knowledge and ethics

What great thoughts, Meesh! (Roger, Michelle went to that leadership camp where E and I met in northern Michigan). Two stand out greatly to me: "reason is not the only thing that drives us" and "While it may be possible for the vilest individual to be a great thinker, that inconsistency between what he teaches/preaches and what he behaves upon will at some point reach a crossroads... It's not to say that corrupted people can't hold or teach wise paradigms... but if we do try to divorce our system of thought from our system of action we either end up schizophrenic or we end up bailing on one or the other." I spent the greater portion of Friday evening discussing and debating with an old high school friend, Alex, who's studying paleontology at the University of Illinois. I actually read the two quotes I posted here to him to see is response. How did he respond? The first thing he said was, "Oh my god, Brad, you've become a postmodernist! When did this happen?!" Then we spent the next few hours discussing knowledge and ethics. I'll summarize our conversation in my thoughts. The first being that it seems the hinge of this conversation has to do with what objectivity is. Modernism seems to construct its idea of objectivity around Reason, which can stand alone from the subject. Post-modernism, as a reaction, seems to start with the subject and claim that the only real objectivity is our own individual existence. Reason, to the post-modernist, can only be glimpsed through the biased lenses of our subjective filters. An interesting example of the clash of these two approaches is the tension Alex finds himself in at the U of I with teaching. He teaches a few paleontology classes and the teachers and teachers' aids have regular meetings to discuss education and what they're doing. Alex has taken sides in a debate about the relationship between knowledge and ethics that adheres to the current legislation in education, which says you can never introduce your opinions into the classrooms, you only state the facts. But many people in the department are saying that it is impossible to state facts without also communicating your personal ethics. They suggest that teachers profess their socio-economic and philosophical biases at the beginning of the course so that the student can pick and choose how to filter knowledge. These same people argue that every paper written should have a one paragraph bio which states the same socio-economic and phiolosophical bias before the actual content of the paper is written. Alex's response is, "Let's go look at a crag together and you tell me if your differing socio-economic background changes what you and I see!" These are two extremes. These are also taking place in a "hard-science" atmosphere, which is different than most of us would be dealing with, analyzing people and culture. Perhaps conveniently, I think of myself as neither a modernist, nor a post-modernist, but a Christian. To me, the key to approaching the subject is Meesh's statement, that we do not approach life with reason alone. If I am a modernist, the highest calling in life is Reason. It is the reference point for living and objectivity is rooted in it. I worship Reason, essentially. The highest aim is the search for the elusive "truth". But as a Chrsitian, I have to displace that central point of reference and say, "Isn't the principle we seek in Reason upheld and rooted in God alone?" If I am a post-modernist, the highest calling in life is existence. It is the reference point for living and objectivity is rooted in it. I worship my own existence, essentially. The highest aim is to know the elusive self. But as a Christian, I have to displace that central point of reference and say, "Isn't individuality essentially rooted in our relationship to God and mankind?" And so regardless of overly extreme commitments to false dichotomies, I think as a Christian we have to see things in relation to one another and in relation to God. As we see things in relationship form, there is unimaginable volumes of needed truth in the Scriptures God's given us and the Church can be the needed signpost in these conversations. The Bible may not have a lot to say specifically about the relationship of knowledge and ethics, but it speaks volumes about relationships. It calls it righteousness or right-standing. And that's where this whole conversation points and to me finds its grounding. The question here is not, "What's right?", but "What's righteous?".


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