Knowledge is Not Cumulative

Knowledge is not cumulative, it is essential. That is, there is an essence to true knowledge which we can try to learn or acquire. The truth exists regardless of whether we have grasped it. Humans do not create truths, they discover them. There will never be any more truth in the future than there is now, or than there was a thousand years ago.

Modern men see no possible reason for reading ancient texts for their own value. Within certain rarified social circles, it might do to have a passing knowledge of Plato or Xenophon or (less likely) Aquinas. It can be a status marker, showing both intelligence and education. In this manifestation, studying the ancients is a form of affectation, like pretending to enjoy absinthe. There is also a cottage industry (or more like a massive factory industry) in reading ancient texts in order to prove the authors were malevolent, ignorant, foolish, racist, sexist, etc. This of course is one of the major purposes of modern universities: to mock and destroy the wisdom that has been passed down from the ancients.

Though most people don’t reason it out clearly, there is a basic rationale behind ignoring the ancients. The argument goes this way: other people have read, studied, translated, critiqued and appreciated the ancients many times over. Scholars, light-years more competent and learned than I, have studied these texts and gleaned what wisdom they contain. Modern society has used what is good about these thinkers and has discarded what is bad. We have built on top of these thinkers where possible, and reversed their incorrect assumptions where necessary. We know better than they did.

Great thinkers of the past — Plato, for example — were wonders of their time. We owe Plato a debt of gratitude for laying the groundwork he did. But it was merely groundwork and we have long since surpassed the wisdom of Plato. Studying Plato might be a proper activity for someone wanting to trace how we got where we are today — a worthy hobby for the erudite dilettante — but any wisdom in Plato has been retained by our moderns, plus we have made countless improvements and discoveries!

And on it goes.

I would never assert that just because something is old it is wise. But the modern man does assert the opposite: that what is old is foolish. Or rather, even worse, he lives as if that were true without even ever asserting it. It’s simply a non-issue.

And in fact, perhaps I will assert that just because something is old it is wise. The longer something has stuck around, the more likely it contains great wisdom. Or at least a mighty error, an error worth respecting and learning from. Modern books, modern “thought,” if you can call it that, is all feathers and dust. It adds up to nothing. The only might it wields is its sheer arrogance.


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