Why is this the ultimate question? Because if thinking does not disclose being, then we can know nothing of ultimate reality. If knowing isn't about being, then it's just about... phenomena, or appearances, or more knowing. Knowledge becomes as enclosed in itself as tenure.
This thought occurred to me while reading an article linked at Happy Acres. In it Anthony Esolen naïvely laments the fact that the modern -- or postmodern -- college student prefers to study himself:
"They were angered by my suggestion... that there was something narcissistic in the common insistence that people should study THEMSELVES rather than people who lived long ago and in cultures far removed from ours by any ordinary criterion, and that there was something totalitarian in the impulse of the secular left, to attempt to subject our curriculum to the demands of a current political aim."
I can't even imagine wanting to be a college professor in this climate. It would be analogous to being a physician for people who refuse to be treated, or a police officer in a... Democrat precinct where they would sooner shoot you than allow you to do your job.
Esolen is essentially complaining that students don't want to know what is going on beneath the surface, rather, only to be reinforced about their particular surface. Happy Acres Guy suggests that this may have to do with race and intelligence, but I would prefer to just say intelligence, because I don't need the hate. It is sufficient to say that abstraction varies with intelligence, and that the stupider one is, the more difficult to take on a universalist perspective, or even to see beyond oneself.
This is well understood in developmental psychology, at least the last time I checked. One of the first things you learn about is Piaget's stages of childhood cognitive development. They have been tweaked and adjusted over the years, but there is no gainsaying the fact that children start out with concrete thinking and become more capable of abstraction as they develop.
Some friends were over for dinner the other night, and their 17 year old daughter was doing some calculus homework.
Calculus. Where does that lie on the abstraction spectrum? Certainly it is above my pay grade, mathwise. I took algebra in the 9th grade, which I flunked. I retook it in the tenth grade, but this time paid attention and aced it. I took geometry in the 11th, and received a gentleteen's C, followed by Algebra II in the 12th -- which I think is trigonometry -- but discretely withdrew after one semester and one D. My point, if I have one, is that I never got to calculus.
I also took physics in the 11th grade, but learned precisely nothing. However, since the teacher graded on a curve, somehow nothing didn't translate to an F. Probably something to do with nonlocality.
My parents -- in particular, my mother -- just expected me to take these brainy types of courses, despite the lack of aptitude. It was an unspoken assumption that I would attend college, although I myself literally never gave it a thought. Somehow, I just thought things would work out without my having to work them out -- that Slack would prevail.
Nevertheless, I did go on to college -- the junior kind -- and majored in Business Administration, because I had no earthly idea what else to major in. There I took Business Math, which I actually passed. I squeaked by in Economics and even Accounting, but once I got to a four year university, hit the wall with Money & Banking and some other course with lots of numbers.
What are we talking about here? Right: abstraction. And knowledge. And being. But believe it or not, this pathetic post is over, because I have to get ready for work. We'll continue down this road tomorrow, and try to redeem ourselves. I think I have some ideas for some ideas.