Friday, May 08, 2020

God Can't be Known; Rather He is Only Infinitely Knowable

Most things we seek to obtain are for the sake of something else: for example, we eat in order to survive. But why do we want to survive? I don't know. Must be for its own sake. It's like happiness that way; no one ever asks himself why on earth he wishes to be happy. Rather, happiness (in the Aristoteleological sense) is the point of it all.

Now, anything below the realm of metaphysics -- you'll excuse me, but I'm thinking this through for the first time -- must be for the sake of something else. For example, right now I'm typing. Why? Don't laugh, but I can't think of any other reason but to seek and communicate wisdom. Okay. Why do that? I don't know. Must be for its own sake.

It's certainly not for any of the usual suspects: money, fame, power, status, the fine Colombian, the Cuervo Gold, etc.

In an essay called Mystery and Philosophy, Pieper makes the subtle point that

wisdom cannot be the property of man for the very reason that it is sought after for its own sake; what we can fully possess cannot satisfy us as something sought after for its own sake; the only wisdom that is sought after for its own sake is the kind that man is not able to have as a possession.

In short, -- in reference to why I'm doing this -- I am seeking something I can never possess, and trying to communicate something I don't have. There's a name for that: a fool's errand, or wild nous chase.

"Philosophical questioning," writes Pieper, "aims at comprehending, at ultimate knowledge." However,

not only do we not possess such knowledge, but we are even, on principle, incapable of possessing it, and therefore we will also not possess it in the future.

Okay then. We've never had it, we don't have it, and we'll never get it. Anything else before we wrap this up? Have we learned nothing in 15 years of blogging? What were we hoping to find, anyway? And how can such a vacuous exercise result in so much writing about it? That's a lot of posts, but 3,423 x 0 is still 0.

Yes, but O is not 0. Big Infinite difference!

Imagine if we could gather together all the poets, painters, and musicians, and tell them, "look, you've been at this for 50,000 years, but I don't see that you're any closer to possessing Beauty. Now, go out there and bring back Beauty once and for all!"

Ah, but the pursuit of beauty is another one of those activities that is for its own sake. What Pieper says of wisdom can be equally applied to it: beauty sought after for its own sake can never be possessed. One can try, but it is a sort of category error, for it is nothing less than the attempt to contain infinitude wihin finitude (or transcendence in immanence).

Of which I am guilty, with an explanation, or at least rationalization. I am an audiophile and collector, or, if you want to cut to the chase, you could say that I don't have a hobby, rather, my hobby has me. Well, first of all, a man needs a hobby. Second, I see what I'm doing. I see right through myself -- occasionally -- so a I don't pretend it has any end, or that I can cure the habit by indulging in it. I'll never have everything I want, if only because I want to want. It's pretty harmless, at least compared to cocaine.

As is the blog. It also goes nowhere, with no hope of ever arriving there. If a final Answer were attainable, this would imply that

the thing is known to the full extent that it is knowable in itself. In other words: the adequate answer to the philosophical question would have to be an answer which exhausts the subject, a statement in which the knowability of the object in question is exhausted to such an extent that nothing purely knowable remains but only the known (Pieper).

In the end, O = O. But we are not O. This is why God can never be known: because he is only infinitely knowable.

Thus the claim to have found the "formula of the world" is without hesitation to be called unphilosophical. It is of the essence of philosophy that it cannot be a "closed system" -- "closed" in the sense that the essential reality of the world could be adequately mirrored in it....

The deeper one's positive knowledge of the structure of the world the more one becomes clear that reality is a mystery. The reason for inexhaustibility is that the world is creature, i.e., that it has its origin in God's incomprehensible, creative knowledge (ibid.).

Simultaneously clear and obscure; Joyce called it clearobscure, a pun on the intermingling of shadow and light in chiarascuro (clear-dark). So I hope that was sufficiently obscure. I sometimes have a tendency to be too clear.

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

Is There Such a Thing as a Non-Christian Philosophy?

Don't look at me. That's the title of an essay by by Josef Pieper. Is he serious? Or just trolling?

Well, supposing one is a Christian, then there obviously can be no non-Christian philosophy, for what is a philosophy that excludes the most important facts and principles of existence? That's not philosophy, rather, the opposite: love of ignorance. It is also idolatry.

A genuine philosophy must begin with an acknowledgment of its own impossibility -- or in other words, that we are not God. Otherwise, one is essentially claiming that "There is no God, and I am him." But if there is no God, then only he could know it, for it requires godlike vision to make such a categorical claim.

"Philosophizing," writes Pieper, "means asking what is the meaning of all that we call 'life' or 'reality' or simply this 'totality.'" And if you imagine you're actually capable of fully comprehending the meaning of life-reality-totality, then -- well, you're not God, but you certainly think you are.

Which is a real danger. It is a danger because the only possible stance toward infinite reality is a humble openness that can never be fulfilled from side of finitude. We can only form a loving relationship with the object of philosophy.

