Page 49 - MODES of EXPLANATION

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authority. There is a certain pattern that repeats in the narratives concerning a city’s founding,
a pattern Malinowski calls a “charter myth” (Malinowski, 1955). These stories commonly
describe a quasi-divine hero who overthrows a monster that has been plaguing the hapless
residents of an area. Once victorious, the savior founds or re-establishes a city, which now
owes its temporal significance to its having been founded by that redeemer in that manner.
Perseus (who founds Mycenae) slays the Gorgon; Theseus rids Attica of the brigands
Peripheter, Sciron, Cercyon, Anteus, and the rest, not to mention the Minotaur; and so on.
Such a logic of explanation collapses genealogical explanation into evaluative justification by
blending the role of that which has value with its origin. So the temporal authority of either a
hero or a city derives from its founder’s supernatural feats and the ultimately divine lineage
of both.
Once more, explanation as genealogy reappears in tales about cosmology. Hesiod’s
Theogony
, for example, is for the most part genealogy. In reply to the request, “Tell me how
first gods, earth, rivers, the boundless sea… the shining stars and the wide heavens above
came into being” (
Th
107-110), Hesiod replies that first Chaos came to be, then Gaia, then
Uranus, the Titans, and so on, until Zeus kills his father Cronos (he of the offspring-eating
habits) and in doing so establishes a cosmos, an ordered universe. Order emerges out of chaos
only through and thanks to a certain type of lineage. Similarly, for Christians it is not until
Jesus (who can trace his lineage to David) supersedes Yahweh’s prescriptions that the Good
News can be proclaimed. The authoritativeness of the transformation is due to the divinity of
the founder, whether Zeus or Jesus, and his overthrow of the now superseded order. The
undeniable implication is that had the revolutionary not been divine, the cosmos or teachings
would not have been lawful. The same story reappears about Prometheus, the divine source
of fire, reason, cognition, mind, medicine, numbers, and foresight. One could even say the
same about Orestes’ establishment of the rule of law at the end of the
Eumenides
, the last
play in the Oresteian trilogy.
Finally, the authority of the teller of myths is itself established genealogically: a story
has meaning or significance only because the storyteller received it from a god. The
authoritativeness of the story implies divine revelation to the storyteller. Here too,
genealogical
explanation
collapses into
justification
: the fact that the story originates in a
divine source is what confers
authority
(not only power) on both the story and the storyteller.
The identity between revelation and justification is also retained in the Abrahamic religions:
the reason why the Old and New Testaments, or the Koran, are held to be authoritative is
because they are said to be the products of divine revelation. This latter situation is
remarkable because we know that in the case of mythology (significantly in Hesiod and
Homer), epic storytellers would change the story slightly with each retelling to communicate
better with their audience. The epic bard of old was aware that in a participatory universe the
audience needs to identify with the story in order to render it meaningful or applicable to the
present day. This participatory aspect of storytelling is
discarded with the rise of philosophy,
an indication that philosophy loses all awareness or appreciation of the importance of
context. How and why does this loss of appreciation of context, time, and natural emergence
happen?
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