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This is my key paper on epistemology, building on earlier ideas taken in turn from Stephen Jay Gould's "Non-Overlapping Magisteria". The "Isthmus Theory" of knowledge domains presented here is inspired by ideas in Robert Pirsig's Lila: An Inquiry into Morals. At the same time I introduce the idea of "Outsider Scholarship" a term that I would apply to myself.

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The endless proliferation of human knowledge represents not so much a tree-structure of knowledge as the tentacles of an octopus dragging us down into anguished division. The anguish is genuine and has been expressed since the Enlightenment by many types of thinker. This paper argues however that the anguish does not in fact arise from the increasing knowledge but from the mistaken belief in the possibility of its unification. This unification, in the example of E. O. Wilson’s ‘consilience’, is shown to represent nothing more than a takeover bid for the humanities by the sciences and the final triumph of logical positivism, all of which is couched in terms apparently irresistible to fashionable thought. An alternative ‘isthmus’ theory of knowledge domains is introduced as a better way of encompassing the contemporary proliferation of knowledge.

Against Consilience

Outsider Scholarship and the Isthmus Theory of Knowledge Domains

Keywords: Consilience, epistemology, isthmus theory, knowledge domain, outsider scholarship, Pirsig.

First published: INTEGRAL REVIEW, June 2013, Vol. 9, No. 2

Year: 2013, no of words: 12,159