Toward a New Epistemology Beyond the Postmodern – Introduction

What follows is my Master’s Thesis.


Writing a Master’s Thesis is a learning experience to be sure. It was a rather long process from writing, to editing, to defending the thesis orally, to editing for the final library copy. I chose a topic that I thought would be more than a simple exercise in scholarship. Positively speaking, it has some important things to say (even if I would now want to edit it some more). When I finally defended the thesis orally, I was pleased to be told by all three professors that they enjoyed reading it. At least my topic wasn’t boring. Negatively, when my Thesis Advisor, Dr. T.A. Noble, gave me permission to pursue the topic, he said that he wasn’t sure what it was that I was going to do based on my proposal and outline, but he was sure I knew what I was going to do. That should have been a warning to me that this was going to be a lot more work than if I had chosen a more straightforward and mundane topic.

While the title of the Thesis implies a movement toward an answer, in the ten-plus years since I sent a final library approved copy, I can say that I now have the answer. I plan on writing that volume at some point, but I thought publishing this on my blog would have some value. The text is the same as what is in the library of Nazarene Theological Seminary, except for some adjustments resulting from the transition from a print “hardcopy” to a blog format. I have also added occasional hyperlinks.

Lee Karl Palo, December 2015.


Toward a New Epistemology Beyond the Postmodern

By Lee Karl Palo, © 2005 Lee Karl Palo

Table of Contents

Introduction [see below]

Chapter 1 – Knowledge and the Human Element

The Thought of Michael Polanyi Part 1 (Tacit and overt knowledge; indwelling)

Chapter 2 – An Ontology of Knowledge

The Thought of Michael Polanyi Part 2 (The stratification of reality)

Chapter 3 – Passionate vs. “Objective” Knowledge

The Thought of Michael Polanyi Part 3 (Polanyi and some contrasting theories)

Chapter 4 – The Hebraic Conception of Knowledge

The idea of knowledge in scripture (Yadah)

Chapter 5 – God and Knowing

The beginning of a synthesis of Polanyian and Biblical conceptions of knowledge

Chapter 6 – Jesus Christ: Incarnate Knowledge

Implications for a new epistemology pt. 1 (Theological epistemology)

Chapter 7 – The More Excellent Way

Implications for a new epistemology pt. 2 (Philosophical epistemology)

Chapter 8 – Omens and Portents of the Coming Intellectual Apocalypse

Implications and concluding remarks




The Beginning

The first philosophy class I took changed my life forever. It was an introductory class in philosophy taught by Ed Crawford at (what was then) Northwest Nazarene College. I learned that there is no area of life in which philosophy does not exert some influence. Philosophy seemed to be a “watcher” over all other disciplines. This fact took root in my mind. One question began to arise “who watches the watchers?”  Rather quickly other questions cropped up in my study of philosophy. Does philosophy have an understanding of itself outside of the disciplines in which it exerts its powerful influence? How would God have me view philosophy?

How is it that I have come to find the thought of Michael Polanyi to be so very helpful in my attempt to answer some of these questions? I feel very fortunate to have had many people who have encouraged me in my own unique path of education. In a discussion of some of my ideas, a fellow student at Nazarene Theological Seminary, Laurie Mehrwein, told me that many of my ideas sounded a lot like what she had read of Michael Polanyi. Dr. Al Truesdale, upon hearing my interest in Michael Polanyi, encouraged me and recommended The Tacit Dimension to me as an introduction to Polanyi. In a conversation I had with Dr. Paul Bassett, professor of Church history at Nazarene Theological Seminary for over 30 years, he referred to Polanyi quite positively. Dr. Basset mentioned that he had met Michael Polanyi at Duke University and found that Polanyi seemed to be humble in spirit, which is a quality I admire. While a couple positive comments from Dr. Basset is not an unequivocal endorsement of Polanyi’s philosophy it was significant to me. Dr. Noble has been influenced by the thought of Michael Polanyi as well, indeed that is why he was the perfect choice to be my thesis advisor. Dr. Noble allowed me to take on a part of my longstanding question in philosophy (Who watches the watchers?).  Fortunately for me Dr. Noble wisely suggested I tackle a much more manageable chunk of my question.

The Issue at Hand

Here in this thesis I tackle part of a smaller question of how philosophy operates in real life. When I had studied philosophy in the past it had always seemed to be above and beyond every day life. Philosophy had also seemed to be about true and false and nothing more.

…But there is something more going on here…

There can be no difference anywhere that doesn’t make a difference elsewhere—no difference in abstract truth that doesn’t express itself in a difference in concrete fact and in conduct consequent upon that fact, imposed on somebody, somehow, somewhere, and somewhen.

