It’s Anselm’s ontology and Aquinas’s Aristotelian “special pleading” today in CoPhi, with a side of Emersonian transparency.
Anselm’s famous argument, less popular among theologians than some philosophers, merits Russell’s respect. Is there “a bridge between pure thought to things,” an armchair way of knowing? Wouldn’t it be nice! But subordinating reason to faith, believing before understanding, gets things backwards. Existence runs faster than our knowledge of essence, Aquinas concluded, so you can’t really know God from your armchair.
And yet, Aquinas’s five “ways” of knowing about unmoved movers, first causes, necessity, perfection, and purpose, though fair, forceful, sharp, and clear, are plenty sedentary. They too place the cart before the horse, the conclusion before the argument.
And that’s why good philosophers get up out of their armchairs and move themselves to walk, talk, and think before they issue their summas. They roam, they take in nature’s pagaent, and sometimes they ecstatically effuse.
Crossing a bare common, in snow puddles, at twilight, under a clouded sky, without having in my thoughts any occurrence of special good fortune, I have enjoyed a perfect exhilaration. I am glad to the brink of fear. In the woods too, a man casts off his years, as the snake his slough, and at what period soever of life, is always a child. In the woods, is perpetual youth. Within these plantations of God, a decorum and sanctity reign, a perennial festival is dressed, and the guest sees not how he should tire of them in a thousand years. In the woods, we return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life, — no disgrace, no calamity, (leaving me my eyes,) which nature cannot repair. Standing on the bare ground, — my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space, — all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all…
Ralph was getting carried away there, the way poets can. Nobody’s ever nothing, no seer sees all. But knowers go looking and seeing, they don’t just muse from their seats. And then, like the other poet we mentioned, they frequently and unapologetically contradict themselves. “Nature always wears the colors of the spirit,” we see what we project. So we’d better look often, all over. Only the armchair affords a single prospect.
Happy birthday H.G. Wells, who said “Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race.” WA
6 am/6:36, 63/90, 6:44
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