2. Literacy and Objectivism: Abstraction through Disabling Contexts

Objectivism tends to conceive of knowledge as abstracted from context. As with the capacity to think impersonally, this ability to understand knowledge abstractly is dependent on literacy. We have seen that oral cultures, for a variety of reasons, must locate knowledge in the context of narratives, formulaic sayings, and so on. Only with writing (and especially printing) can knowledge be abstracted from these contexts and converted into the forms of (relatively) context-neutral lists, tables, and so on, which could never be remembered in oral form.

Of course, the capacity for abstraction can be beneficial, as it is essential for any type of analytical thinking, but it can also be very disabling, since it will become quite possible, if one’s vocabulary has been formed by intense immersion in the relatively decontextualized knowledge of a literate culture, to forget, when reflecting on our processes of thinking and knowing, that knowing takes place in a context.

Jardine (2011), Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society 31(3)


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