Picture thinking and existence.

It’s one thing to know what something is, and another thing to know whether it exists or not; because we can know what something is without at the same time having some sense perception of it, but not whether it is. In fact, in all that comes to be by art or mind it is necessary that the definition of something be known before the thing defined exists in reality; this is what allows us to constuct triangles, or cars, or to test an hypothesis about the existence of a tenth planet or the luminiferous aether. The definition of the thing or “what it is” is a necessary principle in causing the thing to exist, and/or knowing whether it exists or not.

All this means that the definition of something stands indifferently to existence: a thing defined or known either can exist or cannot. In Aristotle’s terms, “what a thing is” stands to existence as potency to act.

Picture thinking, when confronted with the word “is”, finds itself unable to make any distinction between the “is” that expresses what something is, and the “is” that expresses whether it is. This is all a logical consequence of the inablity of picture thinking to grasp passive potency. Hume gives a good example of this:

It is far from being true, that in every judgment which we form we unite two different ideas, since in that proposition, God is, or indeed, any other, which regards existence, the idea of existence is no distinct idea, which we unite with that of the object (Treatise, Book I, sec. vii.)

The locus classicus of this “existence is no distinct idea” is from Hume’s disciple Kant, who bases his whole refutation of the proofs for the existence of God on the claim that “One hundred possible thalers contain not one coin more than one hundred actual thalers”. Both these statements are just a consequence of their picture thinking. It is true that when one imagines a man, and then imagines him to exist, nothing changes about the image. This is because an image as such must show something as actual; for it has no access to the potential. Existence therefore becomes something already present in everything and/or nothing at all- which both constitute a philosophical regression.  

More on the reduction of all sensation to vision

(Spellcheck is broken. Forgive the typos.) 

1.) If all sensation is seen as a kind of vision, or in visual terms, man becomes alienated from his knowledge. Vision tends to see things as “pictures” and “models” but models are irreducibly “out there” and separate from us.  

2.) A picture is an artistic production, and even the primary and most evident kind of artistic production. But art is opposed at its root to both prudence and speculative thought, and so the reduction of all knowledge to pictures will destroy both prudence and speculative thought. This is ironic since both “wisdom” and “speculative” are rooted in words for vision (although this is not true of more arcane words like “sapiential”, which is rooted in the sensation of taste).

3.) Seeing all sensations in terms of pictures obscures the distinction between symbols and words, for we tend to see both of them as just jots on a page, which obscures the fact that a word is primarily something spoken, while a symbol is an artifact and not something said. This is clearest in symbols like the American Flag or the Statue of Liberty. This speechless character of symbols is the root of why symbols can be manipulated mechanically according to pre set rules, and yet such an operation is essentially different from both speech and thought: for speech can directly manifest an order of the mind to reality; but a symbol- since it is an artistic production- must directly manifest an order of the mind to making.

4.) The reduction of all sensation to pictures obscures the immateriality of sensation. When we take a picture of something green, the film changes color; but when we see green or brain doesn’t change color, and even if it did, this would not explain sensation. When matter recieves a shape or a color, the matter itself becomes the shape; but sensation receives the shape or color as the color of another, which therefore involves transcending the way that matter receives something.

The reduction of sensation to vision

Wittgenstein’s axiom that “what can be said at all can be said clearly” is frequently quoted, but much of the Tractatus is dedicated to Wittgenstein explaining how what is said at all is said in pictures. To the extent that this philosophy is the heart of modern analytic thought, such thought has the same root as the old Empirical school: reduce all knowledge to sensation, and understand sensation primarily, if not entirely, through vision.

The reduction of all sensation to pictures happens very easily. As Augustine points out, we use the act of sight analogously to speak of the clarity we have in the other senses: e.g. “see how this tastes” or “I see what you’re saying”. But while vision has the benefit of being the clearest sense, it most obscures the nature of sensation itself. When we understand all sensation through vision, we easily fall into thinking that sensation is nothing but a picture. The obvious problem with this is that if sensation is nothing but a picture, then pictures would see. Said another way, to call vision a picture explains everything- except the very act of vision we were trying to explain in the first place. This “little picture” theory never comes up if one remembers that touch and taste are sensations too: is touching a “little touch”? Of course not. Again, even it it were a little touch, it would not explain why we feel it.

Another difficulty with understanding all sensation though sight is that while sight excells all other senses in making distinction known, it does not excell all senses in every way. Hearing surpasses sight as a sense of learning, because we learn most perfectly though words, and words are, properly speaking, things said. Touch surpasses all senses in establishing existence- think of the request of the Doubting Thomas.

One can construct various artifacts to represent the various sensations in picture: Wittgenstein himself says that the notes on a scale are a picture of music; and I suppose he could also say that the rising of the mercury is a picture of heat, or a lemon is a picture of the sour, etc. In doing this, however, we lose the unity of the sense experience- music and noise are one as audible, sweet and sour are one as tastable. But more importantly (again) by explaining hearing though sight we haven’t explained something as heard, and in some sense we do not need to. Sounds and smells and tangible experinces are known in themselves, and have certitude in themselves. They do not stand in need of some pictoral representation to make them understood or certain.    

All our knowledge is taken from sensation, so how does sensation give us an idea like “being” or “is”? If we take “being” as indicating the most general and confused understanding of something, it follows that our idea of being comes from what is most general and confused in the sensible. But there is nothing more general one can say about the sensible than what belongs to it as such. And so our idea of being is grounded on what belongs to the sensible as such, namely: 

1.) The sensible as such has a relation to a knowing power. A thing is only sensible because some knowing power relates to it of necessity From this, we can gather the idea of being as what a knowing power necessarily relates to: i.e. being as true.

