Jacques Maritain Center : The Range of Reason

Part I: Human Knowledge and Metaphysics

Chapter One

ON HUMAN KNOWLEDGE

THE sorrows and hopes of our time undoubtedly stem from material causes, economic and technical factors which play an essential role in the course of human history, but even more profoundly they stem from the ideas, the drama in which the spirit is involved, the invisible forces which arise and develop in our minds hearts. History is not a mechanical unfolding of events into the midst of which man is simply placed like a stranger. Human history is human in its very essence; it is the history of our own being, of miserable flesh, subject to all the servitudes imposed by nature and by its own weakness, which is, however, inhabited and enlightened by the spirit and endowed with the dangerous privilege of freedom. Nothing is more important than the events which occur within that invisible universe which is the mind of man. And the light of that universe is knowledge. If we are concerned with the future of civilization we must be concerned primarily with a genuine understanding of what knowledge is, its value, its degrees, and how it can foster the inner unity of the human being.

I should like to discuss briefly two basic questions: the intrinsic diversity of human knowledge, and the inner value or the nature of knowledge -- I mean knowledge which is rational and speculative, philosophical and scientific. Afterwards, it will be necessary to say a word about an entirely different type of knowledge, which is often neglected by the philosophers, but which plays an essential role in culture -- poetic knowledge, the knowledge peculiar to the artist as such.

 

I. SCIENCE AND PHILOSOPHY

The first question deals with the dispute between science and philosophy. We are emerging from a positivistic period during the science of phenomena was regarded as the only valid knowledge, the only one worthy of man. This was the upshot of a long history which began with Descartes' denial that theology could exist as a science, and continued with Kant's denial that metaphysics could exist as a science. We may say that, despite a number of remnants, or fossils, this positivistic period is over. Since the beginning of the century, philosophers like Bergson, or Whitehead, or the German phenomenologists, have set out to prove that besides scientific knowledge there is room for another field of knowledge, where philosophy, using its own instruments, is capable of grasping the innermost nature of reality, and the absolute.

On the other hand, the theorists of science and of its own particular logic -- in France, especially Meyerson -- have shown that the scientist, regardless of what his philosophical opinions or his prejudices and this theoretical allegiance to positivism might otherwise be, practices, in reality, if one observes not what he says but what he does, a logic which has nothing to do with the old classical positivistic framework.

Finally scientists themselves, especially since the time known as the crisis of modern physics -- a crisis arising from growth -- have been in a rather troubled and divided state of mind. Some cling to the idea that the only object capable of giving rise to an exact and demonstrable knowledge is that which is sense-perceivable and can be subjected to methods of experimental and mathematical analysis, and they continue to exclude philosophy or to regard it as a sort of mythology which is only fit to satisfy emotional needs. Other scientists, at the same time, led by their science itself to discover, in the mysterious universe of nature and man, problems which go beyond the mathematical analysis of sensory phenomena and to reject most decidedly both the mechanistic conception of the world and the prohibitions enacted by the positivistic discipline, have not hesitated to recognize the existence and the central importance of philosophical problems. I am thinking of physicists like Jeans, Eddington, Arthur Compton, Schrödinger, of mathematicians like Hermann Weyl or Gonseth, of biologists like Driesch, Vialleton, Buytendijck, Cuénot, Rémy Collin, W. R. Thompson, Lecomte du Noüy, Alberto-Carlo Blanc.

But it is not sufficient merely to get clear of the positivistic state of mind. Our intellect requires a constructive and genuinely philosophical solution. The task confronting us today is to find that solution. On the one hand, it is to be noted that Bergson, in conceiving of metaphysics as a sort of extension of science, or rather as a sort of probing into the intelligible universe of science itself, came ultimately to an irrational philosophy of pure movement. On the other hand, it can be said that most of the great contemporary physicists who turn to philosophical problems are still seeking a solution to these problems in a sort of extension or extrapolation of the very methods of their science without recognizing clearly that philosophy is concerned with an objectively distinct field of knowledge and constitutes a really autonomous discipline, possessing its own adequate means of exploring this field of knowledge. Thence arise many logical weaknesses, confusions or arbitrary assertions in the philosophical or rather philosophico-scientific investigations conducted by these inquirers. The problem before us is, therefore, to find a principle of differentiation clear enough to permit the justification of both scientific knowledge and philosophical knowledge, and to purify both at the same time by making each more perfectly conscious of its own truth.

