“Nu þu ne þeaꞃꝼꞅꞇ þe nauhꞇ onꝺꞃæꝺan. ꝼoꞃþam þe oꝼ þam lȳꞇlan ꞅpeaꞃcan ðe ðu miꝺ þæꞃe ꞇȳnꝺꞃan ᵹeꝼenᵹe liꝼeꞅ leoht þe onliehꞇe…”
“oꝼ þæm þonne onᵹinnað ƿeaxan þa miꞅꞇaꞅ þe ꝥ Moꝺ ᵹeꝺꞃeꝼaþ. J mið ealle ꝼoꞃꝺƿilmað þa ꞅōþan ᵹeꞅiehþe ꞅƿelce miꞅꞇaꞅ ꞅƿelce nu on ðinum Moꝺe ꞅinꝺan…”
These words were transported into the Anglo-Saxon world by way of a translation of Roman senator Boethius’ De Consolatione Philosophiae (The Consolation of Philosophy), circa 524 AD. Translated into Modern English by J. S. Cardale in 1829 we read,
The project which De Consolatione Philosophiae is involved can be deciphered through the objects taken up in the language of the text. In the book, we read of ꞅōþan ᵹeꞅiehþe (‘the true sight’). Here, ꞅōþan ᵹeꞅiehþe is what we have while dwelling in ꞅōþ-an (‘the truth’). Only from this dwelling can the mists of doubt come to cloud over it. Of course, ꞅōþ is not to be understood as a spatial-temporal dwelling, but as a disposition from which the world is looked out to. This use of ꞅōþ is retained into Middle English, for example, in William Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, “In sooth, I know not why I am so sad”. That is to say, while dwelling in ꞅōþ, I have access to the reason of my sadness. Today, we find this idea of truth as dwelling quite alien. But only on account of these objects can we obtain the project of De Consolatione Philosophiae. Disclosed through these objects, we find a quite peculiar encouragement of doubt. Doubt is promoted as a means to edification and, above all else, an assurance of God’s counsel in the actualization of Fortune. Thus, we can interpret the project as one towards self-assurance. Of course, the need for self-assurance within this book is trivialized once we start to dwell on the Roman senator’s life situation — after all, Boethius had been incarcerated for defending a treasonous senator. De Consolatione Philosophiae is, therefore, undoubtedly a piece of prison literature. And of course, there is no better time for the self-assurance of consolation than during incarceration. Yet, despite this trivialization, what should not be underestimated is the book’s popular appeal. De Consolatione Philosophiae spread throughout the European continent. In this way, it can be said to resonate with the spirit of the medium aevum.
“Now thou hast no need to fear any thing; for, from the little spark which thou hast caught with this fuel, the light of life will shine upon thee…”
“…From hence, then, begin to grow the mists which trouble the mind, and entirely confound the true sight, such mists as are now on thy mind…”
This passage is repeated here from a composite translation (from both French and Latin) by Elizabeth S. Haldane and G.R.T. Ross.
“…our reason is not unjust when we conclude…that physics, astronomy, medicine and all other sciences…are very dubious and uncertain; but arithmetic, geometry and other science of that kind…contain some measure of certainty and an element of the indubitable. For whether I am awake or asleep, two and three together always form five, and the square can never have more than four sides, and it does not seem possible that truths so clear and apparent can be suspected of any falsity or uncertainty.”
This passage from On Certainty (section 125) concludes with the question, “Who decides what stands fast?” In other words, who is to be the final judge? A God? A dictator? A technocrat? Society? Of course, with the failure of a grounding standard as the test for genuine knowledge, we must admit that at some point during the grounding of our reasons, we approach the very foundation of our reasoning — a “rock bottom”, as Wittgenstein called it. However, we should not misunderstand Wittgenstein’s elucidation as a criticism, such that we are reduced to either the irrational or occult. Instead, what we find at such a rock bottom is not faith (Wittgenstein is not critiquing Christianity, for example) but conviction — or rather the economy in which we find our convictions. This is what Wittgenstein means when he says that “…it is what human beings say that is true and false; and they agree in the language they use. That is not agreement in opinions but in form of life.” (Philosophical Investigations, Part I, section 241). Only a form of life could determine the ‘final judge’ — an ultimate ruler of the standard. Of course, when thinking about the form of life, we are nearly brought full circle again, and back to the very inception of this article and our reflections on discourse.
“If a blind man were to ask me ‘Have you got two hands?’ I should not make sure by looking. If I were to have any doubt of it, then I don’t know why I should trust my eyes. For why shouldn’t I test my eyes by looking to find out whether I see my two hands? What is to be tested by what?”
Lecturer on Philosophy at Spinderihallerne, Vejle Denmark. Philosophy of mind, philosophy of science, metaphysics, and political metamodernism