2.) The sensible as sensible is what the knowing power is ordered to. It is important to avoid the per accidens here: the sensible is the end of the sentitent; but it does not follow that the thing sensed is the end of the animal that senses it- very often it is to be avoided. But so long as we are careful to speak of the sensible as such, we can say it is an end, goal and perfection of the sentient. This gives us the idea of being as good.

3.) Both #1 and #2 require a relation to another. This requires being to be distinct, for relation is impossible without distinction. This gives us the idea of being as distinct, i.e. as other

4.) All of the above presuppose some relation to a sentient being. But before we even realize the sensible as such in relation to us, we are asking about what it is in itself. The most general response to “what is that?” is to say “something”; this gives us the idea of being as thing.

5.) The sensible thing as such has parts outside of other parts. This does not necessarily follow from any othe above points as stated, but it is clear by induction. But if it is given that being is thing, then the parts cannot be simply multiple, but in some way undivided. This gives us the idea of being as one.

Aristotle’s first example for sophistical arguments

Aristotle begins his treatise on sophistical refutations by saying 

That some reasonings are genuine, while others seem to be so but are not, is evident. This happens with arguments, as also elsewhere, through a certain likeness between the genuine and the sham. For physically some people are in a vigorous condition, while others merely seem to be so by blowing and rigging themselves out as the tribesmen do their victims for sacrifice.

Aristotle’s examples should always get careful consideration, for they always prove themselves to be chosen with extreme subtlety and care. Sophistical arguments are rightly compared to the dressed-up sacrificial victims of tribesmen, because like such victims they are only apparently worthy of the gods, they are offered by primitive minds in need of refinement; and whoever offers such arguments as reasonable will soon destroy reason altogether.

What is best known to us

An account of what we know best begins with what sense knows best. But sense is most struck by what is in motion. This is why most of our words for what is well known to sense are taken motion: e.g. what “strikes” us, or what “hits” us,  or “jumps out at us” or what “catches the eye”.

I bring this out (again, a motion) because it has become the fashion in some philosophers to think that what is most distinctive and well known about the world around us is space and time. But we do not know the world best as spacial- in fact, if the world were merely extended (motion word) nothing in it would strike us, we would easily forget it was even there, and animals with more fundamental powers of sensation wouldn’t know it was there. 

Understanding the world as fundamnetally a world of space and time fails for three reasons: 1.) it does not talk about the world as it is most known to us, because both space and time are explained through motion. Space is what “extends” or “goes on and on” and time “flows” or (again) “goes on”: moreover, all our clocks presuppose the rotation of the earth; 2.) it posits that our first grasp of the world is an essentially Euclidean one of space to which all else is added; and 3.) it keeps us from having to graple with the riddle of motion or of imperfect existence in general.

And so the distinct is known before the unified, the many before the one, and the mobile before what rests. This is why the order of our understanding is usually opposite of the order of being. There must be one thing before there are many of them, but we tend to know things first as distinct from another- in fact experience shows that we see the distinction itself distinctly before we see either of the distinct things clearly.  

Causality is grounded on mind.

On the one hand, any change is a determinite change, and every determinite thing has a term. In this sense, all motion presupposes an end, and this end constitutes a ground making change possible.

On the other hand, an end of the actual change cannot exist in reality before the change itself- this would make the end exist in reality at the beginning of the change, which would destroy the very possibility of the change at all: for a thing would already have changed before it began changing. Less abstractly, how can sitting be causing the chair, if one cannot sit in the chair until the end of its construction?

Both truths harmonize in the realization that all causality is grounded on mind. This does not even belong to it qua cause, even though it belongs to cause necessarily. The very idea of principle , which presupposes order to another and therefore determination, is grounded upon and presupposes mind or something transcending all mind.

Evils as ordered to virtue

Eliminate evil and you eliminate courage, patience, manliness, heroism, and certainly martyrdom. I do not say this so much to prove that evil was necessary, but to indicate that the evils exist for the sake of virtue, and are ordered to it.

When we see most people suffer evils, we feel their life is less valuable than ours; but when we see evils as borne by Socrates, The Little Flower, or Christ himself, we recognize that our life is less valuable than theirs- we know that we should strive to be like them.

Those afflicted by evil seem to form the bookends of human value: those who suffer in bitterness and apart from virtue are universally pitied, so much so that people frequently feel that they would be doing them a favor by murdering them; but those who suffer with greatness of soul are universally respected and beloved- for it seems that no matter how vicious a people get they still respect a person with the courage to suffer for his beloved.

Sanctification as from evil

Through Christ, all evils become ordered to sanctification, and so became certain goods. Through sin came evil, but through evil, which is most contrary to the will, man was given an opportunity to recognize that his perfection and happiness does not lie in the following of his own will as his own, but in the following of his own will as obiedient to the will of God.

Sonnet 44

If the dull substance of my flesh were thought,
Injurious distance should not stop my way;
For then despite of space I would be brought,
From limits far remote where thou dost stay.
No matter then although my foot did stand
Upon the farthest earth removed from thee;
For nimble thought can jump both sea and land
As soon as think the place where he would be.
But ah! thought kills me that I am not thought,
To leap large lengths of miles when thou art gone,
But that so much of earth and water wrought
I must attend time’s leisure with my moan,
Receiving nought by elements so slow
But heavy tears, badges of either’s woe.

The Sonnet manifests the unity of will and intellect, done most clearly in line nine when mind and will are punned together in the word “thought” “but ah! thought (my own self awareness) kills me that I am not thought, to leap… (go out of oneself to another, or will)”.

The poem manifests the unity of thought and intellect by manifesting the immateriality of both. Thought is opposed to “the dull substance” made of elements. Shakespeare’s whole lament is that his body weighs down another more intimate part of himself that is not limited by distance or space, and such a limitation to distance and space is either the definition of body, or something that follows soon upon it.  

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