The Order of Knowledge

James Daniels just reminded me about the order of knowledge and showed how you can see it disintegrate in western philosophical thought.

At the top of all knowledge is theology, the knowledge that holds all other knowledge together.

Below that is philosophical knowledge, knowledge of metaphysical things like being, mode, and change.

One more step down we find moral or humane knowledge, the knowledge of how we fulfill our natures as human beings in community (politics) or by ourselves (ethics).

Then comes natural science, or the knowledge that we can gain of the physical world around us through modes like observation and measurement.

Each kind of knowledge is gained when you ask questions that require that kind of knowledge for an answer, such as what is being (philosophy), how can I be happy (ethics), what makes a tree grow (science), or what is truth (theology).

Asking the right kind of question causes a person to develop the sorts of tools that sort of question requires.

Using those tools then arouses a given faculty in the human soul – a faculty of perception that fits the knowledge sought.

James showed me how in the 13th century you begin to see an attack on the validity of theological knowledge, which put philosophy at the top of the ladder. Of course, it couldn’t answer theological questions, so people got mad at philosophy for not being able to do what it isn’t capable of doing, so they dropped it for the moral sciences.

Need I say that they proceeded to fail? So people gave up on the moral sciences and trusted only in the natural sciences.

Then came the 20th century. Now the natural sciences are still highly regarded, but nobody really believes they provide ultimate truth except maybe Richard Dawkins.

Thus we live in an age of complete epistemological scepticism, newspeaked into “tolerance.”

Then to undermine the whole project, children are no longer taught how to gain knowledge because people don’t believe it is there to be gained anyway. So they grow up believing there is no knowledge and they live accordingly.

Thus the Hebrew intuition is verified once again: “The fear of God is the beginning of Knowledge.”

Teaching Fairy Tales and Personal Knowledge

I am continually amazed at the power of fairy tales to enliven a boy’s childhood. Fairy tales might be the place where the folly and harm of impersonal knowledge is most easily seen. Here’ Bruno Bettelheim in his magnificent book The Uses of Enchantment:

Like all great art, fairy tales both delight and instruct; their special genius is that they do so in terms which speak directly to children. At the age when these stories are most meaningful to the child, his major problem is to bring some order into the inner chaos of is mind so that he can understand himself better–a necessary preliminary for achieving some congruence between his perceptions and the external world.

“True” stories about the “real” world may provide some interesting and often useful information. but the way these stories unfold is as alien to the way the prepubertal child’s mind functions as the supernatural events of the fairy tale are to the way the mature intellect comprehends the world.

Strictly realistic stories run counter to the child’s inner experiences; he will listen to them and maybe get something out of them, but he cannot extract much personal meaning from them that transcends obvius content. These stories inform wihtout enriching, as is unfortunately also true of much learning in school. Factual knowledge profits the total personality only when it is turned into “personal knowledge.”… A fare of realistic stories only is barren.

Do you see the significance of fairy tales for your children? So often we want common sense to rule the nursery. Well, that common sense is not something that enables the child to manage his world. Heck, it doesn’t even work for us. When I use my common sense, I know that my trials are going to continue, that no fairy godmother is going to come to my rescue, that I’m on my own. I become hopeless. But the fairy tale tells me my fairy godmother is looking out for me.

And that seems like a valuable piece of news. No wonder materialist culture, Christians who take their common sense too far and their anxieties even farther, and rationalists tend to oppose fairy tales.

The great thing about teaching fairy tales is that all you have to do is tell them – or, if necessary, read them. The child’s soul will do the work. If they want them retold, retell them. Over and over, if necessary. They are the means by which we can tend the heart of virtue, to use the title of Vigen Guroian’s fine book on this subject.

Fairy tales are an instance of poetic or personal knowledge, of living ideas.