A New Look at Known Issues, Lyudmila Markova

SERRC —  July 1, 2015 — 6 Comments

Author Information: Lyudmila Markova, Russian Academy of Science, markova.lyudmila2013@yandex.ru

Markova, Lyudmila. “A New Look at Known Issues.”[1] Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 4, no. 7 (2015): 1-5.

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers. Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-29J

Please refer to:

  • Riggio, Adam and Steve Fuller. Knowing Knowledge Part VIII: Knowing Necessary Possibilities.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective, May 4, 2015. http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-23w.
  • Riggio, Adam and Steve Fuller. “Knowing Knowledge Part VII: Making It Politically Explicit.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective, April 21, 2015. http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-22H.
  • Riggio, Adam and Steve Fuller. “Knowing Knowledge Part VI: Threats to Public Knowledge.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective, April 21, 2015. http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-22s.
  • Riggio, Adam and Steve Fuller. “Knowing Knowledge Part V: Refuse Simplicity and the Status Quo.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective, April 17, 2015. http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-22f.
  • Riggio, Adam and Steve Fuller. “Knowing Knowledge lV: Honesty as Anarchy.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective, April 14, 2015. http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-21Q.
  • Riggio, Adam and Steve Fuller. “Knowing Knowledge III.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective, April 12, 2015. http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-21c.
  • Riggio, Adam and Steve Fuller. “Knowing Knowledge II: The God Behind Problems of Knowledge.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective, April 7, 2015. http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-20P.
  • Riggio, Adam and Steve Fuller. “Knowing Knowledge I: Knowledge Is a Historical Process.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective, April 4, 2015. http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-20l.

science_is_ok

Image credit: Jeff Few , via flickr

Adam Riggio and Steve Fuller’s discussion—over Fuller’s Knowledge: The Philosophical Quest in History (2014)—involves us in the process of forming a new system of philosophical notions. Notions that, until recently, were perceived as basic and unchangeable, acquire quite different meanings and even get removed. During the discussion, many important ideas become problematic—which helps us understand the peculiarities of current thinking.

Fuller defends his views by relying on social epistemology (of which he is the founder). Indeed, an understanding of what it means for knowledge to be social allows us to see the main characteristics of Fuller’s thinking. I will allow myself to dwell briefly on the turn in thinking about scientific knowledge over the past few decades, which finds expression in a new interpretation of knowledge and important features, discussed by Riggio and Fuller. I am more familiar with Fuller’s ideas, so I find it easier to understand his position in this debate. 

Science’s Social Characteristics

Both Riggio and Fuller have common basis for the justification of their positions. This basis comes out the turn to understanding the role of science’s social characteristics. We deal with the relationship between humans and the environment in any kind of science—be it the classical (analytical, academic), or postclassical. But, in classical science, we follow Descartes’ division (res extensa and the res cogitans) as a certain axiom that requires no proof. The natural world is silent, dead, colorless, soulless and indifferent to human existence. Our goal is to discover the laws that lie at the basis of material world and to use them in the creation of artificial environment incapable of thinking, like the stuff from which it is made. We want an objective knowledge that reproduces nature as an object of study and that obeys the same laws. The result of scientific investigation cannot contain any traces of thinking, because nature is unable to think (res extensa), and human thinking (res cogitans) exists all by itself, quite separate from the material world.

Postclassical science confronts us with a different situation. The scientific revolution of the early 20th century showed that it is impossible in quantum mechanics to get a result that would not contain the elements of the process of its production and, accordingly, the author of this process with their social and individual features. But, if cognitive activity does not remain outside the logical structure of the result obtained, it is possible to assume that some kind of thought exists in the material natural world, that it can be conceived as able to correspond with us at the level of its birth, of its creation by its author. Everything in the world can be considered a work of the art. Yet, one cannot understand a picture by a painter, or a symphony by a composer, as simply resulting from an artist’s effort. Understanding results from communication (not generalization) between you, as an author of the nascent knowledge, and the author of the subject of your research.

While, in classical science, one seeks to find the correspondence between measurable characteristics of the external world and the logical structure of knowledge (mathematical science), in postclassical science one tries to establish a mutual understanding of the scientist’s thinking and the creative activity of the author of a thing. In classical science, everything (including humans) may be understood as a thing. In postclassical science everything may be understood as a conscious being.

