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The Sermon of All Creation: Christians on Nature
A Definition of the Perennial Philosophy
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  A definition of the Perennial Philosophy Back to the List of Slideshows
    
We can now return to Frithjof Schuon's short definition given in Slide 1. He wrote that "The term philosophia perennis…designates the science of fundamental and universal ontological principles." It is significant that Schuon uses the word "science" here, where most modern observers would not expect it.

In French, the language in which Schuon and Guénon wrote, the cognate "science" only very recently took on this secondary, rationalistic meaning. Indeed, the Latin origin of the word (i.e. scientia) simply meant "knowledge" and was derived from a root meaning "to know." In other ancient languages such as Arabic, the same is true: the word for "knowledge" has a secondary meaning that refers to what we would call empirical science. A look at an English dictionary will show that this other meaning is now primary, while the original meaning of "knowledge" is now secondary and rarely used in modern English.

Thus, we must understand that Schuon uses the term philosophia perennis to designate the systematic search for knowledge of fundamental and universal ontological principles. This search is indeed quite systematic, just as with modern science. However, the science of the Perennial Philosophy works in the opposite direction from that of modern empirical science. Let us look at this for a moment.

The Perennial Philosophy takes the highest levels of Reality as its starting point, as the most real of all givens, and then it proceeds to lower levels of existence. It always stays grounded in universal, perennial principles and all other levels of existence are seen in this light. The completely opposite approach is taken by empirical science: it, on the other hand, only accepts the reality of measurable physical objects, and grounded in this base, it may hypothesize possible realities of a more subtle and less observable order. The approaches of these two sciences are both rigorous, and yet could not be more different.

It is obvious that empirical science will never be able to measure, and thus to acknowledge, realms of existence in which its instruments can never operate. For people who believe that there are realms beyond our own and which in fact determine our own existence, they will find that the science of the Perennial Philosophy can produce very meaningful results.
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