Appearance/reality: the Problem of Knowledge in Renaissance Philosophy and its Reflections in English Literature

Edward Dukes, Colby College


As Eric Levi has shown in his book Literature, Philosophy, and the Imagination, the theme of appearance/reality is a basic mode of expression for the literary and metaphysical imagination. An almost integral feature of all imaginative presentations seems to be the notion that behind the immediately known order of things and events lies another, more "real" order. Traditionally, the task of the artist and philosopher has been to discover and present this underlying order. It is the thesis of this study that a significant alteration in the perception of the way in which the underlying order is known did take place between the scholastic thought of the 13th and the 14th centuries and the formulation of Cartesian philosophy in the 17th century. It appears that the basic change took place in the altering relationships and eventual separation of the objects of knowledge proper to theology and the objects of knowledge proper to philosophy. By the 17th century the natural world was seen as the object of philosophy, and divine revelation and grace as the objects of theology.