UNDERSTANDING AND UNITY
The chief assumption already stated here is that, just as the human being is essentially the same the world over, so is the essentially human faculty of understanding universal. As such it can be analysed and explicated so as to improve the development of unifying theories in philosophy, the sciences, the humanities and daily living.
All intelligent people today have some understanding of the need for the spirit of unity in human affairs. It alone enables us to meet the great challenges raised by the first global culture in history, such as the exhaustion and pollution of the natural environment and the unjust inequalities between peoples of different races, creeds and countries.
To practice correctly in worldly matters, both 'theory' and knowing how to apply it are required. It is in questions of application that clashes arise between two fundamental approaches. The one starts from the worldly interests of the individual, be these economic, social or cultural interests. The other approach is supra-individual and regards all things in terms of the universal good; of what is true, necessary and best for mankind and the entire world. Putting unity into practice involves the meeting of these two approaches.
Two Viewpoints: Every question, every matter about which we wish to know the truth, can thus be regarded from the individual viewpoint or the universal viewpoint. These always mark respectively the base and the apex of a pyramid of intermediate viewpoints.
These days people are brought up and educated to regard most matters mainly from a relatively individual viewpoint. Even when we are taught to identify with and protect the best interests of one party against another, be it our group, our society, our nation, our culture... the appeal often relies most heavily on the individual concerned perceiving this as in his 'own' partisan interest. The perceived self-interest, even of a very large grouping, is indeed not always compatible with the universal good. Such a clash of apparent interests - the individual against the common good - almost always lies somewhere at the root of human conflicts and also those between man and environment. All taken into account, however, the true, long-term interests of the individual cannot conflict with what is best for all.
Examples of policies said to be for the sake of 'unity' but conflicting with the overall interest of humanity still abound today. Trade protectionist policies as well as the levy of very high interest rates cripple poor borrowing countries. Further, their natural resources are over-exploited, more or less for the sake of the enormously wasteful consumer industries of rich, hi-tech countries. Thus are the poor discriminated by the regional power blocs of rich countries with their market-place mentality. The unity called for by the big powers mostly stops short of those outside the 'club'. Yet nothing but full inclusiveness can be the guiding light of true unity.
Unity in Diversity: Fortunately unification does not mean that everyone must believe the same or do the same or strive to look and be as like one another as possible. Diversity is unavoidable in human life, but this does not exclude the possibility of unity of overall purpose. The results of looking at things exclusively, or even mainly, from the individual end of the spectrum is eventually to invite disharmony and disunity. Most human problems remain insoluble until the various contrary views are brought together under the universal standpoint so as to hammer out an overall solution. 'Holistic' understanding arises when all partisan interests are viewed as parts of a whole. Even an advanced scientific theory is virtually no more than a mental construction kit with many intricate parts. In lifting the hammer we understand much more than that we are knocking in a nail, for we know what it is all for. When the school is built, we again see this as an integral part of a whole system of education. All understanding aims likewise at some such unity of purpose, which leads on toward attaining peace and unity of a more universal nature.
When considering how to understand or interpret anything, principles serve to delineate the scope and nature of holistic and meta-scientific thought. They are intended as thought-regulative ideals, being based on the investigation of the essential nature and functioning of human understanding in the broadest sense, while also taking account of specialised forms of thought such as scientific and symbolic interpretative methods. The principles may be used to further understanding in educational processes. The formalised principles are kept to a necessary minimum of six here, necessarily being of a general, yet precise, kind rather than trying to give detailed rules of method.
The overall principle of unity is the guiding principle of holistic understanding. Moving towards the unitary whole by progressively broadening self-consistent comprehension, human understanding aims to account for individual facts and relations that fall within its scope, eventually to include all aspects of life.
Diversity characterises everything that makes up the natural world, not excluding human beings or our societies. Human culture and civilisation has always aimed at finding a greater purpose in all this to fulfil it. Without the millions of species of different organisms, plants and animals, the ecology of nature becomes impoverished and can suffer serious breakdowns. Without the many sorts of human activity, the ever-changing pattern of occupations, enterprises and pastimes, the present level of world development could not have been achieved. The importance of diversity is seen in almost every kind of endeavour. Thus, variety is clearly 'the spice of life'.
