AB ESSE AD POSSE
THE RULE "AB ESSE AD POSSE" AND "A POSSE AB ESSE" AND MODERN AND CONTEMPORARY PHILOSOPHY. Since the times of Kant's "critique", in the philosophy of the subject the rationality of knowledge is thought to flow from the knowing subject who by a priori categories brings order into human knowledge. H. Cohen and P. Natorp of the Marburg school developed this position. For them, epistemology became the theory of "pure thought", since they thought that the power of knowledge resides in "pure thought" and therefore the theory of knowledge became the methodology of scientific knowledge and the logic of science.
Husserl, seeing the appearance at the beginning of the twentieth century of the trends of psychologism, logicism and (scholastic) metaphysicism in the theory of knowledge, held that philosophy's primary task is the critique of knowledge (to make knowledge critical). He states that the following question had lost its meaning: in what measure is a subject experience objectively valid and in what measure does it correspond to reality outside of knowledge? He tried to discover in the cogito itself, that is, in the intentional order and in the act of phenomenological inspection, subjectivity as it is manifested and the transcendental "phenomenon" of the world in their correlative link. In the cogito both immanence (subjectivity) and transcendence (objectivity) are thus supposed to appear. The act of knowledge-thought (cogito) contains in itself alone the relations that motivate and justify the truth of its knowledge-thought. Objectivity is thus already given in pure subjectivity by virtue of the fact that subjectivity manifests objectivity.
The phenomenological conception of the theory of knowledge, like almost all contemporary conceptions of philosophy including hermeneutics, did not appear suddenly as the latest expression of a philosophical fashion or as a "critical" and "scientific" method for doing philosophy, but it is a necessary consequence of the line of thought of the philosophy of the subject that started with Descartes. The starting point in building philosophy was located in the field of consciousness as cogito-cogitatum, that is, (my) thought-thinking as it appears in the form of the clear and distinct idea. This starting point does not provide sufficient premises for affirming the existence of the world, and consequently it is insufficient for achieving truth, if truth is the agreement of our knowledge in the form of judgments with reality understood as really existing. All the contents of thought that are given to us in our knowledge of the world encompass of themselves only the "posse rei" and not the "esse rei". That is, they encompass possible states, but not the existence of things. Existence eludes conceptualization, since the act of existence is not the same as the content of a thing; otherwise the contents of thought would have to exist.
What do we mean when we say that the contents of things given to us (to speak in Cartesian terms) as "ideas" express only "posse" or possible states, but do not express really existing states? First, our knowledge cannot contain that which is not in the thing itself. If the content of a thing is not the same as the existence of the thing (since to be Adam would then be the same as to exist), the cognitive apprehension of content does not contain existence in itself. The apprehension of content without existence is an abstract apprehension (separated from reality) of the potential aspect of a thing. Therefore the "idea" that represents in knowledge under certain aspects the apprehended content of a thing is completely separated from existence. The idea of itself does not possess this existence, and therefore the act of thinking in ideas is an internal activity that exists only by virtue of the existence of the thinking subject. Thus it is not possible in cognition to pass over to the really existing world, since neither is the existing subject the creator of the existence of the world (of things), nor do ideas produced in thought possess existence in themselves. Second, when we know real contents of a thing, e.g. the content of a real horse, we apprehend its content very selectively, interiorizing in knowledge only selected features of the thing which we recognize (in some respect) as being necessary and essential. We connect these apprehended contents into one concept and sign of the thing. This concept and sign exists only by virtue of my own existence. It would be a contradiction for it to come into existence in the real world. The concept apprehends only certain very "superficial" features and only represents content that may (posse) come into existence (insofar as the real, objective and sufficient conditions for the "realization" of the concept and sign occur). Thus it is not true that in eidetic apprehension there occur at the same time subjectivity and transcendence concerning the thing itself, for the transcendence that appears is only the transcendence of the sign; it indicates that something may come into real existence, but it does not indicate the very fact of existence.
