The Problem of Knowledge: Philosophy, Science, and History since Hegel


The problem of the nature and origin of human knowledge is not a late product of philosophical speculation. It is rather one of those fundamental problems of humanity to which we cannot assign any definite historic beginning, since the earliest traces of it are found in the primitive strata of mystical and religious thinking. Even in myth and religion all that is distinctive of man is associated with the miracle of knowledge. This miracle reveals the nature of man and his likeness to God, yet in it man also realizes, in the deepest and most painful way, the very limitations of his own nature. Knowledge assures him of his divine origin, yet through it he at once sees himself cut off and banished, as it were, from the original ground of all things. He is condemned to a long laborious way of search and research, from which there is no final escape. In the very consciousness that there is a knowledge and a truth is the awareness at the same time that the possession of absolute truth is denied to man. To this religious pessimism the Greeks were the first to take a definitely opposite view. It was a decisive affirmation that knowledge is certainly possible to man. There was no longer that sense of a "fall" of man and of an estrangement from the ultimate ground of things, but on the contrary a conviction that knowledge is the one power which can sustain and unite man forever with the ultimate being. That way to union with reality is what Greek philosophy aims to show. The more deeply reason is absorbed in its own being, and the more conscious it becomes of its own true worth, the further it penetrates into the Being of things. For there is no sharp line that separates truth from reality, thought from Being. This fundamental meaning of Greek philosophy is realized fully in Plato. With him the problem of being and the problem of knowledge, "ontology" and "logic," are bound together in indissoluble unity. We can succeed in defining what True Being is only when we have first attained clarity on the nature of knowing and have a certain answer to the question: What is knowledge?

In the early dawn of the Renaissance modern philosophy returned to that Platonic position. Here philosophical speculation and the first rudiments of exact science meet. To Galileo the "new science" of dynamics, which he founded, meant first of all the decisive confirmation of what Plato had sought and demanded in his theory of ideas.

Additional information

Publisher: Place of publication:
  • New Haven, CT
Publication year:
  • 1950


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