Truth is Fairest Naked

‘Obscurity and vagueness of expression is always and everywhere a very bad sign: for in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred it derives from vagueness of thought, which in turn comes from an original incongruity and inconsistency in the thought itself, and thus from its falsity. If a true thought arises in a head it will immediately strive after clarity and will soon achieve it: what is clearly thought, however, easily finds the expression appropriate to it. The thoughts a man is capable of always express themselves in clear, comprehensible, and unambiguous words. Those who put together difficult, obscure, involved ambiguous discourses do not really know what they want to say: they have no more than a vague consciousness of it which is only struggling towards a thought: often, however, they also want to conceal from themselves and others that they actually have nothing to say. Truth is fairest naked, and the simpler its expression the profounder its influence.’

Arthur Schopenhauer, ‘On Books and Writing’, from Parerga und Paralipomena, in Essays and Aphorisms, translated and edited by R. J. Hollingdale.

 

‘The very first lesson that we have a right to demand that logic shall teach us is, how to make our ideas clear; and a most important one it is, depreciated only by minds who stand in need of it. To know what we think, to be masters of our own meaning, will make a solid foundation for great and weighty thought. It is most easily learned by those whose ideas are meagre and restricted; and far happier than they such as wallow helplessly in a rich mud of conceptions. A nation, it is true, may, in the course of generations, overcome the disadvantage of an excessive wealth of language and its natural concomitant, a vast, unfathomable deep of ideas. We may see it in history, slowly perfecting its literary forms, sloughing at length its metaphysics, and, by virtue of the untirable patience which is often a compensation, attaining great excellence in every branch of mental acquirement. The page of history is not yet unrolled that is to tell us whether such a people will or will not in the long run prevail over one whose ideas (like the words of their language) are few, but which possesses a wonderful mastery over those which it has. For an individual, however, there can be no question that a few clear ideas are worth more than many confused ones. A young man would hardly be persuaded to sacrifice the greater part of his thoughts to save the rest; and the muddled head is the least apt to see the necessity of such a sacrifice. Him we can usually only commiserate, as a person with a congenital defect. Time will help him, but intellectual maturity with regard to clearness is apt to come rather late. This seems an unfortunate arrangement of Nature, inasmuch as clearness is of less use to a man settled in life, whose errors have in great measure had their effect, than it would be to one whose path lay before him. It is terrible to see how a single unclear idea, a single formula without meaning, lurking in a young man’s head, will sometimes act like an obstruction of inert matter in an artery, hindering the nutrition of the brain, and condemning its victim to pine away in the fullness of his intellectual vigor and in the midst of intellectual plenty. Many a man has cherished for years as his hobby some vague shadow of an idea, too meaningless to be positively false; he has, nevertheless, passionately loved it, has made it his companion by day and by night, and has given to it his strength and his life, leaving all other occupations for its sake, and in short has lived with it and for it, until it has become, as it were, flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone; and then he has waked up some bright morning to find it gone, clean vanished away like the beautiful Melusina of the fable, and the essence of his life gone with it. I have myself known such a man; and who can tell how many histories of circlesquarers, metaphysicians, astrologers, and what not, may not be told in the old German story?’

Charles S. Peirce, How to Make Our Ideas Clear.

 

‘The signposts raised up on the road don’t show their direction in a sweet and florid style: they flaunt the style of their utility. Clear, direct, insistent, and authoritarian, they don’t say: “if I am mistaken”, they don’t doubt themselves, they do not excuse themselves from roughly throwing the direction arrows and the mile markers into the eyes of the people who pass. But does the traveler complain about it?  As long as he has the heart of a philosopher, he gives thank to the author of profitable brutalities which he does not even feel tyrannized by.

It is his choice to slow down or step on the gas, to follow to change his direction. The milestone says what it is in clear terms, and what is necessary to take into account. The more that precise facts limit thought and, because of that narrow limit, the more that fantasies of the heart, wishes of the imagination, the needs, the amenities and personal interests will obtain safety and will be able to give themselves a career. An uncertain direction, a fact, whether vague or false, while appearing to flatter the arbitrariness of the walker, will restrict the freedom of his movements, of his rest, they will diminish his real powers, for the risks attached to the consequences of an indifferent or capricious itinerary will be increased by the insufficiency of his knowledge.

It is a great error to think that contingencies, as they say, accommodate themselves more easily to a lax and vacillating principle: to the contrary, all indecision of principles complicates the study of the facts, as well as their treatment; uncertainty thus is inserted at the sole point from where a little light could come to them, to the complexities of the earth shadows in the sky will be added.

Truth, a harsh but clear sun, is content to establish from above what is necessary to know and think before acting. It shows the good, it marks out the bad; it distinguishes the proportions following which the one and the other confront each other and mix in the infinite variety of our human events. Once so enlightened, man is far from having resolved the problems of practical life, but he has something to resolve them and if, as happens to him too frequently, he can choose only between evils, he will better discern which will be the least, his effort can be applied to avoiding the worst; that makes perhaps the greatest point of the government of oneself and others.’

