‘Like is known by like’ is an ancient and widely applied axiom in Hellenic thought,1 and some similar axiom probably can be found in many other traditions of thought—albeit we must always remember that being widely held is no index of truth. Rather, axioms must be assessed by the value of the system(s) that can be generated from them. In some sense, to say that like is known by like is the same as to say, with Parmenides, that “the same thing is there for thinking and for being,”2 because we recognize that the thinking of something belongs to the same substance as the being of it.
Another Hellenic axiom is that the Gods know things in the best way it is possible to know them. The notion which founds metaphysics, according to Aristotle, is two-sided.3 On the one hand, it is the aspiration to know the best things, on the other hand, to know things in the best way. For Aristotle, both of these paths lead to the Gods; the former seeks to know about Them, insofar as They are the best things, while the latter seeks to know things in the way the Gods do, for this would be the best way in which to know them. But we can see how the double-sidedness of metaphysics also follows from the axiom that like is known by like, because we would have to know the Gods by learning to know things in a godlike way. But this also implies that our knowledge of the Gods is at once, in some sense, Their knowledge of us.
Moreover, Their knowledge of us must be at once of what is best about us, and of what we truly are. And if the God’s knowledge is a unity, then the best that we are must also be the truth about us, and be what is most real and accurate about us. It can’t just be a portion of me, some particularly valuable trait of mine, because the God, as a whole and a unity Herself, would know me as a whole and as unified myself; and this totality and unity of myself must also be the best me. It cannot be a potential, that is, what I could be, with sufficient effort, because the God, as an actuality Herself, would know me as an actuality, and not as a mere potential. So the best me, who is known to the God, must be the totality and actuality of myself, and this is better than any part of me or any potential I might have. Understanding the parts and potentials is valuable, but would fall below the level of divine knowledge qua divine.
The God, as an end and not a means to an end, must know me as an end in myself and not a means to an end, not, that is, as a mere instrument or vessel. The formula of ‘an end and not a means’ is familiar from Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative, but the terminology of ‘end’ in this sense is thoroughly Aristotelian.4 of a body with organs” (De Anima 412a27-29), where the term organikos is from organon, an instrument or tool. The soul, then, is that by virtue of which an end-in-itself arises from instrumentalized parts.] An end or goal is telos, and something which operates as an end in this sense throughout the whole of its being is an entelecheia, a term which also embodies the sense of being teleios, complete or perfect, or as a process, accomplished or fulfilled, and telos and teleios are also the roots of many terms having to do with sacrality. In the case of a God, this fulfillment or accomplishment in process would be a perfection at every moment in the process, rather than a coming-to-perfection at some point. In the same way, the sacral terms sharing the telos or teleios root refer at once to the perfection or accomplishment of a process, and to the event culminating it. But the event as culmination is the purest individuation of the event as such, and so what is teleios or perfect is the event qua event. In this fashion, the Gods can be with us in process without being, like artifacts, the mere outcome of a process. They can be with us in process without being, by virtue of that, ‘imperfect’. And as known by Them, we are also perfect in process, which does not negate the worldly sense of the processes by which we seek to become more perfect, but it does subordinate these processes in which we instrumentalize or objectify ourselves to the pure evental experience of us in the now.
Finally, the God, as a unique individual, must know me as a unique individual primarily, and only secondarily as this or that type or kind of being. The God, as a perfect intellect, does of course know what a human is, and knows me as a human, but She is a God prior to being an intelligence and so She knows me in my uniqueness prior to my species-nature. This applies necessarily to every other kind of entity as well, every other species. To look at it another way, this follows from the Gods’ knowledge of the species itself as a unique individual in its own right, which requires that the relation between me and my species be real, and hence that both terms in the relation be real. A species or other ‘form’, as known by the Gods, therefore is known also as perfect-in-process and evental, as opposed to the way in which these entities are generally conceived in doctrines that are spuriously described as ‘Platonism’, but which have subtracted the Gods from their account, and therefore removed from the cosmos that divine knowledge which perfects everything in knowing each thing in its perfection.
What are the implications of this for relationships with the Gods which do not have these characteristics, in which the worshiper is objectified or instrumentalized? If these were the only options for how the worshiper could relate to the God, then we would have to accept that there was a more adequate knower than the God, that some other class of entity has knowledge superior to the Gods, not merely with respect to some accident, but with respect to the essence of a being. Rejecting this conclusion, it follows that such relationships can only manifest particular potencies of a God, and that a different relationship between the worshiper and their God, established on different terms and with different practices, is possible, not as a matter of idle speculation, but a priori.
- See, e.g., Aristotle, De Anima 404b7-18. ↩
- Parmenides, frag. 3, quoted by Plotinus, Ennead V.1.8. ↩
- What follows is an explication of Aristotle, Metaphysics 983a2-11. ↩
- As, indeed, is the opposition between ends and means as having a primary importance in understanding living units; for note Aristotle’s definition of the soul as the “primary entelecheia [or end-in-itself ↩