The works of a school whose philosophical views are unfortunately very inadequate, but which has subjected the logic of science to a very scrupulous analysis, can help us in this quest. I allude here to the School of Vienna and to its "logical empiricism" or "logical positivism." The most important result of the works of the School of Vienna is, in my opinion, that it has shown in a decisive way that the assertions which have meaning for the scientist are not concerned with the substance of things, the nature or the essence of what is, but only with the connections that a good Dictionary or Syntax of Signs enables us to establish between the designations or symbols we elaborate, with regard to mathematically interpreted experience, from the data gathered by our senses and particularly by our instruments of observation and measurement. In this sense, science, in the modern acceptation of the word, deals only with the realm of what is sense-perceivable, that is, reached through our means of observation and measurement. And yet, because in physics, which is modern science in its purest form, all these data are translated into mathematical symbols; and because in microphysics such data escape the perception of our human sense organs; and because the world built by theoretical physics escapes all possible representation offered to our imagination, we may say, in another sense, that science goes beyond sense, and imagination. Its realm is a paradoxical realm of the supra-imaginable. For all that, it does not tend to being in itself, but to a symbolical meta-morphic or meta-sensory grasping of the observable and measurable. That is why I think that a neologism like "empiriological" is the most appropriate word to designate this kind of knowledge.

A scientific definition does not tell us what a thing is, but only in what way we can agree on the observations and measurements we have taken from nature, so as to get a knowledge, not of the essence of that thing, but merely of the manner in which the signs which refer to its impact on experience and to the modes of verification grouped under its name, can give rise to a coherent language. If I say "matter," to the physicist this word does not denote a substance or a substantial principle whose nature he tried to reveal to us. It merely denotes a system of mathematical symbols built by microphysics upon an immense body of data of observation and measurement, which are furthermore subject to continual revision.

Let us note that it follows that a statement such as I am, or, I love my country, or, Plato was a great philosopher, or questions like Is man endowed with free will? or, Does our intellect attain reality? or, Does the human being possess rights? have no meaning for the scientist, because, to have a scientific meaning, a statement must express a stable relationship between designations which can ultimately be reduced to a certain class of sensory perceptions, and the terms contained in those statements are not such designations.

The crucial error of the School of Vienna has been to assume as self- evident that whatever has no meaning for the scientist has no meaning at all. In this respect logical positivism remains under the yoke of positivistic prejudices. But, as to science itself and its logical structure, and what has a meaning for the scientist as such, the analysis of the School of Vienna is, I believe, generally accurate and well-founded.

We are thus rid, at one stroke, of many forms of pseudometaphysics -- materialism, mechanism, psychophysical parallelism, universal determinism -- which were parasites of science while claiming to be part of it. The rigorous logical purification that the theorists of the School of Vienna impose upon our concept of science makes us aware of the noetic ideal to which science tends, and at the same time of the well-defined field in which science works and which is not that of the knowledge of being.

But is it possible that this other field of knowledge, the field of the knowledge of being, is beyond the reach of the human intellect and under no circumstances has any meaning for it? Is not the idea of being the matrix of all our ideas, the first and universal instrument of intelligence, so that even for strictly deontologized knowledge, such as scientific knowledge in its pure form, the signs and symbols it elaborates can only be grasped and manipulated by the intellect in the form of second-hand entities or second-hand beings -- entia rationis -- that scientific knowledge itself creates?

On the other hand -- and this is what the School of Vienna does not see and what Meyerson saw admirably -- science itself, even when it sets out to eliminate from its own structure the consideration of being and essences, is quickened by an unsatiated desire, by a thirst to attain the real and by an admirable eagerness always to be commanded by it. This happens in such a way that the inner being of things, situated outside of science's own sphere, remains for science a great and fertile unknown from which science draws the observations and measurements that it accumulates endlessly, and on which it bases the signs and symbols which serve to weave between these observations and measurements a coherent fabric of deductions, and thus to master nature.

Moreover, the reflective philosophy of the logicians of science, which deals with the work of knowledge achieved by our minds, disproves by its very existence the theory which claims that the meaning of a judgment, its intelligible content, never presents the mind with anything but the experimental procedures, the ways and means of observation and measurement by which that judgment is verified. While this theory holds true for the judgments of science, the judgments made by the philosophy of science, on the contrary, do not furnish the intelligence with the procedures of observation and measurement by which they are verified; they tell the mind what the nature of science is and what the ways of knowing are.

