He Who Is: A Study in Traditional Theism

By E. L. B. D. Mascall | Go to book overview
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THE argument of the preceding pages has involved the assumption that our knowledge of the external world is essentially what scholasticism would call adaequatio intellectus ad rem, that the human mind, by its very constitution, is capable of penetrating beneath the phenomenal surface of finite beings and of grasping them, however imperfectly and partially, in their ontological nature and so apprehending them in their dependence upon an infinite Being which, as St. Thomas says, all men call God. A good deal has been said by the way in justification of this point of view; but it is so foreign to the habits of thought of most modern philosophers that it will be worth while spending a little more time in trying to make its truth more readily acceptable.

The prevailing trend in epistemology in recent years has been to deny both that extramental beings conceived as concrete substances or essences exist, and in consequence that the human mind is constitutionally capable of apprehending them. The fundamental elements of our experience are taken to be such mere particulars of sensory awareness as red patches, loud noises, hot feelings on the skin and the like, and the mind is alleged to construct from them, in one way or another, what it mistakenly believes to be external beings. The particulars may be described in many ways--as sense-data, sensa, sensibilia, or even opportunities of experience--and the operation of the mind may be conceived either as the building up these particulars into artificial complexes on the ground of accidental similarities, or as the addition to them of characteristics which they did not possess before, or in some other way. Dr. Tennant, for example, believes that our experience is inevitably contaminated by an interpretation which we impose on it in the very act of experiencing; his distinction between the "psychological" and the "psychic," though superficially it resembles the scholastic distinction between the quod and the quo of experience, is used in such a way as to deny that we can have any undistorted knowledge of the quod.1 Mr. Bertrand Russell believes that "events" are strung together into

Phil. Theol., I, p. 255. See p. 165, infra.


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