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THE DIVISION OF HUMAN KNOWLEDGE IN THE WRITINGS OF SAINT BONAVENTURE Unless the impresssions which continually bombard a man's senses remain organized, he would rapidly become psychotic. The same effect would follow if the objects, facts or experiences into which these impressions coagulate were not related in some constant and recognizable relationship by means of concepts, and if these concepts in turn were not related to each other on the basis of perceptible similarity into fields of knowledge. Again the consequences destructive of personality, which follow from the lack of an overall and comprehensive vision of reality in which these fields of knowledge are organized in a structured whole, is common knowledge today, having been highlighted by the literature of the absurd. Seen more positively, what is at stake here is the whole human quest for meaning, which is probably even more basic in man than the instinct of biological self-preservation, as instanced by the frequency with which men are prepared to die for their faith, whether this be religious or ideological. This meaning in the broadest and most abstract terms, consists in the recognition of the relation of the individual item to the greater whole to which it belongs. The ultimate perspective, the meaning of human life as such, depends, then, on an overall view of reality into which all aspects of the universe as encountered in experience are led back or reduced to an ordered and interrelated totality. Yet for this overall view to be not merely arbitrary and totally unique to each individual, which would make it incommunicable, it would seem to be necessary that the universe itself have some sort of structure and unity which human beings who are receptive can experience in a way that is at least partially similar. Some such intuition may well have lain at the basis of the explanation of creation given by the author of the first chapter of Genesis. A state of chaos, a universe in which things were higgledy-piggledy, was not a situation in which man could survive. The Creator had first to bring about a structured, ordered, and unified system of things before the world Bonaventure's Division of Human Knowledge221 became a place fit for human habitation, if men were to live positively and constructively as persons and exercise some control over their environment. From what has just been said it is clear that man cannot exist fully as man without a progressive systematization and synthesizing of his contact with the universe. This thinking, this classification, this conceptualization of the world of his experience on the part of man necessarily involves simplification of the too vast and complex universe, without which reality would be incomprehensible,1 the process which the classical and scholastic traditions called abstraction. By means of this intellectual process the individual thing, person, or event, stripped of its particularity as this individual in a particular moment of the spatiotemporal flux, is viewed in the light of a generalized concept in terms of which it stands in relation to the same aspect of other individuals. By this means, man is able to deal with a multiplicity in the world of experience as a conceptual unit, and further, to relate these conceptual units to one another in the ever wider wholes which constitute the fields of human knowledge. Each of these large cognitive wholes is likewise unified in a single framework. The overall vision which unifies all these fields of knowledge into a single structured pattern is a man's view of life, which is most adequately expressed by the familiar German word Weltanschaauung. This overall pattern gives a tonality to each of the diverse levels of conceptual unification, and ultimately constitutes the framework within which the world itself can be experienced. When men, in addition to the natural and cultural factors which determine their conscious grasp of the world of their experience, begin to organize their fields of knowledge and concepts of things into systems for intellectual or practical use, then even within the one culture there can be a great diversity of approaches to the systematization of knowledge. This depends initially upon the belief or fundamental option which determines the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1945-9718
Print ISSN
0080-5459
Pages
pp. 220-259
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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