Meditations on the Politics of Limited Knowledge

On Piety – Part 1 of 2

In Epistemology & Theory of Knowledge, Philosophy, Religion, Theology & Metaphysics on July 19, 2010 at 2:29 pm

This is a blog called “Humble Piety.” So what does “piety” mean anyway? In sketching out the range of some of the meanings that have attached and can attach to this term, we might gain better understanding of the project here. Following on this historical/etymological/theoretical overture, I will, in subsequent posts, lay out a notion of democratic piety and pursue more concrete investigations into creative expression of piety such as in wedding ceremonies I have recently had the pleasure to witness.

The word piety likely brings to mind religious images: pious acts of devotion to a religious faith. This was certainly in mind when I semi-ironically appropriated the term for a blog which is a project of devotion without necessarily being devoted to a project – at least not a fixed, predetermined project. I sought to devote myself to understanding with greater nuance the challenge of acting on knowledge that is inherently limited and of committing oneself to action without a free-standing criterion to validate one’s ends. Under the watch cry of “epistemic humility,” my hope was and is to articulate values that can serve a better democratic future by leaving behind their theistic analogues.

How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic?

In Current Events, Epistemology & Theory of Knowledge, Science on June 25, 2010 at 3:20 pm

So I’m sitting at dinner and my host decides to spark conversation with a blanket denial of global warming. Needless to say, this is not a conversation that I am used to having. Then again, it is not every evening that I am sitting across the table from an extremely wealthy, elderly, intelligent, conservative libertarian bachelor with a flair for provocation and not-entirely-pleasant self-confidence. Maybe he was worked up from our squash games at the Union Club – the second-oldest private club in the United States – where he had to buy me a set of “whites” to wear before I could go on the squash court (my plebeian pink polo was not up to code). This fellow is an interesting character: heir to wealthy Southern Jewish investment bankers whose fortune stretches back to share cropping and Reconstruction, practicing lawyer whose clients have included post-Soviet oligopolies, and confidant of conservative power players and GOP leadership. His worldview rationalizes his social status: he unapologetically parks his beliefs at his own station.

Ideas Have Consequences: The Education of Paul Krugman

In Current Events, Economics, Politics on March 9, 2010 at 2:29 pm

Paul Krugman fumed as he read audacious remarks the CEOs of JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs made in testimony before the United State’s Congress:

Dimon had commented that financial crises were just things that happened every few years; Blankfein had compared the crisis to an act of God, like a hurricane. Krugman was curious to know whether these giants of Wall Street understood what they’d done wrong.

But only gradually has Krugman himself come to understand what can go wrong when reductive economic thinking is applied to the real world — and even he has a way to go. An excellent profile by Larissa MacFarquhar in the March 1, 2010, issue of The New Yorker (citations to hardcopy pages follow), traces Krugman’s own consciousness of politically embedded economic knowledge in a way that reveals much about the epistemic stance of the discipline vis-à-vis practical action in the world.


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