Finally, it is not possible that the intellect, which reflectively knows and judges itself as well as the nature of science, is unable to enter by its own power into the workings of knowledge, that is, to see into the nature of things. The intellect cannot be condemned always to remain outside of those workings, in the capacity of a mere witness and regulator of the senses, as occurs in the science of phenomena. There must be a science, a knowledge, where the intellect, with the exigencies peculiar to it, may engage in the inside task, within the workings of knowledge, and where it may develop freely its most profound aspirations, the aspirations of the intellect as intellect. Such a knowledge directly concerns the being of things intelligibly grasped, it is philosophical and metaphysical knowledge.

Thus we know how the correct division should be made between scope of science and that of philosophy, and thus we have the principle of differentiation that we were seeking. It is necessary to recognize two essentially distinct ways of analyzing the world of sense-perceivable reality and of building the concepts required for this. The first way is by a non-ontological analysis, an "empiriological" analysis of the real. This is the scope of scientific knowledge. The second way is by an ontological analysis of the real. This is the scope of philosophical knowledge. Let us say it is the scope of that science which is also wisdom, for, in the last analysis, sapiential knowledge, the knowledge that is wisdom, is that which in one way or another reveals to us the very being of things. Wisdom is a savory knowledge; phenomena have no savor, but being is for the intellect a fruit whose taste captivates it. Science resolves its concepts and its definitions in the observable and the measurable as such. Philosophy resolves its concepts and its definitions in the intelligible being.

This solution of the dispute between science and philosophy assumes that in order to master becoming and the flux of phenomena, science works, so to speak, against the grain of the natural tendencies of the intellect, and uses, as its own instruments, explanatory symbols which are ideal entities (entia rationis) founded on reality, above all mathematical entities built on the observations and measurements collected by the senses. On this condition, the human mind can scientifically dominate becoming and sense-perceivable phenomena, but, at the same time, it gives up any hope of grasping the inner being of things.

And this same solution assumes that philosophy has its own instruments of intelligible perception and judgment which are provided by the abstractive intuition that is a property of the intellect. If positivism, old and new, and Kantianism do not understand that metaphysics and philosophy are authentically sciences, that is to say, fields of knowledge capable of certitude which is demonstrable, universal and necessary, it is because they do not understand that the intellect sees. (For instance, the intellect sees the primary principles -- principles of identity, of non-contradiction, of causality, etc., because the intellect brings out from sense experience intelligible contents -- first of all that intelligible object, Being -- which exist in things but are not perceived by the senses.) In the eyes of the Kantians and Positivists, the senses alone are intuitive, the intellect serving only to connect and to unify.

Therefore, they would do better to keep silent, for we cannot say "I," or pronounce a noun in any language, without manifesting that there are in things objects or centers of visibility, which our senses do not reach but which our intellect does reach. Doubtless, we do not have any angelic intellectual intuition, in the sense of Plato or Descartes -- I mean intuition which does not require the intrumentality of the senses. Doubtless, there is nothing in the intellect which is not originally derived from sensory experience. But it is precisely the activity of the intellect which extricates from sense experience -- and raises to the white heat of immaterial visibility in actu -- objects which the senses cannot uncover in things and which ibe intellect sees: being and its properties, and the essential struclures and the intelligible principles seizable in the light of being. That is the mystery of abstractive intuition. And in those objects that it sees, the intellect knows, without seeing them directly, the transcendental objects which are not contained in the world of sensory experience. That is the mystery of analogical intellection. The problem of metaphysics is thus reduced, in the last analysis, to the problem of intuitive abstraction and to the question whether, at the peak of abstraction, being itself, insofar as it is being -- being which penetrates and imbues the world of sensory experience, but which also extends beyond this world in all directions -- is or is not the object of such an intuition. It is this intuition which makes the metaphysician.

The tragedy of the philosophers who call themselves existentialists, whether they be Christian existentialists like Gabriel Marcel, or atheistic existentialists like the French disciples of Husserl and Heidegger, lies in their having the feeling or apperception of the primacy of being, or existence, while at the same time denying, under the pretext that it is abstract, that the notion of being has any value: so that they see in it only an empty word. If I, on the other hand, am a Thomist, it is in the last analysis because I have understood that the intellect sees, and that it is cut out to conquer being. In its most perfect function, which is not to manufacture has, but to judge, the intellect seizes upon existence exercised by hangs. And at the same time it forms the first of its concepts -- the concept of being, which metaphysics will bring out, in its own light, the highest degree of abstractive visualization.