The fact of diversity can teach us is to perceive everything for what it is and to respect and enjoy its uniqueness. Each moment in as unrepeatable historic event. Each thought, word and deed has specific meaning and consequences in its specific context. Each person is a special individual acting in a private drama. Life's richness comes from this profusion of nature and life and is experienced best through wonder and expanding one's vision all the time to include others and to appreciate their otherness for what it is, not liking them for what we want them to be. Without this basic experience of diversity, one cannot see how the unity of all beings be realised.
The philosophy of unity deals primarily with all questions having to do with the synthesis of ideas, theories, viewpoints, value-systems. It emphasises synthesis and unification as the key to understanding rather than the opposite divisive and diversificatory movement of thought, such as is represented primarily by the analytical sciences. It emphasises the one, but does not thereby neglect the other. Yet it deals with analytical thought, whatever the field of application, only in so far as is necessary so as to articulate in various ways what it regards as the primary and ultimate fact: Unity. This may at first appear to some thinkers to be a return to metaphysics, to the presentiments of speculative reason loosed from the bonds of the real world as is supposedly met only in empirical reality. There is some truth in this, while the claim of unitary philosophy must be that it is a return to what has been lost, the baby that went out with the bathwater when modern analytical thought threw out what it saw as empty and abstract imagining to its own chanted slogan, "Down with metaphysics". No simple terms can express this loss, it takes time to regenerate an understanding of the mentality that is needed to overcome the too narrow methodology attached to the prevailing dogmatic physicalism and all the foreshortened attitudes that this has generated.
The roots of unitary philosophy necessarily go much deeper than the traditions of Continental European or even Greek philosophy. It is from the Eastern schools of thought, which ultimately always means Vedic-influenced thought, that the grand conceptions of unity arose and had practical meaning in practiced codes of living and of understanding of the cosmos. Even Greek philosophy is, in the main, clearly a distorted reflection of the sublime and extensive philosophy of Indian origin. Only in recent years has it become possible through extensive new translations and the advice of brilliant current interpretators for Westerners to gain sufficent insight into Vedanta proper. The emphasis on some Greek thinkers whose naturalism and materialism eventually led to modern science was made at great cost to unifying philosophies.
Apart from the overall principle of unity, the principles here are derived in large part from insights developed in the theory of interpretation of meaningful objects ('hermaneutics'), partly through world philosophies in the broadest sense, from ontology to theory of science, from epistemology to spiritual ethics. They are to be taken as guiding principles rather than as absolute rules of method or thought. They aim at increasing inclusivity of understanding, but they do not cover exhaustively the entire field of human understanding, not least because this may be said to include various forms of non-cognitive and supramental activity that are strictly beyond philosophical theory and belong more to the various realms of religious devotion, mystical identification and absorption beyond the subject-object relationship. A certain emphasis has been given in their formulation to the correctives required by the current dominant views in the philosophy of science.
As working rules, the principles can aid the structuring of research and of theoretical work. Because of the multi-layered and extensive nature of all that is to be organised by their aid, the principles are not made mutually-exclusive (in any stricter logical sense). Though expressed at a very general level, they may be supplemented and specified at any time in various directions by whatever sub-principles and explanations may be needed for other or more particular applications, as the case requires.
THE PRINCIPLE OF UNITY
"Where there arise divergences of viewpoint on any subject, their unity is to be sought in an universal and non-exclusive framework designed to mediate partial interests to those of the common good".
This principle expresses the aim of metascience as a form of overall holistic understanding in any subject; the integration of all facts and values relevant to the subject within one overall frame of reference. It principle combines the ideal of truth with that of moral goodness. The assumption that understanding aims at the good, and must aim at the good, is an assumption all good philosophy and science ought to make.
The alternative is either a theory against the good or one that believes it can remain neutral. To be entirely neutral in all respects, a theory can make no assumptions or have any intentions as regards future action whatever. But assumptions and intentions - with all their mainly implicit cultural and other leanings - are unavoidable in all human relations. The traditional dislocation of truth and good is thus rejected. Facts that are neither good nor bad in themselves are important as the basis of any truthful and good theory, whether in psychology or social theory, ecology or medicine.
These days most people are brought up and educated to regard most matters mainly from a relatively individual viewpoint. Even when we are taught to identify with and protect the best interests of one party against another, be it our group, our society, our nation, our culture... the appeal often relies most heavily on the individual concerned perceiving this as in his 'own' partisan interest. The perceived self-interest, even of a very large grouping, is indeed not always compatible with the universal good. Such a clash of apparent interests - the individual against the common good - almost always lies somewhere at the root of human conflicts and also those between man and environment. All taken into account, however, the true, long-term interests of the individual cannot conflict with what is best for all.
