Friday, November 28, 2003

Letters to a Young Theologian [2]

Also, I do want to say that I think Foucault is starting with his end as well. He is quick to criticize the historical perspective that assumes we are moving toward an end. His complaint is obviously that they interpret the present with reference to this past that got us where we are and will take us where we’re going. And yet in his denial of a linear history he makes the same mistake, he starts with his end – that history has no purpose. Neither position can be proven or disproven, so both remain valid. (Note: I'm not using 'valid' in a philosophical, but in a popular-level sense.)

Am I right in reading what you write here as implying that your use of 'valid' is more a matter of 'you have the right to say (or believe) THAT', versus a declarative affirmation of a particular truth-claim? If so, I'm not so sure that your sense of the word, in the popular sense, isn't philosophically pertinent to the questions you're troubling yourself with. Or, to put in different terms, the philosophical / popular distinction you've established here might very well be construed as the necessary distinction between metaphysical and pre-&-post metaphysical understandings of truth.

An obscure nugget to chew on, readonly only if you have the time: to what extent do you think we might be able to say that 'validity' (or, 'truthfulness') arises out of the very practice of communication itself, and is not anything metaphysical or transcendent toward which the communication itself strives? That is to say, what if 'validity' / 'truthfulness' do not abide outside language-use, but only ever arise, individually and tenuosly, from the act of communication between one subject and an(other)? 'Validity', then, is the product of interpretive, communicative engagement: for instance, 'I understand you' = some rudimentary validity; 'I believe you' = another level of validity; 'I empathise with you = yet another. Validity, here, is multi-layered, conscious and unconscious, and profoundly subjective.

And yet, all the same, this validity is not relative, at least not in the sense that necessarily privileges that which is 'true for me' over that which is 'objectively' true. Too often, statements like the former have a similar metaphysical assumption about truth as those who might say (and truly mean it!), 'Faith in Jesus Christ of Nazareth, he who died and rose again, is the only means of having a relationship with God'. Being 'true' in either sense assumes a certain singularity -- be it immanent or absent. I.e., X is true . . . y is untrue; which is to say, x corresponds to some pre-determined category of truthfulness, and y does not. Even the most ardent of relativists, one who says everything is true (and thus it doesn't matter what one believes), is implicitly returning to this very same assumption, as she invariably makes an exclusivist claim about the fact that everything is true. I.e., anyone who says everything is not true, is wrong. This, of course, just brings you back to saying, in essence, x [relativism] is true . . . y [non-relativism] is false.

It is difficult to wiggle your way out of this kind of metaphysical, very logical, matrix, but I think it is definitely worth giving it a try. Perhaps you, implicitly / unintentionally, thinking something similar: that 'validity' is a rupture of the traditional conception of truthfulness as that which is absolutely singular, be it immanent (if you're a romantic) or absent (if you're dualist); that 'validity', maybe, perhaps, is a cornerstone of truth as communicative coherence / comprehensibility; that it emerges from, in the midst or act of, discourse, and is the assumed potential of this discourse that makes it possible (that is, comprehensible) in the first place. This is the kind of truth that most interests me -- the kind that takes the engagement of subject and object in the act of communication seriously.

There is more to say -- there always is -- but I'll stop until I hear from you again.