Julian and the Nature of Knowledge


(From Elizabeth Evasdaughter's work on Julian in
A History of Women Philosophers)

Who influenced Julian? Maybe the Franciscans, who dominated Oxford at the time. John Duns Scotus and William of Ockham were both there just before Julian.

Julian was quite certain about the possibility of knowing God. This is in opposition to Pseudo-Dionysius. Julian agreed with him, in fact, that God was above our knowing, but thought that we could bring the statue out of the stone by chipping away the excess, the less accurate ideas of God. We can, in fact, see and know the God that is above all seeing and knowing. What can be denied of God rests on God's transcendence (speech, anger, etc.), while what can be affirmed rests on God's immanence in all things. So, she gives us a God who, while he cannot be known by normal means, is still part of the world. God's transcendence is to be honoured, but in fact God's immanence is a better approach to God. We can love God more spontaneously.

So what can be known of God? It is tied to our happiness, which is a matter of knowing God in the next life. So, we will never quite be happy in this life, because of the need we have for further spiritual growth that cannot be attained here (not, as others might hold, because of our material reliance on our senses). Julian takes God's attributes as given (unlike, for example, Aquinas, who feels the need to deduce them rationally). She focusses mainly on God's being, presence, providence, love, and unchangeability. Despite the fact that she doesn't follow Aquinas in deducing God's attributes, she does follow him in using reason to work out the implications of revelation.

The significance of Julian's being influenced by the Oxford Franciscans is that both Duns Scotus and Ockham were very concerned to rehabilitate the individual during a time when accounting for the universal was the main order of business. Both were nominalists, and as such thought that universals were just "names" of things, having no intrinsic reality. All that existed were individuals.

We get the same sense from Julian, and long before what was supposed to be the height of the concern for the individual, the Renaissance and Reformation. Julian stands at the beginning of the interest in accounting for the individual.


Issues to deal with in Julian:

1. Is true knowledge acquired externally and objectively, or does one have to be "caught up" in it?

World views
Kant - categories. Knowledge is about internal, but not deductively internal.
Hegel - historical dialectic. We become knowledge, because the subjective and the objective always reconfigure each other. The world becomes the image of our minds, and our minds become the image of the world.
Marx - material dialectic. Matter makes us what we are. Knowledge has something to do with what the material conditions are in which we exist.
Nietzsche - nihilism. We create our own foundations. That means knowledge is not external, but somehow within the interplay of the parts of our existence.
Heidegger - Dasein is rooted in practice.

For many mystics, to know anything is to know everything.

2. Problem of Evil. Julian focusses on sin in the shorter version of the Showings, particularly the question of how God relates to sin, and what use sin is.