate to each other as parts and wholes.
Justified beliefs are reliably produced beliefs. Justified beliefs are worth having because justified beliefs are probably true. I want to suggest two sorts of justified beliefs. One is those beliefs that result from processes independent of belief produced by the “software” of the brain that takes as its input stimuli other than beliefs. Certain sensory input may yield immediately and unreflectively reach conclusions about external objects. We keep track of things we see in the world. We have a sense of space and temporality. We communicate in symbols, and most complicated in the symbolic world of language. We recognize the difference between animate and inanimate entities in the world. Beliefs about the external produced in this way are usually true. Such beliefs have a justification by being the product of processes independent of belief. We then take them as input for reliable belief-independent processes. Two is a process dependent upon belief, reliable if its own beliefs are usually true if the relevant input beliefs are true. Further, the output beliefs of reliable belief-dependent processes have justification if the input beliefs have justification. My primary interest in this essay is the belief-dependent processes.
I leave for last the discussion of skepticism and solipsism because we must first have an understanding of the type of knowledge that we can expect. From what I have said, I find it difficult to take either the skeptic or solipsist seriously. The reason is simple. Any persons whom I encounter who attempt to make these forms of arguments do not lead a form of life in which they take their own statements seriously. They do not commit their lives to the truth of their skeptical or solipsistic statements.
For something to become doubtful, it must seem to me that it is. In that doubt of what I previously knew arises skepticism.
People will sometimes remark that nothing we do now will matter a million years from now. If that is true, nothing done a million years from now will matter to us. Leading a human life is a full-time occupation. We devote our lives to the living of this life. We live our own lives. We will live with ourselves all the time. We cannot lead someone’s else’s life. We do many things without requiring reasons for doing them. We take many things for granted. We do not feel the need to justify some of the basic beliefs and values we hold. With these core intuitions begins our skepticism. A world containing us will always be a world in which we can hold in doubt the things that matter most to us.
The concluding thesis of skepticism is that we do not know with certainty of the existence of the external world, or of other minds. We cannot deny this. However, our relation to the world as a whole, or to others in general, is not one of knowing, where knowing construes itself as being certain.
I can be as skeptical as anybody is. I admire the freedom of motion that pure skepticism gives. My trouble with it all is that after we have enjoyed the freedom of pure philosophic skepticism for a while, we find ourselves unexpectedly in the midst of philosophic truth that needs closer examination. The skeptic demands a standard of objectivity and certainty for human knowledge that is higher than reality itself. After all, we know that the universe continues to unfold with great complexity and unpredictability. It moves toward an unknown future. The skeptic holds human knowledge to a standard of certainty that not even the universe can achieve. The human condition requires elements of personal faith and commitment combined with anticipation of an unknown future, in order to make gains in human knowledge. The short and easy agnostic method is not enough. Can we admit the possibility of error? Generally, the skeptic loves to point out the error in everyone’s thinking. However, does the possibility of error not suggest the possibility that something is true? We must supplement skepticism by philosophy. When we do so, we find ourselves forced to accept, not the naiveté of childhood, but something that satisfies certain longings that, as a skeptic, we tried to forget.
Solipsism rightly suggests that if one begins with the sole idea of oneself and one’s own experiences as a model, one may not have sufficient material to extrapolate to a significant notion of other selves and their experiences. The avoidance of solipsism requires that the conception of other persons like oneself be included in the idea of one’s own experiences from the beginning. This is achieved by a conception that permits every feature of one’s own situation and experience to be described and regarded, without loss of content, from the impersonal standpoint. If that can be shown to be a general condition of the idea of one’s own experiences, then there will be no chasm between that idea and the idea of other persons, and hence no insurmountable difficulty in applying the same concepts to both. The rejection of solipsism involves a capacity to view ourselves and our circumstances impersonally. All of our personal judgments, including first-person psychological claims, commit us to corresponding impersonal judgments about the same circumstances, viewed impersonally.
Solipsistic consciousness is that consciousness which has no use for the distinction between one’s self and states on the one hand, and something that is not oneself or one’s state on the other. The true solipsist is one who simply has no use for the distinction between self and what is not self. Do we have a right to assume such a consciousness?
Ideology is a dimension of unfortunate thinking in dualistic terms. It attempts to divide the world into convenient dualistic compartments, and then make moral judgments about the world through that lens.
First, it mistakes the tacit awareness or background with which we are familiar with an ideology. Second, by its nature ideology is a closed and total system that goes against the open nature of human knowledge. As a result, ideology emphasizes the alienation between different ideological systems, rather than the common ground individuals share that then becomes a basis for whatever genuine discoveries and consensus one can achieve with those who differ.
I will grant that ruling groups can become in their thinking so intensively interest-bound to a situation that they are simply no longer able to see certain facts that would undermine their sense of domination. In certain situations, the collective unconscious of certain groups obscures the real condition of society both to itself and to others and thereby stabilizes it. However, an ideology is an erroneous or false system that we must reject in view of a right interpretation of reality. What distinguishes such an ideology in its essence from simple, open error, is the voluntary element of closure by which the ideology understand itself as a total system. To this extent, ideology is a fundamental closure in face of the wholeness of reality. For example, communist and socialist analysis of opposing systems discern the ideological element only in the thinking of their opponents while regarding their own thought as entirely free form any taint of ideology. I find no reason why we should not apply to Marxism the perceptions that it itself has produced, and point out from case to case its ideological character. The conversion of a partial aspect of reality into an absolute takes place with a view of practical action, and usually takes the form of a basic determination of political activity. It will try to determine the norm for the whole of life of a society. Ideology is a falsely scientific interpretation of reality in the service of a practical and social orientation that it intends to make legitimate.
My acceptance of science and my appeal to rational discourse suggest liberal bourgeois values like the importance of family, the positive contribution of our life-world as well as the negative, the dignity and worth of individuals who are social creatures who must figure out ways to mature individually and collectively.
We cannot speak from nowhere. We need to unmask the deceptions and disguises of human interest groups and political parties. Intentional deception is one type of analysis, while the often hidden drives of human behavior is another. Reification is the apprehension of the products of human activity as if they were something else than human products. It implies that humanity is capable of forgetting its own authorship of the social world and that the dialectic between humanity as producer and the products of humanity is lost to consciousness. Reification is a dehumanized world. Certain oppressed groups are intellectually so strongly interested in the destruction and transformation of a given condition of society that they unwittingly see only those elements in the situation that tend to negate it. They pursue the study of other cultures with the hidden agenda of offering critique of the culture in which they live and from which they feel alienated. Their thinking is incapable of correctly diagnosing an existing condition of society. Their anger and alienation have stopped mature reflection. They are not at all concerned with what really exists. Rather, in their thinking they already seek to change the situation that exists. Their thought is never a diagnosis of the situation. It can be used only as a direction for action. The collective unconscious hides certain aspects of reality. It turns its back on everything that would shake its belief or paralyze its desire to change things.
Human beings love to talk. From the first dawning recognition that words can express something, talk is a dominant interest, an irresistible desire. Words are our most important instruments of expression, our most characteristic, universal, and enviable tools in the conduct of life. Speech is the mark of humanity. It is the normal terminus of thought. However, speech is the natural outcome of only one kind of symbolic process. There are transformations of experience in the human mind that has quite different overt endings. They end in acts that are neither practical nor communicative, though they may be both effective and communal; I mean the actions we call ritual.
Only a part of our behavior is practical. Only some of our expressions are signs, indicative or mnemonic, and belong to the heightened animal wisdom called common sense. Only small and relatively unimportant parts are immediate signs of feeling. The remainder serves simply to express ideas that the organism yearns to express, that is, to act upon, without practical purpose, without any view to satisfying other needs than their need of completing in overt action the brain’s symbolic process.
The sign relation is that between the sign, the object, and the person. Signs are logically distinct from symbols. The difference between sign and symbol is that symbol gives greater latitude toward the interpreter; the symbol has a greater lack of fit for that to which it refers. Jung suggested that symbols are empty and full of meaning at the same time. The field of semantics includes language, ritual, myth, and music, representing four respective modes, may serve as central topics for the study of actual symbolisms. They are ambiguous and half-glimpsed meanings. Symbolization serves the cognitive purpose in the delicacy of its discriminations and the aptness of its allusions. Symbolization works in grasping, exploring, and informing the world. Symbolization analyzes, sorts, orders, and organizes. We judge symbolization by how well it participates in the making, manipulation, retention, and transformation of knowledge. Relevant to this evaluation are considerations of simplicity and subtlety, power and precision, scope and selectivity, and familiarity and freshness. Our weighting of such factors is relative to our interests, our information, and our inquiry. Such an understanding of symbolization includes the sensory or emotive.
Symbolism is the recognized key to that mental life that is characteristically human and above other animals. Symbol and meaning shape our world. With signs, we not only indicate things, but we represent them. The development of language is the history of the gradual accumulation and elaboration of verbal symbols.
What interests me here is that when we speak of language, we find that human beings use many signs and symbols besides words. We must overthrow the prejudice that it is only in poetry, in the plastic arts, and, in general, in the kinds of works with which aesthetics is concerned that imagination is productive. Aestheticians perpetuate this prejudice when they renounce all truth-claims for the arts. They agree too easily with the description that assigns denotation to science and reserves connotation for the arts, meaning by this last expression that the arts merely evoke feelings, emotions, and passions devoid of any ontological weight. Nothing is more harmful for a sound recognition of the productive reference of the imagination than this dichotomy between the sciences and the arts. The familiar lack of conclusiveness in aesthetic argument, rather than showing up an irrationality, shows the kind of rationality it has, and needs. The poet must make plot plausible in relying on general psychological truths. Poetry has a cognitive status, for poets must at least understand human nature, or they could not even produce a good plot.
