Waggish

Hans Blumenberg Cheat Sheet

This is a quick attempt to summarize Blumenberg’s positions on some of the main pre-modern thinkers he treats. Corrections welcome.

  • Platonism: Knowledge = happiness = justice. Elitist guardians possess greatest amounts of all three. Knowledge to be pursued. A lawful, knowable connection between this reality and the reality of the forms.
  • Epicureanism: Happiness attained by ignoring that which does not directly concern you. Knowledge-as-exploration is distracting and leads to misery. Abandonment of any claim to universal knowledge. Anti-elitist.
  • Stoicism: Happiness attained by the cessation of desire, including desire for knowledge. Anti-elitist.
  • Skepticism: Pursuit of knowledge undermined through rhetoric, ultimately ending in a negation of humanity’s ability to know or master the world.
  • Gnosticism: As conceived by Marcion and others, Christian salvation is attained through knowledge of the irrelevance of this evil world and focus on private knowledge of the real and good God. Knowledge is good but resolutely non-secular, not to be pursued in this world–and therefore there is no public standard of knowledge, no method of verification. Elitist, as only those who pursue otherworldly wisdom get saved.
  • Augustine: Abandons Gnosticism to focus on salvation attained through virtuous acts and repentance in this world. Beginning of classic anti-elitist Catholic/Scholastic tradition. Condemns curiosity as an arrogant and dangerous distraction from the real matter of salvation.
  • Scholasticism: As epitomized by Aquinas, the attempt to locate salvation and relevance in this world while placing God in a realm beyond comprehension. The height of establishing a coherent and meaningful connection between this world and God. Curiosity beyond the restricted realm of humanity is fiercely condemned.
  • Voluntarism: The particular offshoot doctrine of God being constrained by no law or rule whatsoever in what He can bring about. Consequently, curiosity loses some of its forbidden character as there is no greater law or theory that could be discovered.
  • Nominalism: In the context of theology, a doctrine of Ockham and others that proposes that every object in this world does not have any linkage to a real, greater Platonic sort of form in the amorphous Godly realm. Undermines Scholasticism by making the “greater” reality (whether of forms or God) more remote from this reality and diminishing God’s derivable influence on this reality; thereby it is now safer for conceptualism and theory to exist in this reality, as it does not intrude on God’s turf.
  • Nicholas of Cusa: Specifically proposes that humanity may discover the truths of this world through a proto-scientific process of trial and error by which we may eventually achieve a perfect, though limited, knowledge of our own world. Endorsement of curiosity as an integral part of the theological whole.
  • Giordano Bruno: Expands and reverses Nicholas’s conceptions by putting no limits on the expansion of humanity’s knowledge, now encompassing the (Copernican) heavens and the earth’s place in the now non-geocentric universe. Beginning of genuine self-assertion over the (now-expanded) world.
  • Descartes: Represents an odd regression to the problems of Scholasticism, by attempting to reconcile a posited voluntarist God with one who guarantees a quasi-scientific, perfectible methodology in this world. The attempt fails, and so Descartes represents the last gasp of a not-yet-secularized scientific curiosity, for which Leibniz will take him to task.

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