Nietzsche said that "wisdom puts limits to knowledge." Whatever he himself may have meant by this, there is no doubt that the will-to-knowledge, this noble power of the human being, requires a restraining wisdom, "in order that man may not strive immoderately for the knowledge of such things."
The question is, at what point does the will-to-knowledge shade off into the will-to-power? At what point does our natural epistemophila become an unseemly megalomania? What is the proper limit to the knowing intellect?
The answer is (ortho)paradoxical, because in a certain important sense, the intellect knows no limit, being that we -- and the intellect in particular -- are in the image of the creator. And I was about to say that people who understand our limitlessness in a religious context aren't the problem, but that would be quite naive, wouldn't it?
It seems that there are four possibilities: there are appropriate and inappropriate limits on the intellect; and an appropriate and inappropriate limitlessness to it.
For example, there are times that we need limits to vault us into limitlessness -- language being one example of this, or musical notation, or mathematics: each is an open system that uses boundary conditions to surpass itself, a la Polanyi:
the principles of each level operate under the control of the next higher level. The voice you produce is shaped by a vocabulary; a given vocabulary is shaped into sentences in accordance with a grammar; and the sentences are fitted into a style, which in its turn is shaped by our efforts to convey the ideas of the composition. Thus each level is subject to dual control: first, by the laws that apply to its elements in themselves and, second, by the laws that control the comprehensive entity formed by them.
Such multiple control is made possible again by the fact that the principles governing the isolated particulars of a lower level leave indeterminate their boundary conditions. These will be controlled by a higher principle.... Consequently, the operations of a higher level cannot be accounted for by laws governing its particulars, which form the next lower level. You cannot derive a vocabulary from phonetics; you cannot derive a grammar from a vocabulary; a correct use of grammar does not account for good style; and a good style does not supply the content of an oral communication (Polanyi).
It's not surprising that we should meet Polanyi on the road with Hayek, since they were friends and mutual influences.
Let's get back to what Pieper was saying about the subject. He writes of a certain kind of pathological knowing that reminds me of our constant obsession with politics -- of the
noise of impressions and sensations breathlessly rushing past the windows of the senses. Behind the flimsy pomp of its facade dwells absolute nothingness; it is a world of, at most, ephemeral creations, which often within less than a quarter hour become stale and discarded...
Pieper rightly calls it an addiction, but how much worse is this addictive behavior in the internet age! Even before the smartphone, it stupefied "man's primitive power of perceiving reality" and made him "incapable not only of coming to himself but also of reaching reality and truth."
What happens next? We don't know. We've never been here before, certainly not to this extent:
If such an illusory world threatens to overgrow and smoother the world of real things, then to restrain the natural wish to see [i.e., know] takes on the character of a measure of self-protection and self-defense.
In a very real sense we must become closed to this lower would in order to remain open to the higher one(s): "man should oppose this virtually inescapable seduction with all the force of selfless self-preservation" by closing "the inner room of his being against the intrusively boisterous pseudo-reality of empty shows and sounds."
Only via such self-restraint may we "preserve or regain that which actually constitutes man's vital existence: the perception of the reality of God and his creation, and the possibility of shaping himself and the world according to this truth, which reveals itself only in silence."
Do you see what he did there? Setting limits in order to approach and perceive the limitless. Failing this, the world appears to us as a kind of pseudo-limitlessness or false infinite.
Thus, we must avoid the cosmic inversion of substituting the false for the true infinite, the pseudo- for for the real thing. Prof. Wiki:
The reductionistic attempt to reduce higher-level realities into lower-level realities generates what Polanyi calls a moral inversion, in which the higher is rejected with moral passion. Polanyi identifies it as a pathology of the modern mind and traces its origins to a false conception of knowledge; although it is relatively harmless in the formal sciences, that pathology generates nihilism in the humanities. Polanyi considered Marxism an example of moral inversion.
Ah, now it's all coming together: reduction of the higher to the lower, religious passion without religious restraint, the nihilistic omniscience of materialism, and the omnipotent and omnicompetent state, all reflecting and supporting one another. The left in a nutshell.
How does this square with what we've been reading in Hayek?
[T]hat socialism is the logical consequence of rationalism does not mean that socialism is right, but rather that rationalist judgment of morals is mistaken. Man was neither clever enough to design the order from which billions of his kind now draw their sustenance nor even to recognize what he would have to know in order to direct these efforts successfully.
Paradoxically, we don't owe our progress to our own omniscience, but rather, to a kind of systematic nescience that keeps our knowledge in bounds:
We do not owe our ability to keep two hundred times as many human beings alive than we could five thousand years ago solely, or even chiefly, to our growing intellectual insight into scientific and technological problems, but at least as much, if not more, to a moral tradition of which both our innate instincts and our attempts at rational comprehension largely disapprove -- a tradition which was kept alive essentially by a faith in supernatural forces which science now teaches us is factually wrong.
The moral tradition to which Hayek alludes consists of boundary conditions or restraints on behavior that make possible "the extended order which we call civilization."
Conversely -- or inversely, rather -- socialists always ground their appeals in a kind of crude benevolence. Socialism "sounds" moral. Why does it always end in such horror?
The sad truth is that theoretical benevolence is compatible with any amount of practical indifference or even cruelty. You feel kindly towards others. That is what matters: your feelings. The effects of your benevolent feelings in the real world are secondary, or rather totally irrelevant. Rousseau was a philosopher of benevolence. So was Karl Marx. Yet everywhere that Marx’s ideas have been put into practice, the result has been universal immiseration. But his intention was the benevolent one of forging a more equitable society by abolishing private property and, to adopt a famous phrase from President Obama, by spreading the wealth around.
Combine abstract benevolence and limitless knowledge, and what do you have? Oh, Venezuela, or Cuba, or the Soviet Union, or California -- you all know the malignant roster.
What's the alternative?
"we are indebted for all the noblest exertions of human genius, for everything that distinguishes the civilised from the savage state,” to “the laws of property and marriage, and to the apparently narrow principle of self-interest which prompts each individual to exert himself in bettering his condition.”
"The apparently narrow principle of self-interest," mind you. Because it is precisely this apparent narrowing that opens us to something far surpassing itself.