We are hard-wired for the artistic, in that it is another symbolic activity of human beings. The discovery of pictures within ancient caves, and the aesthetic nature of common tools, suggests that the aesthetic impulse is not an imposition upon us. It reflects that which we are. Knowledge is an artistic achievement. Exercising our symbolic faculties beyond immediate need has the practical purpose of developing our abilities and techniques to cope with future contingencies. Symbolization is an irrepressible propensity in us for the joy of it, or even because we could not stop it if we tried. Still further, communication is the purpose of all symbolizing activity. Works of art are messages conveying facts, thought, or feelings.
The arts are our storehouse of recorded values. They spring from and perpetuate hours in the lives of exceptional people, when their control and command of experience is at its highest. We can find reasons for giving to the arts a very important place in our understanding of value. They record the most important judgments we possess as to the values of experience. They form a body of evidence that has been left almost untouched by professed students of value. We cannot separate the arts from other human experience, including the moral. The artist and the critic becomes doctors of the soul and health of mind because the human expression contained in the arts is the result of choices that represent what the artist and critic value. Art for the sake of art is a chimera, since art arises out of human understanding and experience. Art arises out of human life. Art has its roots in the human soul, rather than being an aristocratic or specialist activity.
Visual art is a form of representation transmitted by concrete and perceivable elements, through which someone tries to transmit to another human being something of his or her lived experience. We must reject the strict opposition many establish between reason and nonverbal experience, or between intelligibility and confusion. We can offer many arguments to the limits of verbal language adequately to represent reality or experience.
Art is part of our attempt to express, communicate, and imagine. Art equips us for survival, conquest, and gain. It channels surplus energy away from destructive outlets. Art is an open concept. New art forms, new movements will emerge, which will demand decisions on the part of those interested, usually professional critics, as to whether the concept would be extended or not. The expansive, adventurous character of art, its ever-present changes and novel creations, make it logically impossible to ensure any set of defining properties. We do not find common properties in what we call art. These resemblances have an open texture. Traditional theories of art help us only as summaries of those features of art to which we ought to attend.
A work of art arises out of the intentional activity of an individual. When we congratulate the rifleman aiming and firing at a target, and doing so time after time, we justly praise the skill. In contrast, the creativity of the artist we praise brings into something the like of which did not exist before. The creative artist does not initially know what the target is. Creative artists have a sense that something directs their activity; it is heading somewhere, despite the fact that they cannot say precisely where they are going or the precise stages along the way. After all, if we know precisely the target or product, that product already exists. However, the determination that a work is in fact art has an institutional quality. Just as the scientific community determines appropriate science, the artistic community, through a combination of critics and those who appreciate the form of art, determine whether particular are actually art. Art and its institutions are inbred and self-justifying in ways that we find hard to untangle. The community of artists influences each other as to what works of art they produce. Audiences are both interpreters of the work of art and collaborators in the production of art. The effectiveness of a work of art largely rests on the audience to integrate the vision of the artist and performer. Such judgments are what we might call performative utterances by the artistic community.
A work of art does not come into existence by accident, even if the intention of the artist is not the standard by which the critic is to judge the worth of the work. That intention exerts some control over how we interpret the work. The work of art shows the intention of the artist, although we must also distinguish between what appears to be the intention shown in the work and what the person actually intended. Each work of art will have affective and cognitive dimensions of its intention. Access to the intention of the artist is ambiguous anyway. The mental process of the artist is not a profitable field for investigation. They offer far too much of a hunting ground for uncontrollable conjecture. The meaning that a poem has to the artist may be quite separate from the critical appreciation of the work. In fact, an artist may achieve, by revision, a better work than the original intention. What any general thesis about the relevance of intention to interpretation overlooks is the heterogeneity of the contexts in which questions of interpretation arise. This heterogeneity makes it impossible to give a general answer to the question of what the relevance of intention to interpretation is. Our response to a work will vary with what we know. One of the things that we know and with which we responses will vary is what the author had in mind, or what the author intended. In particular, the sincerity of the artist has an impact upon our appreciation of the work of art. Normally, the work reveals the intention of the artist. Only in exceptional circumstance that we crystallize them out as explicit beliefs and become aware of the role they play. Why should anyone wish to deny this?
Art reveals us to ourselves. Artistic acts in works of art are like common facial, vocal, and gestural expressions. Precisely in virtue of their artistic acts, and of the similarity they bear to common kinds of expressions, works of art may serve as expressions of those feelings, emotions, attitudes, moods, and/or personal characteristics of their creators that are designated by the anthropomorphic predicates applicable to the art works themselves. The artist expresses something in the work of art. The expressive qualities of the work are the consequence of this act of expression. Art is a knowing of oneself and one’s world; the self is expressed in the world, and the self as expressed in the language that is the world. It is also a making of oneself and of one’s world. Such cognition includes emotion, receptivity, and all forms of “getting to know” another and our world.
Gesture, numbers, language, narrative plot, and forms of art are symbols: dance, poetry, painting, music sculpture, architecture, film, and fiction. They communicate our ideas of the world. It does not imitate the world, but brings about transformation through the symbol. A work of art is an expressive form created for our perception through sense or imagination, and what it expresses is human feeling. A work of art presents feeling for our contemplation, making it visible in some symbol. Significant form becomes a perception of beauty and an intuition of significance. We often refer to the liveliness, vitality, and spirit in a work of art. Life is transient and fragile, a complex web of relationship. It has a sense of unity or coherence, completeness, and thematic development. We do not confer meaning; we share meaning. The meaning is a passageway we traverse in order to reach the object meant. We assimilate the details of a work of art into a synthetic whole in order to arrive at meaning and understanding.
Dance is more than physical movement. It displays an image for our enjoyment. It expresses our emotive life, an outward expression of our inner life.
One kind of symbolism adapts itself well to unspeakable things, even if it lacks language, namely, music. Speech and music have essentially different functions, despite their oft-remarked union in song.
The history of music has been a history of increasingly integrated, disciplined, and articulated forms, much like the history of language.
Sheer self-expression requires no artistic form. If music has any significance, it is semantic, not symptomatic. Music is not the cause or the cure of feelings. Its meaning is evidently not that of a stimulus to evoke emotions, nor that of a signal to announce them; if it has an emotional content, it has it in the same sense that language has its conceptual content, that is, symbolically. Music does not derive from emotion or intended for them. It is about emotion. Music is the logical expression of feeling. Even in this capacity it has its special ways of functioning, that make it impossible to measure, for it is not capable of being compared or measured to language, since it lacks a common quality necessary for us to make a comparison (incommensurable), and even with symbols like images, gestures, and rites that show or display things in particular ways. The rubrics established by language are not absolute.
What some criticize as a weakness is really strength of musical expressiveness. Music articulates forms that language cannot set forth. The classifications that language makes automatically preclude many relations, and many of those resting-points of thought that we call terms. Because music does not have the same terminology and pattern as language, it lends itself to the revelation of non-scientific concepts. What music can actually reflect is only the morphology of feeling. What is true of language is essential in music. Music that composers invent while they fix their minds on what they want expressed are apt not to produce music. The musical score is a system of notation. Yet, each presentation of a score (we could also say script in drama and each dance routine) is unique. It is limited idiom, like an artificial language, only even less successful; for music at its highest, though clearly a symbolic form, is an unconsummated symbol. Articulation is its life, but not assertion; expressiveness, not expression. The actual function of meaning, which calls for permanent contents, is not fulfilled; for the assignment of one rather than another possible meaning to each form is never explicitly made.
Therefore, music is significant form, in the sense that one can grasp or feel, but not define. Such significance is implicit, but not conventionally fixed. The real power of music lies in the fact that it can be true to the life of feeling in a way that language cannot; for its significant forms have that ambivalence of content that words cannot have.
The question of the origin of language interweaves with that of the origin of myth: we can raise the one only in relation to the other. Similarly, the problem of the beginnings of art, writing, law, or science leads back to a stage in which they all resided in the immediate and undifferentiated unity of the mythical consciousness. Only gradually do the basic theoretical concepts of knowledge (space, time, and number) or of law and social life (the concept of property, for example) or of the various notions of economics, art, and technology free themselves from this involvement. Seen in this way , the problem of myth takes its place in the universal domain of problems that Hegel designated as phenomenology of the spirit. That myth stands in an inner and necessary relation to the universal task of this phenomenology follows indirectly from Hegel’s own formulation and definition of the concept. Many who formulate theoretical and scientific knowledge think they have won the day in contrast to ritual and myth. However, myth and superstition continually emerge in modern societies. At that point, we see that religion, myth, ritual, and rational do not separate at the point of their rationality.
If language is born from the profoundly symbolic character of the human mind, we may not be surprised to find that this mind tends to operate with symbols far below the level of speech. Even the subjective record of sense experience, the sense-image, are not a direct copy of actual experience, but have been projected into a new dimension, the more or less stabile form we call a picture. Image-making is the mode of our untutored thinking, and stories are its earliest product. Fantasies derive from specific experience. Metaphor is the law of growth of every semantic.
