Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Philosophical Position Paper

It is difficult to make a statement of philosophical position without first establishing the limitations of such. For example, a person may believe in liberal economic policy (liaise faire or free markets), yet be a fiscal, moral, and ethical conservative. There is currently a Christian constituency that is theologically conservative and sociologically liberal. Positions that would have been impossible or paradoxical in the past appear common in a post-modern world. Therefore, instead of appearing contradictory or inconsistent, I will present my philosophical position on three fronts: reality, transcendence, and daily life. For example, I hold to an objective view of reality and believe it’s out there aside from any human perception. As far as transcendence, I believe everyone rolls their own, although Acapulco gold differs from horse manure (even though some choose the latter). I realize that this is a subjective stance with an objectivist hierarchical reference point (bad-good-better-best). Finally, I believe in the mind and that we have the power to create poverty and plenty via our thoughts. Do humans create meaning, definitely! Do humans also create myth, absolutely! This appears to be a constructivist framework, but with a twist: not all meaning making is valid. Let me expand the foregoing premises.

Stuff exists. Lots of stuff exists. Can we know or detect it all? I doubt it, nevertheless it exists and is part of the universe in which humanity lives. Not all things that exist can be seen, either with the naked eye or aided with scientific instruments. Astronomers know dark energy and black holes because of attraction. 95% of the energy in the universe is undetectable and un-measurable at the present. Simply put, there is a lot of stuff out there that we have no way to measure, no quantitative assessment of, and no indication except for its influence on visible matter. It’s similar to what Jesus said about the Spirit: “The Spirit breathes upon whom it desires; you hear its voice, but cannot tell where from where it derives.” So both the seen and the unseen world exist out there, whether or not humanity can either measure or detect it. This objectivity does not seem to be an empirical judgment, since it rests on the testimony of mystics and visionaries.

On the other hand, some very cherished “realities” do not exist. Humanity creates myth. Many feminists believe in a patriarchal society that stretches back to the countless ages, but that may be a non-existent construction of a reality that is only in the minds of feminist. Marx constructed a history of humanity, based on a similar oppression. It was not real, and if so it does not and has never existed. I believe many such myths have arisen in the modern world because of a certain religious faith directed toward both the hard sciences and the social sciences. Humanity has been told that a reality exists that is only a hypothesis which can be neither verified nor falsified. It is very possible that the mythology of the modern world exceeds that of any former age. Therefore I hold that humanity as a whole, and individuals in particular, are as liable to accept myth today as in any time before, verification being a poor test on many levels and falsification being impossible at the present. That organic life arose from inorganic matter is a case in point, and though utterly unobservable and mathematically improbable/impossible, it is the dominant paradigm in the contemporary scientific world.


Humans can know some things: name, rank, and serial number are a good start. The list may continue with date of birth, gender, biological parents, ethnicity, country of origin, political party, and favorite ice cream. These facts can be established with a good degree of certainty for many folks, though possibility not for all. Historical records, such as birth certificates, driver’s license, passports, and family Bibles have know to house data to verity these areas of personal data. These sources may even be subject of falsification, the apex of veracity according to Karl Popper. Even if historical records are discovered to be unreliable, we are still left with knowledge of a negative sort. It is logically impossible to say that humans can know nothing, for in that negative statement is an affirmation that knowledge, even if it means we know nothing like Socrates, is possible.

Furthermore, if Jung was right about a collective unconsciousness, then Plato was also right (at least to an extent) that knowledge is recollected rather than learned. Folks may not exit the womb with calculus hidden somewhere in the little gray cells (to use Poirot’s phrase), but they do come into the world with archetypes (Jung) or body language (Joseph Campbell).


Logical analysis, and both the scientific and historical method offer a reliable framework for many areas of study, but these may not tell the whole story. Methodology is highly context and content dependent. To determine whether or not there is a certain level of student attrition in the university demands a quantitative methodology, but to determine why there is a certain percentage of attrition may require a qualitative methodology.


I like counting noses, counting words, counting recurrences, referring to texts, and consulting experts. I have a hard time seeing how a narrative could challenge quantitative data, but I also realize that a picture (objective data) grants no conclusive facts without the story that accompanies it (see Appendix 1).


I am not a positivist. I don’t believe that either metaphysics or theology is non-sense. I can not see how science could exist without speculation, anymore than metaphysics could. I am an empiricist modified by rationalism and mysticism. I believe in a real world that can be experienced. I hear the birds in the morning and the crickets at night. I have seen the moon rise and Orion march across the night sky many times. I have read how the little dipper spins around Polaris like a clock and have seen the same. Other humans have witnessed and documented these facts for thousands of years. Much of the universe moves in an orderly, predictable fashion, else our daily lives would be complete chaos. G. F. Moore called this a common sense philosophy. These phenomena force me to speculate on intelligent design. I really need a 3-D model to express my position; both Guba and Morgan fail me. I am not a social-constructivist. Though I believe that man has the ability to make meaning, he just as readily makes myth. It would be more correct to say that mankind makes sense of his surroundings and experiences, and the range of making sense is extremely limited. Else, why would scholars even attempt to write books, or why would students attempt a philosophical position paper?

Appendix 1

The Lord is my Shepherd

Islamic terrorist drowns Jewish sheep

PETA Alert!

Shepherd forces sheep to bathe

Radical Sheep cell leader
strangles and drowns Jewish shepherd
while bystanders watch.

Is a picture really worth 1,000 words, or is a picture meaningless withoug verbal descriptors?


Johnny Smith said...


This is an interesting approach to help us understand your epistemolical stance. I just knew that you would say that you were a "positivist."

Have a great day!!

Alan C.R. Mueller said...

I like the way you make sense of things generally. I like your shout-out to Jung's collective unconscious. That we come with "firmware" to borrow from the computerworld, makes sense to me. That this firmware is limited in assumptions, but crucial for our 'operating system' (mind) to connect to our 'hardware' (body).

David Stegall said...

I struggle to with my approach to research, which doesn't necessarily completely align with my approach to life. In research I see the huge impact of quantifying data to prove or justify a claim. In research, I struggle with subjectivity. I want hard facts and concrete numbers, but I know that numbers in and of themselves do not tell the whole truth. Faith can not be quantified, but it is very real.

What I hope doesn't happen is that our approach to our reseach defines to others our approach to life in general. There is no one best way for all, and we all will likely find ourselves wrestling with many approaches.