A few epistemological reflections on John Paul II’s meditations on Genesis in Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology Of The Body.
John Paul makes much of the fact of Adam’s original solitude. In that state, before he found a helper corresponding to him, he came to know himself in the naming of the animals, in his self-differentiation from the animal world. Having examined and named the animals and finding none among them suitable to him, his isolation from the animal world became clear. He became aware of his unique personhood as image of God. This stage of knowledge involved a subject-object differentiation.
But that was not the last stage. When God created Eve, Adam found one corresponding to him, another who was bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh . In becoming one flesh with Eve, he came to know himself more fully as person because he came to know himself and his body as “spousal,” as created for union with another. It is when Adam becomes one flesh with Eve that the Bible first uses the word “know.” Knowledge arises as self-differentiation of subject and object, but advances by union of subject and object, the knower becoming “one flesh” with the object known.
Even that, John Paul points out (211-2), was not the last stage: Adam adn Eve know each other reciprocally in the ‘third,’ originated by both,” in the procreation of a man from the Lord. Again, “Begetting goes beyond the limits of the subject-object that man and woman seem to be for each other, given that ‘knowledge’ indicates, on the one hand, he who ‘knows’ and, on the other, she who ‘is known.’”
Thus Adam went through three stages of self-knowledge: Differentiation from the animals in solitude; knowledge of himself in union with Eve, the other like him – the “spousal” form of knowledge; finally, in the begetting of a son through knowing his wife – the “paternal” climax of knowledge, which is matched by Eve’s “maternal” self-knowledge that likewise comes through union with her spouse.
We might analogously think of three stage or moments of knowing: Subject-object differentiation, knowing the object from a distance; subject-object union, knowing the object by indwelling it in love, by becoming one flesh; and the creation of a third from the union of subject and object, the formation of a fresh concept or insight begotten of the union with the object. This model of knowledge has the advantage of highlighting the bodily modes of knowing. Adam did not know Eve only through his brain, but came to know her through the full use of his whole body, through an entire engagement of his body with the body of Eve.
On this model, epistemology after Descartes stops at the first stage of knowledge, where subject and object are distinct. This is an epistemology of Adamic solitude. Heidegger’s epistemology, despite its flaws, at least recognizes that knowers are in the world and that knowing how, knowing through the hand, is as primary as knowing that, knowing by the brain.
posted by Peter J. Leithart on Monday, July 16, 2012 at 3:13 pm
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