Sunday, January 04, 2009

Epiphany

Today is officially the feast day of the Epiphany, though it's not really the traditional Epiphany day, and it is a turning point -- bringing our holidays to a close and starting us back to our ordinary lives.

Next Week:
  • Sean will return to school
  • Liam has one more week at home, but he will probably be busy -- programming to do, thesis to write, book to read.
  • We will return to homeschooling, probably transitioning back in slowly.
  • I'll be cleaning the house, which needs it.
Today and tomorrow I am going to make some sort of start simply by picking up things that are out of place and restoring them to their places. This usually works to get me re-engaged with how the house works. Putting away the baskets of folded laundry might help, too. And I will start putting away the Christmas decorations, which is always a bit sorrowful.

Today I hope to:

  • Play Robo-Rally with the boys.
  • Make pizza.
  • Keep the fire going.
  • Finish Kant and the Nineteenth Century (I have typed this enough times so that it sounds like a rock band name).
  • Keep an eye on Aidan (he seemed to have a partial seizure this morning -- he has these very infrequently, about twice a year. I am never QUITE sure it is indeed a seizure, but he used to have scary full-blown ones, usually entailing an ambulance trip and sometimes a respirator. These ones look like the very beginnings of the old complete seizures -- he gags, gets disoriented and starts repeating the same sentence over and over -- but he pulls back out of them himself whereas he used to go into grand mal. We'll take the improvement! But anyway, he seems totally back to normal and is laughing up a storm and "buzzing" -- his word for bugging-- his dad and siblings).
I am up to Charles Peirce and William James in the philosophy book. Pierce is said to be a "realist" in that he did believe in objective reality, not just subjective perceptions. He rejected Descartes' approach and went back to the notion of metaphysics as "scientia generalis".

'The business of metaphysics is to study the most general features of reality and real objects."
Peirce and James were Pragmatists, of which school the Catholic Encyclopedia says:

Knowledge begins with sense-impressions. At this point the Pragmatist falls into his initial error, an error, however, of which the idealistic Intellectualist is also guilty. What we are aware of, say both the Pragmatist and the Idealist, is not a thing, or a quality of an object, but the state of self, the subjective condition, the "sensation of whiteness", the "sensation of sweetness" etc. This error, fatal as it is, need not detain us here, because, as has been said, it is common to Idealists and Pragmatists. It is, in fact, the luck-less Cartesian legacy to all modern systems.
St. Thomas says:

Cognition is brought about by the presence of the known object in the knowing mind. But the object is in the knower after the fashion of the knower. Hence, for any knower, knowledge is after the fashion of his own nature (Summa theol., I, Q. xii, a. 4).
So acknowledging that perception is filtered through the subjective, does not necessarily mean that reality proceeds from the subject.

But starting with the subject and his reasoning or experiential process ends up casting radical doubt on even that much. This is the legacy. Nietzsche wrote about a man biting off a snake's head and springing up victorious. But in fact, I think the snake bites the man's head off, and the man seems to feel better without his head troubling him any longer.

(sigh)

To try to wrap this up a bit, if you look at the etymology of epiphany as Greek meaning "to manifest" or "to show" and consider that "ancient Liturgies speak of Illuminatio, Manifestatio, Declaratio" -- all these terms speak of a relationship between something that can be known, and the potential knower (and in these terms, of course, a communicator is also implied -- in one case the communication is by means of lighting the darkness, in one it is a primarily visual appearance, in one it is an auditory telling).

In other words there is no proceeding from the mind of the knower. Rather, the reality is proceeding *from* the outside and by some conveyance process making it possible for the subject, the individual, to know. Empirical reality is conveyed through the senses, but we have knowledge that is not understood directly through the senses. Even empiricists trust in processes that do not derive strictly from phenomena and our perceptions of them. Peirce, who was trying to reclaim this traditional understanding -- he thought of himself as philosophically in the tradition of the Scholastics, though his philosophy differed from theirs as I am understanding it -- saw it as necessary to reclaim metaphysics as well.

I think that is where my thought process as a teenager probably diverged from Descartes' and his followers in Western philosophy. ... though I still get muddled with the details of the western philosophy. But anyway, what I was trying to think through was not a fundamental skepticism but a way of increasing certitude by disallowing alternatives or doubts.

The Catholic Encyclopedia article on knowledge expresses it this way:

Truth and certitude are conditions of knowledge. A man may mistake error for truth and give his unreserved assent to a false statement. He may then be under the irresistible illusion that he knows, and subjectively the process is the same as that of knowledge; but an essential condition is lacking, namely, conformity of thought with reality, so that there we have only the appearance of knowledge. On the other hand, as long as any serious doubt remains in his mind, a man cannot say that he knows. "I think so" is far from meaning "I know it is so"; knowledge is not mere opinion or probable assent.
It goes on to say more about the standings of belief and faith as related to knowledge, which is interesting, but doesn't quite relate to the thread of thought here.

But back to epiphany -- as a Truth to be known, revealed or manifested to the knower. There is still a personal aspect there, but the Thing that is to be Known in no way depends on whether the individual actually DOES know it. I think that was always a given in my mind as much as the First Cause, so the way my mental process worked, if I could show myself that my consciousness was not a hallucination and that it did not come from itself, then I could eliminate the problem of subjectivism from my thinking and avoid that loop of self-referentialism.

Hmm, that makes a bit of sense to me, though I don't know if it is expressed well enough to make sense to anyone besides myself.

Anyway, a blessed feast day to all!

2 comments:

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danial said...

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