Objectivity and Liberal Scholarship

One of the most important aspects or dimensions of the relationship between knowledge on one hand and power on the other hand is the one which relates to the manner by which “conceptual analysis” is carried out by the modern mind. In turn, what the “conceptual analysis” of the modern mind amounts to is merely a “mental representation” of something more basic and fundamental, as suggested by both the late Edward Said as well as many other philosophers and scholars. That “something” which is more basic and fundamental than the “mental representations” of the modern mind is the a priori ‘concepts’ of the mind which form the basis of knowledge. More than anything, it is experience which fosters the cultivation and development of a priori ‘concepts’ and thus the cultivation and development of knowledge, given that knowledge rests upon the cultivation and development of these pre-existing or a priori concepts within the human mind through experience more than anything else. 

There is also the divide between the human brain on one hand and the human mind on the other hand, according to many cognitive scientists and psychoanalysts, the foremost of which were Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung in the early to mid-20th century. Language, according to Noam Chomsky, is one of the main tools or mechanisms at one’s disposal for the “unification” of the brain and the mind. As a result, the basic idea of both contemporary cognitive science and postmodern epistemology is that the “mental phenomena” of the mind are not generated by the natural brain. Rather, the “mental phenomena” of the human mind are generated by something which cannot be described or explained empirically or rationally. 

And as the late Edward Said noted, knowledge is essentially “an edifice that all scholars erected together.” In turn, every learned person makes a “positive addition” to the “edifice” that is knowledge. However, and as Wael Hallaq noted, the modern mind’s claim to “objectivity” as well as the claim to “objectivity” made by anyone else is ultimately overridden by “the resultant social reality produced by the rationality that the internal logic of their world imposed.” 

It follows that one of the main assumptions of postmodern thought is that the link between “objectivity” on one hand and liberal ‘conceptual analysis’ or liberal scholarship on the other hand is more tenuous than the link between ‘objectivity’ and other ontological conditions or viewpoints which have come to the fore as a result of a postmodern epoch defined by advancements and evolutions in globalization and technology. Perhaps the basis for a liberal claim to ‘objectivity’ is liberal ideology, and in terms of the nature of liberal ideology, Noam Chomsky wrote:

“If it is plausible that ideology will in general serve as a mask for self-interest, then it is a natural presumption that intellectuals, in interpreting history or formulating policy, will tend to adopt an elitist position, condemning popular movements and mass participation in decision-making, and emphasizing rather the necessity for supervision by those who possess the knowledge and understanding that is required (so they claim) to manage society and control social change.”

Chomsky added:

“Antagonism to mass movements and to social change that escapes the control of privileged elites is also a prominent feature of contemporary liberal ideology.”

In turn, the struggle of assuring oneself that the link between ‘objectivity’ and their own personal ontological condition or state is stronger than the link between ‘objectivity’ and the ontological condition or state of others is perhaps one of the main sources of the widespread ontological turbulence or ontological upheaval of the current day and age. One’s claim to ‘objectivity’ is then undermined by the paradoxical nature of knowledge itself, with the paradox of knowledge being that the ultimate goal or objective of knowledge is to know what is ultimately unknowable, namely, the essence of the universe which we occupy as human beings. 

Whereas the ultimate aim of knowledge is perhaps unclear for liberal scholarship, anarchism and Marxism are for the most part anti-essentialist as reflected by the ontology of Sartre and others. Arguably, as far as the ultimate question of intellectualism and scholarship is concerned – namely, the question of whether essence prompts existence or existence precedes and is void of essence as suggested by most anarchists and Marxists – even critics of liberal ideology may find common cause and can align with liberals on this very basic and fundamental question of philosophy and scholarship. 

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