Now, consequently, we can understand how the various typical categories of knowledge, distributed over different levels of intelligibility, are distinct from one another -- interrelated, but essentially distinct. We can understand how the science of the phenomena of nature -- with its "empiriological" analysis of the real -- then mathematics, then the philosophy of nature, and finally metaphysics, constitute the natural degrees of speculative knowledge. These various disciplines of knowledge cannot be substituted for one another, nor can they compete with one another because they do not fish in the same waters, but apply their various insights to different objective fields; physics, chemistry, biology can progress indefinitely, each on its own level, in their knowledge of the human being, for example, without ever encountering the questions and answers peculiar to the philosophical knowledge of this same human being, which lie on a different level. If a biologist is led to ask these questions while reflecting about his science, he is then no longer just a biologist, but a philosopher as well, and he will have to resort to the tools of philosophy to answer them properly. We can advance endlessly in our knowledge of ocular apparatus and the nerve centers of vision, but the question, "What is sensation?," will always depend upon another order of knowledge. We can advance endlessly in our knowledge of the chemical constitution or the physiology of the human being, or even his psychology empirically considered and interpreted, but the question, "Has man a spiritual soul?" will always depend upon another order of knowledge. In the last analysis, this consideration of the specific diversity and the organic hierarchy of the degrees of knowledge enables us to understand how science and wisdom can be reconciled, and how, because wisdom creates order in knowledge, man can regain his unity in a living peace of his intelligence which is one of the blessings that he most lacks today and to which he aspires most desperately often without even knowing it.

 

But in order to understand all these things, it is first necessary to put an end to the great error that Descartes introduced into modern thought with his theory of the essential and specific unity of science. No, human knowledge is not endowed with essential and perfect unity; human knowledge is not a single diamond radiating the unity of the spirit. It has unity only as an ensemble of typically differentiated parts. God's science, creative science, is perfectly one, because it is identical with the divine intellect and essence itself. But human science is an effect distinct from the mind from which it emanates, and it is a mendicant knowledge, depending upon things about which it is forced to take specifically diverse views, owing to specifically diverse intellectual virtues, which extricate from sensory experience an intelligible content with specifically diverse powers of abstraction.

In the history of human knowledge we see now one, now another of these intellectual virtues, now one, now another, of these types of knowledge, trying, with a sort of imperialism, to seize, at the expense of the others, the whole universe of knowledge. Thus at the time of Plato and Aristotle, there was a period of philosophical and metaphysical imperialism; in the Middle Ages, at least before St. Thomas Aquinas, a period of theological imperialism; since Descartes, Kant and August Comte, a period of scientific imperialism which has progressively lowered the level of reason while at same time securing a splendid technical domination of material nature.

It would be a great conquest if the human mind could end these attempts at spiritual imperialism which bring in their wake no less serious damage, to be sure, than that which results from political imperialism; it would be a great achievement if the human mind could establish on unshakable foundations the freedom and autonomy as well as the vital harmony and the mutual strengthening of the great disciplines of knowledge through which the intellect of man strives indefatigably toward truth.

 

II. THE VALUE OF KNOWLEDGE

Thus we come to the second part of this discussion, for Descartes' error concerning the absolute unity of human science is essentially linked to his idealistic conception of knowledge. Idealism or realism -- that is the great dispute confronting us when we examine the nature and inner value of knowledge. I believe that the ancients -- I mean especially Plato and Aristotle, then St. Thomas Aquinas and his great commentators of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries -- had more profound views on the subject than the moderns, although they did not think of formulating separately a special critical treatise on knowledge. It is these views of the ancients that I should like to summarize briefly.

Their primary concern was to keep intact the nature of knowledge, which is the highest mystery that philosophy can contemplate, without reducing it -- as we are tempted to do at every moment -- to one of the usual comparisons, borrowed from our vision of bodies, which lie dormant in our imagination. That is why they warn us, when they discuss knowledge, to elevate our spirits to a higher plane.

