Contemplating Unification Thought


by Dr. Jennifer P. Tanabe

Epistemology means "theory of knowledge." Since it deals with how we gain knowledge of the world, and whether that knowledge is true, your epistemology is fundamental to your approach to human nature. For example, if you take the Empiricist position that all our knowledge of the world is learned, then your expectation of newborn infants and the effects of different environments might lead you to believe that you could mold them any way that you chose.

In fact, the whole school of Behaviorism in psychology is based on this assumption. I long ago realized that epistemology is an extremely important area of philosophy, and therefore requires the greatest effort to find the right answers. I found this to be true in Unification Thought, as I struggled to understand the section on epistemology along with my colleagues! So, don't be discouraged if parts of this article appear a little obscure.

In Dr. Lee's own words, "Unification Epistemology . . . is the most difficult to understand of all the theories of Unification Thought" (Seventh International Symposium on Unification Thought, Tokyo, 1990).

Unification Epistemology has also proved to be one of the more controversial sections, with critics complaining that it is pure materialism with no spirit, that it is all contained in the theory of Ontology so that Unification Thought is based on a circular argument, that it is out of date since it does not consider any philosophical advances since the nineteenth century, that it is a "quasi-science" which attempts to explain the act of cognition rather than a philosophy which explicates the concept of cognition, to list but a few. Unificationists have also been quick to criticize this section, finding difficulty in relating to neurophysiological diagrams, questioning the existence of prototypes, wondering about "cosmic consciousness," and wanting to know more about spiritual cognition, knowledge of God, and the role of Shim Jung.

In this article I will present the main points which I find to be valuable in Unification Epistemology, and through doing this some of the criticisms mentioned above will be discussed. However, I will not attempt to answer all of the objections, partly due to lack of space, but also because some of them are valid. The text, Essentials of Unification Thought, does not claim to be the final word on all areas of philosophy, and there are many issues which it does not address. The questions raised by scholars who have studied Unification Thought should be topics for future publications.

So, what is Unification Epistemology? Well, it explains both how we come to know about the world, and how we obtain true knowledge of the world. In other words, it answers both questions, "How do we know what we know?" and "How do we know what we know?" The theory is based on Divine Principle and Rev. Moon's speeches, including his personal communications with Dr. Sang Hun Lee. Unification Epistemology begins by addressing the issue of the origin of cognition. Traditionally, Empiricists have claimed that the object is the origin of cognition, whereas Rationalists emphasize the subject's reason.

Unification Epistemology approaches the question differently, saying that the real issue is the relationship between subject and object, is this relationship accidental or necessary? Unification Ontology explains that all things were created to be the object of humankind, for the purpose of producing joy. Human beings were created with sense organs to experience objects, and objects were created to be experienced by us. The object must be experienced, and the subject must use reason to make a judgment on the object to recognize it and appreciate it, and so joy can be produced. Now, this does bring Ontology and Epistemology together, but since Unification Thought begins with God and creation, it seems logical to me that Unification Epistemology should be based on Unification Ontology, and that this does not imply a circular argument.

The next question philosophers have struggled over is, does the object really exist? Does it have real existence which is exactly as we experience it (Realism), or does it exist only in as a construction in the mind of the subject (Subjective Idealism)? Here I must say that it is pretty obvious that these two extreme positions are wrong. Most normal people can recognize that there is a real world existing outside of their mind! However, since we do not all experience the same world, our knowledge of this world is not independent of our own cognitive processes.

Anyway, Unification Epistemology takes exactly this view, saying that the real world exists, and that the human mind interprets the information received by the sense organs making judgments about the nature of the world. Judgments require standards or criteria, and in the case of cognition the standards are called "prototypes" and these are images in the mind. Cognition, therefore, is the result of comparison between an internal image in the mind of the subject and an external image coming from the object.

The question that follows is whether we can have true knowledge of the world, or are we limited to our own individual impression or construction of the world? Kant, the eighteenth philosopher whose thought continues to influence us today, believed that we can't know the "thing-in-itself" because our knowledge depends on structures in our minds which are not related to the world. Unification Epistemology claims that we can have true knowledge, based on the understanding in Ontology that the world has a layered structure in which human beings are on the highest level, containing all the elements of those on lower levels. Thus, prototypes in the human mind are images of the same structures that exist in the world. In other words, we have true knowledge of the world because we are the world.

Here it must be noted that mind or spirit are not being derived from matter, as in Marxist materialism. Rather, prototypes are images formed through the activity of "protoconsciousness," which can be understood as life or spirit, on the cells, tissues, etc. of the human body. Thus, both spirit (mind) and matter (body) are involved, with prototypes being the result of give-and-receive action between them, with the mind in the subject position and the body in the object position. Unification Epistemology is no more materialistic than the other sections of Unification Thought, rather it attempts to make a bridge between philosophy and science, through addressing the issue of the relationship between mind and brain.

How, then, do we obtain our true knowledge of the world? It is clear that we are not born with it, although even newborn infants are pretty smart! In fact, Unification Epistemology explains that we start off with immature prototypes which are sufficient to allow newborns to begin to recognize objects, including the most important objects of all, other people, very quickly. However, we are not limited to the knowledge we are born with, but through experience we build up more and more complex prototypes, allowing us to recognize all types of objects in the world.

This process of cognition has three stages: the perceptual stage, the understanding or recognition stage, and the stage of reason. Each can be represented by a four-position base. In the perceptual stage the result of give-and-receive action between the subject and object is a sensory image of the object. This is not yet on the level of cognition. The second stage involves the comparison, or collation, of this sensory image with prototypes in the mind of the subject. When a match is found, the subject recognizes the object. If no match is found, the subject must do more to obtain knowledge of the object, such as try to synthesize a new prototype from existing prototypes, experiment on the object further to obtain a better sensory image, or ask another person. This latter course implies that we can use the judgment of others to facilitate the development of new prototypes. Clearly this provides a basis for the education process.

The third stage of reason is actually thinking. This takes place within the mind and consists of manipulation of ideas, concepts, principles, etc. in order to develop new knowledge. This stage involves the formation of the inner developmental four-position base, and it can be repeated many times with the new knowledge from the preceding cycle being included in the mental manipulations in the next cycle.

While it is exciting to see how human thinking can continue without limit, it also should be noted that there is a danger to endless "inner" thinking without any contact with the real outside world! Unification Epistemology reminds us that cognition and practice should not be separated, and that this type of subjective knowledge, obtained through reason, must be verified by objective knowledge, gained through scientific experiment using the outer four-position base.

In other words, Unification Epistemology reminds philosophers that their purpose is not just to sit in an armchair and think up intricate models of human nature and the world, but that they should determine the truth of their theories through guiding the experiments of scientists. Unification Epistemology, in my opinion, is not a "quasi-science" but rather a call to philosophers to connect their world with that of the scientists, so that we can all gain true knowledge of this world, and thus fulfill the purpose of our creation, joy for all things, for humankind and for God.