Monday, June 16, 2008

Hans Blumenberg, The Legitimacy of the Modern Age: Part III, Chapter 6, "Difficulties Regarding the 'Natural' Status of the Appetite for Knowledge ...

Application of medieval liberal arts (particularly dialectic) to theology instigated a reaction asserting the inadequacy of these theoretical means as a foundation for knowledge. This reaction (exemplified by Peter Damian) viewed the lawfulness of the world as a contingent circumstance, as the regularity resulting from obedience to an order given by God which can be rescinded at any time.
For the first time, curiositas is attacked because it is the means of a pretension to rational human self-assertion.
The reception of Aristotle, and especially the first sentence of the Metaphysics, by Scholasticism creates tension. The naturalness of the creative drive is affirmed. (Thomas sees that the legitimacy of the drive for knowledge is required to validate the dictum from the epistle to the Romans that all men know God.) It is no longer the case, however, as with Aristotle, that the subjective intellect is a match for the world -- the latter is now seen as infinite and the former as finite (for Thomas, this finitude results from the Fall). Thomas resolves the tension by bringing theoretical inquiry into the scheme of Aristotelian ethics. He introduces the virtue of studiousness (studiositas) as the mean between ceaseless inquiry and resignation (both of which are seen as defects of curiositas - the latter assumes an attitude of calm which is appropriate only to state of salvation). So knowledge itself cannot be bad, but effort expended for it can be excessive.
Correction of Augustinean critique of curiositas -- the issue is not its failure to recognize the conditions of inquiry in God, but in failure to trace objects of inquiry to God -- i.e., in not carrying through inquiry to its completion.

336: "The resignation that is expressed in the idea of acedia with respect to the absolute object that had been wooed for centuries -- the theoretical/metaphysical discouragement with respect to the God Who withdraws in His sovereign arbitrariness as deus abscondidas [hidden God] -- will determine the ending of the middle ages and the revaluation of theoretical curiosity that was essential to the change of epoch. The vice of disregarding the preliminary character of this life was to be replaced by the theoretical technical form of existence, the only one left to him. From melancholy over the unreachability of the transcendent reservations of the Deity there will emerge the determined competition of the immanent idea of science, to which the infinity of nature discloses itself as the inexhaustible field of theoretical application and raises itself to the equivalent of the transcendent infinity of the Deity Himself, which, as the idea of salvation, has become problematical."

Orthodox reception of Aristotle by Scholasticism (exemplified by Siger of Brabant) admitted no conflict between the world and the human cognitive drive, because it saw truth about the world as finite.

ambiguous status of Odysseus in Dante's Inferno
- punished for deceit, not curiosity
- his fate (death in quest for new land beyond known world) seems made to fit his curiosity
- Dante contrasts his own quest to see new things with Odysseus' -- Dante's is aimed at salvation and sanctioned by God
- Dante describes the first sin of Adam as transgressing the sign, i.e., the limit of permitted knowledge -- sin implicitly shared by Odysseus
- Odysseus is only figure in Inferno who does not accuse or condemn himself

Petrarch turns discovery of new vista -- Mont Ventoux -- into conversion narrative. Seeks new knowledge, and then issues retraction from quest. Balances between epochs.

No comments: