Knowledge of God? A Critique and Proposal for Epistemology in Unification Thought - Andrew Wilson

The chapter on Epistemology is one of the less developed chapters in Essentials of Unification Thought and in Dr. Lee’s earthly corpus of philosophy. Unlike most other chapters that present the Unification perspective outright, it begins with an overview of traditional epistemologies, and then tries to use them as a base upon which to construct a Unification Epistemology. My concern in this paper is that Dr. Lee’s approach, being so beholden to 18th and 19th century epistemologies, does not frame its discussion in a way that could lead to an adequate answer for what I regard as the most fundamental epistemological issue in philosophy today: How can we know the reality of God? I will then outline what might be required for a fresh attempt to construct a Unification Epistemology.

1. The Question for Epistemology

The early epistemologies of Bacon, Descartes and Spinoza dealt with the question of how we can have true knowledge in the broad sense. But by the 19th century the field of Epistemology, as represented by the contributions of Kant and Marx, narrowed this quest to the question of how can have true knowledge of things in the external world. As such, they were beholden to and in the service of a 19th-century world where scientific investigation was the primary human enterprise. How can we know that what we see with our eyes is in fact there? Such a question might help give scientists confidence in the validity of their observations, but it does not answer the question of the validity of knowledge as such. In particular, given these epistemologies’ dependence upon sensory data, they do not even approach dealing with the question of how we can know invisible reality, such as God, or truth, or love. Kant, for example, denies the possibility of metaphysics. So does Marx.
    Yet the questions Epistemology asks cannot be so limited to things in the external world. Philosophy is the study of all reality; hence it needs to ask the question of whether and how human beings can know all of reality. To begin one’s epistemology with sense impressions is a priori to deny the ability to know any part of reality that is intangible to the senses. Yet Rev. Moon teaches that the most valuable realities are precisely those that are invisible: God, love, life, lineage, and conscience.

What is more important, that which is visible or that which is invisible? I am sure you realize that the invisible is more important than the visible. You can see and touch money, position and honor, but you cannot see or touch love, life, lineage and conscience.1

Shouldn’t the cognition of these most valuable invisible realities be the main subject of Epistemology? Comparatively speaking, questions about knowledge of all things pales to insignificance.
    My first contention is that Unification Thought needs to rethink its epistemology by first asking the proper question: How can we have valid knowledge about invisible things, including God? It can profitably answer this question if it grounds its investigation firmly in the Divine Principle and the teachings of Rev. Moon, before turning its attention to clarifying the turbid waters of traditional philosophies.

2. Subject and Object

Dr. Lee uses the categories of dominion to explain how “since the human being and all things are in the relationship of subject and object, we can know all things perfectly.” (EUT, 318) But in relation to invisible realities like God, love, life and lineage, is the human being in the position of a subject? On the contrary, the individual human being is in the object position. This immediately calls into question Descartes’ dictum cogito ergo sum, whether we can know things perfectly, either by experience or by reason.
    Consider for example a child in relationship to his parents, in the position of an object. Can he fathom his parents’ heart? Should his parents punish him he may, not understanding their heart or judgment, take it as an act of cruelty. While the parents may have their own limitations, we can assume for the sake of argument that they are trying to raise him with a vision about his future, of which he is only dimly aware. How can the child have truly valid knowledge about his parents’ heart or actions? He cannot.
    Yet, an epistemology that takes the human being as the subject of cognition places all the standards for judgment within the human being. The human subject has the prototypes within himself and the mind to collate these prototypes with incoming sense impressions to arrive at a true judgment of cognition. Leaving aside the question about whether this is a valid understanding of cognition for all things, it certainly does not work for the child who wants to understand truly about his parents. By himself, the child lacks the experience of heart to understand his parents, try as he may. One might say that his prototype of “parent” is not yet complete. He would do better to take the object position and let his parents instruct him.
    In cognition of a higher subject, such as a parent, the child has to enter into a subject-object relationship in which he is willing to learn his parents’ truth and let that truth be the governing subject for his understanding of sense experience. In the same way, in order to understand God, we study the Word given by God and let that truth guide our way of experiencing God, while putting aside our own preconceptions.
    This is a multi-dimensional give and take action with the being outside the self, far different than the Kantian type of cognition as described by Dr. Lee as the “Sensory Stage.” (EUT, 333) Indeed, Unification Thought needs such an epistemology in order to defend its basic method, which is to take God’s revelation through Rev. Sun Myung Moon as valid knowledge that can be the proper foundation for philosophy.

