Tuesday, June 01, 2021

Vive la Différence

Or not. In any case, there is a fundamental difference between esoteric and exoteric approaches to the ultimate knowledge, or knowledge of the Ultimate. First, the latter: St. Thomas 

does not admit that an a priori proof of God's existence can be given. He grants indeed that the proposition, God exists, is in itself self-evident, and would therefore be self-evident to us if we had a priori face-to-face knowledge of God (Garrigou-Lagrange).

However, for Thomas "we have no such a priori knowledge." Rather, we must "begin with a nominal definition of God, conceiving him only confusedly, as the first source of all that is real and good in the world." 

As with everything else, we must start at the far end -- in concrete sense experiences -- and subsequently determine whether they "necessitate the actual objective existence of a First Cause" corresponding to our nominal definition of God.

Now, in my opinion, one can work from the senses up to God or from God on down; moreover, I would say that the two approaches are complementary, or in an eternal dialectic. And it is precisely the God-on-down vs. senses-on-up approach that goes to the esoteric-exoteric distinction. I suspect, anyway.

Vis-a-vis the esoteric approach, Laude explains that, in contrast to Thomas, its epistemology isn't a posteriori but a priori: it

sees the act of understanding as presupposing a prior knowledge of the object that is understood, whereas concepts and terms are only occasional means of actualization.

It reminds me of how, just because we have a word for something, it doesn't mean we have any idea what that something is. It's easy enough to prove God exists, but what is God -- besides your own circular conceptual definition? How do we get from the abstract knowledge to the concrete experience -- or as symbolized in the book, from (k) to (n)?

one can only know that which one already knows, often without knowing that one knows it. It follows from the premise of this epistemology that understanding does not, and cannot, depend upon a literal grasp of conceptual terms (Laude).

An analogy. Suppose one wants to prove the existence of music, beginning with sensory experience, i.e., with air vibrations striking the ear drum. While there is a continuity between this and the experience of music, music cannot be reduced to mere sensory stimulation. Rather, it will only be an abstract conception exterior to the realm of music unless and until the music is actually heard; and it isn't heard by adding the discrete sensations together. Rather, the musical composition is prior to our sensory experience of it. 

Same with the divine. Some people just can't hear it, even though their ears are in perfect working order. This is why, for example, I don't respond to the intelligent design people. They're like someone trying to prove the existence of music by looking at how the notes appear to be organized. To say that the cosmos reflects "intelligent design" is simultaneously redundant and insufficient. 

Rather, it is enough to say that intelligence exists, because intelligence participates in the truth it knows; it is the substance of truth, otherwise it would again be purely conceptual and exterior to what it knows. Not only does the soul become what it knows, but it must already be what it knows (in potential), or it could never possess real knowledge. 

This conundrum is solved if we just acknowledge that intelligence and intelligibility are complementary reflections of the one divine substance. Intelligence doesn't just know truth, but participates in it a priori.