Meek, Esther Lightcap. Longing to Know.
(This review is from the audiobook version.)
This book is wonderful, but I would not approach it as a philosophical account of knowledge. It is almost like a meditation on the knowing act. It is best seen as asking one to know from a different angle.
Main idea: What is knowledge? Knowledge is the responsible human struggle to rely on clues to focus on a coherent pattern and submit to its reality. With this definition she upholds the traditional view of knowledge as correspondence and justified, true belief. Such views, necessary as they are, are inadequate. Applied strictly, very little of our knowing would count as knowledge, and that would exclude most bodily acts of knowing. On the other hand, coherence models, while purporting to embrace the bodily dimension of knowledge, often fail to provide any knowledge. Esther Lightcap Meek goes beyond both models with her vision of integrating clues into a larger pattern.
We can look at the problem another way. We all know of those “Aha!” moments in our knowing. That is when we make the leap from the unknown to the known (a problem that Plato’s Meno could not solve). For Meek, that seems to be knowledge. My only quibble is that much of our knowing does not have this “Aha!” moment, but the idea itself is sound.
Thesis: the act of knowing as traditionally understood implies success. It means I have achieved truth by meeting certain conditions for knowledge and/or certainty.
Week has a colorful way of summarizing Western philosophy: if Western civilization was born in Athens, then skepticism was its cradle. We tend to think of Plato as promoting eternal truths. He certainly did. The way he did so, however, presupposed skepticism. If knowledge is justified, true belief, then in order for someone to know something, he or she has to prove he knows it. As Meek says, “We don’t simply want to be sure, we also demand to be shown.”
As Week has elegantly said in other works, knowing is a “coming-to” reality. It involves the “Aha!” moment. It has a “from-to” structure. This “from-to” is the subsidiary or particulars.. We move from the subsidiary to the focal. She illustrates this by one of those “3-D” pictures where you have to look at it for a while before the image appears.
Meek suggests this form of knowing is “embodied.” That is true for many aspects of knowing, but it is hard to see (no pun intended) how knowing God would be embodied.
Knowledge as Vector
“Knowing vectors us through the world and also vectors us through time. Call it ‘being on the way to knowing.’ Knowing is a longing, a leaning into the world.” Indeed, earlier she says, “If a statement is a dot, the act of knowing is a vector to and throw the dot.” We can also see the dots as subsidiaries. The act of knowing gets us through the subsidiaries and into the focus.
Integration > coherence
Coherence models of truth cohere like flour in a measuring cup. They might fit, but they tell you nothing about knowledge. Integration is like flour as it is in rising yeast. Integration is knowledge transformed.
Doubting the Doubts
Going through doubts is akin to going through a batting slump in baseball. The goal is to get beyond the subsidiaries and back to the focal. Many, but perhaps not all, of our doubts are when we get stuck in the subsidiaries and never see the picture. I do not mean this in a cliched sort of way. For one reason or another, a doubter is not able to focus on the key picture.
As some reviewers noted, Meek’s comments on “certainty” are a bit unguarded. I agree with her that a God’s-eye certainty is neither possible nor desirable. Indeed, as one Reformed author cogently argued, it is also illegitimate. That kind of certainty is not what God promised his children. On the other hand, a finite sort of certainty is certainly commendable. With that aside, this is a wonderful, even healing type of book.