A key term and component of postmodernism is hermeneutics. Technically, it is a theological term which refers to the art and science of interpretation. It has been used more and more now however by many disciplines (I’ve seen it used in geology) as a way to recognize the fact that all evidence is interpreted evidence. We see everything from an angle, a perspective, a “way” of seeing that is rich in presuppositions. This is not bias. This is, in fact, the only way to understand anything we encounter through our senses and even our inward personal world. An angle, a perspective, is always already present. Otherwise, no theory, no reflection, the ability to drawn connections, to think abstractly, would even be possible. We would simply sit and stare at the world like mindless cameras recording (but not processing) meaningless images of matter-in-motion.
“…what we today mean by hermeneutics is a more general theory, that every truth is a function of interpretation, and the need for interpretation is a function of being situated in a particular time and place, and therefore of having inherited presuppositions…“Hermeneutics is the art of negotiating multiple finite, lower-case truths, coping with the shifting tides and circumstances of truth while not allowing any eight-hundred pound gorillas into the room. In the past, before the Enlightenment, the overweight primate was theology. In the Middle Ages (and not just then), if someone said, ‘The Church teaches…’ that tended to reduce everyone in the room to silence. But if ever there were a candidate for a Big Truth nowadays, it is science. Science is our gorilla. Whenever anyone says, ‘Science says…’ we tend to think the conversation is over. So we postmodern hermeneuts must be bold as brass and be willing to stand up both to bishops and physicists.”
And please let me just head off the completely, unequivocally, beyond a shadow-of-doubt, without hesitation, wrongness to think when he says we must stand up to physicists he is calling gravity into question. Can we just get beyond those ridiculous tenth-grade readings–the sorts of comments or questions that can only confirm one has no idea what anyone is talking about? Okay? Thanks.
I would also just add here that the eight-hundred gorilla never knows it’s the eight-hundred pound gorilla. It thinks it is- “just the way things are” and because it is so big, it doesn’t even perceive the other stories in the room. It certainly never conceives itself as narrative. These beasts think they represent the “actual” or “true” world. Once it does perceive another story in the room, it looks down upon its feeble rival and with a stern glare makes sure it remembers its place (you’re a fairy tale). The time we are living in now however is that the big monkey has been told he’s a narrative too and will no longer have the last word. Big monkey not happy–thus the ongoing modern-postmodern conversation.
Now, Caputo goes on to talk about the physicists’ goal of coming up with a “Theory of Everything” or TOE. He notes that even if one were to be had, it itself, would not be “everything” because there is more to life than just matter-in-motion or “just” physics. He also notes the connection, with this idea of a TOE and the comparison between science and religion.
“Nonetheless, the big TOE raises a big problem which pits it against religion as a pretender to the throne previously occupied by religion. It is also an interesting comparison between religion and science. They both hold that over and beyond the everyday world we live in, the buzzing, blooming, noisy multicolored world we experience, there lies the ‘true’ world, and consequently they are inclined to take each other on about which true world is really true. For the one, the true world is delivered by mathematics; for the other, it is delivered by Revelation. The contribution hermeneutics makes to this debate is that, when it comes to truth, there are many ways to be, and we have to keep an eye out for the one Hegemonic Discourse (a bully) in the crowd who claims to know it all and to be able to identify the True World.”
The point is that there is more than one way for something to be true. When we say the earth is round we are telling a type of truth, but not the ONLY type—and not a type that “trumps” all others. A statement like, “The Holocaust was evil,” can also be true and not merely a reporting of one’s inner psychology or personal preference. This is why Caputo told us he holds out the, “right to say that some things are not just different, they’re wrong.” And he means as truly wrong as the earth is truly round.
He finishes the introduction thus:
“So think of this book as a guided tour you have been enticed to sign up for, a pause from your busy postmodern life, where you are promised nothing less than the truth. We will be visiting the three basic models of truth: the premodern idea that God is truth; the modern idea that Reason judges what is true; and the postmodern idea of truth as an event, where neither God nor Reason enjoy pride of place. But be forewarned: the tour closes with a question, not an answer, and there are no refunds on the price of your ticket.”