Back to Scot’s questions:
#3: Is the postmodernist epistemology of the Emerging folks (and one should not simply equate postmodernists and the Emergent folks) essentially affectional over against rational? inclusive vs. exclusivist? authentic vs. the absolute? is social history more significant that the history of ideas?
This may be one of the biggest parts in the emerging church movement. Scot deals with it in multiple posts, namely: truth and epistemology. To see where “Emergent” epistemology comes from, we must first go back to the primart start of the question. That, for the most part, is Modernism through (German) Idealism. Early modern philosophy (that is, Western philosophy since Descartes) has worked from the positions of foundationalism and correspondence. Later modern philosophy (particularly that of Idealism, especially German) took an opposite stance of subjectivism and coherentism. Postmodern philosophy has generally disregarded these two as being exclusive theories.
For Modernism, the theory of truth was that of correspondence. In geek terms, this is represented by WYSIWYG: What You See Is What You Get. Perception and reality corresponds to each other. A statement something is true if and only if it corresponds to the way things are in the “real world.” So, the statement “the book is white” is true if and only if it is in reference to a white book. If i was pointing to a green book when i made that statement, the statement would be false. This theory is good because it seems to work very well because (as said earlier) WYSIWYG. But, this theory has two problems:
- We cannot step “outside” of our perceptions to see if it is true. At best, we can reach a universal agreement.
- We must assume a set of arbitrary labels before analyzing the statement. We must already be in agreement what “book” means and what “white” means. Furthermore, we are assuming that this agreement is universal or else someone (such as a colorblind person) may agree that “the book is white” when i point to a “green book.”
The second major theory of truth developed well after correspondence. The theory of coherence defines a statement something as true if and only if it is consistent with an already assumed set of statements. “Santa Claus exists” is false because its falsity fits better with the laws of physics (link) than if it were true.
It is most likely that we construct truth through a combination of these two (and possibly more) theories of truth. Taking one to be absolutely true to the exclusion of the other would lead to an indefensible extreme (absolutism on one hand and relativism on the other). Postmodernism has chosen to navigate as such. “Emergent” also takes this path by rejecting both extremes.
Closely related to truth is the theory of knowledge. Again, there are two major theories of knowledge that are used in modernism: foundationalism and coherentism. Foundationalism was popular in early modern philosophy and can be likened to a pyramid. Basic beliefs create the foundation from which other beliefs are derived. If a basic belief is changed, so must everything derived from it. Generally, this theory requires that the object of knowledge be true (see above), the subject must believe it, and the subject must be justified somehow in believing it. The knowing cannot be accidental or coincidental. For instance, if there was a clock in a room stopped at 11:25 AM and i happened upon it at that time, my knowledge that it is 11:25 AM is coincidental. The clock, because it has stopped, is not a reliable source of truth. The fact that it was 11:25 AM was simply coincidental. If it had happened to be 3:12 PM, then my knowledge based on the stopped clock that it was 11:25 AM would have been wrong. So knowledge must be justified through some reliable evidence.
Gettier, though, brings up a number of counterexamples that discount this theory. One is that of Mr. Smith. In short, Smith’s daughter tells him that she has just bought a car. She is honest, reliable, and Smith knows of no reason she would deceive him. Therefore, Smith now believes that “his daughter just bought a car”. Furthermore, because of this, Smith also believes that “someone in his family just bought a car.” Unbeknownst to Smith, his duaghter is lying to distract him from the fact that Smith’s wife just bought a car as a surprise for Smith on his birthday tomorrow. Smith believes “someone in his family just bought a car.” Furthermore, it is true. Even further, Smith is justified in believing it (as his reliable and honest daughter gave him the information). But, we don’t wan’t to call this knowledge because Smith’s knowledge is for a wrong reason. His “knowledge” is accidental.
The second theory of knowledge can be likened to a crossword puzzle or a raft. The whole is greater than the parts. Something is true only in its coherence with others. Yet, there is not a foundational knowledge from which others are derived. Beliefs here have an interlocking strength even if, taken individually, they are open to doubt.
Postmodernism uses both of these theories for knowledge. By combining these two, postmodern philosophy can account for “the book is white” by analizing both the propositional statement and the non-propositional information. “Book” and “white” are accounted for in postmodernism so that the statement “the book is white” is true only when in specific contexts that willingly agree upon given labels (such as “white” and “book”). The statement is not true because there happens to be a white book being referenced. “Emergent” epistemology comes from this view.
Scot asked how we should see “Emergent” epistemology. In many ways, it seeks to be in between the poles that Scot offered. It seeks to navigate between absolute and relative. It seeks to be inclusive of other possibilities by attempting to remain humble about the humanness behind human knowing.