3. Resemblance as the Standard for True Knowledge

Dr. Lee has confidence that human knowledge is valid because “human beings and all things have a mutual resemblance.” (EUT, 321) Humans are the microcosm of all creation. Thus, our bodies contain elements that resemble minerals, animals and plants. So we can be confident that any measurement of sensations coming from these things, when referenced against the prototypes within the self, will be reasonably accurate, and improve with practice. But how does the principle of resemblance apply when seeking knowledge of God, or even of another human being?
    The fundamental prerequisite for knowing or cognizing God is to first resemble God. Human beings were created in the image of God, but the image of God is damaged in fallen humans. Lacking any true resemblance, it follows that fallen humans cannot hope to know God in the fullest sense.2 Here at the outset, Unification Philosophy should call all traditional philosophies into question. Traditional philosophies assume ordinary human nature to be adequate to cognition. This surely cannot apply to knowledge of God. The fact of human fallenness may even shake our naïve certainty that the mind has an adequate foundation for scientific investigation into all things—given that even creatures have a spiritual dimension that fallen man can at best only dimly perceive.
    Divine Principle speaks of internal spiritual growth—achieved through fulfilling the Foundation of Faith and Foundation of Substance—as a prerequisite to becoming a “perfect incarnation of the Word.” The concepts of “individual embodiment of truth” and “object partners for the joy of God” are also relevant to this discussion.3 These concepts speak to the inability of human beings to cognize rightly without first developing themselves, through a portion of responsibility, to reach a state of resemblance to the divine image.
    But in asking the question, “How can we attain valid knowledge?” a philosopher must go on to ask the recursive question, “You claim that true knowledge is only attainable in a state of divine oneness; then how can we have sure, prior knowledge about the path to take in order to reach that state?”
    Here is an argument for the priority of faith before knowledge. No sure knowledge is possible without following a spiritual path, which humans take up by faith, since sure knowledge is only attained at the end of the path. As Paul said, “Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face-to-face.” (1 Cor 13:12) Humans cannot gain true knowledge unless they first live by God’s Word, which they receive in faith, not as certainty. In the Bible the first knowledge was given to Adam and Eve as a commandment. The epistemology of the object position is one of faith.
    Nevertheless, the path of faith is beset with doubt. The revelations of religion, which are the basis of faith, do not agree. Nor are they always interpreted in ways that lead to human betterment. Unification Thought’s principle of resemblance allows us some relief: paths of faith, while relative, can be appreciated for leading seekers towards greater degrees of resemblance to the Divine Image. They need not be affirmed as absolute in every respect, even as they contain a kernel of the original divine commandment, to which faith should be absolute as one travels on the path.
    Sometimes people mistake the commandment for knowledge itself; this leads to a great deal of confusion and doubts as to the validity of religion. We must be clear that the commandment, or knowledge about the path to knowledge as revealed in sacred scriptures, is not complete knowledge. Revelations and scriptures function like a textbook or a schoolteacher, pointing to truth beyond itself, as Paul taught, “The Law was our tutor to bring us to Christ.” (Gal. 3:24)
    This leads to the Eastern insight that true knowledge cannot be fully expressed in propositions; it must be lived. True knowledge is embodied knowledge. Likewise, attempts by philosophers to arrive at an adequate epistemology based upon either empiricism or rationalism or a unity of the two schools misses this important point. It was well known by the masters of Zen, who regarded cognition as the enemy of truth. Cognition, sensations, reason, theory—these are obstacles to truth because they lead people to think they know when they don’t know. They hide a fundamental misperception about the nature of true knowledge.4 There is valid knowledge, but the path to that knowledge is not reached by intellectual investigation or empirical research alone.
>> Go to top

