“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,
“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…”
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
(‘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 causes 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 council in the actualizing of Fortune. In as much, we can interpret the project as one toward self-assurance. Of course, the need for self-assurance within this book is trivialized once we 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 reconciling misfortune 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
Of course, running besides this understanding of truth as dwelling, we also interpret ꞅōþan ᵹeꞅiehþe
as the real sight
. In modern English we retain this use, for example, in the expression true love
. This expression also indicates something of a false love
— a prior deception. Not to be overlooked, the true as the real
also suggest the one and only
. True love is undoubtedly single and sole — without comparison. This singularity retains in the conception of truth as an assertion which is in agreement with the real — reality
. In as much, we can say that it anticipates the foundation for the scientific industries. The French philosopher Rene Descartes, who has been called the father of the metaphysical foundations of modern science, began out of the same encouragement of doubt as a method for arriving at truth. However, in his work, assurance is explicitly absent. Instead, we find motivation for his method in certainty
. The distinction between the two is essential in interpreting the novelty of Descartes’ Meditationes de Prima Philosophia
(Meditation on First Philosophy
). While we could never understand what it would mean that nature would deceive us — with a fake atomic particle, say — we can follow the logic of Descartes in ‘subjectivizing’ the deception. After all, we assume that nature has no preference whether or not we know it. Deception is a possibility of the thinker himself; therefore, the thinker’s virtue is clarity of thought. Clarity is exclusive to reason. In as much, we can say that certainty, in contrast to assurance, has the character of logical-mathematical. To be sure of this distinction, we can revisit Descartes’ second meditation,
“…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 is repeated here from a composite translation from both the French and Latin, by Elizabeth S. Haldane and G.R.T. Ross.
It is here, as the logical-mathematical, that we find a second and explicit utility which certainty secured. Undoubtedly, the projects of later modernization demanded unprecedented human mobilization. This mobilization was promised by an industrialization of human activity — an industrialization which could not have been possible without a logical-mathematical standard. During this period, the pervasiveness of standardization went unquestioned. This is attested for in the popularity of positivism as the guiding philosophy of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Positivism takes the positum, the sensuous, as the real. Yet, positivism goes further than empiricism. The sensuous is that which constantly proves itself upon any appearance of doubt. Such proof can only be had by way of a subsequent verification — a repeatable verification. The positum is that which constantly proves itself by way of comparison with a ruler of the standard. The positum is verified data — ‘positive data’ — the fact. In positivism, positive facts constitute the only genuine form of knowledge.
Of course, from the vantage afforded us today, what we find concerning regards the verification of the intimate objects, such as those of ‘subjective’ or aesthetic description. After all, it is not entirely clear what standard could be used for verification here. The Austrian-British philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein interrogated this perplexity. Yet, his purpose was not merely to qualify the intimate objects of experience as different from those of scientific description — this much had been admitted for some time before him. Instead, Wittgenstein presents a series of arguments which suggest this perplexity over standardization extends even to scientific investigation. In his own words, “We learn to observe and to describe observations”. That is, we are taught the scientific method. But he asks “how is my own ‘inner activity’ checked in this case?” That is, “how will it be judged whether I really have paid attention [to my sensations of the phenomena or not]?” (Zettel, section 426). To be clear, the purpose of his interrogation was not a destruction of scientific investigation outright, not even an ungrounding of the philosophical foundations for the sciences, but instead a philosophical elucidation. While measurement by way of a ruler of the standard is often given as reason for judgement, such reasoning must come to an end somewhere. Wittgenstein’s elucidation completes once we understand that even in standardization a judgement must be made. That is, we must still determine which standard to use.
“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?”
This passage from On Certainty
(section 125) concludes in a quite punctual question. “Who decides what stands fast?
” In other words, who is 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 of grounding our reasons, we approach the very foundation of our reasoning — a “rock bottom
”, as Wittgenstein called it. However, we should not understand 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 (his is not a critique of 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, in thinking on form of life
, we are nearly brought full circle, back to the very inception of this chapter and our reflection on discourse
Despite this elucidation, we do recognize in ourselves a want for truth as a positive fact. Therefore, we also understand this conception as our own today. However, we can also say that Wittgenstein has prepared us for our task. Much like the mark of a snow angel which is left by waving one’s arms and legs, we search for the economy — that form of life — which is impressed upon each one of us in having the truth of matters decided by way of the positive fact. Our clue for discovering this impression is nothing yet, besides the positive fact itself. Yet, we can also remind ourselves of the original provocation for this investigation — a feeling that in some way we have not done a satisfactory job of nurturing the disclosure of truth from within our inherited economy. We go forward with the understand that any deception, dissimulation, or concealment of the truth has only surfaced as a by-product of our economy. We likewise understand that nothing interesting can come from looking at dissimulation, deception, and concealment as deviations from normal behavior from within our inherited infrastructure.
From the vantage of the liminal here and now of our today, it has become overly obvious that maintaining the ideal of democracy has come to perversely obscure authenticity. And in looking back to recent modernization, we find that the intimate ‘subjective’ discourse such as aesthetics and personal experiences were bullied — relegated to secondary objects, if respected at all. No doubt internet forums became platforms for pedantic concerns for the qualification of the nature of truth. For those who cared to look close enough, we found the project to discern opinion from fact and believing from knowing — that is to say, to discern between belief, fact, and believing in facts. This was an attempt at the reconciliation of the language inherited through the poets and ancient philosophers. While the true was equivalent to fact and opposite to opinion and belief — all that we really wanted to say was that the true is tantamount to that which is verified with a third-party ‘objective’ reality. An understanding of the ability of truth taking for granted the thing-in-itself, Immanuel Kant’s metaphysical object, noumenon.
Today it is overly obvious that this resolve has shown itself unsatisfactory. No doubt, the proclamation “Truth!” discloses more than simply verifiable phenomena. Behind this statement is the value “good!” or “healthy!” — it is a testament to “an affirmation of my life!” Even the positive fact carries value — a utility which was utterly obscured in, for example, the United States abortion debate. No doubt, the positive fact had become a shield — one which protected the speaker and concealed the good
and the just
. We simply resolved that, “I can’t dispute the facts”, and we had done this with our shoulders shrugged. We wrote away the profundity of our experience — and with them the project (projection) to which those descriptions referred.