3. Literacy and Objectivism: the Dualistic Nature of Knowledge

The third feature of objectivist accounts of knowledge mentioned above is that they are dualistic. This is the case in two senses: first, in that they understand knowledge in terms of a subject-object dichotomy; and second, in that they (at least tacitly) understand the knower as a disincarnate mind. Both of these are associated with literacy, and in fact, they are related to the ability to decontextualize knowledge that literacy brings.

It is certainly only with literacy that a strong distinction can be made between the subject and the object, that is, that the knower can be relatively abstracted from what is being known. This is partly because hearing cannot distance one from phenomena the way vision can. When one hears one always experiences oneself at the center of events, whereas vision puts one at the periphery. It is also, as we have seen, partly, or additionally, because only with literacy does one acquire the habit of abstracting oneself from the world’s dynamism to focus on static phenomena.

Some distinction between knower, known, and context is essential for any form of analytical thinking, since what is to be analyzed must be in some way separated from the analyst and the context in order to be broken up, taken apart, and so on, and this distinction is much more easily made when one can rely on visual experience linked to verbalization.

The problem is that when literacy has become deeply interiorized, we will tend both to perceive this separation in exaggerated measure and generalize it to all of our experience, thus thinking in terms of a subject–object dichotomy, since so much of our vocabulary will be drawn from relatively decontextualized visual experience.

This same decontextualization contributes to a tendency to think in terms of a mind–body dualism, since the somatic elements of language, so important in primary oral communication, tend to fade far into the background when one’s vocabulary becomes highly abstract.

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


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