4. Standard of Cognition

Dr. Lee advances a theory that prototypes, images within the mind, “serve as the standards of cognition” to which external sense data is collated. (EUT, 319) These prototypes have their origin in the subconsciousness of the cells of the body. (EUT, 321) That is, they are a property of life, or mind at a lower level. (EUT, 323) The theory of prototypes may be adequate to provide a basis for cognizing material things, which all were created in the image of a human being. But are they really the standards for the cognition of all reality? In particular, can they provide the basis for knowledge of God?
    Two objections arise. First, the Divine Principle declares that God relates most intimately to human beings, above all other forms of life. Human beings, alone in all creation, have sensibility to God’s heart and can know God’s will. (EDP, 80) Human beings alone possess the spiritual elements to be rulers over the spirit world. (EDP, 46) Prototypes, however, arise out of protoconsciousness, which is a property of cells. Cells, which share the quality of life as their sungsang aspect, are common to humans, animals and plants. The life and protoconsciousness flowing from cells is not something uniquely human. How could it serve as the standard of cognition for God and things of the spirit, to which humans alone are sensible?
    Second, the theory of prototypes brings us back to the question of just what is valid knowledge—the major question in Epistemology. Certainly, a child with undeveloped internal images of the world (prototypes) cognizes the world differently than does an adult. The child has a sort of knowledge of the world, but can it be said to be valid or certain knowledge? It is not likely that his parents will agree, based on their experiences and more highly developed internal images. In the example with which I began this paper, the child misunderstands the parent’s discipline as cruel punishment because he has no experience of the parental heart. His limited store of prototypes can recognize some types of love, but not others. If we go back to Bacon’s original aim to come to certain knowledge by dispelling one’s prejudices, then certainly these malleable prototypes must be classified as “idols” that can hardly be trusted as a standard for judging the validity of knowledge. Prototypes may be involved in the process of cognition, but the standard of cognition they are not.

5. Axiology and Epistemology

To answer the question of what can be the standard of cognition in Epistemology, we can turn to Unification Thought’s theory of Axiology. Although many philosophers, following Kant, have separated fact “the rose is red” from value “the rose is beautiful,” they are not necessarily separate issues. As Dr. Lee states, the result of this separation has been “many problems.” (EUT, 166) Unification Thought should not follow this mistake of Kant. Trueness is a value, according to Lee, which satisfies the intellect. Therefore, we cannot so tightly distinguish Epistemology, which aims for “valid” knowledge, from the Unification theory of Axiology, which aims for absolute value—including absolute truth.
    The process of actualizing “value” in Axiology is a give-and-take relationship quite akin to what is described as cognition according to the theory of Epistemology. Value is determined by matching the subject requisites with the qualities of the object. Is the child’s appreciation of his parents’ heart at the time of punishment cognition of a fact about the parents, or is it a valuation of the parents based on the interplay of the child’s “subjective requisites,” including his conscience and desire for affection? I think this may be the same process, but with different emphases. If that is true, then the two processes should be consistent.
    However, in current texts of Unification Thought, the standard of value in Axiology and the standard of cognition in Epistemology do not cohere. In Epistemology, we are told that the standard of cognition is the prototypes, which are within the human subject. But in Axiology, Dr. Lee is rightly critical of placing “too much emphasis on subjective action.” (EUT, 140) More importantly, Dr. Lee rejects the relativism that necessarily follows from placing the standard of value in the subject in favor of an absolute standard of value. God sets the absolute standard for the judgment of value, according to the Divine Principle.5 By the same token, to arrive at valid knowledge, we need to appraise our knowledge, even our cognitions, against the standards of God’s love and truth. Therefore, I take it that God should also be the standard of judgment in matters of Epistemology. God is not so identified in current texts of Unification Thought, only prototypes. I would like to correct this troubling inconsistency in Unification Thought texts.


6. Process of Cognition

According to Dr. Lee, cognition advances in stages, beginning on the most external, material level and ending at the level of reason and thought. Thus, “the first outer identity-maintaining quadruple base is formed” through give and take action between the human being’s sense organs and the object in the external world. The result is a “sensory image.” The next step is for this sensory image to be collated with prototypes in the body, as governed by the “spiritual apperception” of the human mind—“the union of the spirit mind and physical mind which is the original mind.” (EUT, 333-334) The result is cognition at the stage of understanding what the object is. Later refinements in cognition can come through “practice” and reason. This is quite close to Kantian epistemology. It may suffice for looking at material objects. But what about invisible realities—the ones that really matter?
    According to Exposition of the Divine Principle, cognition of spiritual realities occurs in quite the opposite way:

Cognition of spiritual reality begins when it is perceived through the five senses of the spirit self. These perceptions resonate through the five physical senses and are felt physiologically.6

In this process, spiritual sensation precedes physical sensation. The “sensory image,” to use Dr. Lee’s term, arises after the spiritual image has impressed itself upon the spirit mind. This implies that understanding, even thoughtful knowledge, often precedes cognition through the senses. This is often seen in flashes of insight, or intuition. How much of cognition in human relationships occurs through invisible feelings!
    In fact, we can postulate that spiritual cognition, of visions or inspiration or whatever, occurs in a backwards process. At the stage of spiritual apperception, images from the spirit mind have give-and-take with the collation process of the senses with prototypes, creating images that are interpreted by the body as sense impressions.
    How much of cognition in human relationships occurs as invisible feelings impressed upon the senses in a reverse process? Love, for example, is a spiritual feeling which colors a person’s perception of the beloved’s eyes, face and even her scent. Dr. Lee spoke about love in the spirit world as filled with light. On earth, one’s beloved may appear “radiant.” This is not necessarily because she is materially giving off light, but because her lover’s spirit mind is impressing sensory images of her with a particular sort of light. Thus is the spiritual radiance of love perceived by the physical senses.

