Stuck? 7 The Four Fields of Knowledge

Continued from Stuck? 6 Levels of Being

The Four Fields of Knowledge

Schumacher goes on to consider the question of what can we know about the world. He identifies four fundamentally distinct fields of such knowledge[i], corresponding with combinations of the two pairs ‘I / the world’, and ‘inner experience / outer appearance’. These four fields are each different and require different approaches to gaining knowledge – and in each field knowledge can be gained about the Levels of Being.

The ‘inner I’ is the field of the subjective – of inner psychological and spiritual development. Here applies the Delphian inscription ‘know thyself’.

The field of ‘inner world’ relates to our understanding of (and empathy with) the inner world of others, and our culture. The traditional wisdom says that we can understand other beings only to the extent that we know ourselves, so there is a crucial relationship with the ‘inner I’.

In these two ‘inner’ fields we find ‘my own’ and ‘shared’ values respectively, and Plato’s divine qualities of the beautiful and the good[ii], the aesthetic and moral dimensions. These are the fields neglected by the obsession with objectivity, and here lie today’s neglected qualities and values.

The ‘outer I’ is the field of ‘myself as known to others’, and the ‘outer world’ is the physical world around us. Here objective science has established its domain. We can describe, form theories about, and experiment on the world, so long as we remember that this supposed objectivity has its reflection in the inner fields. These two outer fields are the domain of Plato’s third divine quality, the true.

Schumacher makes the useful distinction between the ‘descriptive’ sciences such as botany, which ask “what do I encounter”, and the ‘instructional’ sciences such as physics, which ask “what must I do to obtain a certain result”.

The instructional sciences are the domain of ‘proof’, and only effectively operate with lower Levels of Being (higher Levels of Being have too many degrees of freedom for such strict causality). Instructional sciences are only relevant to the ‘outer’ fields. The descriptive sciences, he suggests, are sterile without ideas from inner experience, hence are not so confined. (Goethe pointed the way many years ago with his science of wholeness[iii].) However, there is no concept of ‘proof’ in the descriptive sciences. For example, we can never conclusively ‘prove’ the Theory of Evolution.

Ken Wilber suggests that science needs to operate with awareness of the Four Fields of Knowledge – and scientists operating within the subjective fields will change themselves – no longer the objective observer, but participatory in nature[iv]. For example, future astronomers may reconnect with the ancient knowledge of astrology that their some of their 20th century equivalents have so assiduously denigrated[v].


So we have the framework of the Four Fields of Knowledge which encompasses objective science, but is not dominated by it. It demonstrates the restricted scope of scientific materialism, and the ‘inner’ fields it wilfully excludes.

And we have the previously almost universally accepted Levels of Being, which provide a coherent framework for a universal spirituality. The Four Fields of Knowledge indicate the necessary scope of that spirituality in terms of how we relate to, and are seen by, others – and indicate different ways in which science can seek to understand spirituality.

For me, these provide a convincing and satisfying framework within which science and spirituality can happily co-exist. Wilber discusses this reconciliation in more depth[vi], suggesting that both sciences and religions need to release their attachment to the belief that their myths are the only valid ones.

Of course, the adoption of such a framework has implications on growth and transformation for everyone on the planet, and for humanity as a whole. When we have faith in it, it will become reality, and humanity will become more than it is today.

2023 perspective: I sense that this framework is becoming much better understood through work of such as the Scientific and Medical Network and the Institute Of Noetic Sciences. Here is evidence of the cracks of change undermining the materialistic mental mind.

The featured image shows Ken Wilber’s four quadrants, similar to Schumacher’s framework.

[i] The Four Fields of Knowledge, or four quadrants, have more recently been extensively explored by Ken Wilber in his various works such as A Theory of Everything. Wilber uses the similar (but not identical) split ‘individual / collective’, rather than ‘I / the world’.

[ii] In A Brief History of Everything, Ken Wilber relates Plato’s ‘big three’, the Beautiful/ Good/ True to the four quadrants and to similar major concerns of philosophers such as Popper (subjective/ cultural/ objective), Habermas (subjective sincerity/ intersubjective justness/ objective truth) and Kant (critiques of judgement/ practical reason/ pure reason).

[iii] Goethe’s approach to science is outlined in The Wholeness of Nature: Goethe’s Way of Science, Henri Bortoft. For discussion of a science of quality see How the Leopard Changed Its Spots, Brian Goodwin.

[iv] For an extended discussion of participation see The Participatory Mind, Henryk Skolimowski

[v] Indeed astrology is today used as a tool to help in psychological development. See e.g. Astrological Psychosynthesis, Bruno Huber.

[vi] Reconciliation of science and religion is discussed at length in The Marriage of Sense and Soul, Ken Wilber

God and good

god coverStruggling through the brainache of what is it all about soon leads you on to the subject of God, and what constitutes a good life. This is another source of brainache, but fortunately there is a guide, in the form of Keith Ward’s book God, subtitled A Guide for the Perplexed.

Why did I read such a book, published as it was in 2002? It was actually a posthumous present from friend Chris Lyons, who died 3 years ago now. A wonderful part of Chris’s funeral was the opportunity to select one of the books from his extensive library as a gift. Browsing through the books available I was drawn to this one by Keith Ward, who is variously described as priest, philosopher and theologian. I had some years previously seen Keith give a stimulating talk at a Mystics & Scientists conference.

