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How to Enrich Mainstream Thought

The first piece introduced the idea that Christian academics could engage with mainstream thought rather than opposing it or acquiescing to it, and suggested four components of an engaging attitude: Listen, Affirm, Critique, Enrich (LACE). The second discussed briefly why Christian thinkers can and should enrich, rather than oppose or acquiesce. This suggests one way in which we might enrich.

Having listened carefully to mainstream thought in an area in which we are interested, and understood, having affirmed what is valid and sound, and having exposed presuppositions and assumptions, it is appropriate to offer enrichment. Here are some tips.

1. Offer enrichment, rather than force it on others. Think carefully how to offer it. (Those of us with Asperger Syndrome need to be particularly careful since we are less naturally aware of what others think or expect.)

2. One enrichment is to expose foundational assumptions or presuppositions. (Briefly, an assumption is about what is true, what is so; a presupposition is about what is meaningful. e.g. "I assume it might rain tomorrow." "But that is meaningless because we are in a desert!") Let us look at each in turn.

3. Assumptions about what is true, what is so. Most theoretical thinking in the various sciences (mathematical, natural, social, societal, humanities) provides theories about what is true of their particular sphere. Enriching can take the form of incremental 'normal science' (as Kuhn calls it). It can also take the form of certain kinds of paradigm shift (scientific revolutions), for example from Newtonian to Ensteinian physics. This kind of enrichment goes on all the time, to improve humanity's bodies of knowledge, and seldom will such an enrichment be visibly 'Christian'. This is the level at which the battle between evolutionism and creationism occurs, each being a different theory of what is true. Sadly, it is difficult for each to enrich the other these days, so personally I would not bother trying. All I might do is to listen, affirm and critique.

4. Often, a better (more helpful, more powerful) enrichment is when we expose presuppositions - when we show the prevailing discourses that what they have taken to be meaningful is limited, and we suggest other spheres of meaningfulness that they might wish to consider. A good example is the bringing in or a sense of responsibility into what were purely descriptive theories. Another example is feminist thought (in its later, less aggressive forms) in that it suggests aspects that had been overlooked (aspects of body, beauty, care, love, to augment aspects of reason, achievement, economy or rules).

5. But, I find, an even better, easier and more natural way of enriching is to directly open people's eyes to aspects of the diversity of Creation. In a way, this fulfils the enrichment that exposes presuppositions, but it is more direct, intuitive and can even be friendly. As in architecture, an "aspect" is a way of seeing things that cannot be explained in terms of other aspects (the north aspect of a building cannot be predicted from its east or south aspects). An aspect is a way of seeing reality - a way in which reality can be meaningful. Our full reality as we encounter it exhibits a diversity of aspects.

By asking others in what ways the xxx aspect be relevant to their theory or discourse (xxx being one of which we are aware but the discourse of their community of thought overlooks) we can, in effect, open up their presuppositions. To be able to let people know which aspects they are overlooking requires a clear idea of which aspects are possible in general - what spheres of meaningfulness are exhibited by/in the whole of reality.

6. While most philosophy has bypassed the diversity of meaningfulness, often trying to reduce things to one aspect (e.g. materialism, psychologism, social constructionism), the Dutch philosopher, Dooyeweerd (who may justifiably be called a Christian philosopher), took the diversity of meaningfulness seriously and offers us a suite of aspects. (Suites are also offered e.g. by Wilenius, Maslow, etc. but Dooyeweerd's suite is more comprehensive and has a firmer philosophical foundation.) They are:

I have found this suite of aspects very helpful in enriching extant ideas. For example, the enriching of descriptive theories by some sense of responsibility may be seen as bringing in some of the juridical aspect. See Aspects of Reality for more.

Examples

Gunton et al. (2017) has used Dooyeweerd's aspects to enrich discourses about sustainability. The Ecosystem Services approach improves on previous approaches to sustainability by explicitly recognising several aspects beyond the financial that are important to human life. However, the ones they recognise are limited, and are too focused on limited ideas of human benefit. For example, it leaves no room for nature having value in itself (which many believe the Bible affirms since nature does not belong to humanity but was created by God). That is the biotic aspect. Starting from the idea that all fifteen aspects indicate some value, Gunton et al. offer an approach, Ecosystem Valuing, which offers all fifteen aspects as providing value that we need to take into account. Their idea has been well-received, as a genuine contribution.

See also a dozen other examples of engaging with secular thought in a talk I gave.

The next piece will look at enriching in the opposite direct, then future pieces will look at Critiquing, Affirming and Listening.


Here are the elements of LACE:


Author: Andrew Basden.

First created 26 September 2020. Last updated. 16 January 2021 links. 18 January 2021 links.