The relation between individual and common good is obviously one of mutual influence. The dialectics of this need not occupy us at present, enough to note that what any individual views as a good need not be in the common interest and vice-versa. Yet anyone who tries to understand anything surely does so at least partly out of a desire for some supposed good, whether selfish, altruistic or a combination of both and not from a contrary or self-defeating motive.
Consider, for example, all psychological work and research of any sort. It presumably aims for the good of the individual, at least as far as this does not conflict clearly with the common good. All reasonable psychologists would surely accept this, at least in theory? The same must apply in all branches of science. Though it is very often arguable what the nature of such goods are, it can also sometimes be evident. Any psychology worth its salt has to recognise as fundamental the individual's reliance on society for life, health, culture and so forth. Likewise, the study of society has to recognise that society depends entirely on individual efforts for all its achievements. For these reasons, no individual can be understood without reference to the community and with reference to the world of humanity in general. This insight is therefore embodied in the principle of unity above, where the primacy of the common good over individual good is asserted (which ordering becomes relevant to practice only when there arises a conflict of the two or more values).
At the same time as expressing a truth about the inherent nature and purpose of human understanding, this principle asserts the ideal towards which any persons' understanding strives: to account for all the various facts or values involved in any issue with theoretical or practical consequences in such a way that they fit together in the way the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle make up one whole picture. This ideal relies on the assumption or conviction that all things are ultimately interrelated and that the interests of all individuals and groups complement one another at the highest level, which is what we recognise more and more today as being the common 'unitary' interest of humanity.
Where perceptions on some question are at variance with each other, for example when there are opposing views on some moral issue, one strives to harmonise them. This may mean applying to a wider frame of reference for the solution, or sometimes simply the rejection of erroneous, insupportable views. Only the universal, non-exclusive viewpoint enables us to find the mediating factors between a collision of views and interests. Any sort of conflict is soluble first 'in theory' when the common key is found: the appropriate moderating principle to the case. This in turn lays the ground for practical constructivity. This is in fact how we all would try to think when trying to solve problems, by reaching as full an understanding as we can first, then applying it in practice. The primacy of idea over action is seen, for example, in that no-one can act morally without some correct idea of value or in that dealing well with any complex social problem requires more than that 'fools rush in' and usually requires fact-collecting, analysis, debate evaluation before effective action can be taken.
Unity of understanding implies the need for the universality of knowledge in science. The idea of universality in the natural sciences was that the knowledge they derived should be demonstrably applicable at any place or time. In the human sphere, however, this ideal has been either relaxed or ignored in many respects in most of the social and historical sciences. This is doubtless due on the one hand to the principal differences between nature and man, on the other to the facts of deep social and cultural differences that affect all aspects of human life at some level throughout the world.
Any study of the human conceived in respect of the existing spectrum of knowledge and ideas available in world culture will have a broader scope and greater general (i.e. world-wide) validity than research limited by and to scientific schools of national cultures and traditions. The principle of unity includes these considerations in its very general (non-specific) level of formulation.
The principle of unity mediates understanding through finding the common ground in or behind two viewpoints. The two viewpoints may lie anywhere along a continuum between the individual and the universal viewpoints on any issue. Every question, every matter about which we wish to know the truth, can be regarded from the individual viewpoint or the universal viewpoint. These always mark respectively the base and the apex of a pyramid of intermediate viewpoints. Between the two extremes lie the viewpoints that are adopted by any amount of groups, institutions, schools of thought, traditions, national or world cultures etc.
UNDERSTANDING, THE COMMON GOOD AND VALUES
In question where values are involved, the results of looking at things exclusively or even mainly from the individual end of the spectrum is eventually to invite disharmony and disunity. Most human problems remain insoluble until the various contrary views are brought together under the universal standpoint so as to hammer out an overall solution. 'Holistic' understanding arises when all partisan interests are viewed as parts of a greater whole, and that can be defined in terms of the 'common good'. In this, the principle of unity combines the values of 'truth' and 'goodness', in accord with our intellectual intuition that these are ultimately inseparable. What is meant, therefore, when the principle refers to 'an universal and non-exclusive framework' is that the overall viewpoint must apply to all and so take account of all partisan interests and conflicting standpoints without excluding any, yet while giving ultimate priority to the aim and possible realisation of the common or 'universal' good. The principle is a reminding guideline, calling for self-examination in the light of shared values.
