Faith Seeking Understanding?

What happens when faith seeks understanding?  Is it an attempt by faith to change, to become something new, higher–say, knowledge?  Is it an attempt to understand something that is held by faith but held in, say, incomplete understanding, but where complete or at any rate more complete understanding would not change my relationship to what is understood (it would remain faith)?  Or is it an attempt to secure knowledge that could be somehow ranged alongside faith without turning that faith into knowledge?  Or is it an attempt to come to know something that could only be known by first having faith in it, so that the subsequent knowledge has to be regarded as faith-having-molted-into-knowledge, not as faith-replaced-by-knowledge?  (I take it that not all knowledge is required to begin in faith.  But how would we understand the distinction between knowledge that is so required to begin, and knowledge that is not?)  Or should understanding here be juxtaposed with knowledge (say, in a Cavellian way) so that faith seeking understanding cannot be taken to put faith in relationship to knowledge (at least not straightforwardly)?  Would the sense of ‘understanding’ here be factive or quasi-factive?  If so, how far could we keep it from knowledge?  If not, what then is understanding?  (A set of propositions expressed, a la Frege, in the That p form–showing that the propositions are entertained but not asserted?  Something else?)  –Questions, questions, questions.

You knew it was coming:  What is Anselm doing?

3 responses

  1. Here is another: Is faith fated to seek understanding? Consider particularly two senses of faith’s fate: The first draws on the contrast between plain faith and seeking faith, the second on the contrast between seeking and finding. Must faith seek understanding–in general, or even only in those cases of knowing something that can be known only by first having faith in it (if there are any such cases)? Or can faith remain as it is, plain (unseeking, ununderstanding) faith? (Is there such “plain” faith?) And once seeking, is it doomed to always be seeking, or can it achieve understanding?

    On a different note: The idea of a categorical genus comes to mind here. Perhaps the contrast between understanding and knowledge that you are grappling with can also be cashed out in terms of this categorical hierarchy, where faith’s understanding is not a species of factive-understanding (“theoretical-understanding”), but a categorical species of understanding in general on par with, but independent of theoretical understanding? And if so, perhaps faith’s understanding should not be understood along the Fregean model of grasped but not asserted thoughts? But if this model of understanding is inapplicable here, how is it even possible for us to think what faith understands, or to express it in language? (Unsurprisingly I think here of the parallel with aesthetic judgment. Is there a sense of speaking of aesthetic knowledge? What does it mean to know that an object is beautiful? If there is sense in speaking about such knowledge, it seems that it cannot be understood as a species of theoretical knowledge. But if aesthetic knowledge is not a species of theoretical knowledge (if, to use Frege again, it cannot be expressed by the That p form), how can we explain our capacity to express it in judgment?)

  2. I’m not sure if my perspective could be of any help here, but in case it
    can:

    Having been raised by two people who always told me they were communist,
    when it came to matters of faith I have always felt like a blind man in the
    land of the sighted. I always felt as if others have this neat super-power
    that allows them to do something that I will never be able to do: believe,
    pray, kneel. (Wittgenstein said to Drury once: “I cannot kneel to pray
    because it’s as though my knees were stiff.” I wholly identify.)
    So for me it was never faith seeking understanding, but the other way
    around: understanding seeking faith. This is why I am always so attracted to
    the Kantian seeking of forms of judgment, forcing us to look at
    understanding from close to; who knows, maybe one of these days it will
    discover the religionus form of judgment.
    But I know I’m kidding myself. I know that the resources I have in my
    blindness will never allow me to prove myself into sightedness. Anything I
    may be tempted to call “the religious form of judgment,” by this very fact
    (that I’m tempted to call it that) is shown to be not really what I’m
    looking for. So I don’t know what I’m looking for. I don’t even know what
    ‘looking’ means here.

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