Many modern philosophers puzzle over the impractical uses of language. They measure the uses of language by a scientific and mathematical standard that it will never meet. The apparent wastefulness of ritual and myth serve a purpose of social solidarity that transcends its use as a tool to accomplish a narrowly defined purpose.
Ritual is the habitual performance of definite actions that have no direct relevance to the preservation of the physical life of those who perform it. Animals perform such rituals. Repetition also repeats the joy of exercise and emotion of success. When emotion became part of the process, humanity started upon its adventures of curiosity and of feeling. Ritual and feeling are essentially social phenomena. When religion decays, it sinks back into mere sociability.
Myth is a traditional narration that relates to events that happened at the beginning of time. Myth provides grounds for the ritual actions of a people in the present and establishes forms of action and thought that situate them in their world. Myth can no longer serve as explanation for modern persons. However, as myth loses this explanatory function, it also reveals its exploratory significance and its contribution to understanding the world. This is the symbolic function of myth. As a symbol, myth has the power of discovering and revealing the bond between humanity and what humanity values or considers sacred. The exposure of myth to modern society, with its view of nature, the social world, and history, does not destroy it. Rather, the dignity of symbol elevates the myth to its genuine potential to contribute to understanding of human nature, the social world, the limits and possibilities of the world. The consciousness of self seems to constitute itself at its lowest level by means of symbolism and to work out an abstract language later, by means of interpreting such primary symbols.
Humanity reads the sacred onto the world, and thus creates symbols. Humanity also appears to generate symbols from dreams. To read the sacred on the world and to read the sacred in the psyche are the same thing. Symbols also come from poetic imagination and imagery. Symbols are signs that communicate meaning. Symbolic signs are opaque, because the first, literal, obvious meaning points analogically to a second meaning that is not given otherwise than in it. By living in the first meaning of the symbol, we allow the symbol to move us beyond the symbol and to its meaning. The symbol is analogical meanings that are formed and immediately significant. Myths are a class of symbols, as symbols developed in the form of narrations and articulated in a time and space that cannot be coordinated with the modern world. Any modern person attempting to relate to these symbols adopts provisionally the motivations and intentions of the believing soul, gaining a re-enactment in sympathetic imagination.
Philosophers have a full language before them, and science does not reveal that fullness. As a modern person, as a philosopher, I encounter symbols. I need to determine what to do with them. A philosophy that begins with symbols finds humanity already settled within its foundation. Being there may appear contingent and restricted. The culture has hit upon these symbols rather than others, showing their contingency and restrictedness. Yet, philosophy endeavors, through reflection, to disclose the rationality of these symbols. Philosophy instructed by myths arises at a certain moment in reflection and it wishes to answer to a certain situation of modern culture. The task has a connection with certain traits of our modernity.
It is in the age when our language has become more precise, more univocal, more technical, more suited to those integral formalizations of science, math, and logic, we sense the need to recharge our language. We want to experience again the fullness of language. We come to this point as a gift of modernity itself. Modernity cannot go back to the time when people could legitimately simply believe the myth. Although Eliade has shown that one can understand symbols and remain within the symbolic mode. However, the question of truth is excluded from such a process. Do I believe that? What do I make of these symbolic meanings? However, by interpreting the myth we can hear it again, and allow the symbol to come forth.
Symbols and myths speak of the situation of humanity within the world. Symbols elaborate existential concepts and structures of existence. Such is the wager. We understand in order to believe, but we must believe in order to understand. It is a living and stimulating circle. Hermeneutics proceeds from a prior understanding of the very thing that it tries to understand by interpreting it. However, thanks to that circle in hermeneutics, I can still today communicate with the sacred by making explicit the prior understanding that gives life to the interpretation. We must believe in order to understand: never does the interpreter get near to what his or her text says unless he or she lives in the aura of the meaning after which he or she enquires. We can achieve a second naïveté only as we believe through interpreting.
Philosophical inquiry into the contents of mythological consciousness and attempts at a theoretical interpretation of these contents go back to the very beginnings of philosophy. Philosophy turned its attention to myth and its configurations earlier than to the other spheres of culture. This is understandable from both a historical and a systematic point of view. It was coming to grips with mythical thinking that philosophy could arrive at the first clear formulation of its own concept and its own task. Wherever philosophy sought to establish a theoretical view of the world, it was confronted not so much by immediate phenomenal reality as by the mythical transformation of this reality. Some early Greek philosophers explained myths by transposing them into the conceptual language of popular philosophy, by interpreting them as a cloak for a speculative, scientific, or ethical truth. Plato maintained an attitude of ironical superiority toward the interpretation of myths attempted by the Sophists. The Stoics and Neo-Platonists went back to the old speculative-allegorical interpretation of myths. Anyone aiming at a comprehensive system of human culture has turned back to myth.
The only way to move beyond the circle is to consider the circle a wager. I wager that I shall have a better understanding of humanity and of the bond between nature and the social world if I follow the indication of symbolic thought. That wager becomes the task of verifying my wager and saturating it with intelligibility. In return, the task transforms my wager. In betting on the significance of the symbolic world, I bet at the same time that my wager will be restored to me in power of reflection, in the element of coherent discourse.
Philosophical hermeneutics then starts from the symbols and endeavors to promote the meaning, to form it, by a creative interpretation. The symbol speaks to us because it becomes an index of the situation of humanity.
Language is the most momentous and most mysterious product of the human mind. If we hope to understand human language and the psychological capacities on which it rests, we must first ask what it is, not how or for what purposes it is used.
The essence of language consists in the assigning of conventional, voluntarily articulated, sounds, or of their equivalents, to the diverse elements of experience. Language itself is a collection of signs. Language is a human and non-instinctive method of communicating ideas, emotions, and desires by means of a system of voluntarily produced symbols. In language, we have the free, accomplished use of symbolism, the record of articulate conceptual thinking; without language there seems to be nothing like explicit thought whatever. What will happen if language is not so much a garment as a prepared road or groove?
We have no record of any people’s progress from the use of pictures to the use of real writing, and can only guess at the steps. In the use of pictures, we can often see the beginnings of the transition, and traces of it remain in the actual systems of writing. Every language is undergoing a slow but unceasing process of linguistic change. Linguistic change interests us especially because it offers the only possibility of explaining the phenomena of language. As far as we know, possession of human language is associated with a specific type of mental organization, not simply a higher degree of intelligence. Human language is not simply a more complex instance of something we find elsewhere in the animal world. The characteristic properties of human language can be found in animal communication systems, although we cannot at the moment say that they are all present in one particular animal.
Language serves three functions. First (Gadamer), language reproduces culture and keeps traditions alive. Second (Habermas), language provides social integration or the coordination of the plans of different actors in social interaction. Third (G. H. Mead), language provides socialization or the cultural interpretation of needs. Understanding requires participation and not merely observation. Language is not just a tool or instrument that human beings created. Rather, language discloses our life world.
The philosophical matter of language raises issues in several disciplines.
First, in the field of psychology, what actually occurs in our minds, when we use language with the intention of meaning something by it? The great contribution of Freud to the philosophy of mind has been the realization that human behavior is not only a good-getting strategy, but is also a language; that every move is at the same time a gesture. Symbolization is both an end and an instrument. He has carried his theories far enough to make a philosophical study of impractical actions relevant and promising in the light of them. Yet, few epistemologists have seriously taken advantage of such new ideas. The reason is that traditional theory of mind is epistemology, and Freud’s psychology is not directly applicable to the problems that compose this field. Mathematical expressions typify symbolism better than swastikas and genuflections. Language is its main representative. Herein lays the power of language to embody concepts not only of things, but also of things in combination, or situations. A combination of words connoting a situation-concept is a descriptive phrase.
Second, in the field of epistemology, what is the relation subsisting between thoughts, words, or sentences, and that which to which they refer or mean? Every specific semiotics, as every science, is concerned with general epistemological problems. A general semiotics is simply a philosophy of language that stresses the comparative and systematic approach to language, and not only to verbal language, by explaining the result of different, local inquiries. A philosophy cannot be true in the sense in which we say that scientific description is true. A philosophy is true insofar as it satisfies a need to provide a coherent form to the world, to allow its followers to deal coherently with it. A philosophy has a practical power: it contributes to the changing of the world. We continue to take seriously our own particular aggregate science, our own particular world theory or loose total fabric of quasi-theories, whatever it may be. We own and use our beliefs of the moment, even in the midst of philosophizing, until through the scientific method we change them here and there for the better. Within our own total evolving doctrine, we can judge truth as earnestly and absolutely as can be. All of this is subject to correction, but we all understand that.
Third, in the various scientific fields, we have the problem of using sentences to convey truth or falsehood.
Fourth, in the field of logic, what relation must one fact have to another in order to be capable of being a symbol for that other?
The theory of speech acts answers the question: how do we get from the physics of utterances to meaningful speech acts performed by speakers and writers? The speech act consists of several elements.
Speaking a language is engaging in a highly complex rule-governed form of behavior. To learn and master a language is to learn and to have mastered these rules. Therefore, language is not metaphor. A theory of language is part of a theory of action, simply because speaking is a rule-governed form of behavior. We do not have to choose between concentrating on the uses of expressions in speech situations or concentrating on the meaning of sentences. They complement each other.
Linguistic activity in general is like a game in that there is a conventional purpose, such as saying what is true (winning), that we can achieve only by following agreed and public rules. The literal meaning of each sentence is related by a convention to standard non-linguistic purpose. Both of these views are not tenable. The meaning of a word is conventional, that by convention we assign the meaning we do to individual words and sentences when we speak or write them. Convention is a regularity.
