|Up: Reservations about writing|
"Therefore no serious man will certainly ever write anything about any serious matter" (Plato)
Seventh letter: writing is unwise; proven from the nature of things and language
For every thing there are three intermediates necessary to know it, a fourth is knowledge itself, as fifth one has to determine the thing itself, which can be known and is truly being. So we have:
|2. Explanation of the concept|
Take an example to make yourself understand what I mean and stick to it for everything: Let "circle", for instance, be the subject; what we just said is the name. - The explanation of the concept is the second, itself composed of names and verbs. "What is from its outer point in all directions equally far from the middle", could be the explanation of the concept, for which "round", "bent" and "circle" are names. - But the third is the drawn and erasable, the sketched and perishable. From that, the circle itself, the purpose of it all, is not affected, because its being is of a completely different nature. Fourth, knowledge and insight and true meaning is relevant. Again, all this should be considered by itself, not having its existence in sounds or physical forms but in the soul. - and precisely therefore it is clear that it should be distinguished from the nature of the circle itself, just as the earlier three. From all of them, this one is nearest in affinity and nature to the fifth: pure insight. The others are more remote.
This holds as well for the figure, straight or bent, the colour, the good and beautiful and just, for every artefact as well as everything originating in nature, for fire, water and things like that, for every living being, as well as in the area of the soul for propriety, and in general for al modes of functioning and suffering; for never will someone really acquire the knowledge of the fifth who did not get hold of these four in some way.
In addition to this, someone like that does not seek less, in
case of something being sometimes thus and sometimes thus, to express it, than
in case of something being - due to the weakness of reason. Therefore no one in
his senses will ever dare to fix what he intends, and certainly not in the
unchangeable fixated, as it is with what is written down.
But one should make clear to oneself once again in detail what I have just explained. Every circle drawn or sketched in reality is full of the opposite of the fifth -in every direction it may have straight parts- , but the circle itself, we say, has nothing small or big, from the opposite essence in itself. Neither does any name fix anything by itself, nothing prevents us from calling "straight" what we are use to call "curved". And everything would be the same under such a redefinition of terms.
Clearly, the same holds for the explanation of the concept, as it consists of names and verbs: nothing is fixed in a sufficiently unequivocal way.
We could pile up a large heap of arguments as to why all four are imprecise. But the most important, which we just said already, is there is two: being, and sometimes-being-thus-sometimes-thus. Though the soul strives to know not the sometimes-being-thus-sometimes-thus, but the being-what itself, the notorious four carry exactly to the soul what is not desired, they thus make, by arguments and appearances in reality, everything easily falsifyable what is said and shown, and thus fills everybody which embarrassment and confusion.
Now there is a lot with respect to which we are not used to seek
the truth, out of bad training, while we feel satisfied with the image we get
presented. In such cases we appear not to become ridiculous to one another, the
persons who are asked to those who pose the question, though the latter are
quite capable to dissect and falsify one of the four.
In those matters where we invite each other to answer the fifth and express it, there the one who knows how to falsify achieves victory when he wants and can give to the listening crowd the impression that the one who provides the answers in speech or written form understands nothing of the matter about which he undertook to talk or write. The listeners find that in such cases often not the soul of the author or speaker is falsified, but the nature of the those four as involved in the case, full as they are of flaws.
Despite all this, the resting and wandering of all those four, which concentrate themselves up and down then to this, then again to that, may in the end create knowledge of the genuine in those who have the right spirit. Those who have not, as is the state of the soul of most people with respect to learning and the so called formation of character, and also when someone gets spoiled, such a person could not even be brought to sight by Lynkeus. In a word, those who have no affinity to the matter from their own nature cannot make any learning capacity or thought relate to it. For it cannot enter an alien nature in the first place. Thus those who have no natural nearness and affinity to the just and all the beautiful, however much they may be able to grasp and memorise, and those who have the affinity but are unable to grasp and recall, will never understand the true knowledge of good and bad (as far as it is possible anyhow). For to understand both, they need to understand at the same time deceit and truth of being as a whole, with great strain during a longer time, as I already said in the beginning. But finally, when every single one of those four is tested against the other, names, explanations of concepts and observations, when they are all put to the test by attempts to falsify in an atmosphere of integrity, and when one trains, without pedantry, in questions and answers, suddenly such an insight and understanding will be ignited, as far as this, in general, is within man's range of possibilities.
Therefore no serious man will certainly ever write anything about any serious matter, thus exposing it to the people for their pedantry and confusion. It suffices to know the following criterion: when somebody reads written work of somebody else, be it in the form of laws of a governor, be it anything else, it will not be what the man is most serious about, where otherwise he may be taken serious, but that the highest at the most beautiful places that he possesses will remain hidden. But if some man would really write down these truly serious matters, "then they" -this time not the gods but the mortal- "have blurred his senses".
Appendix: Others with similar considerations:
Caesar on reservations of Celtic Druids against writing (Gallic War VI, 14). Latin version
The Druids usually hold aloof from war, and do not pay war-taxes with the
rest; they are excused from military service and exempt from all liabilities.
Tempted by these great rewards, many young men assemble of their own motion to
receive their training; many are sent by parents and relatives. Report says that
in the schools of the Druids they learn by heart a great number of verses, and
therefore some persons remain twenty years under training. And they do not
think it proper to commit these utterances to writing, although in almost all
other matters, and in their public and private accounts, they make use of Greek
letters. I believe that they have adopted the practice for two reasons--that
they do not wish the rule to become common property, nor those who learn the
rule to rely on writing and so neglect the cultivation of the memory; and, in
fact, it does usually happen that the assistance of writing tends to relax the
diligence of the student and the action of the memory. The cardinal
doctrine which they seek to teach is that souls do not die, but after death pass
from one to another; and this belief, as the fear of death is thereby cast
aside, they hold to be the greatest incentive to valour. Besides this, they have
many discussions as touching the stars and their movement, the size of the
universe and of the earth, the order of nature, the strength and the powers of
the immortal gods, and hand down their lore to the young men.
Laus Stultitiae, Desiderius Erasmus
Do not write down your wisdom! (Erasmus' commentary on Ecclesiasticus' (Jesus Sirach) statement "Better is the man who hides his foolishness than the man who hides his wisdom".
63. ...What should one hide more carefully: valuable objects or worthless casual things? Why don't you say something? Even though you pretend stupidity, the Greek proverb answers in your place: "One puts the water jar at the door"; and one had better not disrespectfully wave this aside: it is a quotation of Aristotle, the god of our professors. Or is someone among you so foolish as to leave gold and jewels on the street? Truly not, isn't it? You will hide it in the inner chambers of your house, no, in the most concealed corners of your strongest cupboards, but the mud you will leave exposed outside your door. So if the valuable is hidden and the worthless is displayed, isn't it clear then that the wisdom he forbids to hide is lower than the foolishness that he orders to hide? Now hear his own testimony: "Better is the man who hides his foolishness than the man who hides his wisdom".
Laurence Sterne: The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman
The danger of learned opinion [as obtained by reading]:
Volume I, Chapter XIX: "I mention this, not only as a matter of hypothesis or conjecture upon the progress and establishment of my father's many odd opinions, --but as a warning to the learned reader against the indiscreet reception [by means of reading books (editor)] of such guests, who, after a free and undisturbed enterance, for some years, into our brains, - at length claim a kind of settlement there, -working sometimes like yeast; - but more generally after the manner of the gentle passion, beginning in jest, - but ending in downright ernest"
"Ernest" is defined by Sterne in Volume I, Chapter XI, following Francois de la Rochefoucault as "A mysterious carriage of the body to cover the defects of the mind".