If we agree that scientific investigation has its subject of study that must conform to the obtained result, we have to pay attention, first of all, to its processes—the birth of an explored object, to the beginning of its existence, to its history. Researchers in social epistemology are focused on the subjective pole. Social factors are not external, they play a crucial role in the logical structuring of a new scientific knowledge. This radical turn in the philosophy of science explains, to my mind, the interest in the beginning of science that is seen in the discussion of Fuller’s book. From here, we can provide particular attention in the debate to such concepts as history, intuition, creation, God, context, individual and collective, and others.

On History

History for Fuller is not forward linear motion. “One should imagine that all the possible futures for philosophy are already inscribed in its past, albeit usually as unrealized potential, in which case re-examining the history of philosophy is never a waste of time” (KK, Part I). Fuller states this idea not for the first time. For instance, he studied the relationships between the discoveries of Boyle and Hobbes from this point of view. Fuller writes about his attitude to the history: “Navigating between possible worlds has been central to my own thinking over the past quarter-century or more, and it is developed in some detail in Knowledge: The Philosophical Quest in History” (KK, Part VIII). The ability to make a choice is the main point of the historical process, which defines its further development.

Fuller’s considerations are very important, to my mind, for a new understanding of history, in general, and of the history of scientific knowledge, in particular. However, we should not forget that each of these points of choice do not represent ready-made variants of a possible future. The investigation by Fuller of the discoveries of Boyle and Hobbes testifies that this historical situation was formed by the context of that time, which included the knowledge of the past and of the future, too. More precisely, the issue is not about knowledge as such, but about the possibility to communicate with the past and future, wherein both sides are changed by this communication. Each paradigm (theory, system) can use these previously hidden possibilities. Such communication can occur only between different participants, each of whom has their own individuality—and pluralism inevitably lies at its base. It is not necessary to seek features common for all participants; on the contrary, only the preservation of singularity makes it possible to create logic of a new type that deals more with space than with time.

A social surrounding of a creative act plays quite a different role. Fuller continues to develop his understanding of the fundamental (in his opinion) question of social epistemology that he put in 1988:

How should the pursuit of knowledge be organized, given that under normal circumstances knowledge is pursued by many human beings, each working on a more or less well-defined body of knowledge and each equipped with roughly the same imperfect cognitive capacities, albeit with varying degree of access to one another’s activities?

Now, after 27 years of the social epistemology’s development, Fuller lends a different sense to the question: “How should the pursuit of knowledge be organized?” It is possible to suppose that the question is about an external social activity, which must organize scientific thinking. At least, that is a first impression.

Meanwhile, in the polemic with Riggio, Fuller is primarily concerned about the birth of a new knowledge in the head of a scientist. In this case, the second part of his “fundamental question” comes to the foreground. Indeed, there are many scientists and each of them has an access to a more or less defined body of knowledge. In the meantime, a new thought arises in one person’s head, why not in all heads simultaneously?

Intuition, Exploration and Understanding

The role intuition plays, and the role of God, in the process of cognition is discussed vividly both by Fuller and Riggio. Classical (academic, analytical) thinking is adequate for scientific thinking. It is directed to the external world, to the res extensa, which has nothing common with a human as res cogitans. Now, the material world in a scientific laboratory and the knowledge about it obtained by a scientist become animate. Gradually, we begin to realize that nature is not indifferent to our activity (for instance, ecological problems), that it can answer us.

We seek, then, not only to explore, but also to understand the world around us. Ethical issues are becoming more important. Not only do we suffer, because we are losing necessary resources, but nature also suffers as it has the ability to feel and understand. It has its own author or creator. Riggio writes:

Human suffering in all its forms is the heart of the most powerful weakness of theodicy, particularly the ethical dimensions of the order of the universe. The optimism of theodicy is also its cruelty. Suffering and pain has its place in the overall fabric of the universe such that it is justified in the ultimate outcome (KK, Part III).

Fuller has a different opinion about theodicy:

‘God’s sense of justice’ (the literal meaning of ‘theodicy’) has always fascinated me, largely because it seems to be the ideal perspective from which understand human rationality as something fallible yet aspirational. We can understand the bad things that happen to us as episodes in learning to get somewhere better” (KK, Part III).

In this way, Fuller understands the bond between good and evil. I would talk about this bond somewhat differently. We know that one of the Biblical Old Testament commandments is: Thou shalt not kill. It is not a law that cannot be broken. In some cases you even have to kill, defending a child for instance, or to kill an enemy in a just war. But the readiness to do this “need not be something imposed from the outside (even by God) but can—and should—be something that is voluntarily assumed on one’s own part” (KK, Part III). I agree completely with Fuller. But all the same, I would like to add that a man, well-intentioned in killing somebody, must remember that a murder is always an evil—even in cases when we can say that the end justifies the means. We may talk in the same way about our rational thinking.