Thus we cannot start from the mere thinking of our own thoughts and move toward the world of really existing beings; the conscious apprehension and description of our knowledge and attempts to purify knowledge of distortions will always leave us in the field of knowledge and in the exclusive field of consciousness. Moreover, this restricts the data of knowledge to the contents that we "purify" and — in an appropriate manner, applying various methods — make critical. This approach never allows a passage from pure thought and content to the thing itself and its real existence. Furthermore this takes away from the fact of knowledge something most important, the data of knowledge which are not expressed in a sign and which do not have content. This takes away the intellectual affirmation of things' acts of existence. We affirm existence in an existential judgment without the mediation of signs occurring in consciousness or in acts of knowledge.
THE CONSEQUENCES OF REJECTING THE RULE "AB ESSE AD POSSE". If in a critical (phenomenological) theory of knowledge we were to recognize knowledge itself as its object and were to begin with the question of whether knowledge exists, then we would be presupposing that the knowledge of knowledge (the act of reflection) is more obvious and primordial than the world, which is being as we spontaneously know it. Meanwhile, spontaneously objectified acts are the only basis for cognitive relfection. Moreover, the knowledge of knowledge is the fulfilment of the subjective presupposition that only a spirit can know a spirit, since in this situation there is no difference in the degree of being — the knower and the known are at the same level; from this it should follow that the knowledge of knowledge (reflection) is more evident that the knowledge of the world and being. The being that is known and given in spontaneous cognition already at an earlier stage determines the knowledge of knowledge. Upon what does the knowledge of knowledge rely, if it does not lead back to the knowledge of the world? This question is not posed at the beginning, and in this supposition it cannot be posed in a meaningful way, for the existence of the world is a matter of indifference for the knowledge of knowledge itself. In this state of affairs we would be condemned to solipsism. We would be confined within our own consciousness, and would not know where it came from or what it means, whether it is an individual or general fact.
In the phenomenological approach to the theory of knowledge we face several consequences:
a) We are deprived of the whole sphere of knowledge that occurs without the mediation of signs. This is the knowledge of the act of existence of being (the very foundations of ontic realism). It does not terminate in the production of a sign or concept that then becomes the object of knowledge as a so-called thing in itself, as E. Husseral postulated.
b) We are condemned to be imprisoned in consciousness. Within consciousness a verificational process of knowledge occurs, since the knowledge of our knowledge does not bring us closer to reality. The knowledge of knowledge does not speak directly of reality, but only analyzes the processes (functions) and effects of knowledge. At the starting point it confines us to consciousness and condemns us to solipsism. It makes it impossible for us to find a way out of the confines of consciousness and discover whether we live in the real world or perhaps only within the boundaries of consciousness with its "objects", the signs that we ourselves have created.
c) We are condemned to justify spontaneous knowledge by cognitive reflection, but reflection is of another nature than spontaneous knowledge. In reflective knowledge we possess an immanent knowledge of the signs and concepts of our knowledge, while in spontaneous knowledge the world itself as it really exists is given to us. We appropriate certain features of the world and thereby construct the order of knowledge.
The phenomenological position in the theory of knowledge flees from the essential problem of the theory of knowledge which is the authenticity (aspective truth) of our knowledge of the existing world of persons and things. Phenomenology prefers to be concerned with the knowledge of this knowledge, thereby falling into the immanent life of knowledge itself, taking logic as its only guide and living only on the logic of reasonings that have been divorced from the root of reality. From the knowledge of our knowledge we cannot pass over to the affirmation of the existence of the world of real being and a verifiable apprehension of the real contents of any real being.
Consequently, the whole problem may be expressed in a question — is our knowledge true? In the phenomenological position, this question does not have a topic, since the knowledge of our knowledge as a starting does not allow us to pose the question of whether our knowledge is true. The question of the truth of the knowledge of our knowledge is not an essential problem in philosophy, but the truth of our knowledge of really existing being, especially the existence of reality, may be an important problem (if the starting point were to be the "passage" from thought to being).
