I'm getting a little tired of talking about what we can't know. Let's talk about what we can. "To engage in philosophy," writes Pieper, "means to reflect on the totality of things we encounter, in view of their ultimate reasons."
Better yet, he references a comment made by Whitehead to the effect that "philosophy consists in the simple question, What is it all about?"
Agreed, but how shall we define "it all"? Well, for starters, we won't exclude half -- the most important half -- of the cosmos, which is to say, the experience of the cosmos.
Nor will we even call it "half," because this implies quantity and division where there is and can be none: experience is intrinsically simple, immaterial, and spiritual. It's the first thing we encounter, and some catastrophically influential people say we can never actually leave it.
But if that's true, it's false, so it violates what will be one of our few guiding principles, those principles without which we can't know anything, in this case, the principle of identity (or non-contradiction).
Four or five invulnerable philosophical propositions allow us to make fun of the rest (Dávila).
In short, any version of idealism is an ontological and epistemological nonstarter, for you can't at once deny access to reality and call it truth, let alone THE truth. If that's the case, to hell with truth. Rather, truth is the conformity of the intellect to reality, precisely. If truth is conformity of the intellect to non-being, then lies are true, which is how you end up being a leftist.
Speaking of ontology and epistemology -- or what is and how we can know it -- this is precisely where we begin: with the intelligibility of being: being is, and we can know it, which is as miraculous as that first miracle alluded to above, the miracle of subjectivity.
Once upon a time, at the beginning of the book of the same name, I asked the question -- the same question anyone anywhere anytime must ask -- "Where in the world do we begin?"
Of course we should start our inquiry with the "facts," but what exactly is a fact? Which end is up? In other words, do we start with the objects of thought or the subject who apprehends them? And just what is the relationship between apparently "external" objects and the consciousness that is able to cognize them? Indeed, any fact we consider presupposes a subject who has selected the fact in question out of an infinite sea of possibilities, so any conceivable fact arises simultaneously with a subjective cocreator of that fact, Inevitably we are led to the conclusion that the universe is one substance. But what kind of substance? That seems to be the question.
Those are all good questions for someone who didn't know what he was talking about and was trying to find out by writing a book. This was also well before I knew anything about Thomism or the perennial philosophy, except in bits and pieces. You could say I was trying to reinvent -- or rediscover -- the cosmos.
Anyway, it turns out that being and knowing are intimately related. This is lucky for us, because otherwise what we know has no necessary relationship to what is, and we are plunged into a world of darkness and tenure. It reminds me of a wise crack by Schuon:
Existentialism has achieved the tour de force or the monstrous contortion of representing the commonest stupidity as intelligence and disguising it as philosophy, and of holding intelligence up to ridicule, that of all intelligent men of all times.
.... [A]nd if it be original to elevate error into truth, vice into virtue and evil into good the same may be said of representing stupidity as intelligence and vice versa.... All down the ages to philosophize was to think; it has been reserved to the twentieth century not to think and to make a philosophy of it.
To claim that knowledge as such could only be relative amounts to saying that human ignorance is absolute.
The question is, why would you want to enclose yourself in a permanent and ineradicable stupidity, and call it philosophy? How is that loving wisdom?
Which is also a fine place to begin: with loving wisdom, even though it sounds sentimental or inexact. But this is where Plato begins and ends -- which is perhaps why Whitehead made the claim that all of western philosophy is but a series of footnotes on him.
To love wisdom embodies a number of implicit claims, i.e., that there is a type of knowledge that surpasses the always-changing appearances, which we can lovingly pursue but never possess.
Not to re-belabor the principle, but I think this even goes to the ontological miscue of Genesis 3, whereby man presumes to possess wisdom instead of being lovingly conformed to it. The Bible tells us that Sophia-Wisdom was there with God before the creation of the world. Therefore, we cannot know it in the usual sense, since we are in time and wisdom is timeless. Nevertheless, we can forge a loving relationship with it, through which various graces flow.
What do you mean, "loving relationship?" Well, this is simultaneously easy and difficult; easy because all you have to do is be disinterested, dispassionate, and egoless, and difficult for the same reasons. Schuon:
The paradox of the human condition is that nothing is so contrary to us as the requirement to transcend ourselves, and nothing so fundamentally ourselves as the essence of this requirement, or the fruit of this transcending.
As my dad often used to tell me, Don't be an idiot. That's also a surprisingly good place to begin.