An Earlier Knowledge: Beyond the Subjective/Objective Divide
For many, the obvious conclusion is that all claims to knowledge about being "touched" are merely subjective: they tell us about the subject, not about something outside her. They don't tell us about "the real world."
It is important to give objective knowledge its due: science gives us truth about the world. But it is also important not to be seduced by that truth, objective knowledge. The seduction is to assume that there are only two kinds of knowledge, the kinds that modern philosophy and science have investigated, namely objective knowledge, and subjective knowledge. If we allow ourselves to be seduced by that assumption, then we will conclude that anything that cannot be shown to be knowable objectively is only personal, is only subjective.
Consider, though, at least one more kind of knowledge, a knowledge that I will call touch in contrast to vision. Just as vision is a metaphor for kinds of knowledge that are not visual, touch as I'm using it is a metaphor for kinds of knowledge that are not tactile. Vision is a kind of touch, light impinging on my senses.
My first knowledge of anything was probably neither subjective nor objective. It was a knowledge of being affected: something touched me. My first knowledge was almost certainly a matter of being affected.
As a newborn, that knowledge wasn't conceptual, so it wasn't objective. But I was not yet fully conscious, so neither was it subjective. There are objects only when there are subjects and vice-versa. But it would be strange to say that the baby had no knowledge of his mother's touch.
Obviously newborns are not the only ones who have affective knowledge. Presumably all of us do. In fact, presumably much if not all of our objective knowledge has its origins in our being affected. (That was a fundamental tenet of British Empiricism, though it may have failed to shake itself from the epistemological project.)
However, when I try to give an epistemological account of affective knowledge, I find myself led toward the skeptical conundra where I cannot know things in themselves because I only know their appearances. If I try to give an account of my affective knowledge in terms only of subjects and objects, I find myself unable to do so.
That inability means that the truth of the world (objective truth) is inadequate to affective knowledge. It doesn't mean we should give up objective truth. But it also means there are more categories of truth than the terms subjective and objective allow us.
And the fact that objective truth has its origin in affective truth makes their relation hierarchical, a hierarchy which probably explains the inability of objective truth to give a satisfactory account of affective truth: it cannot explain what makes it possible.
What follows from all these dry and arcane philosophical claims? That if we are seduced by the truth of the world, that truth may conceal from us our knowledge of ways in which we are touched, not only physically by things, but also in relationships with others including God. At best, touch will seem impossible. At worst, it will not even be under consideration.
If we are seduced by the truth of the world, we may find it impossible to see any reasons but the reasons of the world, in spite of the fact that we have always already had other reasons or we wouldn't have even the reasons of the world.
Without those other reasons, relationships, the most important way in which we can be affected will be swallowed up in the merely subjective. Without relationships, the loves of our lives are no longer real. Nor do we have relation with God.
James Faulconer is a Richard L. Evans Professor of Religious Understanding at Brigham Young University, where he has taught philosophy since 1975.