We can expand on the analogy between language and chess. First, a state of the set of chessmen corresponds closely to a state of language. The respective value of the pieces depends on their position on the chessboard just as each linguistic term derives its value from its opposition to all their other terms. In the second place, the system is always momentary; it varies from one position to the next. It is also true that values depend above all else on an unchangeable convention, the set of rules that exists before a game begins and persists after each move. Rules that people agree upon exist in language too; they are the constant principles of semiology. Finally, to pass from one state of equilibrium to the next, or from one synchrony to the next, only one chess piece has to be moved; there is no general rummage. Here we have the counterpart of the diachronic phenomenon with all its peculiarities. In fact: A) in each play only one chess piece is moved; in the same way in language, changes affect only isolated elements. B) In spite of that, the move has a repercussion throughout the whole system; it is impossible for the player to foresee exactly the extent of the effect. Resulting changes of value will be, either according to the circumstances, nil, very serious, or of average importance. A certain move can revolutionize the whole game and even affect pieces that are not immediately involved. We have just seen that exactly the same holds for language. C) In chess, each move is distinct from the preceding and the subsequent equilibrium. The change effected belongs to neither state: only states matter.
Let us take another example from chess. Take a knight. By itself, is it an element in the game? Certainly not, for by its material make up it means nothing to the player. It becomes a real, concrete element only when we give a value to it in the game. Suppose that the piece happens to be destroyed or lost during a game. Can we replace it by an equivalent piece? Certainly. Not only another knight but also a figure shorn of any resemblance to a knight we can declare identical provided we attribute the same value to it. In semiological systems like language, where elements hold each other in equilibrium in accordance with fixed rules, the notion of identity blends with that of value and vice versa. That is why the notion of value envelopes the notions of unit, concrete entity, and reality. It is better to approach the problem of units through the study of value.
At only one point does the analogy between language and chess breaks down. The chess player intends to bring about a shift and thereby to exert an action on the system, whereas language premeditates nothing. The pieces of language shift spontaneously and fortuitously.
I would now like to briefly relate an understanding of language that I hope will clarify some of the philosophical issues involved.
First, the speaker engages in utterance acts, such as morphemes and sentences.
Phonetic evolution is a disturbing force. Wherever it does not create alternations, it helps to loosen the grammatical bonds between words. Such evolution uselessly increases the total number of forms. The irregularity born of phonetic changes win out over the forms grouped under general patterns obscures and complicates the linguistic mechanism. In other words, phonetics reflects the arbitrary nature of language. We also have semantic change over time as well. Every speech community learns from its neighbors. Objects pass from one community to the other, and so do patterns of actions, such as technical procedures, warlike practices, religious rites, or fashions of individual conduct. Ethnologists, who call it cultural diffusion, study this spread of things and habits. Fortunately, analogue counterbalances the effect of phonetic transformations. To analogy are due all normal, non-phonetic modifications of the external side of words. Analogy supposes a model and its regular imitation. An analogical form is a form made on the model of one or more other forms in accordance with a definite rule.
The whole function of language is to have meaning. If sentences depend for their meanings on their structure, and we understand the meaning of each item in the structure only as an abstraction from the totality of sentences in which it features, then we can give the meaning of any sentence or word only by giving the meaning of every and sentence and word in the language. Language is the instrument it is because the same expression, with semantic features unchanged, can serve countless purposes. This view requires a holistic theory of meaning.
We use a linguistic form to communicate meaning. All linguists define meanings in terms of the speaker’s situation and the hearer’s response. Linguistic meanings are more specific than the meanings of non-linguistic acts. Human beings co-operate a great deal without language. In certain communities, some speech utterances are alike as to form and meaning. This virtue of speech forms is bought at the cost of rationality. The non-linguistic modes of communication are based directly upon our bodily make-up or else arise directly from simple social situations, but the connection of linguistic forms with their meanings is wholly arbitrary. We assume that each linguistic form has a constant and specific meaning. If the forms are phonemically different, we suppose that their meanings also are different. We suppose that there are no actual synonyms. Our assumption implies also that if the forms are semantically different, they are not the same, even though they may be alike as to phonetic form (bear = to carry or an animal).
Second, the speaker engages in propositional acts of referring and predicating about an object.
Philosophers generally recognize two axioms of reference. The first is the axiom of existence. What we refer to must exist. A corollary is the principle of identification: a necessary condition for the successful performance of a definite reference in the utterance of an expression is that either the expression must be an identifying description or the speaker must be able to produce an identifying description on demand. The second is the axiom of identity: if a predicate is true of an object it is true of anything identical with that object regardless of what expressions are used to refer to that object.
The representative function of language expresses hidden the active presence of hidden realities. Language seeks to identify, both to oneself and to another, particular objects that are different from oneself. Language is "propositional" in that it transmits information. Language is not characteristically informative, in fact or in intention. Human language can be used to inform or mislead, to clarify one's own thoughts or to display one's cleverness, or simply for play. If I speak with no concern for modifying your behavior or thoughts, I am not using language any less than if I say exactly the same things with such intention.
In conversation, an object of shared interest creates a common ground and therefore communication. Expression, representation, and communication are the primary functions of linguistic utterance. Representation is dominant in conversation, since it mediates between expression and communication. The expression of subjectivity can reach the other and the communicated to the other only through the medium of representation. The object of any particular conversation is integrated into the totality of life, which is represented and made present by that object. Within this common horizon it is clear that the two types of conversation previously distinguished belong together as variations on the basic topic that ultimately grounds any interest in a conversation, and in the communication event: I mean the presence of life itself. In the trance into which the participants in a successful conversation fall, the spirit of life as a totality finds expression. This is the religious dimension of language or the universe of meaning that is apprehensible in the particular theme and its articulation or that is simply experienced as present in the feeling of agreement with the partner that is then articulated in the exchange of almost any kind of utterance whatever.
In conversation, the attention paid by the participants to the object of the conversation is a condition required if suitable formulations are to present themselves and if the partners in the conversation are to keep one and the same object in view as they alternate listening and speaking. The pre-attentive turning that delimits the field within which focal attention can move among changing objects, defines the horizon within which we are open to the inspirations of the imagination. The focusing of attention is not simply a matter of willing; it is a total attitude that has its basis in feeling and thus in an anticipation of the whole of the individual’s life. This enables us to understand how attention to an object can be accompanied by a state of fascination and seizure, and yet can also slacken off and turn away.
The speaker predicates X about the object. This involves a theory of predication; the prepositional act of predication. We represent the world to ourselves and to others in this way. The sentences have relevant meanings in order to represent the world. We know representation through an exploration of various meanings. The meaningfulness of the corresponding general terms determine its usefulness as a representation of the world. Predicate expressions have priority over property or class names, for that is how we arrive at meaning.
Third, the speaker engages in an illocutionary act of asserting, questioning, commanding, wishing, desiring, or promising.
One’s meaning something when one utters a sentence is more than just randomly related to what the sentence means in the language one is speaking. Saying something and meaning is intending to perform an illocutionary act. Human communication has some extraordinary properties, not shared by most other kinds of human behavior. One of the most extraordinary is this. If I am trying to tell others something, then as soon as they recognize that I am trying to tell them something and exactly what it is I am trying to tell them, I have succeeded in telling it to them. Furthermore, unless they recognize that I am trying to tell them something and what I am trying to tell them, I do not fully succeed in telling it to them.
The conformity or nonconformity of speech acts to rules serves as a criterion for their success for failure. In this sense, a theory of language connects with a theory of action, simply because speaking is a rule-governed form of behavior. Performative utterances in particular fall into this category. However, conversation is not accessible to the speech act theory.
The method here is analogous to discovering the rules of chess by asking oneself what are the necessary and sufficient conditions under which one can be said to have correctly moved a knight or castled or checkmated a player, etc. We are in the position of someone who has learned to play chess without ever having the rules formulated and who wants such a formulation. The looseness of the concept of family resemblances should not lead us into a rejection of the very enterprise of philosophical analysis. We have found: happiness/unhappiness dimension; an illocutionary force; truth/falsehood dimension; a locutionary meaning (sense and reference). Here is Searle’s suggestion for classifying verbs. Verdictives give a verdict. Exercitives are for exercising one’s power, right, or influence. Commissives are promises or otherwise undertaking. Behabitives are a miscellaneous group dealing with attitudes and social behavior. Expositives make plain how our utterances fit into a conversation.
Linguistically, the things in sharpest focus are the things that are public enough for us to talk about publicly, common and conspicuous enough for us to talk about often. Talk of subjective sense qualities comes mainly as a derivative idiom. The uniformity that unites us in communication and belief is a uniformity of resultant patterns overlying a chaotic subjective diversity of connections between words and experience. Uniformity comes where it matters socially; rather in point of inter-subjectivity conspicuous circumstances of utterance than in point of privately conspicuous ones.
