16 March 2015

Negativity and Relational Epistemology

In Epistemology we can speak of categories which help us to organize and identify both ideas and entities. These categories can be approached from several different vantage points and thinkers have differed over how to arrange them.

Kant dealt with four main categories: Quantity, Quality, Relation and Modality. And then each of these groups can be further broken down to delineate with greater precision to order, identify and describe the object of thought or perception.

Quantity can be further parsed into questions of Universality and Particularity or whether something can be spoken of as Singular in an absolute sense.

Quality can be broken down into the sub-categories of something's relation to reality, whether or not something stands or falls in terms of its negative aspects when related to something else, and to what degree a thing is limited or infinite.

Relation raises questions of inherence and subsistence, to what degree is something a pure substance and to what extent is it a composite or dependent on other things. Causality has to be addressed. Is the thing generating other things or is it the result of the actions of some other thing? Finally to what extent does it participate in reciprocity? Does it operate and exist in isolation or does it relate to other objects and is it affected by others?

Finally we address questions of Modality, to what extent something has the possibility of change, what is the nature of its existence and to what degree is it necessary for other conditions to exist?

It ought to be self-evident that many of these categories overlap and in fact are reiterations of each other. In fact the entirety of the list can be summated by categorizing all of these questions as issues related to the question of Relation. Even Kant all but acknowledged this when describing the Transcendental Aesthetic. Our minds have to contextualize or relate all perceptions to innate or a priori concepts of space/time.

All of our knowledge and the way we employ these categories are in truth questions of relation. How we quantify things only has meaning in terms of comparison with similar and dissimilar quantities. That's true in terms of an actual count of objects or in terms of extension. At that point quantity begins to overlap with quality. Quality is also a form of relation. Something's existence and attributes only have meaning when they can be contrasted or compared with something utilizing a common reference point.

Comparison and Contrast are mental processes which fall under the umbrella of Relation. Without these all subsequent questions are effectively meaningless. Giving a nod to the Empiricists we acknowledge a contextual referent is always necessary for something to be understood. But that referent is formed by the mind and certain innate preconditions it establishes, trapping us in an endless and somewhat pointless debate as Kant so skillfully demonstrated.

In fact it could be argued the greater the referent whether in terms of similarity or familiarity, the more knowledge we can have about something. But even this can be deceptive. Simple quantity in terms of 'points of contact' may provide more data but it does not necessarily mean that we in fact have greater knowledge about an object. If knowledge results from contextualization, then an abundance of data may broaden the ability to contextualize but ultimately there is no way of knowing if what we possess is sufficient.

An object or idea completely foreign to us cannot be apprehended until we begin to create points of reference that allow us to begin to grasp simple concepts. Only then can we hope to proceed toward a greater comprehension.

Questions of causality only have meaning in terms of Relation. Apart from relation, the question becomes moot. In terms of potentiality, we speak of change and this only has meaning when related to something else, something static or something in a different phase.

Relation is at the heart of all knowledge and yet it also severely limits our knowledge. It is not possible for us to know the sum of all relations about any object, impression or idea. We are forced to contextualize based on our own experience, both real and hypothetical and thus our observations and in fact our thinking become to some extent inductive. Our deductions are ultimately based on inductive presuppositions which we cannot account for and in fact must out of necessity be reductionist understandings.

We form presuppositions based on our reductionist contextualizations and deduce necessarily reductionist and thus often utterly false conclusions and concepts.

Consciousness and a seeming innate universality in the realm of ethics point to a reality beyond sense experience, a realm beyond the reach of the categories of thought, a dimension that we cannot relate to or contextualize. Our attempts to do so lead to a series of irresolvable tensions, paradoxes and dialectic. Our predications are in truth mere speculations.