It has through the ages repeatedly been objected that the idea of the 'common good' tells us nothing for it depends on how each individual interprets what is good, and this will be a subjective judgement conditioned by individual taste, interests, beliefs or politics etc. Yet the ideal of the 'common good' itself implies something worth striving for. That it is meaningful is seen in the universal conviction that some circumstances are better for humanity and some are worse. Theories of egoism that would refute the universal good legitimise their particular type of conflicts of partisan (selfish) interests, whether at the individual or group level. Any theory of exclusively materialistic egoism (such as that of Hobbes or its elements as implied in extended Darwinism) must be rejected at the outset as the negation of the 'multi-perspective' approach of holistic understanding.
Reference to the ideal of the common good, however general and non-specific this ideal is, ensures that a system of understanding takes explicit account of both facts and values. The question of common good and how it is relevantly specified itself becomes part of the subject under investigation and a key research goal for any socially-meaningful psychology, sociology or anthropology. This would ensure that systems of knowledge are not claimed to be entirely 'value-free' and something that can therefore be pursued regardless of and in isolation from ethical concerns and priorities. Common good implies that a unifying, universal idea of goodness is to be discovered among all the divergent cultures. This itself stimulates towards broadening understanding, enriching each perspective by the inclusion of many others, without losing sight of 'common denominator' values.
Understanding grasps the unity in any series of inter-connected acts. All understanding aims likewise at some such higher unity of purpose. We understand each thing and action in terms of what it is all for. The nail and the hammering are 'part of' the building process, itself a step on the way to making a school. When the school is built, we again see this as an integral part of a whole system of education (which itself may teach various ideas having to do with human unity). Education may, for example, be seen as a good serving national unity, or also for world peace (unity) or unity at yet more universal levels. Even the most advanced of scientific theories which aims at an unitary explanation of a whole realm of phenomena only differs from other forms of understanding in the degree of abstraction and comprehensive complexity.
The resultant understanding, if adequately based and expressed includes human values in it own objectives, is self-reflective and critically aware of them. It is not any kind of unlimited metaphysical speculation or rational idealism, divorced from reality and tied to fixed assumptions and methods. Nor are its objectives and norm-setting values one-sidedly determined by the past or any status quo, either in society or in established science.
The chief repository of holistic understanding is not in books or other media but in the mind of each individual, where it is generated and regenerated through learning processes. This occurs through sound upbringing and education tempered by broad and positive life experience, illumined by concentrated reason, intuition and by constructive understanding in relating to others and the world we share in.
Holistic knowledge is not accumulated in the systematically-analysable manner or by the techniques used for most common knowledge. It rises from a gradual process of perceiving nexi of relationships, gaining insight into personal experience, trial & error, testing in practice, the expansion of perspectives and intuitive grasp of the relevant whole. This widening overview and deepening insight gradually reorganises a person's relation to the world, eventually bringing new unity to the widening perspective on diversity. Due to the scope of its perspective. such knowledge is therefore 'higher' than discursive knowledge of facts and theories. This fact also strongly accents the greater importance to the human community of persons with mature holistic understanding than technological innovations that would replace them and the greater overall security their decisions would ensure than most kinds of specialist expertise operating on its own.
For the humanities, understanding must take place within the perspective of our highest aspirations and deepest motivations. The sciences of man are still too undeveloped to really take such major considerations into account. So far to try analyse the human being or his works with reference to any overall and explicit set of guiding values - let alone a macro theory on human unity and purpose - is wholly unmanageable and unrealistic.Yet tThis does not invalidate it as a future possibility. Until then science must and will concentrate on different parts of the human make-up, or narrow bands of the social spectrum, regarding them empirically and seperately, but largely unrelated to any overall epistemological and practical goal for humanity. Withour a very much more complete understanding of the human brain and mind, it is impossible to see the way ahead to the universaliaation of intelligence, removal of ignorance and superstition.