For St. Thomas, knowing consists neither in receiving an impression nor in producing an image; it is something much more intimate and much more profound. To know is to become; to become the non-I. Does this therefore mean to lose one's being and to be absorbed in things? That would perhaps be Bergsonian intuition pushed to extremes. That is certainly not Thomistic intellection. Furthermore, no type of material union or transformation can attain to the degree of union which exists between the knower and the known. If I lost my being in something else, in order to be united with it, I would not become that other being; it and I together would make a composite, a tertium quid, instead of the knower's becoming the known itself. The union of the knower and the known is thus a true and genuine unity; they are more one than matter and form joined together.

But to posit such a "transubstantiation" between two entities which nevertheless retain their own being -- for I remain what I am and the thing remains what it is while I know it -- amounts to saying that the process involves an immaterial becoming, an immaterial identification, and that knowledge is a dependent variable of immateriality. To know, therefore, consists of immaterially becoming another, insofar as it is another, aliud in quantum aliud. Thus, from the outset, Thomas Aquinas makes knowledge absolutely dependent upon what is. To know, in fact, is essentially to know something, and something which, as specifier of my act of knowing, is not produced by my knowledge, but on the contrary measures it and governs it, and thus possesses its own being, independent of my knowledge; for it would be absurd for the measuring device as such to be dependent upon the thing measured. Far from its being true that the object of knowledge is, as Kant put it, a product manufactured by thought, and something other than what is, it must, by its very nature of known object, be that which a thing is -- a thing other than myself and my subjective activity, a thing precisely taken in its otherness, in what it has of itself and not of me. The entire specification of my act of intelligence comes, therefore, from the object as something other, as free from me. In knowing, I subordinate myself to a being independent of me; I am conquered, convinced and subjugated by it. And the truth of my mind lies in its conformity to what is outside of it and independent of it.

That is the fundamental realism and objectivism of Thomistic philosophy. St. Thomas teaches, moreover, that while the subjective inclinations of the appetite play an essential part in the practical knowledge which governs our behavior, and while they can also intervene, either for good or evil, in our speculative knowledge, the latter, when it attains its natural perfection -- that is, when it becomes science, and provides us with unshakable rational truths -- is in itself absolutely pure and independent of all consideration of what is good and advantageous for the human subject (or the State, or the nation, or the social class or the spiritual family to which it belongs); speculative knowledge is absolutely pure and independent of all contact with the preferences, proprieties and accommodations of feeling or action; here the object alone is master; and whatever conclusion is drawn, the intellect would be ashamed even to ask itself whether this conclusion pains or pleases it. The intellect contemplates the object; it is fixed on it; does it know indeed that the I exists and asks for something? If, despite more than a century of sentimentalism, we still have some idea of the adamantine objectivity of science, we owe it to the old Scholastic discipline.

But, for St. Thomas, science is not only the "empiriological" analysis of sensory detail, or even mathematics, which is on a level with us. It is above all metaphysics, which compels us to raise our heads. For if our intellect, insofar as it is human, has as its proportioned or "connatural" object the nature of sense-perceivable things, it tends, however, insofar as it is intellect, to the entire being and to the Supreme Being, and it rises, by the process of analogy, to a veritable science of spiritual realities and of God, known doubtless not through His essence, such as He is in Himself -- known only through the effects of His causality, in the mirror of creatures, and a piecemeal way, but known with certainty and truth.

Now here is the point which it is important to note carefully. If the Thomistic philosophy, while it leads us in this way to the conquest of the intelligible being, makes our knowledge dependent upon the thing known insofar as it is another, and subordinates our knowledge absolutely to the extra-mental being; if it thus requires our intellect to be, in a certain sense, passive with regard to the thing, nevertheless at the same time it states that to know is something essentially active, vital and spontaneous.

The passivity of our intelligence with respect to the thing fulfills a condition that is human, and it is a necessary condition; it is necessary for us to receive from the object, in order to be specified by it. But though it is thus passive in its cause, intellection, by its very nature, proceeds like pure spontaneity -- I mean vital or immanent activity, not transitive, and spontaneous because it is vital. For I have said that to know is essentially to become immaterially the other; and this immaterial bursting open of the intellectual faculty in the other is something so purely immanent that it does not even consist of the production of a fruit dwelling within it; it is a purely qualitative consummation of the intellectual faculty which perfects itself by causing itself to be the object. A concept is, in fact, produced in the knowing intellect, but that is a (necessary) means, and not the very essence of intellection; the same act of intellection which in its productive capacity winds up in the concept, a thing produced within us, in its knowing capacity winds up in the intelligible nature itself, which is seen intuitively in the concept, and with which the intellect is immediately identified.

