Hylomorphism and paradoxes of thought

Say you agree with the Neoplatonists that the mind is divided from body because it returns to itself, and you take this to mean that the mind in act is its own object: in knowing, we know that we know, though this sort of description becomes gibberish when applied to non-cognitive operations (in burning we burn that we burn, in running we run that we run… huh?). This retorsive power is not a mere mental trick, but has great significance since it opens the possibility of not just judgments that work or are correct (presumably, even mosquitoes can make these) but also judgments that are true. One cannot make a truth table, for example, without taking thought itself as an object of thought.

The division between retorsive cognitive powers and the non-cognitive will be unproblematic for pure spirits, but embodied beings are stuck having to think with tools that don’t share in this retorsive power. First of all, we think with language, which (often? always?) collapses into contradiction when we try to make it self-referential, as in the paradoxes of the liar or the knower. We might read Godel as extending this kind of paradox to formal systems as such, though there is an intimation of it even in material implication.

Whatever else a formal system might be, it seems to be something that would not require a retorsive activity to execute, and so if the mental is essentially and exclusively retorsive then there can be no formal system of all the mental: “language of thought” or “universal system of everything” become contradictory.


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