Epistemology, the Metaphysics of Colonialism

Part 4 of a multipart series, “How to Nurture Truth and Authenticity”. This article series is for economic reformers and political activists interested in the metamodern political movement. This series will undoubtedly find appeal with those who have come to understand that the current values which drive global economy, those which we call ‘liberal’, are obstructing solutions to contemporary political challenges — in as much, those values are unable to guide a common activity beyond. Admittedly, the prescriptions herein are likely a mere articulation of what is intuitively felt across a large demographic — certainly those who have found themselves gravitating toward contemporary nationalist solutions. Undoubtedly a bit of political agnosticism is required for digesting this series. Already now, the final recommendation can be teased. If we wish to nurture truth and authenticity then we require an economy championed under the banner of prefigurativism.

***Note: this article seeks to identify the ‘behavior’ of the economy of imperium announced in the previous article. In identifying this behavior as a ‘comportment toward the phenomena of experience’ we can extrapolate the consequences. This task is necessary to our project, as ‘episteme’ serves as an obstruction to authenticity. In order to identity this comportment, we begin with an interrogation of epistemology.***

Epistemology — from Ancient Greek επιστημη (epistēmē, ‘science, knowledge’) and λογια (logia, ‘discourse’).

Epistemology — the discourse of knowledge.

Where do our thoughts take us, presented with only this provisional translation of epistemology?

In thinking on an answer we may want to look closer at ‘episteme-‘ and thereby assume the ‘-ology’ as granted. After all, the suffix ‘-ology’ is overly familiar. We have ‘sociology’, ‘psychology’, ‘anthropology’ and the many other disciplines which treat of their objects. However, we should not be too dismissive. There is depth worth elucidating.

This suffix, ‘-ology’, comes to us through the Ancient Greek λογια (logia, ‘discourse’). However, λογια also refers us to the Ancient Greek λογος (logos). Now, the utility which λογος has served its authors is admittedly so diverse that we cannot contain its meaning in a single modern English word. On Wikitionary.com we find λογος referred to ‘speech, oration, discourse, quote, story, study, ratio, word, calculation, reason’. Therefore, we must conclude that λογος can only be understood from within the text in which we find it.

From within the fragments which have been ascribed to Heraclitus, λογος seems to have referred to an object. “All things come to be in accordance with logos.” In this sense, ‘-ology’ does not refer us to λογια (as a disciplinary subject), but to that by which phenomena come into accord with one another. We find a related type of reification of λογια in modern parlance. ‘Biology’, for example, not only refers to βιο-λογια (as the disciplinary subject) but also to that by which phenomena come into accord with one another  —  namely, βιο-λογος. Only in conforming to βιο-λογος could the phenomena of an organism’s biology present itself as that biology. Now, in the case of epistemology, ‘-ology’ therefore not only refers us to λογια (as the disciplinary subject) but also to that by which phenomena come into accord with one another — namely, επιστημη-λογος. We could speak of Immanuel Kant’s epistemological project, for example, and reference either επιστημη-λογια or επιστημη-λογος.

Of course, a question undoubtedly presents itself. Can there be a λογος to which all knowledge conforms? In taking up the Ancient Greek words for a more concise question, we might say,

“Can λογια describe λογος, if λογος conditions λογια?”

And asking this question in relation to the discipline at hand, then we might say,

“Can επιστημη-λογια describe επιστημη-λογος, if επιστημη-λογος conditions επιστημη-λογια?”

No doubt these are strange questions. We seem to run in a loop. However, before committing ourselves to analyzing this loop, we can do ourselves a favor by remembering that the επιστημη-λογια is a discourse like any other. In as much, it indicates to something of a pre-linguistic, pre-theoretical discourse — a ‘wheeling and dealing’ with nature, such that επιστημη-λογια could become articulate as a discourse. In as much, we understand this ‘dealing’ with nature as a condition for επιστημη-λογια. For the sake of terminological clarity, let us call this ‘dealing’ of επιστημη-λογια by the Latin word which we took up in the previous article actio, ‘act of doing or making’.

Looking within our historical continuum, we can identify pronounced moments of doubt as a condition for that actio which opened space for επιστημη-λογια. In fact, very early philosophical discourse indicates doubt. For example, in Augustine of Hippo’s De civitate Dei contra paganos we find an answer assuring us to the existence of the self,

“From the fact that, if I were indeed mistaken, I should have to exist to be mistaken, it follows that I am undoubtedly not mistaken in knowing that I am.”

Despite these early appearances of επιστημη-λογια, επιστημη-λογος seem to only become an explicit object following Rene Descartes’ Meditationes de Prima Philosophia. In as much, we understand επιστημη-λογος as an object belonging to the discourse and economy of a period from roughly the sixteenth century to the nineteenth century. This discipline itself indicates the actio present in doubt, explicitly. Looking toward the root ‘episteme-’ for this actio, we find επιστημη. This word is itself from Ancient Greek επισταμαι (epistamai) — a compound of επι (epi) and‎ ιστημι (histēmi, ‘to make stand’). Therefore, we translate επιστημη, quite literally, as ‘to make over-stand’. In as much, we can complete our original task from the outset of this chapter. We translate epistemology as ‘the discourse (επιστημη-λογια) in which phenomena accord with επιστημη-λογος, such that επιστημη presences.