My conclusion

Keith Ward has made a valiant effort to take us through and help understanding of some of the many contradictory strands and threads in the Western understanding of God over more than two millennia. Most major prophets, philosophers and theologians are there.

This is not easy reading. but rewards the effort taken to understand. There is no final answer to the question ‘what is God?’ Ward stresses that “thinking about God is not just an intellectual exercise. It is thinking about the best way to live as a human being, and about the deepest understanding of the world in which we live”.

I’ve found this book a helpful guide, but it’s in the nature of the subject of the mystery at the core of human existence that, although somewhat enlightened, I am no less perplexed than I was before reading it!

Also perplexing is the insistence of materialists in regarding the ‘hard problems of science’ as a more helpful concept than ‘God’.

Overview of the content

How does Keith go about this exploration into God? It is impossible to give any sort of summary, but I will at least give his chapter headings and some idea of the topics covered and the luminaries involved.

1. A feeling for the gods,

Once the world was seen as full of gods, such as in Homer’s Iliad. These gods are now seen as symbolic constructs of the human imagination, representing creative energies and deep powers. This was a world of the poetic imagination, that we struggle to understand today, and that poets such as Blake and Wordsworth tried to reconnect with.

2. Beyond the gods

Then came prophets and seers who spoke with inspiration from deep within. They saw beyond the world of the gods, culminating in the second Isiah who came to the concept of the one God, unknown and unknowable. Monotheism. This idea of God, adopted by the Christians when they came along, culminated in the work of Thomas Aquinas in 13C. This God of classical Christianity could not be defined or described: “We cannot know what God is, but only what he is not.” This unknowability of God lies at the heart of Judaism, Christianity, Islam and other traditions. There was no old man in the sky.

3. The love that moves the sun,

God is said to have passed down to the Jews, via Moses, the (ten and more) commandments, included in the Torah. Two great commandments were emphasised – to love God and to love one’s neighbour as oneself. These were later adopted by non-Jewish Christians who renounced the Torah around 7C but retained the spiritual essence. In 17C Calvin developed this to such a demanding ethic that it could not be fulfilled, so required the forgiveness of God. The rationalist Kant actually retained a religious approach to morality, contrary to how he has been sometimes reported.

4. The God of the philosophers,

Plato’s (3C BC) philosophy of love of wisdom turned from the world of appearances to the inner vision of goodness itself, and beauty and truth – the true home of the soul, as in the Upanishads. Platonism was largely adopted by Christianity, notably through Augustine in 4-5C. God was the creator of matter and of the form of goodness. Aristotle’s vision was slightly different, but God was still there as the perfect being, acting as an attractor to all beings. In 11c Anselm defined God as ‘that than which nothing greater can be conceived’.

5. The poet of the world

The classical view of the timeless immutable God dominated European thinking about God for 1000 years, culminating in Aquinas. The Protestant revolution introduced God as entering into human history. Rather than turn towards the eternal, man would shape the material into perfection – the world of science and technology. Established authorities were challenged and in 18C came the American and French Revolutions. The incomprehensible Hegel proposed that the whole of temporal reality was the self-expression of Absolute Spirit/God, seeking to realise its own nature. (Marx and Darwin turned things round, and matter was at the centre of existence – nature evolved and history was a dialectical process). Pantheism and panentheism are perhaps the ultimate expression of Hegel’s view. In 20C Whitehead’s process philosophy sees the world comprising countless millions of agents each making their own moral choices towards the good, guided by love – all experienced as part of God.

6. The darkness between the stars

In 16C Francis Bacon heralded the coming science and its practical impact in ‘bettering’ the human condition. In 19C Kierkegaard went in a different direction ‘subjectivity is truth’. Faith in God is a subjective matter, a commitment of the self despite objective uncertainty. In 20C Ayer and logical positivism took things to ‘logical’ extremes – all meaningful statements must be verifiable, talk about God was meaningless. Even he later admitted this was going too far. For Sartre life is absurd, except for the meaning we give it for ourselves, there is no God. Tillich is more traditional, seeing God as the power and ground of being, the ultimate symbol of the good we strive for. Wittgenstein said little about God: “Whereof we cannot speak, therefore we must be silent.” Modern spirituality tends to emphasise the good rather than God.

7. The personal ground of being

There is an interesting discussion of the problem of evil, with thinkers Fichte, Schelling, Schopenhauer and Nietsche. God needs to be in some way transcendent to avoid being tarred with the inevitable evil. Tillich suggests that God is the personal ground of being, but not a person.

Featured image fresco Creation of Adam from Sistine  Chapel ceiling, by Dennis Jarvis from Halifax, Canada via Wikimedia Commons

The Heart of Man

the heart of manReaders of my last few posts will have detected a certain attraction to the ideas expressed in Erich Fromm‘s book The Heart of Man: Its Genius for Good and Evil, first published in 1964.

There is much more in the book than my blog posts listed below, which will give a flavour of some of the content. I find Fromm’s work accessible, readable and very relevant today, when the mistakes of the past are rising again to confront humanity – the mistakes that led those such as Fromm to leave a Europe where Hitler’s racism was brewing up into war, for the relative stability of the US.

Fromm throws light onto the nature of good and evil, and particularly the psychological roots that are the causes of war, or alternatively that lead to periods of Renaissance.