William James1

Scientific theories become, as do theological and philosophical ones, optional tools for the facilitation of individual or social projects.

Richard Rorty2

These above quotes do not seem to be merely involved with issues of truth and falsity. Philosophy is very much a part of every day life. Especially with these quotes philosophy seems to be very much involved with issues of right and wrong.

The Task

Rather than delving into the length and breadth of philosophy with my question, it was suggested that I investigate my question in relation to theological epistemology. I certainly have no problem with this as my commitment to God comes before my commitment to philosophy. In fact my faith has had a profound influence on how I have worked with my question. I would go so far as to say that I could never have developed any of the answers to the question that I have developed without my faith. I am part of a faith community that has been guiding me on this intellectual journey of mine, as can be seen by my mention of the involvement of Laurie Mehrwein, Dr. Bassett, Dr. Truesdale, and Dr. Noble.3 I believe that theology should rightfully be as it once was “the queen of the sciences.” Indeed my thesis will undoubtedly hint at this being the proper relationship of the one (theology) to the other (philosophy). My goal is a new understanding of theological epistemology, which would have implications for philosophical epistemology. Theological epistemology is the study of how we know what we know in submission to the reality of the God who was in Christ. Practically speaking theological epistemology is the investigation of how we know religious claims. Aside from the difference in subject matter the commitment to God is what sets theological epistemology apart from philosophical epistemology. I can investigate how we know God, but I cannot doubt that there is a God or else I would no longer be a Christian. Theological epistemology can be done by one who is not committed to God, but to someone committed to God that individual can never do theological epistemology properly without a commitment to God. I use the term “philosophical epistemology” to refer to the study of how we know what we know without necessarily having any commitments. Thus theological epistemology can fall under the rubric of philosophical epistemology, but it ought not to. Philosophical epistemology can also be used to represent the study of how we know claims made in other philosophical disciplines, such as the philosophy of science. All of the implications for philosophical epistemology will have to wait for another day, but the necessary groundwork will be laid down in this thesis. It must be noted that there is no small amount of overlap between theological epistemology and philosophical epistemology. One can analyze the philosophy of science from a fundamental commitment to God. Of course the term “epistemology” can be used as a general term to describe all of the above. As can be surmised, I can only do epistemology from a commitment to God being, as I am, a part of a faith community that shares this commitment to the God who was in Christ.

It is this personal commitment that leads directly to the point of this thesis. My thesis can be stated thus: since, as we shall see, all knowledge is personal, and thus relative to how we personally indwell and articulate it, then knowledge ought to be articulated out of love for God and one’s neighbor. Both before and since the time I have written and orally defended this thesis I have had many opportunities to tell those curious about my thesis what my thesis is about. I keep coming back to a simple statement: people ought to use truth (i.e. their knowledge) to care for others.

The Plan

I have tried to ground all of my philosophizing in Jesus Christ. Later in this thesis I will even discuss how Jesus used knowledge. Beyond that basis in my commitment to my faith in the God who was in Christ, three philosophers have surfaced in my journey who are integral to the answers I have developed. The first is Michael Polanyi who is the backbone of my thesis. Second is my favorite philosopher, William James. Then there is Friedrich Nietzsche who not only supports my thesis, but also does a good job of annihilating my competition (to the question of how knowledge works in real life).

The first chapter will be devoted to the articulation of Polanyi’s concept of tacit knowing. The second chapter will extend the concept of tacit knowing. This will include what Polanyi refers to as ontological implications of tacit knowing. The third chapter will illustrate a few other concepts of philosophical knowing. In light of Polanyi’s theory the inadequacies of these other concepts will begin to become apparent. However those other concepts of philosophical knowing have not been the only concepts of knowing historically. This leads us to the fourth chapter. In the fourth chapter ancient Hebrew knowing and its similarities with tacit knowing will be discussed. In chapter five the main argument of this work begins in earnest, although the seeds of it will come in the previous chapters. The relationship of theology to Polanyian epistemology will be developed. The sixth and seventh chapters will see the argument kick into high gear. The argument of the sixth chapter will be obvious enough, but it is still insufficient. Thus chapter seven will be devoted to the “still more excellent way.” Chapter eight will conclude my explication of what I would like to call an epistemology of love.


1William James, Pragmatism. (New York: Longmans, Green and Co., 1907), 27.

2Richard Rorty, “Pragmatism as Romantic Polytheism” in The Revival of Pragmatism. Ed. by Morris Dickstein. (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1998), 33.

3This is certainly not an exhaustive list of people who have guided me to where I am today.

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5 Responses to Toward a New Epistemology Beyond the Postmodern – Introduction

  1. Pingback: Toward a New Epistemology Beyond the Postmodern – Chapter 1 | Paradigm One by Lee Karl Palo

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