Page:A Brief History of Modern Philosophy.djvu/26

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23
CUSANUS

All knowledge consists of a process of combination and assimilation. Even sense perception combines various impressions into unitary wholes and these are in turn reduced to ideas and the ideas finally to concepts. In this way the intellect (intelligentia) is forever striving for unity—but it invariably requires an antithesis, something “other than” (alteritas) itself to effect its development. Finally, in order to transcend the antitheses, thought undertakes to conceive them as the extremes of a continuous series. In this way maximum and minimum are united by a continuous series of magnitudes. But we are unable to reconcile all antitheses: thought culminates in antitheses, i.e. there always remains an unassimilated increment beyond itself. It is as impossible for our thought to comprehend the Absolute as it is to describe a circle of pure polygons, even though we may constantly approach it more closely. Although we are incapable of conceiving the Absolute, Deity, we nevertheless understand (such is the nature of the intellect) our incapacity, and the ignorance in which our thought culminates, as a matter of fact, is a scientific ignorance (docta ignorantia). (One of the most interesting of the works of Cusanus is entitled De docta ignorantia.)

This fundamental peculiarity of our knowledge is likewise of importance in the study of nature. We are constantly striving to form continuous series from given points, but without being able to arrive anywhere. Thus, e.g. we can divide our idea of matter to infinity, in experience we must always be satisfied with a finite division, and the atom concept therefore always remains relative. It is the same with the idea of motion: an everlasting, perpetual motion were only possible in case there were no resistance. Here Cusanus anticipates the principle of