Tradition and Epistemology

          A man who upholds traditional values is not yet revolting against the modern world. While it is certainly a good thing to believe in hierarchy, sovereignty, and the imperium, for example, these beliefs are not incompatible with modernity. Someone might value hierarchy because he believes a hierarchical organization is the natural outcome of biological differences, and sovereignty might be valued on account of utilitarian considerations. The content of belief is traditional (hierarchy/sovereignty) but the epistemological basis for that content (biological empiricism/pragmatism) is modern. If someone wants to revolt against the modern world, if he truly wants to reject modernity in its entirety, he must reject a modern epistemology and adopt a traditional epistemology. To gain a better understanding of traditional epistemology we will attend to the thought of Plato, Augustine, Dionysius the Areopagite, and Julius Evola, traditional philosophers from classical antiquity (Plato), the Christian West (Augustine), the Christian East (Dionysius), and modern Europe.

            Modern epistemology tends to have Man as its center.[1] The center of Cartesian rationalism is the detached subjec, the detached person. The center of pragmatism is usefulness; what is useful for humans. The center of classical foundationalism is self-evident, axiom; self-evident to humans. The center for coherentism is coherence, as defined by Man. In contrast to this, traditional epistemology Man is not the center. At the center of traditional epistemology is eternal. What is most certain is eternal and all things are judged in light of the eternal. Plato, Augustine, Dionysius, and Evola had different ideas about the eternal. It is beyond the scope of this essay to argue who was right, the focus of this essay is, rather, to explore how all four thinkers felt the need to give primacy to the divine.

Plato

            In the Socratic and later Platonic dialogues, how a thing is known is about its Form. For example, when Socrates asked Meno what virtue is, Meno gave a list of different virtues.[2] What Socrates wanted to know was not a list of different virtues and how they applied to different people, but what makes a virtue a virtue, the way “in which they are all the same and do not differ from one another”, for “even if they are many and various, all of them have the same form which makes them virtues, and it is right to look at this when one is asked to make clear what virtue is.”[3] The essence, the very being, of a thing is called a “Form” in Platonic thought. Forms are eternal, unchanging, and all that is participates in the Forms. For example, good things are good because they participate in the Form of the Good, and beautiful things are beautiful because they participate in the Form of Beauty. True knowledge, for Plato, is knowledge of the eternal.

Augustine

            For Augustine, similar to Plato, knowledge is, ultimately, of the eternal. In book four of The Confessions, Augustine discusses how we can know if we are living a just life, he gives the following advice: “If material things please you then praise God for them, but turn back your love upon Him who made them: lest in the things that please you, you displease Him…The good that you love is from Him: and insofar as it is likewise for Him it is good and lovely, but it will rightly be turned into bitterness if it is unrightly loved and He deserted by whom it is.”[4] Food, friends, drink, and sex are all good things, but we must love God who made these things and love these things for God’s sake. How can we know if we are living a just life? By judging all our loves and actions in light of the eternal, by seeing if our every love and action is orientated towards God.

Dionysius the Areopagite

            Dionysius, when contemplating why the Divine Trinity is called The Good, says the following: “The Good returns all things to itself and gathers together whatever may be scattered, for it is the divine source and unifier of the total of things. Each looking to it as a source, as the agent of cohesion, and as an objective…all things return to it as their own goal. All things desire it.”[5] Later, when discussing why the Triune God is called Beautiful, Dionysius says, “And there it is ahead of all as Goal, as the Beloved, as the Cause towards which all things move, since it is the beauty which brings them into being.”[6] The source of all things and the end (telos) of all things is God. To know what a thing is, its source, and purpose (telos), attention must be turned towards the eternal.

Julius Evola

            As with Plato, Augustine, and Dionysius, Julius Evola believed that true knowledge is knowledge of the eternal. In the opening chapter of Revolt Against the Modern World, Evola speaks of “the fundamental doctrine of the two natures. According to this doctrine, there is a physical order of things and a metaphysical one; there is a mortal nature and an immortal one; there is the superior realm of ‘being’ and the inferior realm of ‘becoming’…there is a visible and tangible dimension, and before it and beyond it, an invisible and intangible dimension that is the support, the source, the true life of the former.”[7] To know what the source and the true life of a thing is you need to know the very being of a thing and, therefore, to know what a thing is we must (according to Evola) attend to the realm of being. Knowledge for Evola is,  as with the past three thinkers, knowledge of the eternal.

Recapitulation

            Traditional man does not just believe different things than Modern man, he thinks differently and therefore acts differently, and this may be the greatest difference between he who weds himself to the modern world and he who revolts against the modern world. Revolting against the modern world means to stop believing that a Man is measured by all things material. Revolting against the modern world means having the eternal view before you and to know all things in light of are eternal and to judge all things against the eternal. This is the teaching of Plato, Augustine, Dionysius the Areopagite, and Julius Evola. This is the teaching of classical antiquity, Christian Europe, and post-Christian Europe. This is the teaching of tradition.

[1] Center will be used for the remainder of this essay in the manner that structuralists and post-structuralist use it. It shall denote that principle around which a philosophy revolves; it shall denote the principle upon which a philosophy is built.

[2] Plato, and John M. Cooper. Complete Works. Indianapolis: Hackett, 2009. 71e-72a

[3] Plato, and John M. Cooper. Complete Works. 72b, 72c

[4] Augustine, F. J. Sheed, and Michael P. Foley. Confessions. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 2007. Book 4, chapter 12, (18).

[5] Dionysius, Luibheid. The Complete Works. New Jersey: Paulist Press, 1987. 700B 

[6] Dionysius, Luibheid. The Complete Works. 704A

[7] Evola, Stucco. Revolt Against the Modern World. Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions International, 1995. 3

By: Tullius –   Revolt Through Tradition