Thursday, June 12, 2014

On Having a Distant Relationship to Truth

Why do we want to know what we don't know -- and maybe even can't know -- anyway? Why don't we mind our own isness, as do other animals? Dogs don't want to know what it's like on the moon, any more than liberals want to know what it's like to be curious.

Yet, this impulse truly defines the normal human being, doesn't it? It is what perpetually pushes us beyond ourselves to look for the Answer we know we can never fully attain. This is no less true of the (intellectually honest) atheist than it is of the theist, except the latter is fully conscious of the fact that the goal cannot be reached in this life, and he's cool with that.

If he is a little more conscious, he realizes that it is only because it can't be reached that the search can take place at all -- similar to Thomas's idea that it is only because things are not ultimately knowable that they are knowable at all. (In short, the reason things are intelligible is that they are created; the reason they are not ultimately knowable is that we aren't their Creator.)

It has a name: Meno's Paradox. But this is a True Orthoparadox, as true as they come. In other words, in its way, it is an Ultimate Answer, or at least a boundary beyond which the mind cannot venture. It cannot be "resolved" in thought because it is one of the bases of thought.

Here is how Socrates phrases the paradox: "A man cannot search either for what he knows or for what he does not know. He cannot search for what he knows -- since he knows it, there is no need to search -- nor for what he does not know, for he does not know what to look for."

Socrates tries to resolve the paradox via a theory of vertical recollection, which is adequate as far as it goes, but it still doesn't explain our ignorance or our drive to know. Why are we in this cosmic situation?

Pabst agrees with Bob that our "natural desire for the supernatural good discloses the divinely infused self-transcendence of all things." So, first of all, we must begin with the principle that man is the microcosm, or in the image and likeness of the Creator. What does the Creator do?

Well, for starters -- IMHO -- he is in a perpetual state of ecstatic self-emptying, or kenosis. This emptying has its human analog in the form of not-knowing, or of the emptiness that precedes any act of knowing.

It also has its analog in human relations, in that only by giving love do we receive love. The person who is "full of himself" -- the narcissist -- can neither give nor receive love, because he is already "complete" (in a pseudo manner, of course, i.e., a kind of aping of the completeness of God).

"Divine goodness is that which endows us with the natural desire for the supernatural Good in God" (ibid.). Thus, our innate epistemophilia isn't really natural at all. Nor is it unnatural or anti-natural. Rather, it is always supernatural, or to express it with a less loaded term, transnatural.

It is also a prolongation of childhood, or neoteny. Other animals play, but pretty much only as babies. In fact, play for most animals is a kind of rehearsal for adulthood -- for example, in the way kittens practice stalking and attacking one another. Such play has a clear telos, or instinctual end, that is hardwired into the genes (and/or in a nonlocal morphic field).

But human learning-play has no end -- not chronologically, ontologically, developmentally, or epistemologically. Or, it has an end, but again, this is not like an animal end, since it can never be reached. There is no fixed and final form, because we can never stop learning unless something has gone wrong. If a man does reach an end, it is almost by definition a pathological state. You might say that we cannot reach the end because we may search for it (and vice versa).

To reach the end -- whether via ideology or just laziness -- is pathological for reasons alluded to in that little quote in the comment box: "The quest, thus, has no external 'object,' but is reality itself becoming luminous for its movement from the ineffable, through the Cosmos, to the ineffable."

We mean this quite literally. Again, the existence of this spiroid movement is itself an answer beyond which there can be no more adequate one, because it represents the actualization or prolongation of intelligibility in concert with the deepening of intelligence.

Thus, reality "reaches out" to us, even as we reach in, which means that reality is intrinsically relational, and it is ultimately relational because God is irreducibly so. There is no atom, no fact, no datum, no theory, no answer answer beneath or beyond eternally orthoparadoxical relationality.

To not be puzzled by such a queer state of affairs is to have a queerly defective puzzler.

13 Comments:

Blogger julie said...

But human learning-play has no end -- not chronologically, ontologically, developmentally, or epistemologically.

Never fear, Common Core will fix that...

6/12/2014 09:33:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Well, for starters -- IMHO -- he is in a perpetual state of ecstatic self-emptying, or kenosis.

The Incarnation and the Cross is a culmination, but it also a point of acceleration.

The Holy Spirit was "poured out" -- in John 7, it says the Spirit was not yet given because Jesus was not yet glorified.

6/12/2014 12:14:00 PM  
Blogger John Lien said...

In short, the reason things are intelligible is that they are created; the reason they are not ultimately knowable is that we aren't their Creator

The first part of that statement used to puzzle me. Then I remembered I used to say to myself when looking at an engine or piece of machinery, "I can figure this out. It was made by humans and they had good reasons for doing what they did."

So, using that realization on the horizontal level I figured it must apply vertically as well.

6/12/2014 01:29:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

"I can figure this out. It was made by humans and they had good reasons for doing what they did."

British automotive electrical systems might be an exception.

Wait, you said made by humans. Never mind.

6/12/2014 01:49:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

The intellect can only extract truth or knowledge out of something that has truth in it. Which is why it is impossible to argue with a liberal.

6/12/2014 02:15:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Relativism is the simply the doctrine that there is no truth in things.

6/12/2014 02:16:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Although this morning I was thinking to myself that I am a relativist, in that I believe all knowledge is relative to the absolute. I suppose liberals must believe that everything is relative to relativity.

6/12/2014 02:19:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Which makes them absolutists....

6/12/2014 02:19:00 PM  
Blogger ted said...

I guess I can only search for what I know I don't know...and that is endless. It also interesting when we consider man's teleological ends which can never be reached. Man's end is no dead end (with the exception of a few buffoons).

6/12/2014 02:19:00 PM  
Blogger ted said...

Which makes them absolutists...

Ah yes, that is what Habermas called the performative contradiction. Saying everything relative is taking a stand somewhere that is not relative.

6/12/2014 02:22:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

The other day I read an unintentionally funny editorial by Professor Kato Kaelin, who inadvertently utters the following postmodern koan:

"Perception is reality, and unfortunately, the media don't always get it right."

Reminds me of the one that made the evil computer explode on an old Star Trek episode.

6/12/2014 02:25:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Ha. He's still around?

Re. searching, I find just as often that's it's useful to simply try to observe what is there, maybe even particularly if I'm looking for a something-in-particular; often, the object sought is there in front of us, but we are so busy looking past it that we don't see it at all.

6/12/2014 02:26:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Speaking of evil computers and what is there, I just paged over to Amazon looking for who knows what, only to discover that Prime now does music.

Those bastards.

6/12/2014 04:32:00 PM  

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