Friday, April 08, 2005

Toward a Post Foundationalism and Epistemic Certainty - Part I

As my academic studies have been more geared toward historical theology generally, and Augustinian sotieriology specifically, I am by no means adequate to discuss the subject of epistemology on an academic level, particularly as it relates to the ongoing discussion between evangelicals and post-evangelicals. My knowledge of deconsctrucalism, foundationalism, soft/post foundationalism, Derrida, Foucault, etc. has been all but exhausted in this sentence alone. Having issued the fore mentioned caveat however, I have thought through the basic issue of epistemology on a root level, particularly as it relates to existential/essential conversion and offer the following thoughts. For those of you who endured the inerrancy conversation, some of this will be a repeat. But first an introduction.

To those new to the whole epistemology discussion, evangelicals and post evangelicals seem to be quibbling over three basic positions: foundationalism, soft foundationalism, and post-foundationalism. (Absolute relativism is on the way out, even in the secular institutions – or so I’m told). I’ll briefly define these as I have come to understand them and then proceed to offer what little insight I possess. To those more knowledgeable in this area, please correct me, but bear in mind you are talking to an epistemic dummy and keep your explanations simple.

Foundationalism:
Many evangelicals are committed (at least in theory) to foundationalism, the belief that certain foundational truths exist, can be known, and can be used to access other truths absolutely through a series of infallible and logically connected propositions (i.e. Descartes’ "I think therefore I am”). Foundationalism, as an epistemic category, can be traced back to the rise of the enlightenment and the age of reason. In short, absolute truth exists and it can known absolutely. But apparently there are philosophical problems associated with the whole concept “propositions.” Enter soft foundationalism.

Soft Foundationalism:
Soft Foundationalism seems to follow the basic logic of foundationalism, but wants to emphasize the inherent limitations associated with human knowing. Sub conscious presuppositions, human finiteness/falleness, and our own personal social locations all make it impossible to arrive absolutely at absolute truth. In short, absolute truth exists, but due to human limitations, it can only be known approximately – to greater or lesser degrees. Many evangelicals have adopted this position, as well as many post-evangelicals.

Post Foundationalism:
Post Foundationalism seems to serve as the great catch all for any epistemic theory that is none of the above. I suppose it might even include soft foundationalism. Coherentism, reliablism, relativism, etc. It seems to be a pretty large tent.

Earlier I had categorized myself as a soft-foundationalist, but upon further reflection, I think I want to adopt something that would perhaps fit more neatly in the post-foundational camp. I'm looking to argue for some sort of post-foundationaist epistemic structure that would allow for certainty. I’m hoping someone out there will help me place myself in the whole epistemological discussion. But that’s for next time. If anyone sees any glaring errors in my articulation of these three positions, please let me know.

9 comments:

the forester said...

Nice post -- directly addresses The Root Issue, in my mind. I'm formulating my ideas and will give you a response within a few days. Just wanted to let you know ...

Gerald said...

Forester,

Good to hear from you again. Look forward to your response.

Gerald

the forester said...

It might take me a while longer -- I got caught up writing a response to something I read on another blog. It's a defense of the veracity of the Scriptures as they were transmitted over the centuries. I'd appreciate your feedback -- I'm certainly no expert, just a layperson defending his faith. The piece is called "high fidelity" and is at

http://theforester.blogspot.com/

Thanks, Gerald!

Gerald said...

Forester,

I read the piece and liked it. You are right - to compare the transmission of the Jewish oral tradition to a childrens' game (i.e. telephone) demonstrates an ignorance of the culture and customs of the ancient Jewish people. Nice work.

Gerald

the forester said...

Thanks, Gerald! I actually thought the telephone game analogy was pretty clever, and somewhat apropos. It wasn't until I started thinking more deeply about it that I realized its flaws.

Thanks for reading. I hope things are going well with your formatting.

Steve B. said...

Certainty? Good God! What do you think you know with certainty? Have not you seen the Matrix?

I'm not aware of much of anyone who's arguing for certitude these days, and certainly not in the post-foundationalist or soft-foundationlist camp (good of you to distinguish between moderate and strong foundationalism, by the way).

the forester said...

Well, Steve B., you seem certain enough of your position on certainty -- enough to mock it as a concept.

Was it The Matrix alone that made you so certain, or did your view of certainty form concrete-hard through philosophical study of other Hollywood hits as well (Total Recall, perhaps)?

Gerald said...

Actually, I think Steve was being tongue in cheek and not attempting an out and out mocking of certainty (or my position-though he may yet disagree). From what I read of his blog (which I will be interacting with as part of my next post) he would want to maintain a certain sort of "reasonable" or "existential" (my words-not his) kind of certainty.

the forester said...

Fair enough -- thanks for informing me of the wider context behind Steve B.'s comment. My apologies.

I do think it worthwhile to suggest that it takes a degree of certainty to declare that nothing can be known with certainty.

This is the typical tautological criticism of relativism, of course, but it has teeth in addressing the attitudes behind this discussion. From my experience, those who argue against certainty usually do so with an air that suggests they are quite certain their position is the only one defensible.