No Such Thing as Deep Knowledge

I’m not the only one who thinks so, either. Frederick Crews’s article says much the same thing, only better.

Although the follies discussed in my chapters are mild when judged against the total historical record of homicidal zeal in the service of misapprehensions, they display most of the features that characterize religious fanaticism, such as undue deference to authority, hostility toward dissenters, and, most basically, an assumption that intuitively held certitude is somehow more precious and profound than the hard-won gains of trial and error.

This is, it seems to me, the lurking danger behind the innocuous-seeming idea that there are ways of getting at the truth about the world that are radically different from ‘the scientific method.’ If every component of ‘the scientific method’ is ruled out for such ways, then not much is left other than fantasy and stark subjectivity, neither of which can really persuade other people without recourse to intuitively held certitude.

…many spokesmen for entrenched interests subscribe to a two-tiered conception of truth. They make a token bow to empirically grounded knowledge, but they deem it too pedestrian for mapping the labyrinth of the soul or for doing justice to the emotional currents coursing between interacting persons. Instead of merely avowing that the subjective realm is elusive, however, they then advance their own preferred theory, which is typically sweeping, absolute, and bristling with partisanship.

Bingo. It’s this idea that empirically grounded knowledge is too pedestrian for certain subjects that tips people into pseudo-profundity.

This book means to suggest, through sample instances in a number of subject areas, that there is no such thing as deep knowledge, in the sense of insight so compelling that it needs no validation. There is only knowledge, period. It is recognizable not by its air of holiness or its emotional appeal but by its capacity to pass the most demanding scrutiny of well-informed people who have no prior investment in confirming it.

Isn’t that great? There is no such thing as deep knowledge, in the sense of insight so compelling that it needs no validation. Well exactly. So let’s everybody stop pretending otherwise.

I’m looking forward to reading Follies of the Wise.

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