Now, not to be confused, ‘episteme’ is traditionally translated as ‘knowledge’. And therefore, a question presents itself. Where in experience would we draw a circle around phenomena such that over-standing presences, but also, once drawn, we have in view the object known as ‘knowledge’? An interrogation into epistemology offers fertile ground for answering such a question. Rightfully, with the inception of epistemology and the επιστημη-λογος of Descartes we find that phenomena are brought into accord through a subject indicated by the ‘I’. Eπιστημη, as actio, ‘apprehends’ phenomena — but this apprehension is not merely the act of sensual perception. Apprehension suggests a stronger sense — as in, for example, when we say that ‘the suspect has been apprehended by the police’. Phenomena are apprehended into custody. And in such apprehension the ‘I’ is likewise asserted. There is a persistent ‘mineness’ lurking within the halls of epistemology. This indubitable subject, ‘I’, is reasoned in Descartes’ second meditation as the object of doubt, over-standing, and of will,

“…it is so self-evident that it is I who doubts, who over-stands, and who desires, that there is no reason here to add anything to explain it…”

We therefore resolve ourselves. ‘I’, as the presence of doubt, is at once the condition, actio, and conclusion. Doubt conditions επιστημη (actio, apprehension) of the real and true. And it also presupposes the outcome, επιστημη, on the basis of a deficiency of επιστημη. In each of these last two uses both ‘knowledge’ and ‘to make over-stand’ are interchangeable.

Now, what should not be overlooked is that with this epistemological project, the λογος (as that to which phenomena accord with each other) pass over into human reason — in Latin, ratio. In the lecture notes for the course which we drew from in part 3 of this seriesParmenides and Heraclitus, Martin Heidegger prepares his students for understanding the transposing of λογος into ratio.

“To take something for something is in Greek οιεσθαι…”

“…the λογος is constituted by οιεσθαι…”


“To take something as something is in Latin reor — the corresponding noun is ratio…The essence of truth as veritas and rectitudo passes over in the ratio of man…This determines for the future, as a consequence of a new transformation of the essence of truth, the technological character of modern, i.e., machine, technology. And that has its origin in the originating realm out of which the imperial emerges. The imperial springs forth from the essence of truth as correctness in the sense of the directive self-adjusting guarantee of the security of domination. The taking as true of ratio, of reor, becomes a far-reaching and anticipatory security. Ratio becomes counting, calculating, calculus.”

In the epistemological project of Immanuel Kant we are far beyond any metaphysical objects ‘God’, ‘Time’, ‘Destiny’, or ‘Fortune’. And instead we have not only Descartes’ ‘Reason’, ‘Will’, and ‘Desire’, but before all else the ‘thing-in-itself’, noumenon. In Kant’s Kritik der reinen Vernunft (Critique of Pure Reason) we find again the ‘I’ as the indubitably location of doubt and over-standing desire. However, we also find a more articulate and refined science. This subject, the ‘I’, is now the foundation for transcendence. Within Kant’s voluminous works we are told the story of how this metaphysical subject transcends its own subjectivity in order to meet the noumenon — and just as with Descartes the ‘I’ apprehends that which conforms to human reason, ratio, the calculated. What should not be overlooked is that transcendence itself is possible only on account of episteme. And from the vantage afforded to us today, we cannot help but theme what seems an overly obvious history. Once separated from the noumenon by an insurmountable chasm, the founding fathers of the enlightenment, alone in their doubt and invested with Reason and Will, could do nothing but satisfy an unquenchable desire to amass a compendium of knowledge — a knowledge which might bring them in communion with nature. After all, the mathematical character of the world made possible a description of entities with definite edges — ones which butt right up next to one another, such that every mental and physical space could be accounted for. From our vantage today, we sense that the entire orientation of human projection toward the phenomena of the world had become a mastering, conquering, and above all a ‘totaling’ of an objectified ‘uni-verse’ — that single and sole quantifiable reality. In as much, we find ourselves in agreement with the criticisms of John Dewey. The ideal following the epistemologists and the esteem of rationality became the ‘universal ideal’.

Of course, the consequences of the epistemic paradigm is far reaching. And what should not be overlook is that Kant’s reconciliation of rationalism with empiricism provided for something of an intellectual justification for the commodification of  experience. After all, from within his metaphysics, phenomena conformed to the standards of procedural discourse — the essence of which is the positum. In as much, we should not be surprise that the character of the world, once embodied by an unquantifiable love, hope, and grief, following the esteem of the rational-empirical, was now delivered to over to data and statistics. Of course, while we may be hesitant and perhaps think it a bit strange to proclaim the metaphysicians of the middle and late second millennium as having expedited commodification, we need not worry ourselves. We are satisfied if their work is a mere indication and description of a current running through later modernization.

At this point we can recount the narrative of the economy of truth from the previous article. Ancient Greek ομοιωσις was appropriated and Latinized into rectitudo, which passed over in the ratio of man. Aληθεια was socialized by way of a subjectification of ομοιωσις. In as much, the true was taken hold of in service to the ‘I command’ as the judgement — which took hold of the true and false for understanding ‘the real’ and ‘the one and only’. The idolization of Reason expedited this economy of imperium. And not unlike the Roman colony, the empire ‘knowledge’ could be maintained by the actio — episteme.  This narrative can be traced not only through the Roman empire, Christendom, and the epistemological project of Descartes. The language of Latin, which carries within it the domain of the imperial, had become the foundation of the cross-cultural industrialized sciences. So, while the epistemological project seems to have ended in earnest at the beginning of the twentieth century with Edmund Husserl, the climax of the imperial narrative is to be found a few decades later. We only need to revisit the construction of the world superpowers in the twentieth century, the space race, and the pride which the victors felt in the accomplishment of NASA’s Apollo 11 mission. After all, this project produced one of the most striking images of modernization, the US flag standing on the moon. There is likely no better image which indicates the episteme underlying the ever-expansive self-fulfilling economy of imperium. Yet, there is an opportunity here for us here-and-now, in hindsight, equipped with this imperial narrative, to interpret this image in an even more fulfilling way.

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