Friday, 17 September 2010


Writing on Goethe, Carlyle has this to say:

…..his maxims will bear study; nay they require it, and improve by more and more. They come from the depths of his mind, and are not in their place until they have reached the depths of ours. The wisest man, we believe, may see in them a reflex of his own wisdom: but to him who is still learning, they become as seeds of knowledge; they take root in the mind, and ramify, as we meditate them, into a whole garden of thought.

This is both the danger and the greatness of philosophy; we are invited into the web of another’s thought and encouraged by argument and maybe outright sophistry to see the world through a foreign eye. Through a species of morphing we are enabled to become strange to ourselves for a time. There is an imaginative engagement that is similar to the reading of a novel or the fascinating misdirection of stage magic. We submit to the onerous rules of a game in which unexceptionable axioms can lead us anywhere. ‘Substance’ may lead us to monads or ‘nature naturing’ or ‘what is not said of anything’. Metaphysics in this world is not a description of how things patently are, but of how things must fundamentally be, for things to appear as they do. In that sense it is perfectly possible for philosophers to take positions that are counter-intuitive because they are detached from intuition and so must you be for a while to read them at the depth they require to be read.

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