Today I started Peter Rollins’ How (Not) to Speak of God for the emergent book discussion. It sounds like it will be a very exciting read! I took a philosophy class from Bruce Benson, who seems to have a lot of similarities (so far) with what Rollins has to say. One of the texts for the course was Dr. Benson’s book, Graven Ideologies: Nietzsche, Derrida, and Marion on Modern Idolatry. I’m actually re-reading it since it is such a great complement to Rollins’ book!
For the final we had to start with the Greeks and explain—through the ages—different philosophers’ views about episteme (knowledge that is final, certain, and grounded), and doxa (common belief, opinion). In the end, we dealt with idols and icons, and how we can use them as a framework for approaching epistemology, or the issue of “How can we know what we know?” Although a lot of the things covered in the class seemed over my head and too “philosophical” for me, I realized they are crucial in terms of understanding God and reshaping (Western/northern) theology.
The goal for the Greeks, in their pursuit of knowledge, was to leave doxa behind and solely have episteme. Plato believed we could have perfect understanding, and created a hierarchy of knowing: the pinnacle being complete understanding of the “forms.” It set the standard for beliefs about episteme and doxa, because Plato believed that knoweable, final knowledge existed, and humans are able to reach it through the hierarchy.
Later on, Augustine incorporated belief in God into the pursuit of knowledge. His epistemology requires a prior knowledge of God. Faith precedes reason, and one has to believe in order to know. Augustine believed in a knowable episteme, but it is only attainable by God. Anselm, another medieval philosopher, is similar to Augustine in that one cannot understand something without adequately believing in it.
René Descartes and other modernists challenged prior assumptions. Descartes introduced radical doubt: How can I prove what I take to be true as really true? He wanted to establish the proper method of getting to truth, but there was no way to justify the right method. Therefore, we should demolish everything and start from the foundations, acting as if we do not know anything. It is precisely in such radical doubt that Descartes finds something to latch onto: “I think, therefore I am.” He set the tone for philosophy, causing an existential crisis. How can I know? How do I know if I know? It was not that he wished to destroy the pursuit of episteme; but rather, he believed that doxa polluted it. We must abolish this doxa, this belief, through radical doubt.
Immanuel Kant, another modernist, worked under the assumption that there is a right answer, and we can know it. There is one form of rationality, and the phrase “Some people see things differently” would sound strange to his and other modernists’ ears. Kant brought about a sort of Copernican revolution, however, changing the way we should view knowledge. His philosophical basis is not reality in itself, but as it appears to be to us; knowledge begins with experience.
Moving on past the modernist thinkers, American philosopher Richard Rorty believes that there is a world out there, and we can know it. Human knowledge cannot capture the world as it is, because our world is a linguistic, social, and cultural construct. Context is important.
Hans-Georg Gadamer, a German, is similar to Rorty in that we know things according to our context. He proposes a circular structure of understanding: we know what we know on the basis of what we already know. We would not be able to function in the world without our preconceptions, also called prejudices. All judgments are prejudices because we will never reach the place where we know all. Yet we cannot demolish everything per Descartes, since we cannot operate without our preconceptions. So if Plato’s untainted certainty doesn't work, what now? Rorty proposes an unfounded doxa, that which is not true or false and is held ironically because we cannot argue for it one way or another.
Contemporary French philosopher Jean-Luc Marion speaks of conceptual violence, which is stereotyping things in a way that is not fair or adequate to the thing. Here the danger exists of turning this thing into an idol, which is anything one can control by being able to see it, satisfying our gaze. An idol thus is always an endpoint, and cannot be superseded. Every claim of absolute knowledge is a form of idol. Idols are never more than us and are always limited to whoever we are.
It seems like Rollins will flesh out what Marion