How Knoweth He By the Virtue of His Understanding the Inward and Secret Motions?

‘Presumption is our natural and original infirmity. Of all creatures man is the most miserable and frail, and therewithall the proudest and disdainfullest. Who perceiveth and seeth himself placed here, amidst their filth and mire of the world, fast tied and nailed to the worst, most senseless, and drooping part of the world, in the vilest corner of the house, and farthest from the heavens coape, with those creatures, that are the worst of the three conditions,  and yet dareth imaginarily place himself above the circle of the moon, and reduce heaven under his feet. It is through vanity of the same imagination, the he dare equal himself to God, that he ascribeth divine conditions unto himself, that he selecteth and separateth himself from out of the rank of other creatures; to which his fellow-brethren and compeers, he cuts out and shareth their parts, and alloteth them what portions of means or forces he thinks good. How knoweth he by the virtue of his understanding the inward and secret motions of beasts? By what comparison from them to us doth he conclude the brutishness ascribed unto them? When I am playing with my cat, who knows whether she have more sport in dallying with me, than I have in gaming with her? We entertain one another with mutual apish tricks, if I have my hour to begin or to refuse, so hath she hers. Plato in setting forth the golden age under Saturn, amongst other chief advantages that man had then, reporteth the communication he had with beasts, of whom enquiring and and taking instruction, he knew the true qualities, ad differences of every one of them: by, and from whom he got an absolute understanding and perfect wisdom, whereby he led a happier life than we can do. Can we have a better proof to judge of man’s impudency, touching beasts? … It is a matter of divination to guess in whom the fault is, that we understand not another. For we understand them no more than they us. By the same reason, may they as well esteem us beasts, as we them.’

Montaigne, Apology for Raymond Sebond, translated by John Florio, (1603).


‘There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae [wasps] with the express intention of their [larva] feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice. Not believing this, I see no necessity in the belief that the eye was expressly designed. On the other, I cannot anyhow be contented to view this wonderful universe, and especially the nature of man, and to conclude that everything is the result of brute force. I am inclined to look at everything as resulting from designed laws, with the details, whether good or bad, left to the working out of what we may call chance. Not that this notion at all [original italics] satisfies me. I feel most deeply that the whole subject is too profound for the human intellect. A dog might as well speculate on the mind of Newton.’

Charles Darwin, letter to Asa Gray, May 22, 1860.


‘BUT now thou askest me and sayest, “How shall I think on Himself, and what is He?” and to this I cannot answer thee but thus: “I wot not.”

For thou hast brought me with thy question into that same darkness, and into that same cloud of unknowing, that I would thou wert in thyself. For of all other creatures and their works, yea, and of the works of God’s self, may a man through grace have fullhead of knowing, and well he can think of them: but of God Himself can no man think. And therefore I would leave all that thing that I can think, and choose to my love that thing that I cannot think. For why; He may well be loved, but not thought. By love may He be gotten and holden; but by thought never. And therefore, although it be good sometime to think of the kindness and the worthiness of God in special, and although it be a light and a part of contemplation: nevertheless yet in this work it shall be cast down and covered with a cloud of forgetting. And thou shalt step above it stalwartly, but Mistily, with a devout and a pleasing stirring of love, and try for to pierce that darkness above thee. And smite upon that thick cloud of unknowing with a sharp dart of longing love; and go not thence for thing that befalleth.’

The Cloud of Unknowing, edited by Evelyn Underhill.


‘I want to know what it is like for a bat to be a bat. Yet if I try to imagine this, I am restricted to the resources of my own mind, and those resources are inadequate to the task. I cannot perform it either by imagining additions to my present experience, or by imagining segments gradually subtracted from it, or by imagining some combination of additions, subtractions and modifications… So if the extrapolation from our own case is involved in the idea of what it is like to be a bat, the extrapolation must be incompletable.’

Thomas Nagel, ‘What Is It Like to Be a Bat?, The Philosophical Review, 83. (1974).