Being and Knowing

Say that the difference between being and knowing is the difference between hearing the sounds coming out of someone’s mouth and understanding what he says. So I hear a discussion in Farsi or look at the script of linear A and see very little beyond sound and shape, but for the one fluent in either there opens an incomparably deeper dimension.

For one aware of the Aristotelian tradition, this seems to suggest that being is the potency or matter of knowledge. But we are arguing by analogy here, and we can’t take it for granted that the act/potency binary is the salient feature in the analogy. Perhaps there is something in being and knowing that transcends act potency in a crucial way, or perhaps there are different modalities of act and potency in play between hearing the sounds of another and knowing his meaning and being and knowing.

The analogy does minimally seem to get at the fact that knowledge adds something to mere existence.  But just saying this is problematic enough: what could one possibly add to existence? Outside of existence there is simply nothing. To simply throw words at the problem like “subjective being” and “objective being” obscures more than it reveals since it leaves one with the impression that there are two parts making a whole, when in fact there is the more paradoxical notion of a whole to which an addition is made, leaving just the same whole as was before.

So call this thing I’m gesturing at an ontological distinction, or a difference in being. What it means in this peculiar case is a totality which admits of an addition that makes it neither larger nor more developed.

Hypothesis: The addition that one makes to the totality either presupposes the existence of the totality, or it does not. If it does not, it must give existence to this totality and this sort of transcendent action is what we mean by causality. If it presupposes it, then, since it does not add a new part or aspect, it must consist in lifting this totality into the presence of some larger totality, and this is what we might call knowledge. 

I here follow Cajetan in seeing causality most formally as consisting in what transcends an order or genus. Within one genus, one has causality only materially and instrumentally. In this sense, the only act that is causal without qualification is creation. I’m also following Cajetan in defining knowledge as an elevation to a higher totality, though it is not clear that knowledge is the only thing that could do so.

We can’t avoid a metaphor-picture of a layer cake of being, but I here want to point out that it is precisely the “layers” that are totalities, though there is still relation between the layers through causality and knowledge; through infusion/creation and elevation.


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