UNDERSTANDING AND FAITH
Philsophical theory of knowledge cannot overlook
the role of faith in all kinds of understanding and knowledge. From the start,
science rested on faith when it assumed there to be an undiscovered order
in nature, regularities or universal 'laws'. Yet its method is systematic
doubt, until it reaches results what can no longer reasonably be doubted. Insofar as sciences hold any kind of faith, it refers only to the faith or confidence in the establishment of empirical results and experiments as having been undertaken and accurately reported by the community of scientists worldwide. This kind of 'faith' can be tested against the documented resultsm so it i very far from being 'blind faith' or acceptance of assertions which cannot be proven or shown to be even likely to hold true.
It has been said that the lack of doubts in a person is a pathological condition, as is that of the psychopath who believes fully whatever he wishes. There is much to be said for this view, for cocksureness usually accompanies ignorance. On the other hand, mental illnesses also very often accompany a severe lack of faith in oneself and in the world... quite apart from faith in any higher reality or creator. Faith of some kind is a natural condition of the human being, a fact demonstrated in children and pointed out by philosophers such as Locke and Hume. When disturbed radically, the understanding also suffers because it has no option but to rely very often on facts and testimony that are practically beyond one's opportunity personally to test.
Due to the inexhaustible variety of humanity, many types of experience and insight lie behind each personal world-view and ethos. From each our unique social and historical starting point, today's globalisation of society tends to make us develop towards a more universal vision in each our own way. It would therefore be impossible to state logically in step-by-step fashion any single master method of understanding for everyone to follow. Yet there surely are crucial differences in the progress of understanding - whatever its particular subject - depending upon the individual's degree of awareness of the process and which guiding principles one applies, if any.
It has been shown how crucial it is which assumptions one puts one's faith in, and this applies equally to all variants of religious belief. Religious faith is not necessarily dependent on any specific religious belief. Belief in any church or traditional religious doctrine has come to have much to do with acceptance of various scripturally-reported historical events as facts. Faith in which texts or persons God may have chosen to reveal the truth is necessarily blind faith, insupportable by any scientific research or independently-confirmable empiri. But faith does not necessarily require belief in any form of God, but can instead be felt as purpose or meaning... a sense of something 'higher' which expresses itself through the greatest deeds of humanity.
The written or spoken truths of the major religions have been passed on to us, often at several removes from the source. Successive translations, loss and supression of parts of the original and of the relevant historical facts often occurred even before the question arose of how to interpret and apply crucial points that are unclear to us in our situation. Which tenets of a teaching, or which system of interpretation one believes in, can therefore vary quite independently of what is here called 'faith'. Faith can also be invested in oneself and humanity as expressions of universal human qualities and values, which also happen to form the basis of all genuine religious behaviour.
There are unfortunately more than enough examples of beneficial religious or spiritual movements that have later become sects and even dangerous cults because of disagreement on points of belief. There is a pressing need to repair the ideological basis for conflicting beliefs as long as sectarian fanaticism and bitter conflicts still masquerade under the name of religion. As an antidote to such dangerous convictions, critical doubt is praised in intellectual circles as the basis of a rational approach to life. Not least in the methods of science, which are more dependent on systematic testing (i.e. preliminary doubt) than on a priori faith. Paradoxically, in some periods, certain scientists acquired so much faith in science's presuppositions about the cosmos and the infallibility of well-tested scientific theories as to have instituted it as a fairly unquestionable belief-system on a line with religious faiths. Evidently, this amounted to a break with the scientific spirit.
However indisputable or thorough knowledge of any matter anyone has, it is in itself incapable of motivating any action whatever. To be moved enough to initiate any action or to find the will power (and in the case of good or bad acts,) requires some kind of determination which would amont to faith in the achievability of the goal envisaged. It may be belief in the laws of nature, in another person, in society or in divinity working though scripture or inner awareness etc. Intuition, conviction and insight may increase faith in diverse beliefs, but this has often amonted to illusions which are left by the wayside of history. Where a person's understanding arises from life experience - even perhaps from the holistically-oriented mind and psyche, and not merely some segment of one's experience and thought, it can be imprssive to those who do not have penetrating critical minds and a reserve of science-based knowledge. When we meet people who impress us as having the inner conviction of genuine knowledge, they will almost necessarily not lay claim to knowing everything, nor will they deny uncertainty about various matters of this world and whatever may lie beyond it.
Metascientific studies obviously rest on assumptions like all other forms of understanding. While a critical approach is healthy, an open and keenly investigative attitude is present. Where traditional scientific scepticism rules, doubt is no longer controlled methodically but can risk becoming an engrained attitude. This limits creativity and reduces willingness to reach for anything much other than a very cautious and hence gradual extension of creative research and theory. It is also fruitful to engage in the systematic doubting of doubts, which means looking equally hard for positive evidence to dispel doubts! This 'double-doubting' should be a rule of all investigative methods, for it helps to bring into awareness otherwise unnoticed or improperly examined assumptions.
