Beyond Realism and Idealism

By Wilbur Marshall Urban | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION
The Epistemological Problem in General and the Opposition of Realism and Idealism.

I

A

THERE are some philosophers who deprecate the epistemological problem as such. We have knowledge, they tell us, and no theory of knowledge can either create or destroy it. We have thought, intellect, reason: why all this continual sharpening of the instrument without ever using it? Like Goethe they are more or less contemptuous of all this 'thinking about thought'.

With much of this, every sane philospher will agree. There is much activity -- in both epistemology and logic -- which exemplifies the fanaticism of which it is said that it redoubles its activity when it has forgotten its end. With the main contention there can, however, be no sympathy. Unfortunately, we must think about thought -- if the products of our thought, knowledge, science itself, are to have any meaning for us other than that which the products of any other unthinking instinct have -- if the will to know is not to be merely one of many transmutations or disguises of the will to life itself. 'We must know,' cries Lossky, accepting thereby all the painful reflection upon thought and knowledge which this necessity inevitably implies. We must know -- and any metaphysical theory that leaves knowledge impossible stands self-condemned from the beginning. In this sense the central and ultimate philosophical problem is that of epistemology, not metaphysics.

This is why the problem of knowledge -- somewhat to the bewilderment of the non-philosophical -- has bulked so large in all significant philosophical discussion. The fact that knowledge, science, exists at all, that the human mind has proved capable of acquiring it, when taken together with the other acquirements of the human spirit, itself outweighs in philosophical significance all other facts, whether about man or nature acquired through the study of the physical sciences. That, for instance, 'the human mind should possess the power of comprehending its own natural origins, of ranging in thought over

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