Knowledge and the Transcendent

Knowledge and the Transcendent: An Inquiry into the Mind's Relationship to God

Paul A. Macdonald
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 331
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  • Book Info
    Knowledge and the Transcendent
    Book Description:

    Knowledge and the Transcendent advances the provocative claim that the human mind is not "bounded" on the outside but actually remains "open" to the world and to God.

    eISBN: 978-0-8132-1893-9
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. INTRODUCTION: Diagnosing the Problem
    (pp. xi-xxiv)

    This book addresses an important perennial question in philosophical theology, specifically as it intersects with the philosophy of mind and epistemology: how can human persons have knowledge of God, or more specifically, how can God transcend the mind but still remain known to the mind? In addressing this question (or I should say, in providing an answer to this question), I draw on contemporary insights in the philosophy of mind and epistemology in order to interpret classical claims in Christian philosophical theology—and in particular, the philosophical theology of Thomas Aquinas—about both the possibility and the character of our...

    • CHAPTER 1 Skepticism and Subjectivism in Modern Thought
      (pp. 3-42)

      The goal of the current chapter is to diagnose further how knowing God becomes a problem—a problem that arises with the advent of a particular form of skepticism and subjectivism within modern thought and continues to plague contemporary philosophical and theological reflection on the mind’s relationship to God. In short, the problem can be specified as follows: once God is placed outside or beyond a cognitive boundary (given that God is pictured as transcending a cognitive boundary), then there can be no objectivity in what human persons believe and say about God. The beliefs and assertions we hold and...

    • CHAPTER 2 Challenging Modern Skepticism and Subjectivism
      (pp. 43-78)

      In the last chapter, I identified a deeply embedded picture of the mind’s relationship to God, as it has come into focus in modern and contemporary philosophical and theological reflection on the very idea of knowledge of God. According to the picture, given that the mind is bounded in what it can know, and God radically transcends the mind, God therefore belongs outside or beyond a cognitive boundary, insulating God from the mind and thereby preventing the mind from coming to know God objectively. I argued that once the mind is bounded on the outside, and God is subsequently pushed...

    • CHAPTER 3 Direct Realism and Aquinas’s Account of Cognition
      (pp. 81-134)

      In the second part of this book, my goal is to investigate and defend an alternative framework for understanding how human persons know the world as well as God. And this entails considering an alternative thinker, Thomas Aquinas, and the contribution Aquinas makes to helping us understand how human persons know the world as well as God. To start, then, we explore the contribution of Thomistic epistemology within the realm of philosophy. This is no detour, however: in turning to philosophy we do not leave the realm of theology entirely. As the reader will discover, Aquinas’s account of cognition does...

    • CHAPTER 4 Having God in View: Direct Realism and the Beatific Vision
      (pp. 135-171)

      Aquinas’s commitment to direct realism extends far beyond his account of empirical cognition or knowledge. For Aquinas the theologian, beatific knowledge of God—or the knowledge of God possessed by the blessed in heaven—is itself a paradigm case of direct realism in cognition. Aquinas’s remarkable main claim, which I will explicate below, is that in the supernatural cognitive state of beatitude, “the essence of God itself becomes the intelligible form of the intellect.”¹ This means that in beatitude, God is not present to the intellect by means of an intelligible species or form, which in the case of empirical...

    • CHAPTER 5 Realist Epistemologies of Reason and Faith
      (pp. 172-228)

      As a christian philosophical theologian, Aquinas holds to the scriptural principle that we ‘see’ God “face to face” in the next life; in this life, however, we ‘see’ God, at best, “in a glass darkly.”¹ Thus the following question presents itself: if our ability to think about God or direct our thoughts on God in this life is intrinsically limited and inadequate, then must God also remain unknown to us? Aquinas is, of course, well known for answering this question in the affirmative: while in the next life, “we shall see [God] by a form which is His essence, and...

    • CHAPTER 6 Rehabilitating Objectivity in the Knowledge of God
      (pp. 231-263)

      The main purpose of this chapter is to continue to defend claims I advanced in the previous chapter and so to further explicate and support what I take to be Aquinas’s theologically realist understanding of knowledge of God here below. First, I address what I expect is the most pressing theological suspicion or concern raised by my analysis so far: by emphasizing (or perhaps overemphasizing) our ability to gain knowledge of God here below by way of reason and faith, I have blurred the essential epistemological distinction between knowledge of the ‘unknown’ God here below and the intellective ‘vision’ of...

    • CHAPTER 7 In Defense of a Realist Interpretation of Theology
      (pp. 264-290)

      The main aim of this book has been to overcome what I have argued is a distinctly modern, skeptical anxiety concerning whether God can be known by the mind; an anxiety that is generated by a distorted and consequently unintelligible conception or picture of the mind’s relationship to God. The first step in overcoming this anxiety required locating the origins of the picture and its variations in modern and contemporary religious thought, which has struggled to relate mind and God given the presence of the Great Boundary in the picture. The second step in overcoming this anxiety required challenging the...

  8. Bibliography
    (pp. 291-300)
  9. Index
    (pp. 301-306)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 307-308)