One of my sons said he has to write a paper on how he knows what he knows. That got me going. It’s a very fundamental part of being a Christian in practical terms in this world. Here’s what I wrote …
I’m going to send you some quotes on epistemology. You should know better than to bring up epistemology in my presence …
The biggest thing is that we start from where we are – whether we particularly like that idea or not, there is no option.
From there it’s very much a matter of who we give credit to, and what processes in our own mind we particularly gravitate to (or deliberately choose), etc., and those are largely a matter of what we love.
In other words, to make a decision (hoping to base it on adequate knowledge of the real world in which the decision plays)
- you get a reasonable amount of data (“reasonable” as measured by your mind & will, often in interaction with others, particularly with God and Scripture),
- deliberately weigh in your own values,
- perhaps also your irrational preferences (which sometimes turn out to be quite rational),
- commit yourself and the issue explicitly to the Lord,
- and make with some enthusiasm one choice or another.
- Then you trust the Lord to be with you helping you to make the best of it.
And when God helps people make the best of something, it tends to be a pretty impressive ‘best’! (Just like, when I pray, coincidences happen.)
Actually, epistemology is both I) helical and II) relational.
I. Like a HELIX it’s circular but advancing.
(A helix is a spiral, like the spring in a ball-point pen. A double helix, like the structure of DNA is two of them intertwined.)
Ia. It’s circular.
Circular reasoning is not only NOT forbidden, it is the height of silliness and unrealism to pretend to avoid it. The wisdom lies not in avoiding the circles, but in recognizing and capitalizing on them. You have to start SOMEwhere!
Ib. And it’s cumulative.
Like the helix, it circles back on and into itself, but if it’s being done well at all (and it often is being done somewhat well, at least) it builds on itself (“rises” or grows) as it loops back through.
II. The RELATIONAL aspect of epistemology is also (ipso facto) its moral aspect.
“What is not adequately known is precisely what is not adequately loved.” (near-quote of Rob’t Earl Cushman) And conversely “The first act of love is the giving of attention”. -Dallas Willard on the intimacy of love and knowledge.
Our first steps in awareness and practical epistemology are taken in interaction with other humans, and that is a HUGE part of the process for the rest of our lives – again, whether we like the idea or not. We are who we are (know what we know and believe what we believe) largely because of who we have associated with over the years (including through books, music, etc) and how we have responded to those associations.
These issues are why ideas like that verse in Proverbs (10?v?) are so foundational. “Keep your heart with all diligence for out of it are the issues of life.” How we tend our hearts determines what we are open to learn and how well we can see and understand what’s going on around us.
The common Christian (human) tendency, of course, is to grossly oversimplify this so we imagine can get the project ‘under control’ in an hour or a week. Not gonna happen. That’s why “seek” and “follow after” and “when you are with Him” represent such a large part of Biblical spirituality. It includes both the relational and the helical aspects of the epistemological reality of the creation in which we have been created.
Bernard Lonergan’s summary (which Connie was quoting to one of the other guys in the Legislative race last night – would you believe!) is really very profound. It’s a 5-step (helical) epistemological process that is based in the metaphysics of reality, and each step represents both a moral and an intellectual advance. And the sequence is inevitable – as long as a person keeps moving with some genuine integrity.
1. be attentive
2. be intelligent
3. be reasonable
4. be responsible
5. be in love (with God primarily, and also with His works)
All that’s probably a heck of a lot more than they want to talk about in a nursing research course…
We’re off to have breakfast with a former student. I’ll send a longer quote from Cushman …