Julian Long › Uncertainty, aporia, and Benedict

Religion / Science

Julian Long has posted the essay that last week he mentioned he was working on.

It’s primarily a reflection on the Pope’s essay on relativism which I used as a source for an article on the way President Bush seemingly missed the Pope’s point.

But there’s also a response to a statement I made about whether or not an understanding of the nature of reality in one field of study ought to be commensurate with the understanding found in another. (I believe ultimately they should. Hopefully someday I’ll think it.)

Prof. Long writes:

“I don’t disagree, but that doesn’t mean that I agree entirely. I don’t know of any requirement that one field’s insights be accepted by another. Moreover, it’s been almost an article of faith in the humanities and social sciences, since the so-called linguistic turn, that academic discourses, like cultures, are incommensurable.1 I’ve mostly thought incommensurability a wrong-headed notion, but there are cases that argue otherwise. If there weren’t, epistemology might be reducible to psychology or vice versa. On the other hand, postmodern literary criticism has owed much to Marx (especially as understood by Raymond Williams, Terry Eagleton, Herbert Marcuse, et al.), to Freud (especially as understood by Lacan), to Heidegger (especially as understood by Derrida, Sartre, Gadamer . . .).

I also said I think uncertainty in physics and epistemological uncertainty have different bases. They come together in Kuhn’s critique and in the spate of theorists who have followed Kuhn, but one is grounded in a famous series of experiments with light and the other is grounded in a discourse that includes Kant and Hume but goes back to the beginnings of philosophy. These thoughts leave me with the partially unsatisfying observation that it is sometimes useful and possible to think across disciplines and sometimes not. Sometimes différance is not only inevitable but desirable.”

Read the rest here. And you really should because Julian’s analysis of the political shadings of the Pope’s message and visit are really quite interesting.

But, in reference to the quote above;

It’s a fair point that Julian makes. I think the nit he picks with me is more a result of my imprecision in laying out my thinking than it is the result of a fundamental disagreement between us.

But, as I mentioned over the weekend, I’m a thoroughgoing Platonist and as such I believe there is a coherent and pervasive rationality to the Cosmos. That more than anything else is motivating my statement that ultimately that a fundamental insight into one field of knowledge should most likely have a corresponding insight in another.

Of course there’s always the principle of isomorphism particularly as it is used in Group Theory. (It’s one of those ideas that I take great comfort in when I see two competing approaches trying to summit the same intellectual mountain.)

I suppose that I’ve got to carve out some time to really work out a way to say what I’m trying to say. It’s one of those ideas that’s still just out of arms’ reach for me…

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...


  1. This is almost like real time. I didn’t mean to nitpick, Fr. Knisely. I just got caught up in the fun of expanding what I had intended to write about the Pope’s various American statements before I read your essay. I’m not a Platonist except maybe in the sense that A. N. Whitehead was a Platonist. Isomorphism? I should have thought of that myself.
    About Benedict. From my perspective the most hopeful thing about his American trip was that he didn’t threaten American universities with tighter controls.

  2. Oh please pick away. Seriously. Your essay forced me to try to move my own thinking a step or two further down the path.
    And the essay was fantastic – it’s a more coherent treatment of the context of Benedict’s remarks than I’ve seen anywhere else. Thanks for putting it up.

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