Hence, one understands how, in the act of intellection, dependency with respect to the object is reconciled with active spontaneity, how in this act all the vitality comes from the faculty or the subject, all the specification comes from the object, so that the intellection proceeds entirely from the intellect and entirely from the object, because, at the instant when it knows, the intellect is, immaterially, the object itself; the knower in the act of knowing is the known itself in the act of being known; before knowing, our intellect is like a formless vitality, waiting to be shaped; as soon as it has received from the senses, by means of its own abstractive power, the intelligible impression of the object, the intellect becomes that object, while carrying it, through the concept it produces of it, to the ultimate degree of formation and intelligible actuality, in order at the same time to raise to the supreme point its own immaterial identification with the object.

Thus St. Thomas collected in advance all the truth that modern idealism was to touch upon concerning the activity and the spontaneity of the spirit in knowledge. While Kant only affirmed activity by ruining objectivity because he had in mind only a productive activity, Thomism, because it aims at a truly immanent and truly vital activity, makes the objectivity of knowledge the reason for and the end of activity. Our intelligence lives by becoming all things; and it is in order thus to exercise its perfect spontaneity -- as perfect as is possible in its human and created state -- that it entirely submits to being, asking to be fecundated by being so as to conceive fruits of truth.

Thomism also collects all the truth that modern idealism has been able to touch upon concerning the interiority of knowledge. For Descartes saw very well that our mind -- and therein lies its greatness -- reaches its object within itself, in a perfect interiority. But St. Thomas saw this better than he. According to the Thomistic theory, the intellect, in order to grasp its object, transfers it within itself, so that this object bathes in the intellect's own immaterial light; unlike the senses, which grasp the thing insofar as it is acting concretely outside of the mind, the intellect knows the thing insofar as it exists within the intellect, inside of it. Yet Descartes, with a great naivete, and because he devoted only a few hours a year to metaphysics, believed that, as a result, our mind immediately grasps only its own ideas (which thus become things). On the contrary, the Thomists have seen that what the intellect thus grasps within itself is not its idea, but the thing itself by means of the idea, the thing stripped of its own existence and conveyed within the intellect, transferred into the intellect's own immateriality.

That is how the study and probing of the nature of knowledge show us its objective value and its essentially realistic character. If in man this basic realism of knowledge is subjected to many restrictions, if, as we have seen in the first part of this discussion, the knowledge which best succeeds in mastering nature and the detail of sense-perceivable phenomena -- that is, science, in the modern sense of the word -- is obliged, in order thus to succeed, to abandon the conquest of the very being of things, and to resort to symbols, to entities constructed by the mind, to a sort of mathematical idealization of observed and measured reality, it remains nevertheless that in its deepest dynamism knowledge tends to forms of knowing which, however imperfect they may be, grasp being itself, and which therefore are wisdom as well as science.

 

Knowledge! Wisdom! These words have fascinated man since the origin of the species. The great deviation that appeared in primitive times and which threatens to reappear in turbulent moments of our history is the confusion or identification of Knowledge with Power. That is the magic conception of wisdom or science. One of the barbaric traits of Germanic imperialism has been the revival of this confusion of Science with Power. We find the same confusion in Marxism. I wonder whether, to a lesser degree, all the modern world is not infected by it. There is, no doubt, a practical knowledge which tends toward action -- not toward power -- and the aim of which is either to create a well- constructed work, as in the case of art, or to accomplish good actions, as in the case of moral knowledge and the virtue of prudence. But, by its very nature, knowledge does not tend toward power, nor even toward action; it tends toward truth. And at all the degrees of knowledge, from the lowest to the highest, it is truth that liberates. The only authentic civilization is one where man has released the idea of knowledge in its objective purity, and kept and developed within himself the sense of truth. If civilization, which is profoundly shaken today, is to be reborn, one of the basic conditions for this rebirth must be, in the realm of human communications, that the function of language, which has been perverted by the procedures of the totalitarian states, be returned to its true nature, and, in the realm of the inner life of the spirit, that knowledge likewise be returned to its true nature; knowledge must cease being ordained to power or being confused with it; the intellect must recognize, at all degrees of the scale of knowing -- whether we consider the most simple factual truths of daily experience, or truths by which science formulates, in terms of observation, the laws of phenomena, or truths by which philosophy grasps, in terms of intelligible perception, the structures of being and the universal principles of existence -- the intellect must recognize in the whole expanse and diversity of its domain the sacred nature of truth.