Currently, the trend is becoming dominant to consider every notion (thing) keeping in mind its dependence on the context of its origin, and, therefore, on its individual features. At the same time, you must avoid empiricism and relativism. For this you need to have a logical system, which is created not on the basis of generality, but on the preservation of differences. Despite the difference of contexts, we are talking about one and the same thing. For instance we see, at first, a wild duck in the sky; then, the duck being killed by a hunter, the duck being sold on the market, the duck being prepared in kitchen and so on. Every time the context creates another image of a duck, but we are sure that we deal with a duck and not with something else. The same thing happens with our perception of evil. To kill the child, and to kill the one who kills the child, are totally different things. The actions are different and our attitude towards them are the opposite. Yet, we must remember that murder remains evil.

A tendency to attach utmost importance to temporary conditions plays a role in theology too. Some theologians are of the opinion that religion is perceived by believers in a different way depending on who translated the Bible in what historical period. The differences are so significant, in their opinion, that doubt appears as if there is something permanent behind all the variants of translations, whether God exists. I can refer to the conference on this topic (see Postmodern Theology: Christian Faith in a Pluralist World edited by Frederic Burnham), where many participants supported this view. I believe that the possibility to use the notion (or some text) in many situations demonstrates its stability, its ability to communicate with a large number of interlocutors.

Of course, I refer only tothe issues discussed by Riggio and Fuller that seem especially important. But I would like to emphasize that all problems that were raised are closely connected with each other. This indicates the formation of a quite new system of thinking.

References

Burnham, Frederic B., ed. Postmodern Theology: Christian Faith in a Pluralist World. San Francisco: Harper, 1989.

Caine, Mark. “Social Epistemology, Environmentalism and a Proactionary Human Future: An Interview with Steve Fuller.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 3, no. 11 (2014): 106-121.

Fuller, Steve. Knowledge: The Philosophical Quest in History. Abingdon, UK and New York: Routledge, 2014.

Fuller, Steve. “Social Epistemology: The Future of an Unfulfilled Promise.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 3, no. 7 (2014): 29-37.

Fuller, Steve. Social Epistemology. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988.

Markova, Lyudmila A. “The Humanisation of the Surrounding World and the Technisation of Humans.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 3, no. 3 (2014): 49-52.

Markova, Lyudmila A. “The Beginning in Science and Humanity.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 2, no. 10 (2013): 4-6.

Markova, Lyudmila A. Science on the Verge of Non-Science. Moscow, 2013.

Markova, Lyudmila A. Science and Religion: Problems of the Border. St Petersburg, 2000.

Riggio, Adam and Steve Fuller. Knowing Knowledge Part VIII: Knowing Necessary Possibilities.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective, May 4, 2015. http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-23w.

Riggio, Adam and Steve Fuller. “Knowing Knowledge Part VII: Making It Politically Explicit.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective, April 21, 2015. http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-22H.

Riggio, Adam and Steve Fuller. “Knowing Knowledge Part VI: Threats to Public Knowledge.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective, April 21, 2015. http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-22s.

Riggio, Adam and Steve Fuller. “Knowing Knowledge Part V: Refuse Simplicity and the Status Quo.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective, April 17, 2015. http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-22f.

Riggio, Adam and Steve Fuller. “Knowing Knowledge lV: Honesty as Anarchy.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective, April 14, 2015. http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-21Q.

Riggio, Adam and Steve Fuller. “Knowing Knowledge III.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective, April 12, 2015. http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-21c

Riggio, Adam and Steve Fuller. “Knowing Knowledge II: The God Behind Problems of Knowledge.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective, April 7, 2015. http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-20P.

Riggio, Adam and Steve Fuller. “Knowing Knowledge I: Knowledge Is a Historical Process.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective, April 4, 2015. http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-20l.

[1] This paper is prepared with the support of RNF. Project No 14-1802227 “ Social Philosophy of Science. Russian Prospects”.

6 responses to A New Look at Known Issues, Lyudmila Markova

  1. 

    Thanks for writing the commentary, Lyudmila. I really appreciate your taking the time to think it over; it really did turn into quite a big project. I’m happy it did, because I love big sprawling mad explorations of ideas. I’m equally happy that people are taking the time to parse what Steve and I said and build on it.

