Personal Knowledge is a simple book with a simple plan. The whole is this, understanding the world is a practical endeavor. As such, we need to practice the art of understanding the world. And as practice, understanding the world is neither a skill nor knowledge we can understand through the mere reading of books.
He describes this view of the world through the history and psychology of science. And to the end of this world-description, the book has a very natural four-fold plan. (1) We note that skillful knowing is present in even the most objective of sciences. (2) This note spurs our considering the relationship between objective articulated knowledge and our subjective tacit skill in knowing. (3) These meditations now beg the question, How can we be confident in our knowledge, seeing that it relies on our temporary finite and error prone selves? And (4) our answers point us to an understanding of all of life, which shows the same process of personal knowledge. This understanding is reflected upon and gives us direction in understanding how we must relate to other knowing selves and what our relations say about our place in the universe.
Because we are discussing the nature of knowledge and our place as knowing agents, it is natural to look at all aspects of our lives, from science, to politics, to religion. And these diverse reflections bolster and support and help us understand the main idea: knowledge is personal, communal, and essential for the fullness of life.
Monday, November 14, 2016
Never have I liked the term "Nerd." In its own right, the image of a prototypical nerd is repulsive. A nerd is a pocket-protector-wearing, glasses-pushing, nasal, winy, weakling who knows all the book facts, but knows nothing of sometimes-stupid, in-the-moment fun of actually living. At a party, or during work, or inside the church, the nerd breaths his athematic breath neurotically and obsessively classifying things in a thin mutter, "this, not that. A not B." His frail being has no relevance, no gravity, and he is a wisp, the ghost all men wish to avoid becoming. Ghosts don't leave a mark on the world, and those with asthma are neither feared nor respected. They don't do the world good, except indirectly, a la silicon valley. And so even to think of the nerd is unpleasant.
Who are the nerds? Every university professor who actually does his work. Every science-lover. Every historian. Everyone with the least bit academic bent, and everyone who dares to enjoy what he finds in a book as a form of art.
But the application of "nerd," this is where my real dislike comes in. It's an irritating word because it is useful. It describes our situation, what exists in our collective imagination, our collective unconscious. Where is there a man who knows a lot and isn't a nerd? Not near and hard to stumble across. And it is difficult to think of an actual scholar living in the popular imagination who is not really a nerd. Only in myth do intellectual non-nerds find our respect: Aristotle or Indiana Jones. But! These men live respected only in the imagination of the nerds!
I read Michael Oakeshott's Experience and It's Modes as a restoration of the intellectual in the life of the world. Oakeshott gets at what really drives everyone crazy about the nerds, what causes us to deride the nerds, and what tempts us to flee the love of knowledge which would make us a nerd. This is what Oakeshott says, There is a place for the nerd to be a nerd, and there is a place for the doer of things to be a practical man. We can live harmoniously if we learn to appreciate the differences of living like a nerd means against that of living like a liver of life. If we don't appreciate these differences, nerds' egos will tempt them that their bookish knowledge means they are qualified to be a liver of life, and so they will boss everyone around like know-it-alls; this will cause resentment by practical men, because they actually know how to do things and to live life. Thus practical men will be tempted to think there is nothing to books and learning. This is clearly a bad situation. All to often this is our situation.
Experience and It's Modes says that such distinctions in our outlook exist, and if we don't recognize them, we get into trouble, because we are confused. This book, which I will outline in a few posts, is a clearing away of basic confusions like these.