In writing my last post, I was mulling over a series of questions I have been asking myself as I realize major philosophical differences between my predecessors (from what I can perceive) and myself. A few years ago I took part in a theology class where a professor detailed several differences in the way people ‘know’. This subject (epistemology) has continued to fascinate me. I believe the major differences in political and religious thinking to be highly motivated by one’s own epistemology. As I continued in my fascination, the relative ignorance to other forms of thought became more frustrating to me. In our meetings, we often find ourselves reducing our arguments to epistemology or semantics (usually when we’re tired or inebriated). Though arguments can be good or bad whether it agrees with another’s epistemology, the way one views a subject is vital to reception. Considering this, I figured it was high time one of us put together a little essay on the topic.
As a religious thinker, I believe the point of studying this subject affects our perspective on two very crucial points. Initially, the question of ‘truth’ becomes the overwhelming fascination. What is truth? How does truth function? Is truth subjective (depending on perception), objective (existing outside of perception) or both? Epistemology is not locked in religious study either. Studies of history, economics, philosophy, psychology and physics all depend on a subset of rules that differ depending on the way the observer “observes” and “analyzes” the issues of their field. Further, the question of social institution becomes interesting. Are we individual thinkers (perceivers) or limited to our social perceptions? If one were born in a different location, how would their epistemology differ?
In our group we have a lot of differences in background. Between the four of us Theophiliacs:
one was born to a Muslim father
two are pastor’s kids
one has divorced parents
two have grown in the suburbs
two have grown in a rural setting
three are Caucasian
one is of Persian descent
three are married
four of us own and smoke tobacco pipes (yay Jeremy!)
… considering all these things, not to mention all of our similarities, we all think very differently. The way we ‘know’ is part of what makes us individuals.
As each of these methods is introduced, I intend to provoke a few questions within you, the reader.
– Which of these epistemologies seems closest to yours?
– How does your epistemology differ?
– Why do you think this way?
– Why do others think this way?
I would like to immediately convey the way I will be systematizing epistemologies, as it has an inherent strength and weakness. In addressing each form of knowing, I will be categorizing these methods in terms of the three major philosophical epochs: premodernism, modernism and postmodernism. This will allow me to categorize in a historical method how each of these movements relate to one another. Using philosophical epochs may allow one to realize better which method they belong to and why. Admittedly this form of description is incredibly problematic – an individual cannot really be placed completely into one epistemology (unless they founded the method), nor do sociological and philosophical studies agree. In both regards, individual preference and academic study overlap in indeterminate places. So, when I write ‘logical positivism is a trend in modernist thought’ I mean to leave out the fact not all modernists adhere to logical positivism and not all logical positivists are also modernists. Please accept such overlaps in sociological-philosophical systemization as hypothesis, not conclusion.
It is worth saying, no epistemology is ‘wrong’. Some epistemologies are heavily dependent upon logic/empiricism/analysis while others are based in experience/belief. I will confess my dislike for logical positivism (logical empiricism), as it is a movement incredibly contrary to my bias. However, I must admit my debt to the method, as it has laid groundwork for much of academia, as well as it being the method of many of my mentors.
I hope this short series will be as enjoyable for you to read, as it will be for me to write.