Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Concept of Archetypal Knowledge

I have argued against Thomas Aquinas' doctrine of analogy of names as a tenable theological doctrine on the grounds that it in effect places God outside the reach of human experience and conceptualization and thereby precludes any meaningful theological reference. Yet, I realize that in positing the archetypal/ectypal view of the Protestant Scholastics, we are also dealing with a notion that is definitionally inaccessible to human experience and conceptualization, namely, God's archetypal knowledge. In this post I hope to show that "the archetypal knowledge of God" is in fact a meaningful theological reference to certain experienced qualities which we hold in mind as a concept outlining or suggesting the shadow contour of something which is itself inaccessible.

In my last post, I suggested that we should hold to a Protestant Scholastic archetypal/ectypal epistemological framework (henceforward PSE) in considering the relation between divine and human knowledge. I also suggested that within this framework we should hold to a theory of theological names under which our names and descriptive terms for God and His attributes make direct reference to experienced qualities held in the mind as concepts. I argued that we should dispense with Thomas' doctrine of analogy of names since under this doctrine our names and descriptive terms for God and His attributes do not make reference to experienced divine qualities held in the mind as concepts and are therefore reduced to meaningless utterances when predicated of God.

However, I noted that Thomas' cause in positing his doctrine of analogy of names was noble, namely, to recognize the vast metaphysical difference and established distance between God and creatures, and the sense of God’s utter incomprehensibility so unmistakably conveyed in Scripture. Under the PSE we may respect this difference, distance, and incomprehensibility while preserving the immanent meaning of our theological names and terms, two desiderata which may at first seem at odds with one another, but which are both clearly prescribed in Scripture. This is achieved under the PSE by distinguishing between God's original underived, or archetypal knowledge of Himself and of His creatures, and copied derived, or ectypal knowledge of God and creatures communicated by God to the creatures, and possessed by them. The content and form or mode of God's archetypal knowledge are entirely inaccessible an inscrutable to us as creatures, while God himself and other creatures are known by us ectypally, the content of this knowledge being communicated or revealed to us by God in a form which we, given our finite created epistemic constitution and apparatus, are capable of grasping.

As mentioned above, the concept of God's archetypal knowledge, an essential component of the PSE, is likely to raise skeptical questions. If our epistemological framework is founded on a notion that is entirely inaccessible and inscrutable to us, does it not quickly topple to the ground? If we are definitionally barred any experiential, or conceptual approach to the content and form of God's archetypal knowledge, how can we know such a thing exists or say anything meaningful about it, let alone build an epistemology on its foundation?

I propose that the designation "God's archetypal knowledge" is a meaningful reference to experienced qualities held in the human mind as a concept, which particular qualities together point to something entirely beyond the human experiential ken, yet give some hint as to this something's nature.

"God's archetypal knowledge" may be defined for the human knower as "that inexperiencable x of which God's knowledge as ectypally revealed is a copy or image." Thus the three subsidiary concepts which together lead us to grasp the concept denoted by "God's archetypal knowledge" are 1) inexperiencable x 2) God's knowledge as ectypally revealed and 3) copy or image. Let us examine each of these in more detail.

1) inexperiencable x (forgive the verbal pastiche): Somewhat ironically, as we are defining a concept as a grouping of experienced qualities held in the mind, we have many concepts of things which definitionally cannot be experienced. In each of these cases experienced qualities which are somehow affected by that which cannot be experienced point together to the "x" which cannot be experienced. For example, we know much about infared radiation from its experienced and measurable effects, yet the thing itself to which the term "infared radiation" refers is by definition inexperiencible. Likewise, atoms are inexperiencible x's whose concept we grasp only in terms of experienced effects. Indeed as hitherto unexperienced qualities or combinations of qualities are entering and exiting our experience constantly from "beyond" our experiential ken, we have the idea of what it is for an x to be beyond our experience. It is not much further a step to say we have an idea of what it is for some x's to be of such a type that they will remain forever beyond our experience.

