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Augustine’s Cup: Boundary Conditions and Relocating Science in a Post-postmodern World
Unformatted Document Text:  a systematic explanation of the world and ourselves rests in the cup of our mind, its reassuring presence like the steam coming off our morning coffee, allowing us to read our morning paper with the appropriate and predictable grunts of approval and disapproval at the course of events. We are at our most comfortable, but not necessarily at our best. A typical test for a belief system is that it is consistent and comprehensive. Does the system provide a coherent means of explaining key questions of personal meaning and identity? Does it provide a basis for personal and social choice consistent with that meaning? Does it, above all, permit a comfortable sense of certainty? Any system of thought is inevitably a partial system, and one would do well to recognize the boundary conditions that describe its limitations as well as its strengths. This is as true of scientific as it is of postmodern or positivist thought. Consistency and coherence are sensible criteria for a single system. The price of that consistency, however, should be recognized. The beginning of wisdom, as any apprentice social of physical scientist quickly learns, is to recognize that one may be wrong in the major propositions, and that one is almost certainly wrong with respect to at least some of the particulars. One may embrace a set of beliefs, based on conviction or faith. Indeed, in order to be able to act in the world, one perhaps must accept some coherent belief system. But to recognize that other beliefs and methods may yield equivalent light, or offer insights unavailable to one’s own preferred perspectives, both represents a realistic assessment and a basis for civil exchange with those who believe differently. A weakness of pragmatism’s utilitarian criteria for belief systems is the illusion of objectivity. A belief system can be considered true to the extent to which those beliefs lead to desirable results. The desirability of those results, however, is assessed based on yet another belief system out which the criteria for desirability are derived. Subjectivity is

Authors: Slater, Michael.
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a systematic explanation of the world and ourselves rests in the cup of our mind, its
reassuring presence like the steam coming off our morning coffee, allowing us to read our
morning paper with the appropriate and predictable grunts of approval and disapproval at
the course of events. We are at our most comfortable, but not necessarily at our best.
A typical test for a belief system is that it is consistent and comprehensive. Does the
system provide a coherent means of explaining key questions of personal meaning and
identity? Does it provide a basis for personal and social choice consistent with that meaning?
Does it, above all, permit a comfortable sense of certainty? Any system of thought is
inevitably a partial system, and one would do well to recognize the boundary conditions that
describe its limitations as well as its strengths. This is as true of scientific as it is of
postmodern or positivist thought. Consistency and coherence are sensible criteria for a
single system. The price of that consistency, however, should be recognized. The beginning
of wisdom, as any apprentice social of physical scientist quickly learns, is to recognize that
one may be wrong in the major propositions, and that one is almost certainly wrong with
respect to at least some of the particulars. One may embrace a set of beliefs, based on
conviction or faith. Indeed, in order to be able to act in the world, one perhaps must accept
some coherent belief system. But to recognize that other beliefs and methods may yield
equivalent light, or offer insights unavailable to one’s own preferred perspectives, both
represents a realistic assessment and a basis for civil exchange with those who believe
differently.
A weakness of pragmatism’s utilitarian criteria for belief systems is the illusion of
objectivity. A belief system can be considered true to the extent to which those beliefs lead
to desirable results. The desirability of those results, however, is assessed based on yet
another belief system out which the criteria for desirability are derived. Subjectivity is


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