THE REASONS FOR THE FAILURE TO RECOGNIZE THE RULE "AB ESSE AD POSSE" AND "A POSSE AD ESSE". All attempts to construct a theory of man's knowledge on the basis indicated by post-Cartesian subjectivism must necessarily be merely artificial logical constructs that address only certain areas of knowledge operating only within consciousness which do not concern the really existing world, since the object of this theory is not the world as known by man, but the knowledge of our knowledge. We are dealing with various areas of knowledge that are demarcated by their various objects. However, there is no passage from the data of consciousness alone to really existing data. What purpose is served by a theory that attempts to overcome subjectivism while relying only upon consciousness? Such a theory may arise only in certain trends of the philosophy of consciousness such as Platonism and post-Platonic philosophies, especially those which Descartes again stuffed into an "epistemological strait-jacket". In such a contrived scheme, those who consciously or unconsciously put on this "strait-jacket" try to do philosophical speculations, but by their presuppositions they cut themselves off from the really existing world. They prefer to put the really existing world before a tribunal of consciousness which deliberately disregards the roots of knowledge. This is how the theory of knowledge was born as "first philosophy". It was intended to direct philosophy as a whole, which had lost its real object — really existing being. Only a non-contradictory explanation of real being can lead thought out of ultimate absurdity. In such a theory of knowledge, various meta-linguistic operations do not help, since each level of language (each meta-theory) takes us further from reality by introducing the mediation some new level of cognition (meta-cognition). Attempts to make knowledge critical by meta-knowledge provide only as much as they presuppose. They create the illusion of critique, as was the case in Kant's system.
If thus the knowledge of reality is the object of the the theory of knowledge, then mechanisms for regulating knowledge are already built into the process of spontaneous knowledge. We should consider these when describing knowledge. Furthermore, there are factors in our knowledge that regulate in various degrees the processes of concomitant reflection which registers the process of cognition, and perfect reflection in act, where we take knowledge itself as the object of knowledge as knowledge is registered in concomitant reflection. Reflection cannot, however, be reduced to a phenomenological position which gives an illusion of precision while in reality it "amputates" the facts of knowledge.
As in philosophy as a whole, in the theory of knowledge there is no Archimedes' point of support. There is no single and rationally grounded starting point in doing philosophy. Reality and our knowledge of reality are such extensive fields that we must apply various operations of knowledge, e.g. genetic, structural and meta-theoretical explanation, and everything is guided by the question that resolves contradictions: "why?" (δια τι [dia tí]) — in order to authenticate the fact of knowledge. Furthermore, we must analyse and justify the various facts of knowledge: the affirmation of existence, perception, judgment and reasoning. Finally, we must take a position with respect to the epistemological problems connected with the truth of knowledge that have developed over the centuries and have developed out of various a priori philosophical positions.
The task of the theory of knowledge — as an important domain of philosophical knowledge and the explanation of the reality of the really existing world of persons and things — is to show the truth of knowledge in the context of a description of the processes and spontaneous acts of knowledge of reality. Moreover, we must show the reasons why epistemological pseudo-problems have arisen (scepticism, dogmatism and various so-called "realisms"). Pseudo-problems arise out of pseudo-philosophy, which is a form of ideology or gnosis sometimes bearing the name of "scientific" or "critical".
É. Gilson, The Unity of Philosophical Experience, NY 1937 (Jedność doświadczenia filozoficznego Wwa 1968); idem, Réalisme thomiste et critique de la connaissance, P 1947; idem, L'être et l'essence, P 1948; 19622 (Byt i istota, Wwa 1963); Krąpiec Dzieła (Works)II; É. Gilson, Elements of Christian Philosophy, GC 1960 (Elementy filozofii chrześciańskiej, Wwa 1965); Krąpiec Dzieła (Works) VIII.
Mieczysław A. Krąpiec