2) God's knowledge as ectypally revealed: This is a rather thick and remote concept to us since it involves a reach of empathy much like that which enables us to grasp the concept of other human minds' knowledge, only stretching (one might say) infinitely further. Though we cannot experience the subjective experience of other human beings, and so cannot hold directly experienced qualities of other minds' knowledge in our minds as a concept, through a process of empathy fueled by intuition we can have some indirect "experience" of what it is like for a fellow human being to experience the world. This may seem a dubious notion, and our knowledge of other minds has indeed been challenged by skepticism that has arisen with philosophers who have noted our very lack of experienced qualities of other minds' experience from which to form a substantive concept. Though the conceptual inference through which we arrive at knowledge of other minds could occupy pages of analysis, here let it suffice to posit we have intuitive warrant for our belief in other minds so that we may be said to have knowledge of other minds, and to the extent that we have knowledge of other minds, the concept - or grouping of (in this case indirectly) experienced qualities held in the mind - of other minds is presupposed. Similarly, as God reveals Himself ectypally to us as a knowing being, and displays some indication of the exhaustive infallible immediate way in which He knows, we are led to some (indirectly, and anthropomorically) experienced qualities of what it is like for God, as ectypally revealed, to experience and know things. This may seem blasphemously inordinate to suggest we may presume the slightest inkling of empathy Godward, and it must be reemphasized that indeed we cannot fathom or approach His archetypal knowledge, and that in His ectypal revelation of Himself the knowledge and wisdom of God as we experience Him is far "above" what we can grasp through empathy. However, God condescends so far as to lead us, in anthropormorphic modes and categories, to conceptualization of His own experience and knowledge. When God inspires the words in Scripture, "For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to these whose heart is blameless before Him" (2 Chron. 16:9), though it is clear that the revelation is radically anthropomorphized, we begin to grasp through empathy what it is like for God to perceive all the earth at the same time. When we hear the inspired words, "Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them," (Ps. 139:16) we begin to grasp through empathy what it is like for God to posses infallible foreknowledge. Whenever we speak about the knowledge of God as ectypally revealed, it is these (indirectly) experienced qualities held in the mind as a concept, to which we refer.

3)copy/image: This relational concept is, in one sense, quite commonplace and the experienced qualities of which it is composed are easily analyzed. Here we are concerned with the relational concept composed of experienced qualities involved in the comparison between God as ectypally revealed and human beings. We experience certain qualities in God as He reveals Himself to us which may be differentiated and held in the mind as specific concepts to which we refer by terms such as "God's righteousness." We experience certain qualities in human beings which distinctly resemble (or oppose) those qualities experienced in God across the ontological difference which may be held in the mind as concepts then referred to by terms such as "human righteousness." We hold together in the mind the qualities experienced in human beings that resmble those experienced in God, and the qualities experienced in God Himself as reveled as a concept referred to by the word "image." As we concptualize various distinct qualities experienced in humans which resemble distinct qualities experienced in God as the several ways in which humans "image" God, we may begin to recognize certain commonalities in all of these ways so that humans may be understood in a comprehensive sense to "bear the Divine image."

Through analysis of these three subsidiary concepts we may come quite clear on together exactly to which experienced qualities we are referring in speaking of, "God's archetypal knowledge," namely, those expereince qualities compassed under, "an inexperiencable x of which God's knowledge as ectypally revealed is the image." Knowing God's archetypal knowledge is, like infared, existent, but beyond our capacity to experience, we know it is "out there" but do not hope or expect to eventually experience it. As through empathy we know something of what it is like for God, as He reveals Himself ectypally, to know things, and as we know this way of knowing things to bear the image of the way in which He knows things archetypally, and as we know what it is for some human quality (in this case our knowledge of what it is like for God as ectypally revealed to know things) to bear the image of a Divine quality, we may understand these conceptually grasped qualities to lead us in a meaningful way to an outline or shadow of that which we know is "out there" but which can never be experienced. Thus, "God's archetypal knowledge is a meaningful reference and may be legitimately posited as foundation of the PSE.

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