    You’re more familiar with Fuller’s positions, but I thought I’d lay out my own quickly and directly on some of the ideas you’ve touched on. My ideas here revolve around theodicy, the metaphysics that there is a plan to creation.

    If you believe in some kind of personal God, this is God’s plan, the order of God’s creation and mind. I find it very difficult to get behind a theodicy conception of natural order, for a couple of reasons. One is an ethical reason, which Dostoyevsky thought of first, but which I endorse wholeheartedly. If there’s a personal God, and all the suffering and horror of existence – not just the effects of human will, but all the terror and cruelty of ecology in scarcity – and I meet God in some sort of afterlife . . . I’m going to have some very angry words. Steve was very clear about his influence from the Christian idea of theodicy, that we can trust that all the evil in the world will ultimately be for the greater good of God’s plan, God’s sense of justice.

    I’ve found myself most comfortable with an idea my old rabbi introduced to me. We don’t submit to God’s sense of justice as if it were automatically the only one that counts. Our dialogue with God is a fight, a battle. To be ethical in the face of the world’s terror is to hold God to account, to humble Herself before us as the ones who suffer in creation – because we suffer, God owes us the explanation – even if there has to be a fistfight. The ethical stance toward the madness of the universe is to fight it, to force improvement into it.

    The other area of my and Fuller’s dialogue that you touched on regards the relationship between the history, and particularly the origin, of science and what science is. Our differences here came to sharpest focus in part nine of our dialogue (http://adamwriteseverything.blogspot.ca/2015/04/knowing-knowledge-ix-knowing-necessary.html). Fuller puts a lot of emphasis on the origin of modern science as imbuing it with a specific essence. The origin of the Western scientific attitude had as an essential condition the conception of humanity as being made in the image of God, a separate order of being from the rest of living creation. Being made in the image of God, we could understand the world in the same systematic way as God Herself can. I found this fascinating to learn, as I didn’t really know much previously about the roots of Western science in Christian theological concepts.

    Fuller and I had what, to me, was our most profound difference over the implications of this. For Fuller, science is an essentially Western activity, and if a non-Christian society is going to follow correctly in the tradition of science, there’d have to be some Westernization. In other words, there could only be one path to understanding the world in a framework of systematic knowledge, and that was accepting either the genuinely Christian idea (or a secularized version of it) of humanity as the image of God.

    This was a bridge too far for me. It wasn’t just the weird hangover of a colonial attitude that lurked there (because science is Western, a non-Western culture can only become scientific by starting a process of becoming-Western). Though I did find that aspect of the argument very disturbing, and Fuller never gave me a response that really satisfied me.

    But it goes deeper than that. We may have needed the self-conception as the image of God to get our project to build comprehensive systematic knowledge of the world going. But we eventually developed enough systematic knowledge of the world that we no longer need that concept. Humanity has the practical, cognitive powers to investigate the world, systematize our knowledge of it, and institutionalize those bodies of knowledge (whether as corporations or traditions) and build a cultural heritage of science. We know enough about our own evolution to know that these powers developed as part of our ecological niche building and adaptation over the biological history of the hominid genus. We don’t need a divine creator setting us an ontological category above the rest of existence to ground our ability to build systematic knowledge. We understand how ecological, evolutionary processes can develop a species’ powers to understand systematically ecological and evolutionary processes.

    We have wings, so we can throw the ladder away.

    • 

      My apologies for having delayed in responding to this. First, I thank Lyudmila Markova for the sensitive reading of my exchange with Adam Riggio
      .
      Let me start with her last point, which has to do with the stress on origins common to my own way of thinking about science and much of Christian theology. I find the comparison quite congenial, even though it implies that there is bound to be considerable dispute over how the origins are characterised – or ‘translated’. One might add to this general line of thought the appeal to ‘founding fathers’ when interpreting the Constitution, at least in the United States. The strength of this way of operating is its open acknowledgement that law, religion, science are all acts of identity formation and collective address. Thus, the conduct of science is one way of demonstrating who we are. Put another way, if a Martian wanted to understand ‘who do these humans think they are’, they would look at how we go about our most highly valued collective enterprise – and that is science.