The power of conception is our peculiar asset, and awareness of this power is an exciting sense of human strength. Nothing is more thrilling than the dawn of a new conception. The symbols that embody basic ideas of life and death, of humanity and the world, are naturally sacred. Naïve thinking does not distinguish between symbol and import. The excitement of realizing life and strength, adulthood, contest, and death is part of the symbolic process. With the formalization of overt behavior in the presence of the sacred objects, we come into the field of ritual. Ritual expresses feelings in the logical rather than the physiological sense. It may have what Aristotle called cathartic value, but that is not its characteristic; it is primarily an articulation of feelings. The ultimate product of such articulating is not a simple emotion, but a complex, permanent attitude. If we were essentially playful, we would have no uneasy conscience at our respite from work. However, the driving force in our minds is fear, which begets an imperious demand for security in the midst of the world’s confusion. The overt form of a sacrament is usually a homely, familiar action, such as washing, eating, drinking; sometimes a more special performance, but still an act that is essentially realistic and vital.
We must also deal with the question of whether moods have an impact upon the truth value of sentences. We speak of moods, such as indicative, imperative, optative, interrogative. A satisfactory theory of mood should have the following characteristics. First, it must show or preserve the relations between indicatives and corresponding sentences in the other moods. Second, it must assign an element of meaning to utterances in a given mood that is not present in utterances in other moods, that is, a difference in force. Third, the theory should be semantically tractable. We should be satisfied with an analysis of the truth conditions of utterances of words. First, there is an element common to the moods. Second, mood is systematically represented by the mood-setter. Third, the utterance of a non-indicative sentence cannot be said to have truth value.
Fourth, the speaker engages in a perlocutionary act in desiring to have an effect upon the hearer, in action, thought, or believe.
Language is purposive "in that there is nearly always in human speech a definite intention of getting something over to somebody else, altering his behavior, his thoughts, or his general attitude toward a situation." Language has an ulterior purpose. One must always intend to produce some non-linguistic effect through having one’s words interpreted. It is in the nature of a game like chess that there are mutually agreed criteria of what it is to play, but mutually agreed criteria of what it is to win. I conclude that it is not an accidental feature of language that the ulterior purpose of an utterance and its literal meaning are independent, in the sense that the latter cannot be derived from the former: it is of the essence of language.
The formal dimension of the text is the system of signs, their rules of operation and their interrelationships. How does the text function? The second dimension of the text is the historical. The third dimension of the text is the phenomenological level of the reading experience. What does the text say to me that is common to the reading experience of others? The fourth and final dimension of the text is the hermeneutic level of self-knowledge. How has my world changed because of reading the text?
We use language to come to terms with or reach an understanding with someone else, we give expression of our belief, we communicate as a speaker with another of the same speech community, about something in the world. Epistemology concerns itself with the last relationship, the relationship between language and reality. Hermeneutics deals simultaneously with the relationship of all three uses of language. Hermeneutics watches language at work, as participants reach common understanding or a shared view. Our reflection has implications for theology, philosophy, and literary interpretation. Psychoanalysis is a form of hermeneutics, in terms of interpreting human experience. Science is one of many efforts on our part to understand this world so that it becomes a viable home for all. Hermeneutics is the process of deciphering that goes from the obvious content and meaning to latent or hidden meaning. Meaningfulness is something deeper than the logical system of language. The relational whole of the world is the context out of which language arises. Words shape and formulate meaning; they also point beyond their own system to a meaningfulness already resident within the world.
Hermeneutics refers to the status of written texts versus spoken word. Hermeneutics also involves interpretation verses explanation or explication. We can read in texts in various ways, and as we do so, we may use the text to advance our own ideas. At that point, we have abandoned interpretation and moved toward our own creative way of advancing our ideas. As we seek understanding of the text, we interpret its meaning. Even if we reduce interpretation to the principle of plausibility, then we have conceded in principle that we can show it to be true or false. The literary work is not “out there”, separate from its perceivers; nor can we discern the intention of the author as if separate from what we can discern in the work. The evidence of interpretation is public semantic facts, connotations and suggestions, the stubborn data with which the interpreter must come to terms, even in the interpreter’s most creative moments. We must constantly check our interpretation against the reality represented by the text. Interpretation connects such local meanings in sentences with the regional meaning of the text as a whole. Regional meaning arises out of local meanings.
The hermeneutical circle reminds us that the understanding of a text cannot be an objective procedure in the sense of scientific objectivity, but necessarily involves a pre-comprehension that expresses the way in which readers already understand themselves and their world. We read from somewhere, a place; we cannot do so from nowhere. Dialogue opens up the world of a literary work. We must achieve meaningful dialogue with a text, based on what understanding a text means. We must regard literary works as humanly created texts that speak. We must risk our personal world if we enter the life-world of a poem, novel, drama, or any work of art. We are part of the field of we are observing.
We must link interpretation theory to the reading of the literary work itself. Literary criticism becomes a process, a movement back and forth between text and critic for the benefit of the critic and all those who share in the textual commentary. There can be no completion of the interpretive process, but only a temporary pause necessary to allow another player to enter the court. The very goal of interpretation must be to share one’s insights with others. The theory of phenomenological hermeneutics is the theory of the productive engagement between text and reader as a process of re-describing the world, my world first, and the world of others worlds subsequently.
Univocal symbols are signs with one designated meaning, such as symbolic logic, mathematics, and scientific notation. Equivocal symbols deal with symbolic texts that have multiple meanings. As interpreters, we deal lovingly with the symbol in an effort to recover a meaning hidden in it. To interpret the symbol is to recollect its original, authentic, but now hidden, meaning. The text becomes a window to a meaningful reality. Language conveys information, of course. In addition, language is a medium through which we discover self-understanding and meaning in reality. We must walk a fine line between objectivity grounded in the text and at the same time remain open to what the text may have to say. Hermeneutics has the double motivation of willingness to suspect and willingness to listen; a vow of rigor and vow of obedience. The first addresses the task of 'doing away with idols,' namely, becoming critically aware of when we project our own wishes and constructs into texts, so that they no longer address us from beyond ourselves as "other." The second concerns the need to listen in openness to symbol and to narrative and thereby to allow creative events to occur "in front of" the text, and to have their effect on us.
We let a thing appear as what it is becomes a matter of learning to allow it to do so, for it gives itself to be seen. We let things become manifest as what they are, without forcing our own categories on them. We allow things to show themselves to us. We receive the gift that the other has to give to us. We do not do violence to that which we observe. We must distinguish between interpretation and one’s own creative act of re-thinking the questions with which the text deals. Art is not just mastering a craft; it discloses or opens up a world. To interpret a work of art means to move into the open space that the work has brought to stand. When we see a world through it, we realize that art is not sense perception but knowledge. When we meet art, the horizons of our own world and self-understanding are broadened so that we see the world in anew light, as if for the first time. In an encounter with a work of art, we become present. As we take into ourselves the unity and selfhood of the other as world, we come to fulfill our own self-understanding. When we understand a great work of art, we bring what we have experienced and who we are into play. Our whole self-understanding is placed in the balance, is risked. The work of art is putting a question to us, the question that called it into being. The experience of a work of art is encompassed and takes place in the unity and continuity of our own self-understanding. When we see a great work of art and enter its world, we do not leave home so much as come home. We say at once; truly it is so! The artist has said what is. The artist has captured reality in an image, a form. This very world of experience and self-understanding in which we live, move, and have our being. The work of art truly presents us with a world, which we are not to reduce to the measure of our own or to the measure of methodologies. We only understand this new world because we are already participating in the structures of self-understanding that make it truth for us. Art is decorative. It demands a place and creates from itself an open place. We cannot reduce the truth of art to propositions.
One way to view hermeneutics is with a proper understanding of the game. It has a kind of holy seriousness. If we do not take the game seriously, we spoil the game. It has its own dynamics and goals independent of the consciousness of those playing. It is a self-defining movement of being into which we enter. The game becomes the true subject of our discussion. Our participation in the game brings it into a presentation, but what is presented as the game takes place in and through us. When we ask what the game itself is, and how it happens, when we take the game as our starting point, then it takes on a different aspect. A game is only a game as it happens. While we play it, the game is the master. The fascination of the game casts a spell over us and draws us into it. It is the master of the player. The game has its own special spirit. Players choose which game to which they will give themselves. Once we choose to play we enter a closed world in which the game comes to take place and through players. The game has its own momentum and pushes itself forward. It wills to be played out.
Where would a drama be if the fourth wall did not open to the audience? When we encounter a work of art, are we participants or are we observers? We remain the audience, and the players in the play. The play achieves its meaning only as a presentation. Its real meaning is a matter of mediation. It does not exist primarily for the players but for the viewer. The play is as hermetically sealed and self-sufficient as any game, but as play it presents itself as event to the viewer. The reason for the play is to transmit the overpowering reality of what is intended in the play, the reality that has been transfused into form. What is the nature of the inner movement of this form? It is like a game, where we are caught up as spectators. In the overpowering event of the game, the thing meant in the game is communicated. What is the thing meant in the case of a work of art? It is the way things are, the truth of being. A work of art is a presentation, transfused into an image, of a truth of being as event. The work of art is viewed as a dynamic thing. This suggests a structure that shows the unified field that embraces both the work of art and the observer.
Note that both juridical and theological hermeneutics see the task of interpretation as an effort to span the distance between a text and the present situation. Interpretation must comprise what it means in terms of our present moment. Understanding the text is already applying the text. Interpreters adjust and order their own thinking to that of the text. Interpreters serve the text. We must allow the claim of the text to show itself as what it is. In the interaction and fusion of horizons, the interpreter comes to hear the question which called the text itself into being; the dialectic of a questioning that is willing to place the claim of the present in the balance and risk it against tradition.