The sciences have so far failed seriously and
consciously to explore conceptions of human unity. Neither group unity nor
social unity are much discussed or understood in any systematic way and even less is known to the psychological
sciences of the experience of unity and its importance to the growth of fully
developed personality. Where there are conflicts of ideas, policies and cultures,
the aim must always be to discover shared values, the underlying agreement
- the common interest - that unites. This requires the understanding of anti-values and research into their origins, causes and eventual removal through dialogue and reconciliation. Without the guiding faith that we can
generate increasing unity between human - and between humankind and our total environment it is hard, or perhaps impossible,
to see how unity of pupose in human society can be generated.
The basic faith that lies behind the ideal of unity is that the existence of life and humanity has communality. Humanity today is one species - meaning one single race of humanity - resulting from an evolutionary process which has brought about the species homo sapiens sapiens. The differences that have arisen are fundamentally due to genetic and environmental changes, the geographical distribution, economic and technical conditions, and the related historical and cultural of unique tribes and civilizations were causes of disunity, expressed warfare, discrimination and much more. Primitive attempts at understanding life and the world, the beliefs and rituals that arose in attempts to control the environment, grew into very diverse and largely opposing faiths, each having their quite different ultimate consequences for their adherents' lives.
Human unity does not imply unity of faith or even the acceptance of any cosmic meaning or purpose implanted in humanity. It would necessarily involve the acceptance of the physical sciences as the knowledge which leads towards understanding of nature and human societies and cultures. Bryan Appleyard has criticised science for answering questions as if it were a religion promulgating the Truth. He held that those who hope to extend science towards development of a new spirituality from within science should realize that 'a reason to live cannot be invented'. This is not a fact, and is observable so in countless lives of individuals. One does not need a reason to live, though many feel a need… evolution itself has ensured that life goes on as a result of the most basic survival instincts. No cosmic reason can be invented by mankind, either, for then it would not be cosmic. It would have to be discovered through science… which has not happened and most likely never will.
Humanity cannot invent or simply choose a faith without risking most serious errors and their consequences. However, to engender faith in working towards a world order in which the unity of purposes towards the overall peace and security of humanity is hardly a misplaced or blind faith. One condition of its realization is that it should result from a process of living and development of all forms of valid and peaceful understanding between peoples and their organized social systems.
UNIVERSALITY IN UNDERSTANDING
It is highly unlikely that many people do not hold some beliefs that are not supported by known facts, or that will later prove untenable. Irrationality is certainly very widespread in human affairs and a scientific training is no safe inoculation against its many forms. One reason is that no knowledge can be arrived at other than on the basis of assumptions. All pure theories, as in maths or logic, rely on axioms, which themselves usually exhibit some inherent pre-judgements as to the nature of reality. Such axioms are stated as the basic principles of the theory, and are accepted as such, even if they are not entirely clear. But non-axiomatic sciences, especially the social sciences, are far more vulnerable to unnoticed assumptions, cultural or provincial prejudice and subliminal social norms.
It is essential, therefore, to be aware that understanding cannot be achieved without 'preconceptions', as already mentioned. Since the doctrine one holds at the outset will set its own limits on what can be achieved by it, one essential test of holistic understanding is the degree of universality of one's basic conceptions. The principle of unity indicates the overall test.
Since universality can mean various things in different contexts, some further qualification of it is required. Universality of understanding must be inclusive of all human beings, regardless of national or other origins, race, colour, creed or class, without negative discriminatory biases. A metascientific theory should ideally be universal enough in scope either to be compatible with, or otherwise to account reasonably for, all viewpoints that have a relevant bearing on the subject.
Wherever the outlook of the researcher falls short of inclusiveness and universal values, blind spots and grey areas remain in understanding. The particular kind of 'blind spots' obviously depend upon the nature of the assumptions and fore-conceptions (or 'pre-understanding'), as has been exemplified in the foregoing discussion of scientific physicalism. Different starting points will lead to different questions, different blind spots and unlike degrees of overall consistency.
