This is my third post on the theme of the universal conflict between the mind (reason) and the heart (love), a conflict experienced both within individual persons, but also on a societal scale, as history ebbs and flows with cultural movements – philosophical, religious, artistic – shifting between polarizing emphases on the intellect or on the emotions. Drawing artistic inspiration from the progressive rock classic “Hemispheres” by Rush, I have been musing on the prospects of reconciling these forces by looking at the connections between truth and love. To begin reconciling the heart and mind, one must embrace metaphysics that envisions love as, to borrow from the famed theologian Francis Schaeffer, part of the warp and woof of reality; in other words, that love is inherent to the very nature of reality (“the truth of love”). I argued that only the biblical revelation of God as three Persons provides such a metaphysic.
Another essential philosophical principle to uniting heart and mind is “the love of truth.” How is it possible to love with the heart the truth that we ascertain with the mind through reason? I previously established the simple claim that love is an intrinsic quality of persons in relation. Without persons in relation, love does not exist. So loving truth implies relating to truth as unto a person, or that truth has personal qualities to it. To explore this concept, we must draw on the branch of philosophy that deals with knowledge and the experience of knowing – epistemology.
The contemporary philosopher whose ideas on epistemology have impacted me the most is Dr. Esther Meek. Dr. Meek and I have developed a professional relationship recently, collaborating to an extent on how to teach a healthy, sound epistemology to young adults. She generously gave of her time this semester to do a video conference with all three of my senior Theory of Knowledge classes. In her most recent treatise on knowledge, Loving to Know: Covenant Epistemology, she advances the thesis that all knowing is, to varying degrees, a transformative encounter with reality, embodied in the form of an interpersonal, covenant relationship.
This thesis is difficult to grasp as modern thinkers because it runs contrary to our unquestioned assumptions about the nature of knowledge (what Meek calls our “epistemic default”). One of these deeply held assumptions is the “fact-value dichotomy.” On one side of the dichotomy is fact: tangible, indisputable bits of external information that can be demonstrated to anyone and that every rational, educated person should receive. On the other side of the dichotomy is value: subjective, private feelings about what goals are worth pursuing in life and about how we ought to live. Knowledge is the realm of facts; values lack the authority of knowledge because they are relative to the individual, or culture to which the individual belongs, and are relegated to the diminished status of personal opinions.
Meek elaborates this dichotomy to describe how we categorize all kinds of human activities into what we count as knowledge and what we do not:
Knowledge – facts, theory, science, reason, math, the way things are (reality)
Not knowledge – value, opinion, imagination, interpretation, religion, art, morality, the way things appear
A couple of important observations here. Notice that the knowledge column contains things we tend to characterize as impersonal, i.e. independent of persons and subjective experience, while what we exclude from knowledge is personal. Also, while we recognize that we need the things we consider knowledge to survive, what makes live meaningful and worth living are the things we have separated from knowledge.
If you have never thought about this before, I recommend that you spend the week reflecting on what people (including yourself) talk about when they are claiming to know something and on the other hand what people are hesitant to claim to know. Consider, for example, the old adage to avoid conversations about politics and religion, at least publicly. Why are these uncomfortable topics? It’s not only the possibility of giving offense that is behind the warning; is it also perhaps that we do not know how to discuss such things openly and rationally because we do not regard them as matters of knowledge – to be rationally debated and evaluated – but as matters of private feeling?
One of the consequences of this view of knowledge is to extinguish our love for truth, weakening our longing to know, for how can we love truth if knowledge is impersonal? Significantly, she links this view to the deepening sense of boredom, hopelessness, and betrayal in our society, especially among the young:
It has been ingrained in us that we should keep our emotions, our selves, out of the information [which we equate to knowledge], as you would strive to keep contaminants out of a water supply. Small wonder that people are bored, when personal commitment and passion are “subjective” items that we must check at the door. Small wonder that we are bored, when we presume the information is ever only dispassionately derived or held to be true. Dispassionately gleaned information, dispassionately conveyed and dispassionately apprehended, spells boredom. It suggests that knowledge has little to do with what is meaningful in life.
A major implication of her ‘covenant epistemology’ is that we can throw ourselves passionately and personally in the pursuit of truth because there is a Person waiting on the other side to reciprocate our efforts. Or as I tell my students, “knowledge is not a one way street.”
There is so much to more to be said on this theme that I think it would be worthwhile for me to reflect more in the upcoming weeks what I am learning about covenant epistemology and relay this to you. This will help me process the book and perhaps help enrich your pursuit of knowledge at the same time.