      The fact that science, religion (at least in the Abrahamic tradition) and law are all tied to texts – indeed, books – is an essential feature of these enterprises, though there have been counter-currents that try to minimize its significance (often advertised as a ‘turn to practice’). The significance of reality’s ‘textuality’ or even ‘bookishness’ is that it presumes a sense of communicability that overcomes distance in time and space. I suppose the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence is the ultimate manifestation of what I’m talking about, since it supposes that any ‘ET’ would be able to communicate in binary code. But that example raises a point that has distinguished Islam from Christianity. Islam officially disavows the translatability of the Qur’an from Arabic, which is presented as the language in which God communicated through Muhammad. Mathematics has generally functioned as science’s Arabic, in this sense. In contrast, Christianity has operated with somewhat more abstract notion of communicability, one in which the ‘logos’ can at least in principle be expressed in many different natural and artificial languages.

      In any case, science presupposes that reality is intelligible to such an extent that we can pose the biggest and boldest questions and still manage to get some sensible answers. Adam appears to believe that we can uphold this level of intellectual confidence without regarding ourselves as created in God’s image. Or maybe that’s not what he believes. After all, given Adam’s level of moralizing about the amount of damage, suffering and all round risk that science has introduced into the world, I wonder whether he really wishes to defend an atheistic version of the science I have been defending on theistic grounds, or whether his atheistic ‘science’ would in fact be a quite different epistemic formation, perhaps disowning some of the products and perhaps even aspirations that have characterized the history of science. Adam’s repeated stress on the ecology and his salutes to communitarian forms of anarchism suggest that he would disestablish science along the lines Paul Feyerabend suggested in the 1970s. But to my mind, this would be to defend a quite different way of regarding knowledge and its relationship to the human condition, and it’s not clear that this new complex would still qualify as ‘science’.

      Finally, on Adam’s cute rabbinical story: Here I see a difference between Judaism and Christianity. Divine transcendence in Christianity is not necessarily – or perhaps even primarily – about a deity existing outside our physical bodies, with whom we might get into a fistfight. Rather, it’s about finding within ourselves a sense of being that enables us to stand outside ourselves and see reality as a whole, as God would. This was originally a mystical idea within Christianity (e.g. in Franciscan theology) which first became operationalized in the Scientific Revolution as the ‘view from nowhere’, which many – perhaps including Adam – have found ‘dehumanizing’. Theodicy involves very much the same sort of self-transcendence, except now applied to the realm of morals. And yes, then it becomes scary. Morally relevant feelings like suffering and compassion start to look a bit like secondary qualities in Locke’s metaphysics – part objective, part figment of one’s point of view. (Recall that Christianity is itself quite ambivalent on the moral standing of both suffering and compassion.) But one is also capable of seeing purpose and order in things that on their face look irredeemably bad. I believe that acquiring this sort of sensibility, however alien to our common sense notions of morality, is part of the moral education of humanity – comparable to modern science’s departure from common sense notions of reality. This is one of the attractions of transhumanism for me, and why, e.g. Emilie Whitaker and I are working on a project entitled, ‘Beyond the Negativity of Death: Towards a New Necropolitics’.

  2. 

    Adam has clarified one of his disagreements with Steve: “If there’s a personal God, and all the suffering and horror of existence – not just the effects of human will, but all the terror and cruelty of ecology in scarcity – and I meet God in some sort of afterlife . . . I’m going to have some very angry words. Steve was very clear about his influence from the Christian idea of theodicy, that we can trust that all the evil in the world will ultimately be for the greater good of God’s plan, God’s sense of justice.”

    My position is closer to that of Whitehead: If there’s a personal God, she is good, but not omnipotent. Evil is not in world because she could have prevented it, but “permits” evil as part of a larger plan for the greater good. But I do not attribute evil in the world to an evil God, or Satan, is do the Manicheans — “culture warrior” Bill O’Reilly is my favorite example of a modern Manichean.

  3. 

    Another way of thinking about “knowledge” is to treat the word as pointing to a potentially misleading reification. “Knowledge” is a nominalization of “knowing.” Sticking with the verbal forms, it is easier to prevent the abstraction designated by “knowledge” from floating away into a Platonic heaven. Knowing, on the other hand, is much more clearly connected with a personal knower. There is no thinking without a thinker, and no knowing without a knower. This might not be a “new” way of thinking about “knowledge,” but I believe it to be the best way.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. On Dialogues With God: A Brief Reply to Riggio, Lyudmila Markova « Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective - July 10, 2015

    […] you, Adam, for such a quick response to my comment. Unfortunately, I am not an expert regarding the philosophical understanding of religion. Many years […]

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    […] re-discovered on reading Steve Fuller’s comment—(http://bit.ly/1K17uXl) on “A New Look at Known Issues”—that a well-known idea, placed in a new context, can contribute to the birth of an unexpected […]

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