Revelation salvages us from the necessary consequent of utter Nihilism but even Revelation is restricted (as it were) by our limited ability to relate, contextualize and thus comprehend. Our fallen minds still do not possess the capability to probe into the metaphysical reality of the Spiritual World. Revelation shines a light for us and allows us to apprehend some knowledge... a sufficient quantity for which we can indeed by thankful. Our response should be submissive, meditative and doxological. We err when we treat revelatory data as materiel to be exploited.

Absolute Coherence or Comprehensive knowledge is forbidden to us and known only to God Himself. Because we cannot relate the metaphysical realm (which is actual comprehensive reality) as God does, we can at best hope for a degree of apprehension. Quests for coherence sought through deductive exploration produce contracted systems governed by reductionist fallacies at the very best and false-relation or untruth at its worst.

While we can speak of forms and concepts in terms of correspondence, patterning our thinking and ideas to the words of Revelation, we cannot go beyond the text even if the data seem to equivocate, create logical dilemmas or generate fallacies. Our faith in the text of revelation does not rest in internal coherence, rather in the Person of Christ, His works and claims. Relating revelation to our categories is not only erroneous application, it is sheer folly. In the quest to avoid contradiction, Kant demonstrated the application of experiential categories to metaphysics produces equally paradoxical antinomies.

In many cases we are severely limited in what we can in fact say with absolute or dogmatic certainty. As far as the text goes, we can go. Rather than attempt to systematize the data we instead ought to focus on Christ-centered themes, symbolisms and development.

In many cases we are safer in expressing what we cannot say rather than positively asserting what can be said.

This 'negativity' and critical formation in the realm of Epistemology is a limiting concept and something of a safeguard. It keeps us from speculation and rather than trying to positively develop theological and ethical concepts, we can instead examine the claims of others and speak with a degree of confidence of what we are not asserting, and yet avoiding defeatism and relativity.

Negativity, itself a form of relation aids us in forming a picture, not in what we positively assert and say but in terms of what we reject. It creates a solid concept (in the form of a negative) that remains 'fuzzy' and contains an element of fluidity. It is by no means a foolproof safeguard but in some ways it is a safer road to travel.

Christ often exemplified this through Didactic Occasionalism, teaching rooted in specific contexts without comprehensively addressing every aspect of the salient issues and questions. His encounter with the Rich Young Ruler is a good example.

On a practical or emotional level the employment of this methodology may come across as callous and over-critical, being built on the rejection of statements and ideas often made by others.

However, it ought to be viewed as a healthy exercise if conducted out of right motivation. In terms of theology, it keeps us from reductionism, in terms of metaphysics, we are limited by the words of revelation. Finally in terms of ethics it means that we form our imperative based as much upon what we are not as what we may positively assert that we are. Contextualization perceived as relativism is misunderstood. It's a case of wisdom over and against the folly of rigid and often myopic Moralism.

Ethics is in many ways the most challenging facet of consideration due to the fact that it is the very nexus of metaphysical ideals and temporal reality. It's often messy and at the very least a daunting challenge and yet it would seem that often the force of many a Divine imperative is effectively softened and in many cases eradicated by coherence and its ethical offspring the notion of Consequentialism.

Revelatory and thus Idealised ethics are often counter-intuitive and in some cases personally harmful. By way of example Contextualization suggests those who operate under a Spirit wrought Redemptive/ Kingdom imperative cannot expect those operating under a Non-Redemptive/Common and thus necessarily reductionist natural ethic to perform or behave in the same manner and certainly not operating with the same motive.

While possibly perceived as negative and thus harmful this process of Interaction is a helpful means of forming ideas and creating contexts. By exposing flawed presuppositions and cognitive fallacies we can approach concrete concepts. As fallen and thus flawed creatures trapped in an Idealist labyrinth we must ultimately recognize our concretizations if not based on revelatory analogy are in the end reductionist. Thus we are guilty of creating false coherences rooted in flawed estimations of causality.

All knowledge is contextualized and thus fallen man is ultimately trapped in a web of Idealism and yet apart from revelation man cannot hope to formulate an accurate epistemic picture of reality.