Friday, October 17, 2008

Quote of the Day

Regarding the sources of knowing itself, what can one say relevantly here? The desire to know is a source of the scientific quest, but what is the source of the desire to know? As we know, this latter desire can take many forms; for there are many knowings, of which the scientific is but one. When we wonder about the sources of the desire to know, our question is not any straightforward scientific question. In asking the question, we show ourselves already to participate in that which is the "object" of our inquiry, hence we can never stand objectively outside it. In that regard, science is not a question to itself, though it questions everything else, and even though at moments of limit and crisis the question of its own nature and methods does come alive for it. But this perplexity about its own sources is not the element in which it lives, or wants to live. It is carried by the desire to know, which it takes for granted as its enabling power, without astonishment or perplexity about what grants this power at all. Thus too it is not always attuned to the perplexity that this enabling of mind may be deeply equivocal and dangerous, for it releases monstrous possibilities, precedents for which we look in vain among the other creatures of nature. Our will to know scientifically, in potentially opening up to comprehend all that is, is disproportionate to all the objects it makes its concern. It is not perplexed about its own disproportion; not perplexed about the sources of this disproportion and the perils.

If you say the sources of the desire to know are in a continuation of biological adaptation, clearly this is true to a point, but it seems to me disproportionate to the intensiveness of penetration and the extensiveness of range that our scientific knowing projects. There is something useless here, relative to more proximate biological concerns. Uselessness is disproportion: it reveals the trace of infinity in the finite knower; and hence it mediately connects with reverence of the finite religious person for the infinite.

Or you say: the source is to be found in neurophysiological causes; science will lay out these causes. But science itself is also caused by neurophysiology, which here it invokes as explanation of itself. But what status has it itself then? Another formation of neurophysiology? But what gives it a status as the true, or the better, formation of neurophysiology? How to distinguish between the better and worse, the truer and less true, formations of neurophysiological causes? But these are all qualitatively the same relative to neurophysiological causation. There seems no explanation of mind that does not presuppose mind. And indeed, if claims to truth are made, this presupposes that fidelity to reality or being is better or superior to infidelity; but these are irreducibly qualitative distinctions or differences which seem impossible to uphold on the homogeneous terms claimed within the theory. If this theory were true, its truth could not be upheld. If it were true, it would lose its claim to be the truth about mind. Its overt claims are urged in terms of covert presuppositions that truth is better than falsehood. But these covert presuppositions cannot be explained in the particular terms of this theory, since they are presupposed by every theory claiming to be true.

William Desmond
"On the Betrayals of Reverence"
Is There a Sabbath for Thought?: Between Religion and Philosophy

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