Truthfulness and Delusion – in Science, Religion and Politics

IMG_1999Recently my blog was named, as a compliment by one of my readers, ‘catholic’, meaning it to display a very broad field of interest. I liked that, although I wondered whether the central questions of my endeavour were coming across also. Just a week later at work, in an assesment of my research, the adjective ‘hyperdiverse’ was used. That was not a compliment, but meant to indicate a serious problem with respect to my chances of publishing in refereed journals and of acquiring external funding. I did not like that assessment, but it made me think harder why the central questions of my research were not directly clear.

I thought I would have to do something about that, and my first impulse was to initiate another book project, to write down what drives my work as a philosopher – both blogging and writing academically. Perhaps it might add some weight if I would succeed in publishing a book in English, as publications in local languages get you less ‘points’ in output measurement. On the other hand, I already wrote five books, and it might be clear what my concerns are to one who would have read them all. Which is rare, as most people think that their subjects are very… diverse. Perhaps the most manifesto-like work I published was the 2006 essay ‘Wat is waar?’ (see picture). If I would rewrite it more elaborately, I would give it the title of this post – and that gives an indication of the major interests of my research.

Why truthfulness and delusion? The postmodern, deconstructive, feminist and hermeneutic books that I read made me to think hard about epistemology and ontology. Seeing that all knowledge is situated, historically, culturally, ethnically and with respect to gender – however never made me a relativist. Although knowledge is situated, and also motivated by an urge for power and control, a claim to it only makes sense in so far as it’s contents can be made understandable, and of potential use to others. Still the question of truth and falsity is in play. But why bring it under the header of truthfulness and delusion? The reason for the shift from the one pair to the other has to do more with the things I saw happening around me in society, locally and globally. I saw so many struggles – power struggles, in the political, the religious and the scientific arenas. Interconnected also. And I saw that the scientific and academic search for knowledge was never free from those struggles, but played its role in them, consciously or unconsciously.

My conclusion? Truth makes no sense but understood as truthfulness. It is not something we can find in a serene, objective, Platonic heaven, unspoiled by human interests. It can therefore only be related to a certain human quality – that of being true to oneself and to others. Falsity is neither an objective category, free from human needs and strivings. It only makes real sense as delusion – being untrue to oneself and to others. Bending research data to get a ‘better outcome’, fighting for a religious dogma that you don’t understand yourself, moving with party interests for a temporary benefit – are all instances of delusion. Whether one likes it or not, in the end we can only anchor truth in a human potential – that of being real, living with others in a truthful manner. Being real does not make diversity obsolete, nor does it make conflict something in the past. Instead it recognizes diversity, and friction, as a necessary given – since truthfulness is always personal, and related to specific relations, places, traditions, ideas, in which one lives. It does not ask us to rise above our specific situatedness, but to recognize it, and critically investigate it’s worth as well as it’s limits – which is the only way to prevent living in the delusion that I am allowed to grasp power over others in the name of some universal ‘truth’.

My own specific situatedness as a thinker is most importantly determined by my being raised and educated as an heir of ‘Western’ culture, ‘enjoying’ the benefits of Western power, with all its accompanying adjectives, like ‘modern’, ‘secular’, ‘scientific’ – but also ‘Christian’, ‘humanist’ and more. This situatedness made me research the ethics of science and education. It made me take an interest in science & religion as the field which is critical to that dogma of modernity which seperated those fields of human knowledge. It made me read African philosophy and African American studies, as they both challenge the given self-image of the ‘Western’ world. Longer ago it made me study Spinoza, as his work goes into science, religion and politics in their interrelatedness too. Write on the hermeneutics of nature, which challenges the divorce of science and narration as ways to know. And on the spirits of modernity, to not forget our Western unconscious drives. Yes, my work is diverse, it is also very focused in it’s aim – to research and criticize conditioning that blinds.

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