Review – Scandalous Knowledge: Science, Truth, and the Human
by Barbara Herrnstein Smith
Duke University Press, 2006
Review by Bob Lane
Evaluation, interpretation, mimesis, excellence, rationality itself; all of these are under attack these days. It is a scandal. In part the groundwork of this attack comes out of philosophical skepticism which attempts to build a theory of knowledge on the claim that nothing can be known. In the resulting subjectivist world of phenomenology those things which can be known are supposed to be our own precepts, or our own feelings. If only we introspect long enough or with the help of our therapists seek the invisible we will have a better sense of I-self. You can see straightaway that if the skeptic claims that nothing can be known then she can not even get her theory of knowledge started since, by her own claim, she can not know that nothing can be known! I claim against the skeptic that we can know all kinds of things about the world, ourselves, and about all sorts of objective conditions or states of being. Knowledge of this sort, public, verifiable, accessible, is a necessary condition for interpretation and evaluation. Value depends upon understanding; it is not something of a different logical category that is added on to a set of facts. The facts of a situation or a work of art do not march by our consciousness followed by a valuation any more than the platoons and companies march by followed by the regiment. There can be no description of experience without some conceptualization, interpretation, and commentary. To the extent that works of art or works of science are descriptions of experience (or guesses at that description) they too depend upon conceptualization, interpretation, commentary, and evaluation. Concerns like these immediately throw us into the current crisis in epistemology.
Read the review here.