The text to which the pre-understanding gives meaning is not simply there to strengthen our previously held opinion. Rather, we must assume that the text has something to say to us, which we do not already know from ourselves and which exists independently of our act of understanding. Precisely here the questionability of a subjective focus becomes known, as it throws together interpretation, explanation, and application. We can avoid subjectivity without standards in this way. We open ourselves to the horizon of the text, thereby allowing the alteration of our horizon. We allow our horizon to broaden.
Marx's analysis of religion led him to the conclusion that while religion appeared to be concerned with the lofty issues of transcendence and personal salvation, in reality its true function was to provide a "flight from the reality of inhuman working conditions" and to make "the misery of life more endurable." Religion in this way served as "the opium of the people."
Nietzche's understanding of the true purpose of religion as the elevation of "weakness to a position of strength, to make weakness respectable" belied its apparent purpose, namely to make life for the 'slave morality', the weak, the unfit, a little more endurable by promoting virtues such as pity, industry, humility, and friendliness. Thus, Nietzche unmasks religion to reveal it as the refuge of the weak.
With Freud, the same pattern of "unmasking" to reveal and distinguish "the real" from the "apparent" is evident in his analysis of religion. So, while religion was perceived to be a legitimate source of comfort and hope when one is faced with the difficulties of life, in reality religion was an illusion that merely expressed one's wish for a father-God.
We can apply the same principle of unmasking to the act of communication under the rubric of a hermeneutics of suspicion. They unmasked a false consciousness, a false understanding of the "text" (society) by systematically applying a critique of suspicion, with the result that the true understanding, one that more faithfully tracks and correlates with the real situation now becomes unmasked and revealed. All three represent three convergent procedures of demystification. Such a hermeneutic when applied to a text gives rise to the possibility of a second naiveté, whereby the goal of interpretation may be reached, namely a world in front of the text, a world that opens up new possibilities of being. Suspicion needs to operate with a bi-polar focus. Suspicion has a dual focus as we approach a text; I need to apply suspicion to myself. Am I imposing a meaning upon this text? A hammer that breaks discloses its true usefulness to the user; in the same way, the brokenness of human life reveals the nature of our lives. At the same time, I may also have moments when I have delight and thankfulness for the hammer, even as I use it for a particular purpose.
In historical study, the gaining of knowledge is itself an historical event. We know history through the study of the individual historian. Interpretation is a matter of creating distance. We want the text to speak to our needs, which reflects our arrogance. The text may speak to needs that we have while refusing to acknowledge. To understand is not to project oneself into the text. To understand is to receive an enlarged self from the apprehension of proposed worlds that are the genuine object of interpretation. We have a dialectic of distance and appropriation.
Our conception of human existence rules out the possibility of an errorless reliable origin. Hermeneutics is an alternative to deconstruction because its dialectic orientation keeps it open ended as a dynamic process, but does not sacrifice transmission. This approach is called “demythologizing” the text. Deconstruction seeks to destroy the symbol as the representation of a false reality, represented best my Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud. For them, true thinking is an exercise in suspicion and doubt. They undermined the confidence of pious individuals in their beliefs and motives. Their program of de-mystification treats symbols as a false reality that they must shatter. Dialectic, as the art of differentiating rightly, is not some kind of secret art reserved for philosophers. Whoever is confronted with a choice must decide. Being confronted with choices is the unalterable circumstance of human beings. Their having to make choices removes them from the realm of the rest of living things. To be a human being means always to be confronted with choices. Having to choose entails wanting to know what is best, to know what is good. That means knowing reasons why, knowing grounds, and using grounds to differentiate. It establishes the basis for meaningful shared commentary. The critical commentary must have coherence; it must meet its stated aims; criticism must be of consequence to its readers; criticism must be written as an intelligible narrative. Literary criticism concerns itself with the relationship between the text and its readers. The literary text remains the mediator in the process of the fusion of present meaning and past significance. We have a dialect between distance and alienation on the one side and appropriation on the other. Alienation can lead to narcissism of the reader, a projection of the reader into the text. This is in contrast to expanding the horizon of the reader. Dialectic is a conversation between two human beings on some important subject like the nature of the good or the meaning of justice. Such discussions are resolved based on the principle of contradiction. The less self-contradictory side wins. If both are found in the course of conversation to be self-contradictory, then a third position emerges free of the contradictions of the initial two. However, this third position may contain new, unforeseen contradictions, thereby giving rise to yet another conversation and another resolution. This dialectical occur does not occur only among ideas, but in economic competition within society, and between societies.
Interpretation is a matter of love. The lover affirms the reality and the otherness of the beloved. Love does not seek to collapse the beloved into terms of itself. Losing oneself in the one loved is actually a matter of finding oneself. One becomes fully oneself when losing oneself to another. In the fact of love, the lovers affirm the individuality of the other. In the same way, one can listen to the text on its own terms. If the text is a puzzle, the good reader will pay it the compliment of struggling to understand it, living with it, and continuing to listen. Yet, no matter how close the reader comes to understanding the text, the reading is still the reader of the reader. Interpretation never loses the subjectivity of the reader. It would not even be desirable to lose subjectivity. The text has a viewpoint from which it sees everything; readers also have perspectives they bring to the text. The text has a life of its own; the reader has intentions of which we can gain at least some knowledge. The actions or objects described may well be in the public world; the author also looked at them from a particular and perhaps distorted point of view. Each stage of this process interpretation becomes a conversation, in which misunderstanding is likely, perhaps inevitable, but in which through patient listening real understanding is actually possible and attainable.
Interpretation in the context of literature involves inquiry into the significance of the words within the context of the sentence and discourse. In history, we are concerned with processes in which the significance of individual appearances changes with time. The whole in historical examination has the character of a process. Some ancient texts one can study with little attention to contemporary relevance. The expositor of the bible cannot afford this separation and do justice to the text. The same point applies to any religious text that applies to humanity.
What I want to discuss here is a way in which theology can talk meaningfully about God from a philosophical perspective and in the context of a largely secular and post-Christian culture.
Categories are forms of stating or asserting, having to do with semantics rather than syntax. Categories are elements of meaning alongside others within the semantic structure of the act of asserting. Aristotle developed his view of categories partly as the meaning structure of language and partly as the meaning structure of asserting, but even more as a view of the most general forms of what is.
The elements of meaning found in language are structural forms of that which exists. Categories are general elements of meaning attributed to true assertions and to states of affairs that they grasp. Categories are general structural elements of knowledge, partly for the general form of knowledge, as would be the case with Kant’s doctrine of categories, but even more are categories are the general structural elements of knowledge as the totality of knowledge of facts. Yet, our consciousness can only anticipate the totality of knowledge and of what is, insofar as we employ categories with unreflective or reflective awareness. Categories in this philosophical sense become accessible to analysis through reflection on their connections with all other assertions and asserted states of affairs. We cannot avoid reflecting on the totality that underlies the formation of categorical notions.
We cannot limit our examination to an examination of the linguistic form of such discourse, for the linguistic form itself intends a state of affairs and claims correspondence with the state of affairs (truth). Individual words refer to an object, and the sentence as judgment or assertion has an objective reference. We determine the objective reference of individual words through the reciprocal explication of subject and predicate. The realm of meaning relevant to assertions includes the implications of the words within the context of discourse and to other states of affairs that the discourse asserts. One always says more than one wants to say. Such a claim to truth means we cannot avoid reflecting on the totality of all true assertions and on the totality of what is. The coherence theory of truth and the legitimation of all systematic thought rest here.
The truth condition becomes a theme of reflection for an anticipating consciousness, in the form of a plurality of aspects of states of affairs. As part of our finitude, certain categories play a prominent role in our experience; different categories may occupy the foreground as organizing principles of their respective sub-realms. When we identify such categories, they allow us to relate individual states of affairs found in various areas of experience to the totality of reality, while preserving the way we view this totality within the guiding perspectives of the individual disciplines.
The modern world does not take a meaningful life for granted. Our time has a dominant concern with emptiness and loss. While antiquity had concerns for how temporary life is, and medieval people had concerns for forgiveness, modern people have concerns for meaning. Tillich suggested individual meaning depends on an unconditioned ground of meaning. Viktor Frankl suggests in The Will to Meaning that unconditional meaning grounds the meaning of existence makes it possible for people to exist. He suggests that forgetfulness of God in secular society explains neurotic illness and suicides. Such enquiries concern themselves with the possibility of meaningful life in the midst of suffering. The experience of emptiness suggests that we cannot presuppose meaningfulness to human life.
I want to consider whether human beings discover meaning already present in reality.
We can also apply the category of meaning and the standpoint of the historicity of meaning to the question of the essence of natural events and things. Even the essence of events and forms within the natural world will change over the course of time. At the end of their movement through time, one could decide what actually makes up their distinctive character or essence. Yet, this would also suggest that this was the essence from the beginning. The presence of the end and the way in which the goal is present and efficacious in the movement that leads to the end has an anticipatory structure. As we think in terms of individual motions, we can speak of a retroactive causality of the end during the course of becoming. We can now speak of the retroactive constitution of the essence of a thing that is becoming from its end.
Interestingly, we can express semantically the absence of meaning in a way that has meaning. The semantic or meaning-related structure of language allows us to articulate the conviction of the meaninglessness of life. This distinguishing between a formal notion of what it is to be meaningful from actual meaning-filled content.
