Caputo: Chapter Six—Truth in the Postmodern Situation—Part Four—Hermeneutics

Caputo continues with the aspect of what philosophers in both Europe and here in the US began to understand was not working as far as the Enlightenment understanding of truth:
“What was splitting apart was the notion of Pure Reason, which implies that science, for example, obeys a pure logic, that its progress comes by steady incremental growth, each new discovery arriving as a linear addition to the preceding state of science, as pure facts assemble themselves before the eyes of disincarnate value-free scientific researchers following pure laws of evidence.  But science does not drop from the sky.  It is not the issue of a supraterrestrial species of bloodless, disembodied cloud-borne observers of pure neutral facts, like the scientists at the ‘Grand Academy of Lagado’ in Gulliver’s Travels.”
A key figure in this change of thought was Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) and his concept of ‘language games’.  He didn’t mean ‘games’ in a trivial or entertainment sense and by ‘language’ he didn’t mean the different languages of various people groups, like English, French, or German.  By ‘games’ he meant any rule-based activity or form of communication.  And by ‘language’ he meant a way of communicating or discourse that was proper to the thing being discussed.
“For example ‘ethics’, ‘physics’ and ‘politics’ are different language games, somewhat in the way we might speak of the ‘life insurance’ game or the ‘art game’ or the ‘education game’.  Each game has rules proper to itself and you can’t judge one game with the rules of another, in just the way that you cannot call ‘checkmate’ in football…Wittgenstein was legitimizing the plurality of what he called the ‘forms of life’ and cutting off reductionist arguments—as when someone says that ethical judgments are ‘nothing more than’ neurons firing.  Whenever someone says that y is ‘nothing more than’ x, we hermeneuts head for the door.  They are being reductionist about x, shamelessly engaging in x-ism.  Everything is x or a version of x—where x might be sex, science, religion, morals, economics, the unconscious or, nowadays, a computer program.”
At first glance, this just seems like common sense.  However, even to this day (just peruse the comment sections), there are those who think the discourse of science and empiricism can be applied (the rules of that game) to every discourse—to everything in fact.  This is why an empiricist will demand physical evidence for God’s existence—because they think the rules of the one game apply to the other (which is ludicrous because God is not a physical object or force).  We can see where religious fundamentalists do this too.  When they understand the Bible to be making scientific empirical claims, they are applying the rules of one game (biology/geology/astronomy) to an entirely different game (theology/philosophy/literature/poetry).  Then when those rules turn around and bite them (none of the scientific evidence indicates the earth to be only six thousand years old), they can only imagine the science or evidence to be wrong, or think there is some conspiracy, or try and bend the evidence to fit their view.  All in all, it looks quite ridiculous.  So the first question(s) Wittgenstein made us ask is, “What language game is this and what are the rules?”
“So if the Enlightenment conceived of Pure Reason as a high court that adjudicates all disputes, Wittgenstein was saying there is no such institution, only a multiplicity of district courts regulating their own jurisdictions.  Descartes said that mathematics is the universal model which every enquiry must imitate, be it physics, theology, ethics or politics.  Wittgenstein begged to differ.  Things are more complicated than that.  Truth is like a winning move in a game, like checkmate in chess, but there are different rules for different games…the upside of Wittgenstein’s view is that it frees us from the illusion induced by the Enlightenment that science alone is rational and everything else is just emotions, and it describes instead the different ways we have of making sense (of having good reasons, behaving intelligently) in different contexts (‘games’) as different as physics and ethics.”

Caputo also mentions the possible down-side to Wittgenstein too.  One could so separate a discourse from another that each becomes an impregnable ‘island’ and then we are back to another type of ‘bucket’ thinking.  There is also the possibility one can make the ‘rules’ of any one game too inflexible and rigid, which can lead, not only to internal difficulties, but to the impossibility of learning from other discourses or even understanding them.  The discourse becomes a sort of inbreeding.  The key is humility and recognizing that every discourse is only understood partially, is capable of error, and needs to be open to other discourses—it is only one perspective and while it may be able to tell us much about one area of life (physics for example) it may not be able to tell us anything about another area of life (ethics).  He makes the further point that existence, all of reality, seems to be more connected than once realized.  We certainly see this in nature and all truly significant choices, in every significant realm or discourse, seems to affect the other realm or discourse (which is one of the underlying implications of quantum physics and panpsychism).  Thus, each discourse should see the other as, at least, a family member rather than a complete stranger beyond understanding.  The common bond of unity is our humanity; at the end of the day, every discourse is understood as humans.  Finally, every discourse needs to be open to challenge and change and one of those changes, when significant enough, is called a ‘paradigm shift’ which we will turn to with our next post.

Friday Roundup

The postmodern continues to filter down…

“And this is true of a whole host of political and politicized beliefs. In the quest for partisan advantage, everyone scrambles to clothe his or her beliefs in the guise of objectivity. The reality, however, is that our beliefs are nothing of the sort. We construct them outside the scope of scientific observation, with ideas that come to us through custom, experience, and education, and for which science gives little confirmation or support.”

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