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Augustine’s Cup: Boundary Conditions and Relocating Science in a Post-postmodern World
Unformatted Document Text:  sometimes shrilly for intellectual supremacy over systems it believes to be competitive. Such inconsistencies are appropriate in a reactive correction but suggest inherent instabilities that make postmodernism an implausible long-term replacement for modernist thought or aesthetic. What will supercede postmodernism I do not pretend to know. I hope, however, that such an intellectual movement will incorporate some of the following features. The most attractive quality of postmodern thought is its interest in plurality of ideas and beliefs. Its most problematic quality is its distaste for criteria for judging among narratives or systems. This distaste, in part, may be a reaction to the hierarchical-mindedness of Western thinkers, modernist and otherwise: their insistence on a hierarchy of claims on truth, on the primacy of a model of technological and social progress. The parallels with colonialism are too obnoxious not to evoke an intellectual revolutionary response. One can reject some systems of beliefs, some sets of claims without insisting on the unique truth claims of another such system. One can acknowledge limited contributions of some systems—whether the contribution be providing meaning for an embattled human subculture, or predicting human behavior in some highly constrained context—without claiming those systems offer equivalent value for more broadly useful or applicable systems of understanding. We return, then, to the problem of boundary conditions and relationships—how to organize or accommodate various beliefs or methods within the same social system or within the same intellect. This problem is a central one even within highly coherent systems: those of the sciences. Levels of analysis in the physical and social sciences are a primary means of organizing boundary conditions on thought and observation. Biologists build on insights of molecular biologists who build on work of chemists who build on the work of physicists.

Authors: Slater, Michael.
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sometimes shrilly for intellectual supremacy over systems it believes to be competitive. Such
inconsistencies are appropriate in a reactive correction but suggest inherent instabilities that
make postmodernism an implausible long-term replacement for modernist thought or
aesthetic.
What will supercede postmodernism I do not pretend to know. I hope, however,
that such an intellectual movement will incorporate some of the following features.
The most attractive quality of postmodern thought is its interest in plurality of ideas and
beliefs. Its most problematic quality is its distaste for criteria for judging among narratives
or systems. This distaste, in part, may be a reaction to the hierarchical-mindedness of
Western thinkers, modernist and otherwise: their insistence on a hierarchy of claims on truth,
on the primacy of a model of technological and social progress. The parallels with
colonialism are too obnoxious not to evoke an intellectual revolutionary response.
One can reject some systems of beliefs, some sets of claims without insisting on the
unique truth claims of another such system. One can acknowledge limited contributions of
some systems—whether the contribution be providing meaning for an embattled human
subculture, or predicting human behavior in some highly constrained context—without
claiming those systems offer equivalent value for more broadly useful or applicable systems
of understanding. We return, then, to the problem of boundary conditions and
relationships—how to organize or accommodate various beliefs or methods within the same
social system or within the same intellect.
This problem is a central one even within highly coherent systems: those of the
sciences. Levels of analysis in the physical and social sciences are a primary means of
organizing boundary conditions on thought and observation. Biologists build on insights of
molecular biologists who build on work of chemists who build on the work of physicists.


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