The conflict of created knowledge and its resolution

1.0 “It seems a platitude to say happiness is the goal of human life” (Nic Eth. I.7). Yu-Lan Fung draws a non-insignificant corollary: happiness is the engine of history. 

2.0 There is an interesting metaphysics behind our modern proverb that “hindsight is 20-20”. A corollary to this is that history is 20-20, and that, in looking back at what happened, we can discern what was right to do and therefore what as bound to happen. Whatever truth might be here is mired deeply in hindsight bias, and Nassim Teleb does a very good job at showing why this sort of thing distorts our experience of the world. It is crucially important to the flow of events that some be surprising. A world without surprise could not be dramatic. It would be – to borrow the word we use to describe a movie whose surprises have been removed – spoiled. 

2.1 Information theory gives an initially puzzling account of information that it is essentially surprising. There is less information in something each time it is repeated (unless the repetition is an elucidation). To know the whole universe, that is, to know all that can be known, would lead to less and less information over time.

3.0 But then things get interesting, for in order for the world to be meaningful it must both be surprising and intelligible. But this is means that we want a world that is both unknown to us and intelligible in itself. We want both total illumination and the benefits of ignorance. But then what sort of world could be meaningful?

3.1 There is thus a deep conflict in the idea of “perfect knowledge”. On the one hand, it is the perfection of us as intelligences, on the other hand this perfection, if achieved, could not be a perfection. Novelty and surprise is essential for something to count as informative.

4.0 This sort of double demand makes it natural for us to believe that the world is unknown to us but known to another. God thus becomes necessary to life as he who understands what is unintelligible or surprising to us.  It’s not just that we say he is this, we need him to be this in order for the universe to be meaningful.

4.1 But this sort of God-man dualism of “he who knows” and “those who are surprised” cannot be absolute. To make it such is to ultimately give up on the idea that the world be intelligible.

4.2 We need something incompatible with our present state. All must be given and all must be hidden.

4.3 Perfect knowledge/ meaningful life is thus to have all revealed in a single concept, and to have this single concept admit of infinite elucidation.

4.4. By “revealed in a single concept” we do not mean some vague or indeterminate abstraction. Such a thing is not a perfection. This does not escape the paradox of information or the necessity of surprise. The God-man dualism remains.

5.0 Thus, from 1.0, the engine of history is the attempt to resolve the problem of God-man dualism.

5.1 Seen from this angle, salvation history is the paradigm of all history. It should be read as the various failed attempts and true progress to overcome the conflict at the heart of the life of a rational creature. “Ye shall be as God” is the only possible ultimate motive, and it is at once promised and distorted by turns. The desire for man to be God is thus at once the source of his alienation and the principle of accomplishing the desire itself.

5.2 Evil is overcome in making the most perverting words the articulation of the ultimate promise. The serpent, despite himself, becomes the first prophet of the kingdom. What prophesy of the incarnation is better than “Ye shall be as god”?

5.3. there is in this an overcoming of the Scotist-Thomistic dispute between motives for the incarnation. Christ is necessary for the perfection of the universe, specifically as a resolution to the conflict of human happiness. But this perfection is so involved in other motives (chiefly, the overcoming of evil) that it cannot be separated from the concrete historical circumstances of the fall.

6.0. There is also a resolution here of the paradox of Aristotelian philosophy and of Hellenic thought in general, namely, that it was never able to decide whether motion is a perfection or not; or whether entelekia or energia was a stasis or operation.

 

 

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