I originally wrote the below as part of an online exchange1 with a friend. I realized that it’s a great illustration of how principles of epistemology affect personal relationships, and ultimately all of life, so I thought I’d share.
I know it’s easy to hear a bunch of mumbo-jumbo philosophical terms and ask, “Does this have any bearing on everyday life?” So I hope the example below shows just how crucial having a healthy epistemology is to having a healthy life, period.
It also plays nicely into the topic of my upcoming podcast episode, Knowledge Bracketing.
When it comes to instructing others, I think teaching good epistemological (and spiritual) principles is the most important thing, at least beyond the most fundamental beliefs to be a Christian. So I would want to teach things like:
- You will never have all the answers, so don’t make that your goal, however you can and will grow in understanding over time
- It’s better to have two beliefs that are tension with each other, and that you feel like you have good evidence for both, than to resolve one of them in an over-simplified way just to get rid of the tension. Over time you will hopefully figure out how to really resolve that tension. But it’s a bad practice—for every area of life!—to superficially resolve one of them with bad logic just to move on and have a “simpler” worldview.
- It’s perfectly fine to take a break from investigating a particular issue and set it aside for a time, even a long time. That’s still far better than superficially resolving the tension.
To see how these principles apply to things outside of faith, an example would be having these two beliefs in tension:
- I believe I am generally a nice person
- A few people have said that their feelings were hurt by me recently, but I don’t understand why
It’s a fatal error to try to resolve one of those points above in an superficial way just to get rid of the tension. Examples:
- I know I’m a nice person, so those people simply must be wrong and it’s their fault they’re upset [the narcissist’s answer]
- I must be totally wrong that I’m a nice person. I’ve upset some people, so I must have a completely wrong view of myself and I must be a bully! [the neurotic’s answer]
Both are highly likely to be incorrect. Both are also (epistemologically) easy ways out of the tension though. It takes time, energy, and experience to eventually figure out what really underlies the two pieces of evidence above and discover that the real answer is. For instance, perhaps it’s something like this:
I am generally a nice person, but I have discovered I have a blind spot when it comes to my sarcasm that can hurt people, and I need to correct that.
The reason I’m talking about all this stuff is to illustrate how our epistemology affects far more than just our faith. A lot of how I developed my own epistemology was seeing the pitfalls of people in my life (myself included) who were narcissists, neurotics, etc, and how damaging it was to themselves and others because of, ultimately, a lazy epistemology they were using to avoid pain, tension, and temporary suffering. So, the same tools that have helped me have a clearer understanding of Christianity have greatly helped me in my personal life and in relationships as well.
Anyway, those are some of the thoughts that came to mind as I read your message!