Because a false assumption will influence the entire construction based on it, producing conclusions at odds with the facts or with one another and generally distorting the rationality of the whole superstructure. It is therefore essential that assumptions are examined in philosophical depth and by the widest possible cross-cultural and inter-disciplinary comparisons, if understanding is to approach holistic scope, consistency and truth. The continued review of assumptions and critical reflection will doubtless always be necessary.
Experience shows that most people can be seen simultaneously to hold standpoints that are inconsistent with one another from the viewpoint of standard logic. Scholars are no exception, for example, some religious teachers believe both in pre-determination and free will and most scientists accept a principle of universal causation while still believing in chance or contingency, such as some physicists who assert predictability along with indeterminacy. Such contradictions have to be resolved if a paradigm is to be consistent. Its degree of fruitfulness will depend on that of its self-consistency plus its consistency both with fact and with universal values. Its self-consistency depends on language, so redefinition can be a way to removed apparent (verbal) contradictions. When major contradictions are the result of too narrow ideas or other misconceptions, they cannot be resolved within the paradigm. Often some basic assumptions are at the root of the problem, whether they are inherent or explicit. They must then be modified or replaced by others that allow integration of all parts into the whole. Or else, such as in the case of scientific physicalism, the limits to its applicability and explanatory power must be explicitly stated and made widely known.
One may well believe that there is unity in the essential nature or ultimate purpose of humankind, yet the cultures of the world still exhibit amazing diversity, not least on these questions. There is not only a divergence between different world cultures; it increases in volume and quality, if not in essence, the more closely one examines doctrines and beliefs within any given culture. In a science, different models of knowledge are always jostling and competing, though the fundamental method of science remains unchanged. Ideological and religious doctrines - andpartial scientific theories - once sent to oblivion sometimes suddenly re-emerge to challenge the conventional wisdom that replaced them. This is increasingly seen today in all fields of thought. The clash of religions through globalised communication is causing many revisions of dogmatic theologies. Due to huge developments in both education, technology and research, modifications are continually taking place in sub-theories in such sciences as physics, geo-history, paleontology, astronomy, neurology and general medicine (including its awkward 'problem-child' psychiatry). Opposing viewpoints and intellectually inimical doctrines also still continually divide every philosophy, theology and faith into schools, sects and both old and novel 'fundamentalisms'. How, amid all this in our newly-globalised but fragmented world culture, can one talk seriously about unity of understanding?
Ancient religious scriptures, national works of literature, scientific and philosophical treatises are often so different in conception and outwardly conflicting as to be impossible of direct comparison. Yet mostly the same or similar essential values and insights very often underlie and somehow come to expression in their many dissimilar forms. But when a doctrine is made into an dogma, an exclusive and anti-universal scientific or religious teaching, a philosophy claiming the one and only metaphysic, thatis when the wider truth eludes our grasp. Those who try to enforce, by whatever means, their beliefs and methods as the absolute truth are the real enemies of human understanding. One does not only have to be a religious bigotist or a totalitarian censor to qualify, for a number of Western intellectuals have always been inclined to ridicule and eliminate ideas foreign to the current world views that are predominant among them.
Where understanding lacks, the thoughts, words and actions of the human being are in conflict. The consequences of this is disharmony and further conflict. Above all, understanding naturally aims at comprehension, or drawing forth an underlying unity in a diversity of things, seeking to penetrate to the universal kernel of truth in divergent cultures and their products and the common ground for reconciling conflicting values.
There are obviously many different possible starting points from which understanding the nature of life, human existence and the cosmos is approached. By their nature, individuals have many unique approaches towards the truth. The way of truth is doubtless also paved with discarded certainties. Nonetheless, the more ideal approach takes its start from a viewpoint that happens to have the most universal and fruitful assumptions, the best methodology and theories which have not been absolutised.
This presentation of the nature and task of understanding is an attempt to outline as universal a method as possible. Therefore, in accordance with the view that no doctrine should be imposed as a dogma, I refrain here from stating any one or more specific teachings that I regard as optimal starting points for such an universal understanding as I have outlined. Moreover, the more substantial principles of such a teaching and the answers to those questions which can be encompassed by an expressible understanding are so far reaching and have so many applications that even a reasonable demonstration of them is quite impossible here, let alone within the covers of a general and preparatory volume such as the present one.
Continue to Ch. 4: Objective Observation & Self Reflection
The above material is the copyright of Robert Priddy, Oslo 1999. Reasonably brief quotations can be used without applying the the author.