Friday, February 12, 2010

Choosing a Method

Every field has a methodology. Adhering to a methodology may seem the best way of retaining objectivity, but last night I found experienced methodologies, arriving at valid conclusions within the reference frame of their method, that conflicted. This was the result of a philosophical discussion after watching a debate on whether or not the resurrection of Jesus is true. Now, the conflict is not irreconcilable on either side -- both sides could explain the other in their own terms -- so there wasn't a want of consistency on either party. But there was a lack of a definitive answer, as is often the case in philosophical questions.

Though this is not, by necessity, a philosophical question. The answer can require a philosophical method, but it does not necessitate it. The Pro side used a historical method. I can't meaningfully comment on the historical method, but I can say that it seeemed the Pro side should be treated as an expert. The argument, to my philosophical knowledge, was valid. The case that his argument failed, and I knew that it failed, was in my knowledge of the scientific method. Resurrection, to the best of our knowledge, is highly unlikely to be possible. The best inference, at this point, is to conclude that Resurrection can not happen. Naturally this doesn't mean that it can't happen. But I would also point out that nothing has brought us closer to knowledge than the method of science. However, in the case of historical details, that remains problematic -- thereby the need for a historical method.

I would place the scientific method above the historical method in its ability to ascertain the truth due to my experience with the method. But, supposing that your world-view allowed resurrection, and you apply the historical method, everything seemed to fall well into place. So, in some sense, the debate becomes an argument of metaphysics -- hardly the appropriate place for truth-determination.

So, in what way does one choose a method? The whole point of creating method is to become as objective as possible. Yet there is a multiplicity of methods. While, normally, the choice of method is obvious (Are you investigating the world? (science) Are you investigating the past? (history) Are you investigating wisdom? (philosophy).), there can come a point where two individuals can come to an impasse on some questions, such as the resurrection example, and both think their method is the most objective way to truth, yet come to different conclusions. I believe that both debaters were making good-faith efforts for their position, as opposed to playing polemics to "win", so I don't think an ego-driven hypothesis resolves the question. Surely anyone interested in proper conclusions can admit that they don't want the ranking of methods to be dictated by how comforting we find their conclusions, or how well they justify everything we already believe -- that would entirely defeat the point of method! 

How do you rank methods, and why?

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