Sunday, December 24, 2006

Stuff We Ought to Know – The Fact-Value Divide under the Totalitarian Rule of Detached Objectivism

Recently there has been much talk about a war of civilizations. But, in many ways, a vital yet subtle war on human experience has been raging over the last 300 years. I consider myself a proponent of science but, at the same time, I find it essential that Christian thinkers learn to put science in its proper limited place. What is needed in our time, as much as anything, is a new popular understanding of what it means to know and what it means to have assurance regarding truth that resides outside the realm of detached objective fact.

Science, which over the last 300 years has become the dominant approach to knowing and learning, due to its detached and purely objective nature, de-emphasized as non-factual all human claims to knowledge which motivate commitments and statements of relative value.

If we were to be truly objective and placed no particular value on one reality over another, we would not even give a second thought to the study of human experience and the history of mankind as our planet is less than a speck in the context of the entire cosmos. But no one lives as if man is inconsequential because living at this purity of objectivity is absurd. Detached objectivism does not resonate with human experience and therefore, science is an incomplete method to come to know all there is to know as a human. The difficulty is in defining and justifying a epistemological system that does not end in the quagmire of doubt and nothingness of subjectivism.

The Copernican Revolution

The gravitas of the Copernican Revolution cannot be underestimated. In developing a mathematical model of the cosmos which proved to be true and yet was counter to human experience which sees the cosmos moving around the earth, Copernicus and his legacy inadvertantly set at odd the facts of detached scientific theory and the often deluding perspective of human experience and thus began the separation of fact and value. It is this separation which has relegated the pursuit of meaning and value to the realm of fantasy and has only permitted objective fact to be raised to the level of knowledge. Our values and perceptions are to be doubted as subjective while only objective fact, which can be proven without any regard for the experience of the knower, is to be given the honor of being called knowledge. We only know fact. All else is fancy. The public discussion of one’s personal commitments and wisdom to guide one’s experience became old-fashioned, bigoted, and private. Such commitment in that they are considered non-scientific are seem in public dialogue as subjective and therefore unworthy of value and commitment. In fact, such commitments are seen as dangerous and reactionary. The root of this response against personal value and claims of knowledge regarding things which are not scientific or purely objective is the result of the wholesale embrace of detached objectivism or science as the sole path to assured knowledge. The problem is human beings do not live in a detached manner. Life is experienced in the realm of commitments to things that we value and have affections for. Is all that is human living to be considered delusional or is there something incomplete and even debilitating about a detached and purely objective definition of legitimate claims to knowledge? But is there another approach to knowledge and a another approach to what is considered valid commitments to knowledge which can bridge the gap between human experience and objective reality? Is there a view of knowledge which can capture both the objectivism of science and also give validity to the commitments human beings hold as precious and valuable?

The Very Real and Historical Conflict between Previous Held Values and Supposed Objectivism

The power of the Copernican Revolution has so resonated with the public consciousness as to empower revolutionaries in all areas of life. The errors of human perception as codified in the Ptolemaic system became symbolic of the need to overthrow the entire system of human commitments and sentiment.

National Socialism and Fascism

It is precisely the unbalanced approach of pure objectivism which empowered the arguments of Hitler and his national socialism. To the public mind of mid020th century Germany, Hitler’s rhetoric was overwhelmingly compelling. The objectivity of Hitler’s revolution was argued as follows:

Does not reason tell us that survival goes to the fittest and the mightiest? Is not it merely human sentiment which holds a nation back from forcing its will on others and promoting its own survival? If mankind is to progress, we must no longer be held back by the sentiments of our values and commitments. Is it not our weakness and unwillingness to force our will on others which has led to our present suffering? If we as a people unify under the leadership of our monarch and as one force the national will upon the weak, we will survive and ultimately promote that which is truly good, our strength. Nature tells us that this is the true facts of life and all silly values which impede the power of our will must be crushed. Did not these values come to us from the weak who could only use these deluding ideas of sentiment for there own survival. The strong must live by the standards of the strong and remove from the face of the earth all these sentiments which only serve to protect the weak at the expense of the prosperity of the strong.

World War II was in many respects a battle between the commitments of the American and British nations on one front against the cold detached objectivism of the German Will to Power. The fact is that American and British commitments to a vision of life, an aesthetic, emerged victorious over the detached objectivism of National Socialism. We must ask ourselves why these sentiments survive through the centuries. It is said that facts are stubborn things but it must be accepted that human values and commitments to values and affection for beauty historically have proven still ore stubborn than detached objectivism.

Marxism and the Cultural Revolution

The Copernican revolution empowered in many ways all the ill conceived revolutions of the 20th century. In the scientific naturalistic socialism of Marxism, all the commitments of the past were described not as the products of inferior or weak races, as in Fascism, but as the commitments of the upper classes to control the instincts of the masses for power and survival. Religious commitments to moral beauty were ridiculed as the opiate of the masses and as the oppressive instruments of the bourgeois. Marxism like National Socialism was surely a result of the one-two punch of the Copernican and Darwinian assault on human sentiment and religious commitments. Ideologies, under Marxism, were the tool of the ruling classes. All previously held ideologies, especially non-scientific commitments, were to be forcefully destroyed. The result of this detached objectivism, which pitted the survivalistic facts of life against all forms of human value commitments and sentiments, was the murder of all the religious, artistic and creative elements of those societies ruled by the totalitarian despots of scientific naturalism.

Is not our current Western culture experiencing a similar despotic reign of fact over value? No longer is a spokesman granted authority from one’s appeal to a common knowledge of what is beautiful. To allow oneself the indulgence of moral commitments is seen as self-deluding. We have become intoxicated by the bitter pill of detached objective fact. In so doing, we are unable to appeal to the values that we all know but have been deemed unspeakable.

What is needed is a new definition of what is considered valid knowledge? Such an epistemology must restore to its proper place personal commitments and affections for moral values and sentiments which are seen as universally beautiful by all sane actors. The pursuit of knowledge is the product of personal commitments to beauty and personal affections for the precious. It is this appeal to the universally beautiful which granted authority to the words of our heroes. Martin Luther King is a quintessential iconic example of the unabashed appeal to beauty and sentiment that maintains authority in the public consciousness. Dr. King boldly proclaimed the values to which we all hold commitments.

As the keepers of such commitments, we the faithful must hold in our arsenal a defense for these commitments as valid knowledge and as Truth. The preservation of all that we hold dear and all that we value relies on us who defend moral truth to equip ourselves with a defense against the bigoted epistemology of detached objectivism. istorVery

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