2012-07-24

On the Integration of Epistemology


This summer I read "Descartes Bones", which, although not a masterwork of analytic reasoning, it is a fun romp through the seismic changes that modern epistemology brought to society, as seen through the lens of the rather weird journey of Descartes' skeleton. In an irony of Philosophical proportions, it seems that his head became separated from his body, and no one knows where his body has gone!

Anyway, the book brought up for me a continual question that I ask: How does one integrate the insights of different epistemology across history? Different epistemologies weigh different kinds of data in different ways, yielding access to different kinds of knowledge that other epistemologies seem blind to. Furthermore, different kinds of epistemology seem to act as watchdogs or guard against the habitual errors of other epistemic methods.

For instance, it seems to me that:

Modern epistemology is great at constructing new knowledge systems (sciences) which allow us to engineer technology and society in ways never dreamt of. However, modern epistemology has a penchant for constructing "totalizing ideologies" that tend to oppress and grind dissidents underfoot without paying attention to their viewpoints.

Postmodern epistemology is great at identifying and calling out modern and ancient knowledge systems for their hubris, blindness and violence to "the other". But as good as postmodern epistemology is at critique, it is not very good at constructing knowledge systems we can live in as a society.

Finally, ancient epistemology is a good remedy for the modern and postmodern tendency to focus only on empirical reality and only on the individual (their powers in analysis and atomization are also their weakness). As such, ancient epistemology is good at formation of community, and participation in non-empirical "spiritual" reality. However, ancient epistemology that conserves traditional knowledge is not well equipped to help knowledge progress into new areas of discovery. Nor is it particularly good at viewing itself from outside of itself (and thus sustaining critique of itself).

While this is a massive over-generalization, and open to critique on very many point, in a brief compass this seems to me to be the basic shape of the epistemic problems we face.

So, since I tend to think using charts and diagrams, I decided to try to integrate these insights using the central motif of the "hermeneutic spiral". The result is the above chart. Enjoy.
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