3. Let me dwell longer on the Cartesian (and nowadays nearly universal) presumption that in serious thinking and writing, epistemology is singularly paramount. Apart from a few mavericks like Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, or Thoreau, it’s taken as beneath mention that our most trusted connections with the world are – and ought to be — knowledge connections. We may seek to connect with others through virtues of character, but these seem secondary to managing the world through attaining and increasing objective knowledge. If instead of virtue we seek power, it too must be fed by knowledge; if we seek common pleasures, we gather knowledge about attaining them, and about which are permissible and which bypass dissolution, death, or jail. Educated elites value knowledge as power, rooted in epistemological premises rather than in weak-kneed premises of sympathy, wonder, or love. Thoreau marches to a different drummer. Not Knowledge, but sympathy and rapport give access to the realities that count.
Knowledge, of course, is multiplex. There is knowing that rain is essential to crops, and knowing how to plow, to harvest, to price and deliver to markets. Yet as we walk with the rhythm and feel of meadow, sunlight, and rain, we can resonate with so much more than is delivered by “knowing that” or “knowing how.” The world is more bounteous than knowledge delivers. We can enjoy visceral, exuberant, even ecstatic kinship with things and their surround. As Thoreau puts it in his Journal, we find facts that are “warm, moist, incarnated.” And he adds, “A man has not seen a thing who has not felt it.” This is a third sub-division of knowing — knowledge as immediate familiarity or recognition, as when we know the feel of sand or the taste of blue cheese. And here is a fourth sub-division: knowledge as reciprocal participation. I know my violin in playing it, participating in its reality, and by the same token, it comes to know me as it plays for me and triggers a response in return.
As knower, you gain from the creature known a property you could not have had without the known’s being what it is which is not merely your delightedly reflexive intimacy with it, but also your awareness of yourself as delightedly intimate in just that way. Your knowledge of any creature is therefore a kind of participation in it, as its being known by you a participation of it in you. 
This fruitfully expands our vision of what knowing can be. There is more than knowing-how, knowing-that and knowing-as-familiarity. Knowledge-as-reciprocal-participation is a pre-modern ideal, not easily revived in a world dominated by science and technical know-how, but there’s a more important point to make here. Even if this ideal could be revived, participative-knowledge is still knowledge. No matter how valued and welcome a guest on Thoreau walks it might be, it is not his soul mate or inner light.
In that crucial passage from “Walking,” Thoreau trumpets Knowledge – note the flourish of “caps.” This mode of being and proceeding in life wears an unmistakable badge of honor. But however awkwardly named, easily overlooked, and never singled out for an extended, well-focused amplifying speech of praise, Thoreau’s true soul mate is “Sympathy with Intelligence.” It plays a role in his life parallel to the role Socrates accords to his daemon, the uncanny inner voice that is always with him, ready to tell him what not to do. But that’s the difference: Thoreau’s inner voice is affirmative, not negative. It silently but surely guides, not with a “No!” but a “Yes!”
Sympathy with Intelligence is his portal to the world and is his trusted companion in it. It is neither knowledge-seeking nor knowledge-providing but purely and simply life-instilling. Sympathy-with-intelligence is a mode of mutual address and embrace. It’s helpful to show its difference from knowledge-as-participation. In the compact sketch just drawn above, we’re told, “As knower, you gain from the creature known a property you could not have had [otherwise].” There are two places Thoreau would pause and demur, not to derogate knowledge wholesale but to bare a deeper allegiance.
First, Thoreau would not have us participate via sympathy with “a creature known” but with an uncanny mesmerizing center of radiance, the divine intelligences of the Vedas, only mentioned in passing, but crucial to Thoreau’s rough-hewn metaphysical sensibility. Put another way, “intelligence” is not mental cleverness or insight but a cluster term that encompasses sites of radiance, plenitude, presence, sound, mood – sites that address us and to which we deeply respond. My violin and the songbird that addresses me at sunrise are not “objects-known” but sites of plenitude and inspiration.
Second, what I receive from a radiant site of plenitude – say sunrise birdsong or marvelous slanting light– is not “a property [I] could not have had [otherwise].” A thing’s presence — its lilt or slant or delight, its uplift or foreboding — is not a property of something. If the world is a precious place, full of wonder, it is more than a place of simple objects-with-properties. Indeed, in the best of encounters I will have a “delightedly reflexive intimacy with [the world],” and have a wonderful “awareness of [myself] as delightedly intimate” with the very things of the world. But Thoreau would say that none of this is primarily a function of knowing something. Thoreau would have us resonate with things that leave us richer in awe, and not in any obvious way, richer in knowledge. Knowledge is high on his ladder but not at the top. It’s not unimportant and not to be abandoned but it’s not everything by any means.
It’s a faulty philosophical presumption of the modern era that a serious thinker must have an epistemology, and that this will be a clue to his (or her) thought and perhaps justify her claims. All this rests on disposable Cartesian presumptions. Thoreau is not obsessed with the problem of knowledge, or the nature of scientific method, or whether values can be objectively known, or whether God can be shown to exist (or is like this or that in his divine attributes). To the chagrin of many, Thoreau is not obsessed with justifying his claims. “Befitting reveries,” like dreams or theater productions, carry a strange aura of “take it or leave it.” That doesn’t make them philosophically without merit any more than Pharaoh’s dreams are without merit.
Thoreau wants a path to redemption and that path is illuminated by the blessings of what he calls the “Intelligences” that awaken him. He practices good “scientific method,” and so he honors something that others might label “epistemology.” But the considerable honor he accords to knowledge, as we’ve seen, is overshadowed by what I’ve pictured as devotion to a “soul mate” — to an “inner light” that guides him faithfully toward redemptive communion with the world, and a deep gratitude for its daily blessings.
 Journal, February 23, 1860
 Paul J. Griffiths, Intellectual Appetite (Catholic University of America Press, 2009) 131.