7. Towards a New Unification Epistemology

This critique of current expositions of Unification Epistemology suggests that a new approach is needed to develop an adequate Unification Epistemology. In summary, let me suggest seven points of departure:
    First, to avoid getting inadvertently caught up in the errors of conventional philosophies, Unification Epistemology should stay away from Kant and other existing epistemologies until it has established its own proper theory in light of the Divine Principle and Rev. Moon’s sermons. Unification Thought’s philosophical base should be developed more as valid in and of itself, then it can be used to critique and relate with other philosophies, such as Kant's.
    Second, Unification Epistemology should focus squarely on the basic question of Epistemology, which deals with the validity of our knowledge of reality. This means in particular the possibility of and the validity of our knowledge of those invisible realities that are fundamental to life: God, love, life, lineage, and spirit. No epistemology can solve the fundamental problems of human life without tackling this question. As a propaedeutic, these intangible realities need better categorization and definition. The proposed new chapters on the spirit world and true love will certainly illuminate the further development of Epistemology.
    Third, Unification Epistemology should avoid confusing the ascertaining of valid truth from a method of attaining personal knowledge. The question of how cognition happens is largely an empiricist’s concern and a matter for science. But it doesn’t come close to dealing with the question of how one can know the truthfulness of that cognition from the standpoint of philosophy. This calls for engagement with the theory of Axiology, where the question of validity begins to be addressed.
    Fourth, Unification Epistemology must treat the human being both as a being in the subject position and a being in the object position. That human beings are beings of position is a fundamental insight of Unification Thought. And since it is as an object that one grows in knowledge of God, of love, of conscience, etc., the latter needs much more attention.
    Indeed, Unification Epistemology might profitably treat cognition not as an individual action, but as a process that takes place in the family. People learn about love, life, lineage and conscience—all invisible realities—through their family relationships. Likewise, even though we are assured that God always loves us, we can know God’s love only when we establish a passionate relationship of faith and attendance to Him. As Rev. Moon teaches:

Just like us, God has love, life, lineage and conscience, but He cannot feel them by Himself. Because they are completely in balance, God cannot feel them. That is why God also needs an object partner. We understand the necessity of an object partner from this perspective. When one is alone, one cannot feel oneself. But when a man appears to a woman and a woman appears to a man, the stimulation of love and lineage will erupt like lightning and thunder.7

Kant was a great philosopher, but he lived his life as a lonely man. His philosophy partook of that limitation. Legend has it that Socrates was hen-pecked by his wife. As Unificationists, we ought to begin our philosophy from a starting-point that regards the individual in family relationships. Embodying God’s image as a true family, we may be able to reason more truly about valid knowledge of God, of love, and of our fellow human beings.
    Finally, Unification Epistemology should establish the logical ground for regarding God as the standard of judgment for cognition, and thus defeat relativism. In this regard, it must unavoidably address the issue of revelation, particularly since the revelation of the Divine Principle is a fundamental standard for Unification Thought’s self-understanding of its validity as a philosophy.


  1. Sun Myung Moon, “In Search of the Origin of the Universe,” True Family and World Peace (New York: FFWPU, 2000), p. 60.
  2. In Unification Thought, knowledge of God means especially knowledge of the “Heart” of God, an understanding that is as much emotional as intellectual. Therefore, even under the Augustinian premise that the Fall damaged the faculties of will and emotion but not intellect, our ability to know God is still impaired.
  3. Exposition of the Divine Principle (New York: HSA-UWC, 1996), pp. 179, 28, 33.
  4. See Keisuke Noda, “Understanding the Word as the Process of Embodiment,” JUS 1 (1997).
  5. Exposition of the Divine Principle, p. 36.
  6. Exposition of the Divine Principle, p. 103.
  7. “In Search of the Origin of the Universe,” pp. 60-61.