I can remember when I was in secondary school, I had a lot of scientific subjects, and one of the teachers started the course with a bit of science philosophy. ‘Science is always an approximation’ is the one sentence I can remember from that lesson (I also remember finding the idea of logical positivism uninteresting, boring and implausible, even at age 16, and I still do… I am still amazed about how this very basic idea is alien to a lot of people, even in a world full of people who talk about ‘deconstruction’ and have all kind of postmodern relativism (not always under that name) built into their intellectual operating system.
I’ve used the ’emerging church’ lingo for years, and looked at these things from a supposedly postmodern angle, but I’m wondering now if the postmoderns (or their students) really got that lesson at all when everything is said and done. Probably not.
So instead of turning to the postmoderns and the hip contemporary thinkers, let’s go to an older source, rooted in more than 2 millennia of Western thinking. C.S. Lewis’ last words of the epilogue of ‘the discarded image’ (yes, a book on medieval renaissance art) still gives the best explanation about what ‘deconstruction’ should be, and about how our worldview/paradigm-building will never be 100%:
“I hope no one will think that I am recommending a return to the Medieval Model. I am only suggesting considerations that may induce us to regard all Models in the right way, respecting each and idolising none. We are all, very properly, familiar with the idea that in every age the human mind is deeply influenced by the accepted Model of the universe. But there is a two-way traffic ; the Model is also influenced by the prevailing temper of mind. We must recognise that what has been called ‘a taste in universes’ is not only pardonable but inevitable. We can no longer dismiss the change of Models as a simple progress from error to truth. No Model is a catalogue of ultimate realities, and none is a mere fantasy. Each is a serious attempt to get in all the phenomena known at a given period, and each succeeds in getting in a great many. But also, no less surely, each reflects the prevalent psychology of an age almost as much as it reflects the state of that age’s knowledge. Hardly any battery of new facts could have persuaded a Greek that the universe had an attribute so repugnant to him as infinity; hardly any such battery could persuade a modern that it is hierarchical.It is not impossible that our own Model will die a violent death, ruthlessly smashed by an unprovoked assault of new facts-unprovoked as the nova of 1572. But I think it is more likely to change when, and because, far-reaching changes in the mental temper of our descendants demand that it should. The new Model will not be set up without evidence, but the evidence will turn up when the inner need for it becomes sufficiently great. It will be true evidence. But nature gives most of her evidence in answer to the questions we ask her. Here, as in the courts, the character of the evidence depends on the shape of the examination, and a good cross-examiner can do wonders. He will not indeed elicit falsehoods from an honest witness. But, in relation to the total truth in the witness’s mind, the structure of the examination is like a stencil. It determines how much of that total truth will appear and what pattern it will suggest.”
This is what a lot of postmodern philosophy should have been, instead of falling into hermetic unreadable texts or new catalogues of ultimate realities. Let alone the new grand narrative that reduces people to just one aspect of reality (Foucaultean power dynamics for example, in pop-critical theory) as if people could ever be reduced to one thing. In that way the pop-critical theory is the ultimate betrayal and inversion of postmodernism even.
Same with the way the word ‘deconstruction’ is used by deconverted ex-Christians sometimes nowadays. The emerging church thinkers certainly used it in the postmodern way, and in a way consistent with the Lewis quote here. Brian McLaren uses the quote in ‘a new kind of Christian’, noting that Lewis sounds almost postmodern here. I’m not sure anymore, I’d say the postmoderns almost sound like the Western philosophical tradition that Lewis is exemplifying here, in line with old epistemologically humble semiplatonist realism. But if your deconstruction is nothing but leaving one humanly constructed worldview (‘Model’ in the text here) for another, then you’re not doing the hard and humble world of deconstruction, you’re merely worldview-shopping, or even hopping, from one dogmatic rigid system to the other.
A lot of the people who talk about ‘social constructs’ and ‘deconstruction’ have no idea about the basic idea at all. Anything that is a social construct should always be open for deconstruction and reconstruction, and using it as a definition written in stone is already disregarding the whole social construct idea (or very strong cultural colonialism if you are more aware of the implications of what a social construct is, instead of ‘this is my version of the social construct show me yours they fall into ‘my version can be the only one and other interpretations cannot exist’, which is again postmodernism utterly betraying itself).
In the end we should always be humble in our epistemology.
What do you think?