Only? Only?! What a dangerous and dismissive little word! You're telling me we can only form a dynamic and fruitful relationship with the living ground of being? I'll take it.

What's the alternative? Only idolatry.

I suppose philosophy was ruined when it became a mere academic discipline. A degree in mathematics or engineering is one thing, but to be a credentialed philosopher is to not know what philosophy is. Or, a person who is only a philosopher isn't even that. Likewise an "academic theologian," because one cannot think about God without thinking in -- or better, with -- God. There can be no such thing as "impersonal" theology, any more than there could exist an "impersonal psychology" or "empirical logic."


a person cannot be called wise, but at most he can be called one who lovingly seeks wisdom.... The essential philosophical question is about the search for a wisdom which -- in principle -- we can never "have" as a possession as long as we are in our present condition of bodily existence.

So, the first philosophical question is whether philosophy is even possible. Yes, so long as it is understood as loving-relation as opposed to a one-sided possession. The latter is strictly impossible. Crowning it with a PhD is like covering a dungheap with snow (to borrow an analogy from Martin Luther which he used in a very different context).

Even God doesn't "possess" wisdom; or at least he is never possessive, in that he -- literally -- never stops giving it away. According to Christian metaphysics, the very essence of God is the loving generation of wisdom in the Son; there is nothing prior to this inspiraling dance of perichoresis or circumincession. In a roundabout way, God is only the perpetual gift of wisdom.

Which is only the whole point. Or at least a Big Hint. In America on Trial: A Defense of the Founding, Reilly quotes Justin Martyr:

The Logos is the preexistent, absolute, personal Reason and Christ is the embodiment of it, the Logos incarnate. Whatever is rational is Christian. And whatever is Christian is rational.

Which answers the question posed in the title of this post. "Christianity," says Reilly, "contains an invitation to reason because God's rationality guarantees reason's integrity." For backup, he calls in James Schall, who writes that "What is revealed does not demand the denial of intellect, but fosters it."

For "If God is Logos, reason and revelation are not at an impasse." And any so-called philosophy "that a priori excludes the possibility of revelation is a philosophy that is not true to itself. On its own terms, philosophy must remain open to revelation" (Reilly).

Me? I think the philosophizing intellect is already a revelation. You might say it is the "first revelation," in that it is a necessary condition to receive the others. No intellect, no problem. But with intellect, life is an endless problem.

If you want to see it that way. Instead of problem, I would say mystery-adventure-love story. If that's not the form of your life, then you do indeed have a problem. But only a problem.

Monday, May 04, 2020

Whaddya Know?

I mean really. What do we know? What can we know with absolute certitude?

Hmm. The title of this post smells familiar. Haven't we belabored this point before?

Yes. It's been eight years though, and perhaps in the meantime human nature has undergone a fundamental change, such that there are permanent truths we can know today that we couldn't know then. I'd better skim the post. You needn't bother -- if I find anything worthwhile, I'll drag it up. Be right back...

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 of 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.

Right. You can't know a little bit about the unknowable -- even that it's unknowable. I mean, that's a yuge claim. And more than a little presumptuous, for it is saying a great deal to say that ultimate truth consists in not knowing it. Well, you may be lost at sea, but that doesn't prove dry land doesn't exist, does it?

Our dry land consists of self-evident truths. How do we know when we've found one? I would say when denial of it entails absurd or monstrous consequences. It reminds me of something Chesterton said of the "thought that stops thought. That is the only thought that ought to be stopped."

One such thought is that our thoughts do not disclose reality and that truth is therefore inaccessible to human beings: come for the absurdity, stay for the monstrosity. Literally, because once you enter such an epistemological hellworld, there is no rational exit: mandatory stupidity, no exceptions.

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?

Speaking of boiling things down further... I'm tempted to go off on an important tangent that would derail this post. I'll try to be brief. I'm reading an interesting book called America on Trial: A Defense of the Founding, in which the author doesn't just trace the intellectual roots of the founding, but drills all the way down to the very foundation of the cosmos, similar (but different) to what we do around here.

Who else uses "cosmos" and "America" in the same sentence? Well, the founders did so implicitly in justifying our existence on the basis of its conformity with the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God. This makes their efforts "cosmic in scope. It is a drama across time" (Arnn, in Reilly). It is transhistorical before it is historical, because it begins at the end: with universal truths and immutable human nature.

Speaking of beginnings,

"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" (Maritain)....

Let us stipulate that man may know. But what does this mean, to know? What is happening 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."

And with that we're back to where this post started, in an essay by Josef Pieper called On the Desire for Certainty.

Certainty is good. But is there something better -- or at least prior to it? Yes. Call it trust. Or faith. One way or the other(s), there's no way to avoid this leap. Of course, faith in oneself is wholly unwarranted, but nor is faith in God warranted if we can't trust our faith in his faith in us. It's a spiral, or spiration.

I suppose the bottom line for today is that either we are enclosed in the circle or there is an exit from it. The rest is commentary, more than half of which is absurd. And eventually monstrous.

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