SAG E A DV I C E
EPISTEMOLOGICAL THERAPY E ST H E R L IGH TCA P MEEK | G EN EVA CO L L EG E
here can wisdom be found? How do theological education and wisdom relate? And how might we improve that relatedness? As a youthful Christian believer, I was keenly aware that deep issues about knowing blocked my love of God and trust even in the thereness of the real. At first I didn’t know that my puzzlements were philosophical—or that the questions themselves were spawned by the modernist epistemology in the very air I was breathing. Encountering the innovative proposals of Hungarian Michael Polanyi, a premier twentieth-century physical scientist-turned-philosopher, proved key to my epistemological healing—and that of many others. All knowing, he wrote, has a two-level structure, a transformative and irreducibly integrated from to to, subsidiary to focal. We subsidiarily indwell and rely on unspecifiable clues to shape integratively and submit to a focal pattern as token of reality. The subsidiary is so called because it is subsidiary to the focus which accords it its distinctive meaning. Focusing on articulate information rather than subsidiarily indwelling it actually blinds us to the integrating understanding and grasp of the real which we seek. Consider riding a bike. To pull off this everyday wonderment, I must be subsidiarily, attunedly, bodily indwelling and relying on the palpable but inarticulate skill of keeping my balance. I attend from my creatively dynamic balancing to the focus of getting down the road. The explicit information involved would be the physics formula they tell me pertains. But it’s my felt and skilled subsidiary embodiment of it that keeps me jubilantly atop my bike speeding down the road. It isn’t subconscious, but rather from-knowing; if my bike starts skidding in gravel, I’d better be aware of it! Polanyi’s subsidiary focal integration dispels the skewed modernist epistemology by directly contradicting the presumption that all knowledge is focal, explicitly expressed information. Rather, all knowledge is rooted in the inarticulate subsidiary, which undergirds and outruns even the most sophisticated claim. If you do not tacitly shift your episte
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mological vision, you simply cannot ride a bike. It is noteworthy that your subsidiaries can actually be in part mistaken and require ferreting out and fixing. Our defective modernist epistemology is actually functioning subsidiarily. Hence the need for epistemological therapy. So all knowledge is from artfully indwelled subsidiaries, to an integrative whole, and then even beyond it as the integration opens the world and abundant future possibilities. Where can wisdom be found? Indeed, where can even knowledge be found? Wisdom is (at least) the artful and dynamic indwelling of the subsidiary in view of the guiding vision. One cannot account epistemologically for wisdom as focal information. As located in the subsidiary, wisdom forms subsidiarily with a view to an other which has primacy. That is how the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. You can just hear the two-level from-to in this. What about Scripture memorization? Sermons, Bible studies, seminary training, theological education? These must be understood epistemologically, not as collected focal information, but as the rigorous training of subsidiary indwelling in reverence of the real—that is, of the Lord. Once the modernist vision is dispelled, we can recognize that this is the way we have been going at bicycling and the Christian life from our childhood, all along. Scripture’s showing of Christ and its call to wisdom make greater sense and prove in turn to model good epistemology. This is good not just for theological education but for your spirituality, as for your bike riding. EST H ER L I G H TC A P MEEK is currently writing Doorway to Artistry, in a series relating her philosophical proposals to different areas of life.
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