Whaddya Know? And Whodya Be?
It seems to me that everything hinges upon whether or not man may know. If we cannot know, then our whole pretentious house of cards collapses, and we are reduced to competing forms of nihilism, or survival of the frivolous. But if we can know, then...
To approach this question is truly to begin at the beginning, because no other questions can be answered until we establish the fact that questions are answerable -- i.e., that man may possess true knowledge of himself and the world.
Indeed, some thinkers believe we must go even further back, and first establish the existence of the world. For example, this is what Kant does, and concludes that it doesn't exist. That being the case, we cannot know anything about it. The end.
That's an exaggeration, but only an uncharitable one. The point is that Kant placed a dark line between What Is and What We May Know About It, which ultimately results in an unbridgeable chasm between being and knowing.
Yes, we can still know, but this knowledge is ultimately of our own neuropsychology, not of the Real. We don't perceive the world, only (through) our categories. We are in the position of a submarine captain who navigates by instrument but never sees or touches water.
Since truth is the conformity of mind to reality, the very notion of truth is poisoned at the root. Thought and Thing go through an ugly divorce, and Thing gets to keep all the real properties to herself, since you Kant take 'em with you. Man becomes closed upon himself, and tenure takes care of the rest.
The whole thing can be boiled down even further, which is why I developed my irritating system of unsaturated pneumaticons. For truly, it all comes down to O and/or Ø, does it not?
For Kant, O supposedly exists (hello, noumena!), except that there is absolutely nothing we can know or say about it. That being the case, it is but a small giant step backward to jettison O altogether, because even to say that we can't say anything about O is to say something about it. Therefore, it makes much more sense to simply dismiss O and stick with Ønly.
In short, Kant pulled his punches and tried to have his crock and eat it too. But you cannot eat from an imaginary crock pot. Likewise, you cannot have knowledge of an unknowable world. But still, these postmodern crackpots insist with a straight farce on calling it knowledge.
In approaching this question of knowledge we need to bear in mind Maritain's reference to the "freshness of vision that is lost today," to "the youth, the virginity of observation, the intuitive upsurge of intellect, as yet unwearied, toward the delicious novelty of the real."
Specifically, even if we ultimately conclude with modern man that we may only have knowledge of phenomena, we shouldn't start there, because we cannot start there. In other words all men -- as men -- start with the pre-philosophical and pre-scientific conviction that of course there's a real world, doofus. WTF are you talking about?
Indeed, it takes many years of schooling to eradicate this conviction and replace it with its converse. Of course, no one actually believes it, but that's the subject of a different post. Let's just stick with what people think they believe.
"Every metaphysics that is not measured by the mystery of what is, but by the state of positive science at such and such an instant, is false from the beginning" (ibid.). Man is uniquely instructed by O, which is why the rigorous discipline of Truth is a transfiguring and purifying process. For man, as he inevitably finds himself in the herebelow, is a mixture of substance and accident, or truth and error.
In other words, we all have an essential nature -- the soul -- but the exigencies of life and the imperatives of adaptation result in the importation of various impurities that we call "mind parasites," or a condition of (•••), of multiples subselves with varying agendas, the most fundamental of which is a desire to go on being. We might say that (•) is to world (or a world) as (¶) is to O.
Let us say that man may know. But what does this mean, to know? What is going on when we know something? The answer isn't obvious -- at least not anymore -- but for Maritain it is an irreducibly spiritual event through and through. For
"There is a vigorous correspondance between knowledge and immateriality. A being is known to being to the extent that it is immaterial."
This formulation, so obvious to common sense, is nevertheless filled with paradoxes that need to be resolved. For example, "to know is to be in a certain way something other than what one is: it is to become a thing other than the self..." Thus, knowledge isn't the thing, but nor is it the self. So what is it?
To be continued...
Being is, indeed, the proper object of the intellect.... [T]he intellect, if I may say so, "loops the loop," in coming back, to grasp metaphysically and transcendentally, to that very same thing which was first given to it in its first understanding of the sensible. --Maritain