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Augustine’s Cup: Boundary Conditions and Relocating Science in a Post-postmodern World
Unformatted Document Text:  acknowledging the elements in its own heritage that create its own set of favorite caricatures. Understanding may be located better among Cartesian coordinates, setting erstwhile antagonist positions into an orthogonal relation, than along that single dialectic continuum. In fact, Cartesian coordinates do not need to be confined to two poles, and two dimensions, though increasing complexity demands increasing mental agility. Perhaps the fundamental obstacle to such ventures is the apparent human need to find a single system of thought that satisfies…an “ism” or “ist” that permits one to organize understanding of the world in a single intellectual framework. This need is expressed in nearly every philosophic, ideological, and metaphysical stance. (Postmodernists both critique and embrace such a project, it seems to me.) To attempt to encompass thinking about the world, or thinking about thinking, in a single framework is in a sense an extension of the pathetic fallacy. It is to believe that a single intellectual system, a highly organized epiphenomenon of human mental life, can encompass the complexities of being. It is pathetic in a literal sense…it carries the pathos of the human need—especially the intellectual human’s need—to be right, to have a definitive answer, a single system that provides a satisfactory explanation and meaning. There is an apocryphal story about St. Augustine. In one of the versions of this story, St. Augustine sees a boy crying on the beach, complaining that he can’t get the ocean into his cup. St. Augustine tries to help by explaining the obvious difficulties. The boy then reveals himself to be an angel (vacationing from the City of God?) and points out to Augustine that he himself has been attempting the same project in trying to encompass the mysteries of God with the powers of his mind. While the story was originally intended to convey a moral concerning reason and faith, its imagery can be appropriated to illustrate my point. We are most comfortable when

Authors: Slater, Michael.
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acknowledging the elements in its own heritage that create its own set of favorite caricatures.
Understanding may be located better among Cartesian coordinates, setting erstwhile
antagonist positions into an orthogonal relation, than along that single dialectic continuum.
In fact, Cartesian coordinates do not need to be confined to two poles, and two dimensions,
though increasing complexity demands increasing mental agility.
Perhaps the fundamental obstacle to such ventures is the apparent human need to
find a single system of thought that satisfies…an “ism” or “ist” that permits one to organize
understanding of the world in a single intellectual framework. This need is expressed in
nearly every philosophic, ideological, and metaphysical stance. (Postmodernists both critique
and embrace such a project, it seems to me.) To attempt to encompass thinking about the
world, or thinking about thinking, in a single framework is in a sense an extension of the
pathetic fallacy. It is to believe that a single intellectual system, a highly organized
epiphenomenon of human mental life, can encompass the complexities of being. It is
pathetic in a literal sense…it carries the pathos of the human need—especially the
intellectual human’s need—to be right, to have a definitive answer, a single system that
provides a satisfactory explanation and meaning.
There is an apocryphal story about St. Augustine. In one of the versions of this story,
St. Augustine sees a boy crying on the beach, complaining that he can’t get the ocean into his
cup. St. Augustine tries to help by explaining the obvious difficulties. The boy then reveals
himself to be an angel (vacationing from the City of God?) and points out to Augustine that
he himself has been attempting the same project in trying to encompass the mysteries of
God with the powers of his mind.
While the story was originally intended to convey a moral concerning reason and
faith, its imagery can be appropriated to illustrate my point. We are most comfortable when


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