Does the sense that linguistic utterances owe its existence to a human bestowal of meaning? This view does not appreciate the fact that language represents a reality that is already given. In addition, there are many layers to the meaning of linguistic utterances. Yet, interpretations can miss the meaning that the author intended the utterances to have, as well as the meaning that actually the reader should derived from what was said. This possibility of error weighs heavily against the view that interpretations are only a bestowal of meaning. If the interpretation can miss the meaning of its object, then the meaning of a sentence, a discourse, or a text is obviously not merely dependent on the interpreter. In a similar manner, assertions also presuppose rather than produce the meaning of the corresponding state of affairs. We can approach meaning through language but it is not the product of language. If the use of assertions is meaningful, then reality must already possess a meaningful structure before we grasp it in language, even if language is the only way to articulate this meaning structure. Language can either grasp or miss the semantic structure of reality, and therefore language does not create this semantic structure. To reduce meaning to language is to take the first step along a path that culminates in the position that human action creates, that it is a product of a bestowal of meaning.
If we bestow meaning upon life through our own action, meaning would merely be a human projection, lacking any truth content beyond our consciousness. In fact, human action depends upon goal setting, and it in turn depends upon perceptions of meaning. The whole of life has definiteness only in the particular events and experiences of life. We cannot know the meaning of individual events until the end of life. Our vague awareness of the infinite and the eternal precedes our comprehension of the finite world. Therefore, the meaning of an individual life may await a fulfillment beyond death. Individual meaning takes place within the all-encompassing context of meaning. Meaning comes from the relationships themselves. Therefore, meaning does not come from interpreters who bestow meaning. Events already have meaning.
We can also suggest this distinction in what is contained in the sentences of a discourse or text. Individual words have their meaning as designations for objects and states of affairs and through their positions in the sentence. I grant that sense may belong primarily to sentences and meaning to words. However, the words have their meanings initially within sentences, and we cannot separate completely this meaning from the context of an individual sentence. I suggest that a sentence is not simply a mechanical construction of words with already set meanings. Rather, the individual word always bears a certain degree of indeterminacy. Dictionaries offer various nuances of meaning for each word abstracted from actual use in sentences. The individual word receives a higher degree of semantic determinacy in a sentence, for now the word bears meaning as a constituent of the sentence. The words articulate the sense of the sentence, and thus the words have sense as well as meaning. Sense and meaning belong together. Further, we need to differentiate the notion of meaning into the reference to an object and the position of the individual word in the sentence. Meaning has to do with the position of particulars within the context of the whole. Therefore, we can speak of the meaning of the particular sentence within the broader context of a discourse or text. Linguistic meaning has to do with the relationships between parts and whole within the context of a discourse.
We also concern ourselves with the subject represented in that about which one speaks. This representational function plays a part and may move to the fore, especially in the case of assertions. Assertions claim to be true in the sense that the meaning of such sentences attempts to represent an objectively existing meaning, a state of affairs. This truth claim constitutes the sense or import of sentences as assertions. Of course, language expresses and communicates as well as represents. The question for us is whether the sense that linguistic utterances have owe their existence to a human bestowal of meaning.
I grant that we speak sentences, leading us to think that their meaning is the result of our efforts. We also think of language as the product of human activity, and therefore that meaning is the product of the human bestowal of meaning. Yet, two other crucial factors in the semantic structure of linguistic structure are important to consider at this point.
First, the nature of language itself is to represent a reality already given, as we see in the nature of making assertions. True assertions are true in that their content corresponds to the state of affairs one asserts. True assertions relate to the reality of the asserted states of affairs in the sense of a discovery of meaning (not bestowal of meaning). This suggests that, rather than deconstructing texts beyond recognition, we must recognize the human need to speak of matters in the extra-linguistic world. To fail to do so would make our linguistic world lapse into incoherence. Many acts of speech have an essential element, consisting of the fit between what it says and events in the extra-linguistic world.
Second, linguistic utterances have many layers of meaning. Words that describe events function on all sorts of levels, because events themselves function on all sorts of levels. For example, we say in reality something different from what we wanted to say. What makes this possible is that the meaning of a sentence proceeds from the combination of the words, independently of the intentions that the speaker had in speaking it. A sentence can say more than the speaker actually wanted to say. A sentence can fall short of the thought one wanted to express and which one can independently infer from the context of one’s speech. A sentence can convey something different from what one intended. Every linguistic expression needs interpretation by listener or reader. The fact that one makes errors in interpretation suggests against pure bestowal of meaning. If the interpretation can miss the meaning of its object, then the meaning of a sentence, a discourse, or a text is not merely dependent on the interpreter. Although questions related to what we are doing when we read, what we bring to the text, and in what I am changed by reading are important, one can actually engage the subject-matter of the text. The reader can do more than simply play with the text for private purposes. The reader can do more than examine what the process of reading does to the reader. The reader can truly engage the person who wrote the text. The reader can discover that to which the text points. Therefore, meaning does not depend only on the speaker or author of the text, or on the reader. We have more than private reading of the text. Discussions about the text with someone else matter in disclosing the subject matter of the text. This suggests that the semantic structure of the text has an independent reality, and one must judge interpretation in relation to that text. Assertions presuppose the meaning of the corresponding state of affairs. Assertions depend upon the states of affairs existing prior to the assertion.
Human beings tell ourselves certain stories about the world, and about whom we are within it. We might even consider most writing and speaking as the telling of stories that bring worldviews into articulation. Within this story telling it makes sense that we describe ourselves as reading texts. Even deconstructionist thinkers write texts that they want others to read to discover what they as writers intend to say. Within this text-reading activity, it makes sense that we find ourselves in contact with the mind and intention of the author, assuming that the author has some integrity in communicating the subject matter of the text. The author wants readers to think about the subject matter of their works, not about them as authors. They offer new ways of viewing a reality that is outside, and different, from reader, author, and text alike, though of course related to al three. It fits with the story we tell about ourselves and the world that texts and authors would point to realities in the world. The story suggested by any religious or secular worldview is normative for those who accept it. People who believe and live by these stories claim they make sense of the whole of reality. Even the relativist or atomist has an underlying story that conflict with most other stories that speak of reality as a seamless web, open in principle to experience, observation, and discussion. In this sense, religion can never be a private worldview or a set of private stories.
The text or story calls the reader to be open to the possibility of events that do not conform to his or her worldview or grid of expected possibilities. This suggests that people need to listen to stories other than those by which they habitually order their lives. They need to ask themselves whether those other stories ought not to be allowed to subvert their usual ones. People need to ask whether there really are more things in the world than their worldview allows.
What we have learned is that we approach meaning through language, but meaning is not the product of language. If our use of assertions expresses the particular nature of human experience and experienced reality, then reality is meaningfully structured prior to human attempts to grasp that meaning in language. Language can either grasp or miss the semantic structure of reality. Without this truth, all assertions would be misguided. When philosophers attempt to reduce meaning to language, they take the first step along a path that culminates in the creation of meaning through human action. Rather, human action depends on perceptions of meaning. After all, goal setting requires the choice of the means relevant to a given goal. This process presupposes orientation to the world and the grasp of semantic content. We form verbal utterances secondarily, as means for the attainment of selected goals or as ends in themselves. Thus, action is not the fundamental character of spoken language, even though language utterances are human activity. To make my point clear: we cannot reduce linguistically grasped meaning to acts of the bestowal of human meaning. Experienced meaning precedes human comprehension of meaning, providing the connection between religion and the experience of meaning. If we have nothing but the human bestowal of meaning, religion would be nothing more than a human projection from human consciousness. Such a view denies the truth of any assertion, not just religious statements. The semantic structure of reality precedes its linguistic representation. Experiencing has to do with the social context within which human beings develop language. Experiencing has to do with the ontological structure of those capable of language. Human experience is a special case of the semantic structure of reality. This pre-linguistic meaning structure is the foundation of linguistically articulated meaning.
I have appealed to the representational function of language, and particularly to the structure of assertions, to justify the supposition of structures of meaning that extend beyond the realm of linguistic meaning and into the realm of the meaning of reality. In all realms of reality, we can understand particular appearances as parts of more complete forms of meaning or contexts of meaning. The human life-context carries significance for the perception of meaning, for the whole of human life is present at every moment along with the particulars of their own experiencing. An individual event becomes an experience to the extent that it is grasped as one specific articulation of a whole life.
We have a vague awareness of an undetermined infinite that precedes all comprehension of anything finite or determined. One can comprehend the finite only as a limitation of this infinite. This does not mean we have a specific consciousness of the whole of our own life in experiencing. Experiencing involves the whole of reality. The whole of reality appears in the individual occasion of experiencing. One parallel to this is the fact that the meaning context of a discourse appears in the individuals words and sentences. Of course, the whole of reality is not fully contained in the individual experience. Yet, a vague element of above and beyond remains that forms the framework in which the individual experience can first become what it is. This view opens the possibility of a philosophy centered on the concept of life and the ontological structure of experiencing. The meaning structures of earlier experiences shift, for the whole of life appears repeatedly under new perspectives. What one earlier experienced as important becomes unimportant, and what appeared as scarcely noticed moments of earlier experiencing can increase in significance. The least moment of a life reveals the final estimate of is meaning. Until then, the meaning of particular moments of experiencing shifts, reflecting the finitude of our knowledge about the whole of life. We have a relationship to the whole of our lives, even though we have the limited viewpoint of a specific experience, from which we remember earlier experiences and await future experiences.
