Andrew Basden on… Understanding and enriching our disciplines

At the FiSch Leader’s Conference, Andrew Basden showed us how a deeper understanding of God as Creator enables us to open up new avenues of meaning in our scholarship.

What impact does your faith have on your scholarship? From ‘basic’ to more complex, there are several ways in which our faith can support the content and conduct of our research:

  1. Direct use of Bible verses. But there are often no direct references to issues that are specific to our modern times.
  2. Use of biblical principles. These can be helpful, but tend to be very general and not to contribute to the content of our scholarship.
  3. We can practice our scholarship from a Christian worldview. This is a good starting point, but how does it help us to engage critically with contemporary thought? The danger is that this will lead to either antagonism or acquiescence to other worldviews.
  4. ACE or aspectual analysis: Affirm the original motivations, the problems detected and aspects explored; Critique (immanent – from inside the same paradigm) the narrowness, expose presuppositions; Enrich by looking at the problem using the overlooked aspects.

The basis of ACE is God’s self-revelation as loving. This provides a foundation for affirming the dignity, freedom and responsibility of creation (including human beings), and points to a diversity of meaning and law (things working well together). Each sphere of meaning, or ‘aspect’, has its own laws which are not reducible to the laws of other spheres of meaning. Many different aspects can be recognized, and there is not a single authoritative list, but here is an example of the different ways in which a single object, for example a tree, can have meaning: quantitative, spatial, kinematic, physical, biotic, sensitive, analytical, formative, lingual, social, economic, aesthetic, juridical, ethical, pistic (a fully worked example can be found on Prof. Basden’s web pages). This particular list was compiled by the Dutch philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd, and Andrew uses it in his own scholarship to find new avenues for solving problems in his field.

Andrew illustrated this with an example from his own area of expertise: ICT. The use and design of ICT affects society, and society affects the use and design of ICT. Giddens’ structuration theory is often used to explain how this works. On this interpretation, norms (juridical aspect), power (ethical aspect) and meaning (pistic aspect) structure the relationship between society and the use and design of ICT.

Using Dooyeweerd’s list of aspects, Schuurman (1980) noted that technology (formative aspect) should be guided not by its own aspect (if we can make it we will make it); in this regard he agrees with the structuration analysis. But he goes beyond this by including the norms of all other aspects. For example, the norms of the social aspect should guide the use of e-mail.

Andrew gave two further examples from the field of ICT, one about ICT use and one about artificial intelligence, which I will leave for you to discover in the audio file!

Andrew’s main conclusion was that such a list of aspects can function as a useful checklist when we analyze a problem in our field, and helps us to realize what we have overlooked.

Reference

Schuurman, E. (1980). Technology and the Future: A Philosophical Challenge. Wedge Publishing, Toronto.

Comments

I really appreciated this posting. I have been very impressed by how Andrew Basden relates the modal aspect theory to issues in IT and ‘computer studies’. I just wanted to add another great insight from the other academic mentioned – Dr. Schuurman. He makes the great point that when we are reflecting on new technologies we shouldn’t only ask how this innovation will help us but go further and ask how it will limit us or restrict us. He then talks about students becoming ‘pancakes’ who are spread very widely and thinly as they surf the net! It is not inevitable but some students lose the ability to read deeply as they skim the internet for low lying fruit. Thanks for this posting. It’s really got me thinking.

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