 

III. POETIC KNOWLEDGE

The preceding analyses were concerned with the knowledge of speculative reason, the knowledge peculiar to the philosopher and the scientist.

But we would have only a very incomplete picture of human knowledge if we did not take into account another type of knowledge, entirely different, which is not acquired through concepts and reasoning, but through inclination, as St. Thomas says, or through sympathy, congeniality or connaturality.

Such is the moral knowledge of the virtuous man, who may not know theoretically what justice or honor is, but who has these virtues in himself, and who has only to consult his own inner bent to know whether an act is or is not unjust and dishonorable.

Such is the mystical knowledge of the contemplative, who may never have learned philosophy or theology, but who lives divine things and who knows them by virtue of his love-union with God.

Such is finally the poetic knowledge of the artist, who may not know theoretically either psychology or sociology, cosmology, ethics or anything at all, but who, in order to reveal to himself his most secret being in a work that he produces, is given in his creative intuition or emotion, through the impact he receives from reality in the unconscious life of the spirit and the depths of subjectivity, a non-conceptual knowledge of the things of the world and their secrets.

I shall not discuss the problems which are related to this type of knowledge; I should simply like to note that the way in which art and poetry have become aware of themselves and of the knowledge which is peculiar to them -- poetic knowledge -- appears to me to be a great conquest of modern times; this movement of particularly intent reflective awareness began, I believe, with the German romanticists and Baudelaire.

The essential points to be made concerning poetic knowledge can, I believe, be expressed as follows:

The activity of art is not in itself an activity of knowledge, but of creation; art aspires to creating an object in accordance with that object's inner needs and its own good.

It is true that artistic activity presupposes and collects much previous knowledge; it requires, moreover, either a contemplative frame of mind, like that which the great Chinese painters stressed so much, or a kind of ceaseless rumination of everything that comes to the soul through the senses -- in short, a spiritual awakening of the senses. But this amount of knowledge (in the ordinary sense of the word) is prior to the art activity itself. The art activity begins after that, and occurs in a separate, autonomous world, because it is a creative activity and because, by its very nature, it requires the mind not to be shaped by a thing to be known, but to shape a thing to be put into existence.

What interests us now is the fact that this creative activity itself implies in its essence a certain type of knowledge, the poetic knowledge of which I am speaking. How can we explain that?

An act of thought which by its very essence is creative, which shapes something in existence, instead of being shaped by things -- what does such an act express and manifest when it produces the work if not the very being and substance of the one who creates?

But the substance of man is obscure to himself; it is only by receiving and suffering things, by awakening to the world, that our substance awakens to itself. The poet can only express his own substance in a work if things resound in him, and if, in him, at the same awakening, they and he emerge together from sleep. All that he discerns and divines in things is thus inseparable from himself and his emotion, and it is actually as a part of himself that he discerns and divines it, and in order to grasp obscurely his own being through a knowledge the end of which is to create. His intuition, the creative intuition or emotion, is an obscure grasping of himself and things together in a knowledge by union or connaturality, which only takes shape, bears fruit and finds expression in the work, and which, in all its vital weight, seeks to create and produce. This is a very different knowledge from what is generally called knowledge; a knowledge which cannot be expressed in notions and judgments, but which is experience rather than knowledge, and creative experience, because it wants to be expressed, and it can only be expressed in a work. This knowledge is not previous or presupposed to creative activity, but integrated in it, consubstantial with the movement toward the work, and this is precisely what I call poetic knowledge.

Poetic knowledge is the intrinsic moment of contemplation from which creation emanates. From it springs the melody that every work of art implies, and which is a meaning that animates a form. For art cannot be satisfied with the object, enclosed in a given category, to which it tends as a merely productive activity. As intellectual activity, art tends in a certain way -- I mean a creative way -- to Being, which transcends all categories. It is therefore necessary that the object that the artist is shaping, whether it be a vase of clay or a fishing boat, be significant of something other than itself; this object must be a sign as well as an object; a meaning must animate it, and make it say more than it is.

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