Impediments to recognizing the self-evident

-The self evident is a habit spontaneously and irrevocably formed by the mind (where “habit” means a determination of a power or faculty to one thing). It is not, however, the only such habit. Subsequent habits can make us look upon this knowledge as eternally suspect, as though its prime value is to remind us of what dupes we can be.

-The self evident is not the same as what cannot be denied in speech or by hypothesis (a hypothesis prescinds from truth).

-We can think we know what we do not know- we can also think we don’t understand what we do.

-The self evident arises primarily with respect to what follows on our knowledge of being, but this word has a journey of meanings.

-Much of what is self evident to us cannot be enunciated. As soon as someone demands “tell me one thing that is self evident!” we are shifted away from the ground where most of the self evident is.

-The self evident is usually not the problem in reasoning, but the socially and culturally endoxical; that is, that knowledge which is deemed most worthy or certain by cultural or societal agreement. This kind of knowledge trades out every few years.

-Strunk and White: (commenting on the phrase the truth of the matter is) “if you feel you are possessed of truth, just say it. There is no need to give it advance billing”.

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1 Comment

  1. Brandon said,

    July 23, 2009 at 6:24 pm

    Much of what is self evident to us cannot be enunciated.

    This is a very good point. People have difficulty grasping the idea that there are vastly many self-evident things; and likewise they balk at the Aristotelian notion that there are vastly many first principles. But the reason for it is right here: that any thought whatsoever is presupposing self-evident things as background, so many that we hardly notice them, because it would never even occur to us to put them into question so that they could be formulated explicitly in the first place.

    That sort of gives me the idea that principles might be like articulated doctrines of faith: the faith is infinitely rich, and so much of it consists of things that are not enunciated because it would never occur to us on our own to do so. But where heresy brings up, these points of faith are put into question — the question forces us to make our words precise enough to talk about the point, and that leads to articulation of the faith. A number of Church Fathers complain about how they are being forced by heretics to talk about things that it would be better simply to participate in by faith — most of them, in fact, complain about it at one point or another. Obviously not all such doctrines are like this, since some were directly revealed, but many of them are. And I rather suspect that if we look at lots (although probably not all) of the obvious candidates for first principles, what we’ll find is that they were formulated in response to philosophical ‘heresies’, sophistries, that put them into question, so philosophers had to make their words precise enough to articulate them in ways that wouldn’t be misunderstood, so that reasonable people could see how silly the sophistry was to question something that really was self-evident to begin with. (And it would give a better sense than people normally get of just how thunderingly astounding Parmenides’s discovery was — the extraordinary achievement of looking so carefully at what was unspeakably obvious that you could begin to formulate it into words: what is, is, and what is not, is not. How thoroughly difficult that must have been; it’s no surprise that Parmenides saw it as a divine revelation.)


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