16 July 2010

new aphorisms

1. Rather than thinking that the Ideas are questionable, perhaps we should instead learn to understand how the Ideas call us into question.

2. What is most hidden away is one's own face.

3. Dialectic is the mirror of the soul.

4. We think in images, but the ideas are not images--not exactly.  But when we come face-to-face with the ideal, we can only speak of it in images.  This is the origin of all poetry.

5. The essential defect of philosophy is that it has often failed to be poetry.  The essential defect of poetry is that poets often confuse art and narcissism.

6. Very few things should be taken seriously, and those things that should most often turn out to be what no one any longer takes seriously.

7. Nothing lasts forever.


Clipstock said...

8. Such is the way of the world;(where such refers to any possible or impossible pattern of events past present or future).

Sebastian said...



Even cold November rain.

Adam said...

There is something strange to me about the sentences of the form:

"The essential defect of X is that it *often* fails in such and such away."

I would expect a sentence of the form:

"The essential defect of X is that it always and everywhere fails to be Y."


"That X often falls short in such and such away is a sign of X's essential defect, which is that it always and everywhere fails to be Y."

I wonder if you could explain why your aphorism 5 is written in the form that it is.

I have a feeling that when you say "essential defect" you understand something different than I would be inclined to imagine at first glance.

Sebastian said...


A few points that may or may not address your question:

1) I shied away from ever saying always in these aphorisms because I am becoming increasingly convinced that the more I learn about things the less able I am to say "always" of most anything. Even the 7th remark, which appears absolute, should imply the possibility (or perhaps necessity) that impermanence itself is impermanent.

2) In this context, essential defect means to me the reason why a thing does not always live up to its ideal. There are times when philosophy does not fail to be poetry in the thought of most thinkers. There are also times (perhaps most all the time for most thinkers) that it does fail to be poetry. If, as I am suggesting, philosophy ought to be poetry (while not relinquishing what is proper to itself as philosophy), this defect may be either inherent in the nature of philosophizing or inherent in the events and contexts that condition the happening of philosophy. I'm not sure which of the two it is or whether it is even appropriate to separate them as though they are two objects opposed to each other; therefore I assign this defect to "philosophy," which should be understood to collect both sides of this (apparent?) dichotomy.

3) Whether this "essential defect" has the character of a tragic flaw or a comic error is a question which for which the resolution, as far as I can see it, lies in the future. Philosophers have traditionally understood the idea of the completion of philosophy as reaching some sort of correct series of opinions. Understanding philosophy as poetry opens up the possibility that the question of the completion of philosophy is as meaningless a question as asking when poetry will be finished.


Nicely elaborated, Sebastian. It strikes me that the proposal of the possibility of failure resident in something's essence (as opposed to an extrinsic failure which merely supervenes upon an essence given a priori)is at bottom a proposal that the relation between actuality and possibility be understood in a sense different that their TRADITIONAL sense --if by this last term we mean the sense of possibility and actuality QUA having been inherited through the tradition. If, then, I have not misunderstood you regarding this possibility of essential failure --a possibility which, like the impermanence of impermanence, exceeds the actuality of the very thing for which it is a possibility, then I am inclined to identify it with, among other concepts, the early Heidegger's Faktizität. Perhaps you can remark on whether such an identification may be made without remainder?

Also, speaking of traditional understandings and understandings of the tradition, I am curious about your assessment here: "Philosophers have traditionally understood the idea of the completion of philosophy as reaching some sort of correct series of opinions." I know of no philosopher among those great enough to be identified with the tradition that understands the completion of philosophy in this way? To whom were you referring?

Sebastian said...


To your second point--characterizing "philosophers" as believing that "the completion of philosophy as reaching some sort of correct series of opinions" is perhaps an overly direct way of making the point that the common understanding of most philosophers is that the purpose of philosophy is to advance a series of correct propositions about various sets of objects. I think this is clearly true of Descartes, rather clearly true of Aristotle and Kant, and less clearly but no less actually true of Hegel. I used the phrase "correct series of opinions" to suggest a Platonic exemption to this dictum (recalling Socrates' critique of "true opinion.")

To your first point--I don't know about early Heidegger's concept of--is that facticity perhaps?--but I am suggesting that "actuality and possibility be understood in a sense different tha[n] their TRADITIONAL sense," rather along the lines that you are indicating.


Oh, ok.
I guess I am not prepared to identitify the act of judgment and the propositional form its expression assumes with the act of opining. But I would argue that neither Aristotle nor Kant indulge in such an identification (nor Hegel, for that matter --I don't know the ins and outs of Descartes well enough to include him in the club, but it is still trendy to have a Cartesian whipping boy, so I let my silence do the talking on his behalf). In the case of Aristotle, it seems clear that he rigorously maintains the distinction between δόξα ἀληθές and ἐπιστήμη, providing as he does a strict criterion (of universal, certain, and necessary knowledge of the Αἴτιον) by which the latter can be distinguished from the former. Perhaps just as pertinent, some intelligent Thomists and Aristotelians have (convincingly) argued that that epistemic insight is not in fact attainable or maintainable through propositional form --which is why scientific demonstration consists in something which exceeds propositional assertions about matters at hand. According to such a reading of Aristotle, ῾ομολέγειν would consist of more than propositional adequatio.

Beyond the possibility of saving Aristotle from the tag that he has with some just been given to wear of "propositional truth guy", I think your characterization raises important questions about the nature of Modern systematicity. After all, in both Logics Hegel claims that the primal locus of truth is NOT the proposition but the system, and he certainly does not prima facie seem in any respect to be wanting in textual evidence that would maintain a distinction between Absolute Science and Opinion. Even more interesting, is the case of Kant, since he, in deeming the fundamental operation of the understanding to be no operation other than that of judgment, seems to offer in himself the most likely candidate for such a propositional doctrine of truth; and yet, precisely on this basis, Kant distinguishes his SYSTEMATIC derivation of the categories from what he esteemed as Aristotle's mere AGGREGATE, and in so doing he makes clear that the truth of the categories of the understanding lies in that perfect and inalterable unity whereby the the completeness of their interrelations is necessitated by the unity of the synthesis of all possible experience --a unity whose seat lies purely and solely in transcendental apperception. Suffice to cite here Kant's briefest formulation of the matter (to be found, predictably enough, in the Prolegomena): "The third table of principles drawn from the nature of the understanding itself according to the critical method show an inherent perfection, which raises it far above every table which has hitherto, though in vain, been tried or may yet be tried by analyzing the objects themselves dogmatically. It exhibits all synthetic a priori principles completely and according to one principle, viz., the faculty of judging in general, which constitutes the essence of the experience as regards understanding, so that we can be certain that their are no such more principles. This affords a satisfaction such as can never be attained by the dogmatic method". Thus the transcendental systematicity of Kant's table as it is critically derived emphatically replaces the propositional adequacy of the previous tables as they have been dogmatically derived. And I suppose it goes without say that Kant did not himself hold such a priori transcendental knowledge to be derivable through the process of opining, correctly undertaken.