Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Oberman on Epistemology

I've been reading Oberman's biography of Luther, which is by necessity, a biography of the Reformation. Oberman argues that the pre-Reformation movement from the antiqua moderna (which embraced realism) to the via moderna (which embraced nominalism) gave rise to an age of uncertainty and contributed to the enlightenment's emphasis upon scientific investigation.

Under the antiqua moderna, platonic realism was seen as the true philosophy, the foundation upon which a correct theology could be built. For the antiqua moderna, since metaphysical analysis was the means to discovering the true nature of things, philosophy, rather than observation was king. But with the movement toward Aristotle and the via moderna, no longer was philosophy alone the sole means by which one discovered reality. Rejecting metaphysical speculation, the theologians and philosophers of the via moderna sought out certainty through observation—hence the enlightenment's emphasis upon scientific investigation and empiricism. With the deconstruction of medieval metaphysical foundationalism, "uncertainty" became the buzzword of the age. "Doubt all that came before—do not trust the former masters for they were unhelpfully wed to a naive and misguided metaphysical epistemology."

The movement from medieval epistemology to enlightenment epistemology was merely a transition from one type of foundationalism to another (from a metaphysical one to an empirical one). But the movement toward postmodernity is movement toward a epistemology devoid of any kind of foundationalism.

The medeival age gave us Augustine and Benard, the modern age Luther, Aquinas and Calvin. What will be the legacy of the postmodern age?


lingamish said...


I've been wracking my brains on this subject of epistemology. Your very succinct post provides a nice outline for looking at how theological thinking has developed over the centuries.

Currently I'm doing a series on logical fallacies onmy blog. One of the challenges in evaluating debate on theological topics is that logic is often inadequate to convince someone of the truth. Richard Rhodes comments on that post that at least for 20th/21st century Christians platonic notions of truth still seem relevant.

Find the Fallacy on Lingamish

Gerald said...


Thanks for the thoughts. The blog looks fair-minded and engaging--good fodder for discussion. My area of study has not been philosophy in general or epistemology in specific, so I'm not entirely sure how to respond to Rhode's observation. I agree with it however . . .