29 September 2005

Eleatic Question: 3

What's the difference between (i) someone who says that thinking is exalted and divine, and who holds furthermore that we can think only the thought that 'it is', and (ii) someone who holds that thinking is an irrelevancy?

Suppose a Cartesian is having a conversation with a Hobbesian. A Hobbesian believes that human cognition simply is the power of imagination, shared with animals; a Cartesian holds that human cognition involves additionally the power of 'understanding'. By imagination, the Cartesian claims, we picture a chiliagon; by understanding we know the distinction between a chiliagon and a polygon with one more side.

Hobbesian: "I've converted to your view. I accept at last that we humans have a power of understanding or thought. In fact, the truth of this was recently revealed to me, even, by a goddess. This power of thought is something very high, and very divine."

Cartesian: "So you admit now that an entire world of mathematical ideals, abstract principles, and speculative philosophy is opened up to us through the use of this power? You agree that we can soar above this passing world with our minds?"

Hobbesian: "Oh, no, no. Upon careful consideration, I am convinced that this power of thought is capable of forming only one judgment, and nothing other than this judgment: namely, the mystical realization (or 'empty tautology', if you prefer) that 'it is' or 'what is, is'. Everything else we might wish to say or believe is a matter of the imagination."

Would the Hobbesian's conversion impress you?