Monday, June 16, 2008

Hans Blumenberg, The Legitimacy of the Modern Age: Part III, Chapter 7, "Preludes to a Future Overstepping of Limits"

Two preconditions for rehabilitation of curiositas (1) removing man's contribution to his own salvation (2) rescinding the world's providential or even perspicuously intelligible character.

These validated approach which acted as if God were dead.

346: "The modern era began, not indeed as the epoch of the death of God, but as the epoch of the hidden God, the deus abscondidas -- and a hidden God is pragmatically as good as dead. The nominalist theology induces a human relation to the world whose implicit content could have been formulated in the postulate that man had to behave as though God were dead. This induces a restless taking stock of the world, which can be designated as the motive power of the age of science."

Made possible new view of science -- not trying to comprehend the world ideally and exactly, but only hypothetically and provisionally.

Nominalism developed many quantitative approaches to study of nature, but refrained from measuring the quantities used -- both from the lingering fear of transgressing on the exact numerical knowledge reserved for God and the prejudice that approximate measures were unworthy of science.

Nicole de Oresme's argument for incommensurability of movement's of heavens means that there is no prospect of a perfect alignment, and from this and the Aristotelean premise of symmetry of beginning and end of time, infers that there can be no end.

352: "The pretension to exactitude conjured up visions of a collision with the theological index of the impossible and gave any application of the speculative calculations the character of curiositas; renunciation of exactitude, which could have stylized and justified itself as humilitas [humility], presupposed a break with the generally accepted ideal of science. From this point of view, what still had to happen between the fourteenth and the seventeenth centuries in order to lay the foundation for the formation of the modern age ... does not look like an intensification, or even an exaggeration, of the supposedly 'modest' cognitive pretensions of the Middle Ages -- as it has been readily perceived, to the detriment of the integrity of the modern idea of science. Rather it looks like a very decisive renunciation, a resignation -- which, while it was not skeptical, was still directed at the center of what had gone before -- from continuing to measure oneself (in one's theoretical relation to nature) against the norm of knowing the Creation from the angle of vision and with the categories of the Creator."

Basic medieval conflict: unlimited pretensions of theoretical drive versus theological insistence on human finitude. Late medieval Pietism found a resolution in reacting against theoretical inquiry.

Nicolas of Cusa sought a different resolution. He views knowledge about every particular thing as capable of being corrected and improved upon without end -- he adds a dimension of intensification to knowledge. Wisdom is the recognition that knowledge is not complete, that it could be made more perfect. In this context, Nicolas of Cusa assesses the limitless quest for knowledge as a positive quality, because it is only in striving for knowledge that the lack of full knowledge is revealed. This triggers self reflection in the knowledge seeking subject.

For Cusa, Applying mathematics to nature, in particular by measurement, particularly brings out the incompleteness of knowledge of the world. Mathematics is where human knowledge is most secure because it is produced by man himself. Knowledge not as what is pregiven, but what is constructed and measured. That the model or measurement of physical phenomena, like the heavens, is not perfect is to be expected; error in knowledge thus has a necessary and positive quality, as the element which we ceaselessly strive to reduce without eliminating.

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.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Hans Blumenberg, The Legitimacy of the Modern Age: Part III, Chapter 5, "Curiosity is Enrolled in the Catalog of the Vices"

Augustine's turning away from Manichaean Gnosticism depends on philosophical critique of Gnosticism's astronomical doctrines, but Augustine does not want to validate philosophy per se. Sees its predictive successes (e.g., in astronomy) as its core danger, because it leads man to think that this knowledge is derived from himself rather than conditioned on man's origin in God. Curiositas as pursuit of knowledge which does not reflect on the conditions of its own possibility.

Augustinean distinction of use and enjoyment of the world: use of the world and objects in it for the end of salvation is permissible, but enjoyment is dangerous. Enjoyment should be directed toward God alone. Curiositas takes man's cognitive abilities themselves as an object of enjoyment. This is facilitated by a world in which the objects of knowledge are in fact at least in part remote or hidden from man, so that the process of knowing them comes with a greater feeling of accomplishment. In the extreme case, even God is viewed as an object of knowledge, and is thus used for enjoyment of man's cognitive capabilities.

For Augustine, remote or obscure things which cannot be of use and cannot increase man's self-knowledge are not a proper object of attention. Man's cognitive drive, which leads to interest in such things, is part of his fallen nature.

Memoria is antithesis of curiositas for Augustine. Follows pattern of Gnosticism here: curiositas is forgetting oneself and losing oneself in the world, memoria is true knowing in the sense of recollecting one's origin.

Curiositas as a 'waste of time' -- an implicit denial of man's finitude, as if an individual had time to come to know everything.

