Dialogue on being and knowing

A: I want to start with this as the basic fact that a theory of knowledge has to explain: there is a difference between something being and its being known.

B: What sort of struggle is there to explain that? All that exists is a being, but not all that exists is known. One’s a class and the other’s a sub-class. End of problem.  It’s no more mysterious than to point out that there’s a difference between existing and being a cow.

A: So it is just a difference between the more and less general? The less distinct and the more distinct?

B: Right. Being can be divided into the known and unknown. End of problem.

A: But the things we know either exist or not, right? They either have being or not?

B: Right – same with the unknown as well.

A: But that makes being both more and less universal than knowledge: one and the same thing is both more and less determinate with respect to exactly the same thing. Worse yet, you’ve made “non-existent” a subset of being or existence. Twice.

B: Okay, so that’s a problem. What do you think?

A: Well, if all we did was summarize what we said till now, I’d say that knowledge and being differ in being, where “in being” is meant to indicate that one is not a subset of the other, nor are both parts of some larger genus.

B: But certainly they have to both exist, right?

A: True, but they also are both known. There is a mutual indwelling of the one in the other.

B: I don’t know anything about “mutual indwelling” so leave that off for the moment. What more can you say?

A: Traditionally, these were taken as different modes of being. Take any scientific classification or porphyrian tree. It is indifferent to being taken as a classification of existents or things known. Taken in the first way, we speak of the mode of existing, taken the second way, the mode of knowing.

B: So there is an indifference in things to existing and being?

A: Maybe so – that seems to be what I’m saying.

B: But what has this indifference?

A: I’m not sure what to say here. We show up to this problem saying that there is no higher unity of the known and the existent, nor is there a unity of the one containing the other.

B: So perhaps mode isn’t the best word here. It’s not as if there is some stuff that underlies both, and wich has various modes.

A: Right.



  1. Sean Schniederjan said,

    January 13, 2015 at 2:23 pm

    [Sorry to hijack this, don’t have your email] James, great seeing you and your family the other night. Could you introduce me to your philosophy of science friend who lives down the street some time? There’s leftover Summits I won’t drink if you guys want to stop by here, or anywhere.

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