Religious experience is an intuition of the infinite and whole in one individual content. Such a view of the universe recognizes that what is individual and finite does not exist for itself, but rather is cut out, together with its boundaries that constitute its particularity, of the infinite and the whole. We normally interact with finite objects and states of affairs as if they had their existence in themselves. The higher awareness of religious experiences and the deeper reality of things recognizes that finite things are constituted in the infinite and the whole. This higher perceptual awareness constitutes the unique essence of religious experience. We have the whole of life in the individual and specific, in which the whole manifests itself, occurring within the historicity of individual human life. Final knowledge of the meaning of life is inaccessible, for the meaning of our existence reveals itself at the end of our lives. However, the meaning of life and of its individual moments must actually lie at some point beyond life. We have the whole in and through fragments.
Further, we can trust the meaningfulness of life through a total meaning that encompasses life a whole. We can grasp this totality of meaning indirectly through the mediation of particular life situations. One can connect the semantic structure of experiencing with religious themes. Meaning proceeds from the relationships of life itself. Meaning proceeds from the relationships of its sub-moments to the whole of the life-context. Events already have meaning and significance. Events of history have the same analysis. Historical events have meaning and significance according to their contribution to the whole of the life context in which they belong. This view does justice to the multiplicity of interpretations of historical occurrences, as well as to the significance that accrues to each but which one cannot fully determine until the end of history. Every moment has meaning in itself, but we can grasp its meaning through the medium of an interpretation that conditioned by the perspective of a particular historical standpoint. This insight applies to individual history as well as world history. The end of history provides the context within which one could comprehend the significance of the events and forms of history. The end of history provides the context for determining the truth or falsity of our convictions of meaning. Present meaning has the form of faith and is an anticipatory representation of a meaning that has yet to appear.
Now we need to pursue the question of the particularity of the religious awareness of meaning in its relationship to the semantic structuredness of human experiencing generally. Schleiermacher has elucidated it in principle. The everyday consciousness orients itself toward finite objects and relationships. The religious consciousness comprehends finite realities as grounded in the infinite and whole, thereby sensing the infinite in the finite things. Cultural consciousness focuses on individual meaning. The unconditioned ground of meaning becomes explicit topic for the religious consciousness. The religious consciousness has as its explicit theme that totality of meaning that is implicitly presupposed in all everyday experiences of meaning, oriented as they are around individual experiences of significance. Religion deals with the divine reality that grounds and completes the meaning totality of the natural and social world. It indirectly deals with the meaning of the world itself. Yet, the truth claim made by the religious consciousness must authenticate itself by showing that one can understand the God alleged by it as the creator and perfecter of the world as in fact experienced. Religious assertions must be able to integrate the relations implicit in everyday experiences of meaning within an encompassing context of meaning that grounds all individual meaning. The experience of meaninglessness, suffering and evil are among life experiences religion needs to integrate. Failure to integrate such human experiences will lead to a crisis of belief that the religious tradition proclaims the true God. Christian faith claims about God must also face confirmation or denial through the human experience of meaning and its relation to the whole of reality.
The emptiness experienced by many in western civilization suggests that the traditional answers of Christianity are no longer adequate as a comprehensive interpretation of the experience of the reality of the world and the life situations contemporary people face. Contemporary questions about meaning are not idolatrous. Meaning is not simply the bestowal of meaning. Meaning and truth are not the same. We cannot deal with meaninglessness by simply giving modern people a sense of the meaningfulness of life, as if the question of truth or falsity was disruptive. Nor can theology approach the questioning of meaning as a desire to anesthetize nihilistic experience. The earnest inquiry into meaning desires an adequate answer to the problems that have led to the forfeiture of the consciousness of meaning.
I would suggest that we cannot separate the question of meaning and truth. We long for an all-encompassing meaning. The coherence theory of truth suggests that individual truth will cohere with all other truths. The question of the meaning-context of reality as a whole is theologically legitimate. The inquiry into the totality of meaning is not human presumption. The whole conditions every individual. The consciousness of the state of affairs belongs to what it means to be human. The fact that we cannot gain a definitive overview of the whole of reality is also part of our humanity. When we forget this limit, we can speak of presumption. The sort of knowledge of the whole of reality that remains conscious of its own finiteness reaches consummation in a knowledge of God as distinct from human subjectivity.
The idea of God attempts to answer the question of the meaning of reality as a whole. To exclude the question is to forbid that religious consciousness through which we honor God. The mention of the inscrutable nature of God brings us to the superiority of God-based meaning of the life-world over the limitations of human understanding. The divine logos (word or meaning) became human in Jesus of Nazareth. To connect the logos with the Old Testament concept of the divine word suggests that the context of meaning that encompasses the entire creation and its history up through the future completion has been shown in Jesus Christ.
The demarcation of one thing from another is what constitutes its concept. In fact, the Greek word for border, horos, is at the same time the word for concept. Yet, whenever we think of a border, we have always thought at the same time of something that lies beyond that border. We cannot think the notion of the finite without already thinking, at least by connotation, the Infinite at the same time. Consistent with Schleiermacher, the finite exists through determination of its limits. In a sense, we carve out the finite from the Infinite. Everyday awareness does not perceive this. Higher stages of awareness perceive the dependence that lies in the notion of the finite, the dependence of every finite object with regard to the determination of its boundaries. Comprehending anything finite depends upon the intuition of the Infinite. The conception of the individual ego already presupposes that of the Infinite.
One cannot identify the notion of the infinite as a general, confused, and pre-thematic idea with God. One needs to admit that human beings arrive at a notion of God from religion. However, the logical analysis of the Infinite by Hegel suggests that opposing finite and Infinite introduces a limit to the Infinite. The Infinite must not only be set in opposition to the finite, but must also overcome the opposition. One must conceive the Infinite both as transcendent in relation to the finite and as immanent to it. From Hegel on, the only understanding of God that one can call monotheistic will be that which is able to conceive the one God not merely as transcending the world. At the same time, this God beyond is also immanent in the world. However, even these cogent and helpful reflections by Hegel do not bridge the gulf between philosophy and the God of power and will in religion.
Philosophy and theology have long had an uneasy relationship. The Christian proclamation of the cross and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth means to convey the knowledge of a particular occurrence. Christian faith knows itself grounded upon this, its object. The object of Christian faith precedes personal faith historically. To proclaim this one God, Christianity appealed almost immediately to Stoic and Platonic forms of thought, and so philosophy belongs to the foundation. Christian theology is essentially an inquiry into God and the revelation of God. Christian theology would lose its claim to truth if it were stop speaking of God in this way. Many modern philosophers do not want to be bothered with religious questions. Yet, Hegel had a better grasp of the place of religion in human thought when he suggested that both religion and philosophy direct the attention of people away from the temporal and finite and toward the eternal and infinite.
One of the areas in which philosophy and religion can connect is in discerning worldviews of groups and cultures. Worldviews reflect upon the presuppositions or pre-cognitive level of a sub-culture, culture, or society. Whenever we find the ultimate concerns of human beings, we find worldviews. It embraces all deep-level human perceptions of reality, including the question of whether or not deity exists, and if so, the nature of deity and the relationship deity with nature and humanity.
First, worldviews provide the stories through which human beings view reality. Narrative is the most characteristic expression of worldview, going deeper than the isolated observation or fragmented remark.
Second, from these stories one can discover how to answer the basic questions that determine human existence: who are we, where are we, what is wrong, and what is the solution? All cultures cherish deep-rooted beliefs that they can call up to answer these questions. Cultures have a sense of identity, of environment, of a problem with the way the world is, and of a way forward, that may lead the way out of that problem.
Third, the stories that express the worldview, and the answers that it provides to the questions of identity, environment, evil and the vision for the future, are expressed in cultural symbols. These can be both artifacts and events. Such symbols come to light when challenging them brings anger or fear. Such symbols often function as social and or cultural boundary markers. Those who observe them are insiders, and those who do not are outsiders. These symbols are often too deep for words. These symbols provide insight into how the culture views the world. They determine how, from day to day, human beings will view the whole of reality. They determine what a particular culture is able to understand and assimilate.
Fourth, worldviews include a praxis, a way of being in the world. The implied vision of the future, what is the solution, necessarily entails action. The real shape of someone’s worldview can often be seen in the sort of action they perform, particularly if the actions are so instinctive or habitual as to be taken for granted. The choice of a life-aim reflects the worldview held. So do the intentions and motivations with which the overall aim goes to work. Inconsistence of aim and action does not invalidate this, but merely shows that the issue is complicated, and thee answer to the third question, what is wrong, should include human confusion.
Worldviews are basic to human life, the lens through which one see the world, the blueprint for how one should live in it, and the sense of identity and place that enables human beings to be what they are. One rarely focuses attention upon the worldview of one’s culture. A worldview is not a bit information in a culture that one can study. Rather, a worldview is that through which one sees what one sees in the world. In the study of culture, we need awareness of the worldview we possess, as well as the worldview of the culture we study. Worldview forms the grid according to which human beings organize reality. One rarely consciously calls attention to or discusses worldviews unless a challenge arises to it, a matter considered large in significance. This means that one can call their truth-value into question through discussion. This is a crisis in a way of life, and becomes something akin to a conversion, a shift in perspective. Worldviews normally come into sight in sets of beliefs and aims that emerge into the open, that engage public discussion, and which a culture could revise without revising the whole worldview.
sense, the debate between worldviews can be like the debate between the ancient
philosophical schools of