Miracles create a predicament for Augustine. Ancient presupposition is for an orderly cosmos; miracles violate this. On one hand, Augustine contests this by simply expanding concept of cosmos -- there is order to nature that we do not see enough to be familiar with; if we grasped this order then miracles would be understood correctly as natural events. But in implying a deeper order, Augustine risks inciting curiositas in pursuit of it and also suggesting that God can be limited by it. So Augustine goes beyond this, claims that miracles are consistent with God's ability to take arbitrary and unpredictable action. Decisive for development of medieval theology and thus modern thought.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Hans Blumenberg, The Legitimacy of the Modern Age: Part 3, Chapter 4, "Preparations for a Conversion and Models for the Verdict of the 'Trial'"

Cicero introduces a restriction on theoretical activity by balancing it against other needs and duties. Pursuit of knowledge is natural to humans, but it must not be allowed to displace more urgent practical and political matters in the 'economy' of human activity. (This brings it within the things governed by an Aristotelean mean -- there is such a thing as too much).
Portrays life of theory as something that can be largely deferred to an afterlife (which is possible because, contra Plato, it is not seen as a prerequisite of moral and political activity).
Restriction is fundamentally one of time rather than subject matter, though there are aspects of knowledge of the world which Cicero holds to be obscure. Such subjects should be avoided because they tend to become a burdensome care. Further reassurance for this renunciation of some theoretical activity: Cicero distinguishes use of nature from knowledge of it; may have the former even without the latter.

Image of Odysseus and sirens for Cicero: self-limitation of pursuit of knowledge for sake of duty to country.

Ambrose does not dispute that pursuit of knowledge is most worthy human life, but puts geometry and astronomy off limits for study; holds that these are obscure and would compete with giving absolute priority to seeking salvation

Philo puts attainment of theoretical understanding of the cosmos at the end of a sequence of stages: attempt to know world directly, self-knowledge, knowledge of God, knowledge of world through God
abjures direct approach to knowing the cosmos -- believes it is futile
epistemological principle -- identity of truth and making (verum and factum); God made the world, so true knowledge must come from him. Objects no longer show themselves (as in earlier Greek thought) they are shown by God - voluntarism. Issue with self-knowledge - presupposes some knowledge of the cosmos in order to distinguish one's own nature.

curiositas and memoria in Neoplatonic thought
curiositas - world soul dispersing (and losing) itself in particularity
memoria - world soul recollecting its origin and returning to itself
For Neoplatonism, knowledge of world cannot be an attitude of detachment and repose -- it involves and ensnares the soul in the world.
Gnosticism and Neoplatonism both see salvation as essentially about knowledge, recollection. Knowledge of origin of the world becomes central to theology.

Both Neoplatonism and Gnosticism view copies as having the same reality as originals - ontological indifference - so opens possibility of knowledge (and the world) being infinite .
Christian critics of Gnosticism focus on futility of seeking knowledge that could be infinite -see its unlimited demands as conflicting with pursuit of faith.

295: "Reference to the great figures of human imagination may in each case be intended only as rhetorical ornament, but the validity and richness of interest of such a figure themselves force the author, who seems ready to involve himself with them only in passing, to come forth unintentionally with his concept of man and man's proper form of existence and play it through in a thought experiment."

Odysseus for Clement of Alexandria - like the Gnostics who do not close their ears to Greek knowledge which can be useful in explaining Christianity

Apuleius portrays curiositas as a trait of a kind of character -- one with an immoderate appetite for knowledge, a kind of intellectual busybody. This is a key step in the development of the view of curiositas as a vice. Correlate of the loss of a world seen as an orderly cosmos. Opens up the idea of experience of unlimited possibilities and variations. In this context, curiosity is directed not at a stable structure of reality, but to the strange and peculiar.

Tertullian portrays himself as an advocate of surrender to simple faith. He condemns intellectual pursuits. Yet he himself takes up extensive and subtle disputes with Gnostics. He depicts himself as drawn into these disputes against his will.

300: "Tertullian exhibits a clear awareness of the fact that the historical process stabilizes the system the system of questions once raised and thus exercises a pressure toward answers, which imposes the 'settling' and reoccupation of systematic positions that have become vacant. Thus it is no longer 'human nature' that unfolds its appetite for knowledge in a catalog of pretensions to knowledge that can be gathered from history; rather it is the factual antecedence of schools of dogma that imposes upon what is new a framework of continuity that is just as unfulfillable as it is demanding of fulfillment. Curiosity is the result of the unresisting reception of the inherited system of 'nonnegotiable' questions."

For Tertullian, only truth derived from God worth pursuing. Simple self-evidence of the soul is opposed to the vanity of presumed immediate knowledge of the world; curiosity is the vice of that vanity. Knowledge attained by other means is not so much impossible as illegitimate.

Lactantius portrays truths of world as hidden by God from man, and accessible only through him. God is the inventor of the world as well as the creator, so there is no independent model that can be known.