Unfortunately, I am grading a ton of papers for the next few days, so I can’t really respond very much, but I do want to respond briefly to the following comments from Doug Smith: “I have the feeling we are agreeing here but using terms in different ways. Let me put it this way, re. the claim that “all knowledge is a human construct.” It is either trivial or false.
Trivially, all knowledge of which we are aware is human, since we are humans and only we have knowledge. (Actually, even this is false since other animals have knowledge; but let’s leave aside that objection as picking nits). Knowledge is made up of concepts, and concepts come from human brains, so knowledge is trivially a human construct.
However, the move that Lackey is making here is not the trivial one. He does not believe that this is a trivial claim. Much the opposite. This is because he seems to believe that anything humanly constructed is a species of fiction. And then we get a claim that is not trivial at all: it is the claim that all knowledge is a species of fiction, a “construct” in the radical sense that it is one way of an infinite number of mutually logically exclusive ways of constructing the world. And this latter claim, while no longer banal, is simply false.”
There’s a lot to unpack here, but let me say only this for now. I (and many postmodernists, though not all) consider the claim that all knowledge is human constructed of staggering significance. But why? It is not because I want to construct an infinite number of ways of constructing the world. Rather, it is to underscore that whatever construct we have is provisional. “Women are defective in reason.” Because so many intellectuals spewed this nonsense, many people (women included) believed it. Postmodernists retort: this is a constructed fiction about women. Doug, I suspect that you would say that the claim about women being defective in reason is nonsense. So you would retort: we can reject this prejudiced view of women. Moreover, given our more sophisticated methods of science, we can now provide a more accurate (and less prejudiced) definition of a woman’s nature. The whole idea hinges on a belief, which Balak intelligently articulates: “any argument to the effect that “all knowledge is NOT a human construct” is simply a religious argument, i.e. positing a ‘knowledge’ that exists somewhere suspended outside time, space and human society.” Indeed, in my book, I take the following claim from Jean-Paul Sartre very seriously: “Thus, there is no human nature, since there is no God to conceive it.” So the question is this: why would postmodernists insist on calling all knowledge systems fictions? Fictions, as a system of knowledge, can be extremely effective in making systematic sense of the world in which we live, which is why Barto’s claim about the predictive nature of human systems of knowledge is so important. But if we acknowledge that the knowledge system is human constructed, it underscores the system’s provisional nature (as DJ points out in the passage I quoted in an earlier post), it encourages us to look at the knowledge system as someone’s construct (just because Aristotle, Aquinas, and Kant said or implied that women are defective in reason, it does not necessarily follow that it is true), and it is the logical outcome of an internally consistent atheistic worldview—Nietzsche refers to such atheists as unconditional honest atheists, and I consider myself to be such an atheist.
Balak, to my mind, Nietzsche’s whole project was an attempt to reject the following claim from Plato. When discussing the type of knowledge that poets possess, Socrates claims in the Ion: “it is not they [the poets] who utter these precious revelations while their mind is not within them, but that it is the god himself who speaks.” Therefore, Socrates concludes: “these lovely poems are not of man or human workmanship, but are divine and from the gods.” For Plato, whenever knowledge is tainted by the human, it ceases to be genuine knowledge. Knowledge, to be authentic and true, must come from God, which is what Balak was trying to say. Nietzsche argues that when we admit that knowledge is human constructed, we are implicitly affirming our humanness, our creative impulses. To suggest that knowledge is authentic and true only when the human does not play a role in its construction would be, according to Nietzsche’s model, an anti-humanist move. Moreover, to acknowledge that all knowledge is human constructed would be the most radical affirmation of the human and humanism possible. But just because we acknowledge that systems of knowledge are of human origin, it does not follow that these systems are useless or false. Only the sloppiest postmodernists make such a claim. Unfortunately, there are plenty of sloppy postmodernists.
I have so much more to say, but I really have to get back to grading papers.
By the way, this is a very useful discussion.
Talk to you later,