Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Desacrtes and Epistemology

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Rene Descartes

We tend to think of epistemology as fashioned by Descartes. the rationalist constructs a neat little system for obtaining certain knowledge. At the time that Descartes came up with the cogito Europe was embroiled in a crisis of skepticism. The Skeptics weren't just anti-religious, though, they were Calvinists! The Calvinists challenged church authority, and the church was the gate keeper of knowledge. So Descartes' system was aimed at wrecking the arguments of the Calvinists, who despised reason and militated for faith as the ultimate route to knowledge.

Descartes failed in that he didn't bring everyone back to the RCC, but he succeeded beyond his wildest in that he established the method of empirical scientific proof through statistical verification, or helped to do so. Since that time we have tended to think of epistemology as a need little discipline that sets out a systematic system and 1,2,3 we have the truth because we know how we know.

But it doesn't work that way in modernity. Things are too complex. One thing that happened since WWII was a current in German thought that goes back to Brintano and the 19th century came to fruition in the guise of a Nazi, even one accepted in the land of the Nazi deafters.

I speak of course of Heidgeggerian epistemology. That is a very appropriate juncture for a Christian to move into thinking about epistemology, since Heidegger was influenced by two major christian thinkers, in the liberal tradition; the 'father' of modern liberal theology, Schleiermacher, and the "father" of modern existentialism, Keirkegaard. Both were devout christians.

This phenomenological perspective runs parallel to the perspective of mystical religious experince, which is the most sure fire safe guard on faith of which I know.

Heideggerian phenomenology proceeds from a point of allowing the phenomena to suggest their own categories. Rather than "gathering" all data into a heap and forcing it into pre conceived categories, the phenomenologist begins with the root of the experince in sense data and phenomena, and rather than insisting upon filing it where he thinks it goes, he mentally allows the phenomena to suggest its own category.

That means in practical terms experiencing the presence of God rather than insisting through rationalistic means that God exists and God is thus and so. One experinces God and then comes to an understanding of the nature of God.

Now I'm not saying that this can be a total epistemology in and of itself. We also have empirical knowledge and revelation. But you know my view on revelation of the Bible, that is a recorded f people's experinces of god; that is very phenomenological. rather than be dictated their theological tenets, they recorded their experiences and that becomes the tenet as the community compares it to its own experinces; the dialectical presence model of inspiration that Barth and others spoke of.

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