Saturday, August 8, 2009

K.L. Noll vs. H.-G. Gadamer

In a recent opinion piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education on "The Ethics of Being a Theologian," Kurt L. Noll asserts that theology does not advance knowledge and that theologians who claim a legitimate place in the academy are unethical. Tyler Williams at Codex now has an excellent even-handed response.

I will only add my surprise at how Noll defends the place of religious studies (as opposed to theology) by subordinating the humanities and social sciences to the natural sciences. Noll writes:
In my view, the purpose of academe is to advance knowledge, or an understanding of how things are in the real world. . . . Our colleagues in the natural sciences have an advantage over us, in that they are able to wrestle with reality using research tools unavailable to the humanities or social sciences. Nevertheless, when unencumbered by overtly ideological agendas, even those of us in the humanities and social sciences can advance knowledge. (Italics added.)
I would have thought scholars in the humanities would have more confidence in the legitimacy and independent value of their own discipline after Gadamer, who argued that "a logically consistent application of this method [of the natural sciences] as the only norm for the truth of the human sciences would amount to their self-annihilation" (Truth and Method [1960, repr. Continuum, 2004],17).

Now it is possible that Noll has read Gadamer and disagrees with him, but some acknowledgement of Gadamer's critique "of modern approaches to humanities that modeled themselves on the natural sciences (and thus on rigorous scientific methods)" (wikipedia) is surely in order.

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