knowledge, and why it is a legend

One of the effects of Greek thought on Christianity which we are still dealing with today is an excessive emphasis on what we know (in the sense of savoir, to know a thing; I am saying nothing against the rightful Christian emphasis on connaitre, to know a person) rather than what we do. It is connaitre of God which is really beneficial: knowing him personally; knowing him subjectively, the way in which you are, yourself, related to him; the role that he plays in your life; the history that he has with you; his degree of meaningfulness to you. Savoir is beneficial only insofar as it contributes to connaitre.It may be right and good to have an adult understanding of predestination, or holy baptism, and not a crude understanding, but if this knowledge does not lead to acts of commitment, it has not improved your relationship with God, and therefore has done nothing for the ultimate state of your soul. More importantly, not all acts which increase connaitre of God arise from savoir. In fact, just the opposite can be said: increasing connaitre requires that there be some limitation to savoir, for it is precisely that which you do not know which creates the possibility of trust. It is savoir to know that God is trustworthy; it is connaitre to trust him.
It is said that one is saved by faith, and that faith is believing what one has not seen. If this is so, then the central act of Christianity, the commitment of one’s life into the hands of God, must not be seen as essentially a belief, (though it may involve a belief,) but rather as a choice and a risk.
For as long as they have existed, human beings have been troubled by their persistent need to find meaning in their lives. When a person refers to the meaning of an event, they are typically thinking of the relationship between that event and the people who contributed to it; just as when they refer to the purpose of an object they are typically thinking of the relationship between that object and the person who intends to use it. So, first, let us examine the intuitive interpretation of man’s search for meaning- that he seeks to understand his relationship to himself and others. This description would fit if what we were troubled by was the meaning of our behavior. Then we could say that the question was this, “how does what I am and the circumstances in which I have found myself relate to what I do?” However, the language which is used to describe the problem is replete with references to existence. Why are we intent on isolating the most fundamental element of our experience for this question? Hume would say that existence is not even a meaningful concept, though this has consequences for his thought; upon analysis, empiricism turns out to be saying nothing except that certain impressions exist- and yet we have no impression of existence. One could ask for what purpose one intends to use existence, but it is unclear to what they would then be referring; existence is all that’s left when every specific thing of which one might make use has gone. This leads me to consider another option: that what we really mean is, “what is the meaning of life, as viewed from outside of itself?” That is a strange and paradoxical question; the source of meaning, namely, persons, is entirely contained within life. Is existence itself to be viewed from the outside? For some reason, it would seem that people want to question the most fundamental element of their experience, and search it for meaning.
If people insist on thinking in this way, then by definition any answer we propose will fall short. If we pointed to some specific thing which existed, it would be a part of existence, and therefore part of what was being questioned. If we pointed to some element of people’s lives, it too would be part of what was being questioned. To borrow words from Pratchett, if you went through the entire universe with a fine toothed comb, you would not find a single molecule of meaning.
Therefore we must conclude that what we are haunted by is a contradiction of the highest order, a desire to understand (or even correct) the relationship of one’s entire life  to some unspecified third party. This brings us at last to our central question, absurd as it may seem: are we haunted by a spook, a pattern of thought directed irrationally at absolutely nothing in a meaningless material world, or, more horrifically still, by an omen, incessantly delivering its message that all we think we know about reason is built on an insecure foundation?
While one may recoil reflexively from giving this position any credence, ‘after all’, you may say, ‘it is so obvious that the universe is deterministic and we have real knowledge of it that it requires no defense’, or perhaps ‘reason can hardly be disproved by reason’, or ‘it’s intrinsically useless to conclude that there is a fault in reason, truth, existence, or determinism, and the suggestion should be rejected out of hand’, all of these thoughts fall into the same troubling position of arguing that it is a spook and not an omen, not by any rational argument, but through an appeal to our comfort with preexisting assumptions, our inability to demonstrate specific contradictory things, or utility. The real problem underlying all of this is that if reason cannot be disproved by reason, maddeningly, it also cannot be defended by reason. We may accept it simply because we choose to, but we have absolutely no cause to say that we actually know it to be valid, and, even worse, therefore no cause to say anything else.
Descartes destroyed the universe in order to rebuild it; he dove down and came back up again. I dive down and do not come back up again. The attempt to doubt everything has been a perennial goal of philosophers, whether by putting on trial truth, determinism, or human reason. Someone who doubts determinism need not even doubt truth, because there could be a truth, and yet no determinism, and nothing would be known. Likewise, someone who doubts that human reason is fundamentally valid need not even doubt determinism, because there could be a determinism, and yet no reason, and nothing would be known. But I do not even need to doubt that human reason is fundamentally valid in order to say that nothing is known. I need only say, justifiably, that I am a fool. And so this is the standard against which I must judge everything: if I am a fool who knows nothing, does it stand? And immediately I see that if am a fool, there is no way that I can conclude whether or not I am a fool; and so, being as I am and not knowing whether or not I am a fool, there is no chance that I might draw a conclusion one way or the other- unless I already know whether or not I am a fool, no form of observation or deductive reason will allow me to extrapolate the answer. And since there is no way that I can say that I am not a fool, nothing stands.
The difficulty of the question “am I a fool?” is this. In order to conclude that I am not a fool, I must first assume that I am already known not to be a fool. And in order to conclude that I am a fool, I must first assume that, on the contrary, I am known not to be a fool. So it is impossible for me to say that I am a fool; and yet I have no reason to say that I am not one. The other question with the same logical form is, “this statement is either true or false.” In order to conclude that it is true, you must first assume that it is true. By saying that it is false, you contradict yourself. And so in examining the question, “am I a fool?” I have two choices: to say that I am not a fool, or to say nothing; to be subrational like an animal. (Though if I am operating on a baseless form of irrational action which I only perceive to be logic, this is the “correct” response.) I have no way of knowing which choice is more likely to be correct than the other. This poses no particular difficulty for action, as the first option is obviously superior, but it poses a fatal difficulty for objective knowledge, that is, for savoir.


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