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The Table Video

Encountering One Another: Franciscan Knowledge of Persons (Eleonore Stump)

Philosopher Eleonore Stump and CCT Director Evan Rosa discuss the importance of non-propositional knowledge to the human experience. There is an essential distinction between possessing knowledge about someone and truly knowing someone. Dr. Stump explains how the artwork and epigrams in her philosophical work, Wandering In Darkness, are meant to provide an alternate source of knowledge and understanding to the reader. She then offers a brief sample of one such epigram.


We often think about these things, especially philosophically, just through the lens of knowledge. We want understanding. But you and your work, bring up the concept of Franciscan Knowledge of Persons. What if you describe that concept and it sounds like it’s operative even already in what you’re explaining.

Well, sure. Because think about how it is we know things. How do we know things? So, my son calls me up and he says to me, “Mom”, he says. “I’ve met someone, and you need to like her.” [laughs]

Uh oh. So now I’m on high alert right? Uh-oh is right. I’m on high alert, and I say okay, tell me about her. And he can talk forever, and I won’t be satisfied. And neither would you. What we know, everybody in circumstances wants is, I wanna see her. And why? Because when I see her, I will know her, which is different from knowing things about her. To know a person, is different from knowing things about her. So it’s a kind of knowledge, which is somehow, I would say, non-propositional. Or however we are to describe it exactly. But, this kind of knowledge is there in all areas of human experience.

So, you listen to what’s just come on to the radio, and you think, “I know that music.” And you don’t mean, I know the name of the music. You don’t mean, I know the composer of the music. You might in fact know those things. But that’s not what you mean. You mean you know the music. And you could know the composer, and the name of the piece, and still not know the music. The radio announcer could’ve said, “This is Mozart’s Ave verum.”

And you could say I don’t know this music. But I’m going to know it after this because it’s beautiful. Like that. So, for all kinds of places in life, there is this alternate approach. When Barbara McClintock won the Nobel Prize for her work in biology, she was asked, “How in the world did you get these results, when so many other people working in your field didn’t get them?” And she said, “I take the trouble to get to know each one of my plants individually, and I don’t think they do.”

Interviewer: [laughs]

I have no idea what she’s talking about, but I recognize something familiar to me. She’s trying to point to a kind of knowledge which is not knowledge about, or knowledge that something or other is the case.

Interviewer: I think of Jean Vanier’s concept of encounter.

Mm-hmm, yep.

Interviewer: Or, as philosophers may say, acquaintance. But there’s a familiarity, there is a kind of contact between two entities

Sure. And when it’s a contact between two persons, that’s where there seems to be something special and meaningful.

Sure, and there’s also information flow. It’s just not information flow that’s knowledge that. So Oliver Sacks tells a very funny story about being in the neurological ward of a big hospital with the TV on. And the people watching the TV were aphasics. So they’ve lost the good of language. They can’t produce language, they have great difficulty comprehending language.

They’re watching a news show involving Richard Nixon during the Watergate hearings. And although these people. So Richard Nixon comes on the screen, and all those people can’t understand what he’s saying. Oliver Sacks says the whole room burst into laughter, because they could all tell he was lying.


Yeah. So there’s information flow through these other capacities, and the interesting thing from my point of view is, we now know a lot of the neurobiology of how these other capacities produce information, what they do. And they don’t produce it by sending it through the language module, they produce it in a different sort of way. But this knowledge is also crucial and important for our well-being as human beings.

And I think that what that raises is something unique and special, and something I wanna personally thank you for, for what you do in the book with the use of art, poetry, literature and story, that’s interwoven into your philosophical argument. You use epigrams every chapter to, perhaps, get at some of this kind of contact knowledge, this personal knowledge that can’t be done just through left brain means.

So I wonder if you’d, first maybe read us an example of some of the things you’ve included in the book. One of those is a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke. I wonder if you’d read that for us and then describe your use of that

Sure, so I’m grateful to you for paying attention to the epigrams People generally disregard epigrams, they think that the point of the epigrams is for the author of the book to enjoy herself by putting some bits and pieces of things that she’s sentimentally attached to in her book and everybody else can safely ignore them except maybe the mother of the author who might wanna know.

Interviewer: [laughs]

But my own thought was, my own thought was, the things that I picked out as epigrams are actually part of the philosophical work of each chapter. If you will wrestle with what’s there in the epigram, you will have another access to the thought that I am trying to produce and layout in the chapter. So my thought is, just as there is an alternate way of knowing things that’s not language based, or proportionally focused or presented as knowledge, that this is, there’s an alternate kind of knowledge to that sort of knowledge.

In the same way, there’s an alternate avenue to understanding. And poetry can help you find that route to understanding if you will just struggle with it, in the way you would struggle with philosophical argumentation. So, the epigram for the whole book is a little bit from a poem that was found in Auschwitz after the war. And it was written on the wall by someone who suffered horribly in that unspeakable evil. And it goes like this: It says, “There is grace though, and wonder on the way. Only they are hard to see, hard to embrace. For those compelled to wander in darkness.” And the person who left us this, bore witness to the beauty of the human spirit. That in the darkest suffering, and the worst evil, it is possible to acknowledge that there is grace and wonder on the way. Even if we are also compelled to wander in darkness.

Eleonore, thank you so much for your time. Thank you for your work, it’s an honor to host you here, and I look forward to your next book. Thank you. Pleased to be here too. Thank you for a good interview.

Thank you.