Before the Enlightenment, philosophers were relatively optimistic about the ability to perceive objects as they really are. Grappling with the essences of things was no easy task, to be sure, and reasoning the "whatness" of objects was a defining characteristic of classical philosophy - but for the most part our ability to rightly perceive the phenomena of objects in the world was taken for granted. During the Enlightenment, the primacy of metaphysics gave way to the primacy of epistemology, where the act of perceiving itself became an object of scrutiny. Immanuel Kant famously criticized the idea of empirical observation as providing the guiding principles of rationality suggesting instead that the categories which exist inside the mind predetermine our observations of objects in the world. From this standpoint the object doesn't simply impress itself on the mind, the mind actively discerns the object through its own (mostly reliable) categories. If that's true, as the Enlightenment project has assumed, it makes the ideal knowledge one in which nothing comes between the vision of a knower and the thing known. This is true even of Kant, since he believed that though the world in itself (outside of perception) could not be known, our minds are still hooked up to the world in a way that speaks truly about objects. Mark Bowald says:
"Objectivity" came to connote the character of the epistemological stance a person assumes while struggling to seek out knowledge of things in their epistemological opacity. That stance is viewed as being, ideally, unaffected by prior beliefs or judgments - in some sense 'neutral' or apart from any particular 'perspective'.This observation is crucial to the definition of objectivity. It speaks, first and foremost, of a person's impartial disposition toward objects . Moreover this is said to be a necessary disposition in order to arrive at truth. Put another way, true knowledge necessarily involves eliminating (or mitigating) one's own subjective states, such as emotions, judgments, desires, past experiences, etc., from consideration, since all of these things cloud the vision of the knower. If one is to be objective, he or she must yield to the brute facts which present themselves through impartial observation. Once supporting evidence can be marshaled to bolster a claim, it can be called "objective knowledge".
When it comes to reading the Bible it can be argued that Biblical scholarship has carried on according to this definition as well. Exegetes are those who come to the text suspending subjective factors as much as possible, and neutrally allowing the text to guide them wherever it may as it yields to the scientific tools of the exegete, namely grammar, archeology, history, etc. The data mined from their research is then handed off to Biblical theologians who assemble their objective observations into coherent building blocks which can add to the systematic theologian's overarching picture of what the Bible teaches. The inappropriateness felt by any reversal of this process testifies to the struggle for knowledge as a value-free enterprise. Any exegesis which emerges from theology is subjective, and thus illegitimate. Theology which arises from exegesis remains the only gold standard for what can count as true knowledge of the Bible.
Subsequent posts will evaluate that picture, but first I wanted to throw it out there for your reflection and modification. A few interesting questions to ask might be:
"Does it really work this way?" Do exegetes operate with neutrality and suspended judgment?
"Should it work this way?" Is impartiality a Biblical virtue in interpretation? Are there moral implications of objectivity?
"Did the apostles interpret Scripture this way?" Was their use of Scripture just an arbitrary product of ecstatic revelation which ran counter to how God wants Christians to read Scripture today?
"Are these our only options?" Does one have to approach the text "objectively" or be doomed to approach it "subjectively", or is there another way of looking at literary knowledge?