Nature and Grace

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Philosophy sounds boring, but is a very deep profession.  The truth is, everyone is a philosopher to some degree.  Have you ever thought about why you think?  Have you ever considered how you think?  This is called epistemology.  Many philosophers have taken up this study.  They study whether or not there is a supernatural realm and whether or not we can find it.

 Thomas Aquinas described the world as having two realms, the concrete and abstract, the upper story and lower story.  Contained in the upper story is all things unseen, love, grace, God, heaven.  Within the lower story are things like man, earth, and nature.  The upper story is the supernatural and illogical, and the lower story the rational and material.  Basically, man can fully understand the lower story but is unable to comprehend the upper story.  Thus, it is easy to see how man would either obsess completely over the supernatural, or focus only on the material.

There are different views people interpret the material and supernatural realms through, and these views were introduced by philosophers such as Herodotus, Parmenides, Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle.

Herodotus thought that nature was constantly changing, and thus almost impossible to understand.  The truth of nature in his view was not objective, but changed constantly.

Parmenides, on the other hand, believed that nature was fixed, but that our senses could not get truth from nature.  Instead, man must rely on reason to discover truth.

Socrates was another case altogether, for he completely dissected the process of thought until he arrived at the conclusion that he really knew nothing.  His method involved questioning of oneself and one’s beliefs.

Then comes Plato, who was a student of Socrates.  He believed that the world had a layer which could be perceived by the senses, and a layer that could only be perceived by reason, a world of universals.

Aristotle was one of the first to believe that the world of universals is one that man can know.  By studying nature, particulars, one can find truth, universals.

Finally, Aquinas organized the universals and particulars into the upper and lower stories of the world.  He divided the lower story into cognitive and empirical thought.  Cognitive thought is that which man has always had, intuition.  The knowledge of sin, instincts, and law is cognitive thought.  Empirical thought is that which is taught through education and experience, such as how to read and write.

The upper story could not be found through empirical or cognitive thought but through revelation, revelation by God.  This reveals to man the things of heaven, the things which “the angels wish to look into.”

During the Platonic period, man was focused completely upon the things of the upper story, or the things of grace.  Man and nature were almost completely disregarded as unimportant, while God and grace were the only things reflected beautifully in architecture and art.  This all changed during the Renaissance, when nature was incorporated into art and architecture.  Eventually, nature was held above grace, impacting theology and philosophy.  Philosophy was no longer based on revelation, but became based on the thought of man.

The Reformation finally brought the balance of nature and grace that the world had been wanting.  The beauty of nature was still incorporated, but grace was the overlying theme.

That is my overview on the history of epistemology and the “upper story” and “lower story.”  I hope you learned something new!

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