Charles Maurras, Mes Idées Politiques, translated by Cologero Salvo.

 

Hat tip for Peirce and Maurras: Cologero Salvo.

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Totality

A bel esprit is not an artisan geometer but a born architect, who, while meditating on a building, is able to see it rising before his eyes complete in all its parts. He imagines and percieves its totality thanks to a reasoning that is imperceptible and instantaneous… In other words, a bel esprit is blessed with a disposition that gives him a fine and precise intuition of all the things he sees or imagines.

Pierre de Marivaux, as quoted in Styles of Enlightenment: Taste, Politics and Authorship in Eighteenth-Century France by Elena Russo.

As for the objective aspect of this aesthetic perception, that is to say the (Platonic) Idea, it may be described as that which we would have before us if time, the formal and subjective condition of our knowledge, were drawn away, like the glass lens from a kaleidoscpe.

Arthur Schopenhauer, ‘On Aesthetics’, Essays and Aphorisms, translated by R. J. Hollingdale.

Every Night, Every Morning

‘For several years running I would read a passage of Homer every night before going to bed as regularly as a good priest says his office. I began early to suck the milk of Homer, Virgil, Horace, Terence, Anacreon, Plato, and Euripides, mixed with that of Moses and the Prophets.’

Denis Diderot, Project for University.

‘There is no better recreation for the mind than the study of the ancient classics. Take any one of them into your hand, be it only for a half an hour, and you will feel yourself refreshed, relieved, purified, ennobled, strengthened: just as though you had quenched your thirst at some spring.’

Arthur Schopenhauer, ‘On the Study of Latin’, from Parerga and Paralipomena.

‘The reading of Homer every morning, with the serenity, the tranquillity, the deep sensation of moral and physical well-being which it instills in us, is the best provision to endure the vulgarities of the day.’

Nicolás Gómez Dávila, Notes.

Style and the Body – II

‘[The actor David Garrick] appeared wholly present in the muscles of his body.’

Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, as quoted by Schopenhauer in The World as Will and Representation.

‘An actor must know the composition of the entire production, must understand and feel it with his whole body.  Only then does he make himself a component of it and begin to sound in harmony with it.’

Vsevolod Meyerhold.

‘Our most sacred convictions, our most unalterable faith in the matter of supreme values, are judgements of our muscles.’

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power.

A Sorry Sight

‘With the exception of the beautiful, good-natured or intelligent faces – with the exception, that is, of a very few, rare faces – I believe that every new face will usually arouse in a person of finer feeling a sensation akin to terror, since it presents the disagreeable in a new and surprising combination. As a rule it is in truth a sorry sight.’

Arthur Schopenhauer, On Various Subjects, translated by R. J. Hollindale.

‘Sometimes, without expecting it and with no reason to expect it, the oppressiveness of common life makes me gag, and I feel physically nauseated by the voices and gestures of my so-called fellow man. It’s an instant physical nausea, automatically felt in my stomach and head, an impressive but stupid consequence of my alert sensibility. Everyone who talks to me, each face whose eyes gaze at me, hits me like an insult or a piece of filth.’

Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet, translated by Richard Zenith.

Eternity was Manifest in the Light of Day, and Something Infinite behind Everything Appeared

‘Will you see the infancy of this sublime and celestial greatness? Those pure and virgin apprehensions I had from the womb, and that divine light wherewith I was born are the best unto this day, wherein I can see the Universe. By the Gift of God they attended me into the world, and by His special favour I remember them till now…Certainly Adam in Paradise had not more sweet and curious apprehensions of the world, than I when I was a child.

– – –

All appeared new, and strange at first, inexpressibly rare and delightful and beautiful. I was a little stranger, which at my entrance into the world was saluted and surrounded with innumerable joys…

– – –

The corn was orient and immortal wheat, which never should be reaped, nor was ever sown. I thought it had stood from everlasting to everlasting. The dust and stones of the street were as precious as gold: the gates were at first the end of the world. The green trees when I saw them first through one of the gates transported and ravished me, their sweetness and unusual beauty made my heart to leap, and almost mad with ecstasy, they were such strange and wonderful things: The Men! O what venerable and reverend creatures did the aged seem! Immortable Cherubims! And young men glittering and sparkling angels, and maids strange seraphic pieces of life and beauty! Boys and girls tumbling in the street, and playing, were moving jewels. I knew not that they were born or should die; but all things abided eternally as they were in their proper places. Eternity was manifest in the Light of Day, and something infinite behind everything appeared: which talked with my expectation and moved my desire. The city seemed to stand in Eden, or to be built in Heaven. The streets were mine, the temple was mine, the people were mine, their clothes and gold and silver were mine,  as much as their sparkling eyes, fair skins and ruddy faces. The skies were mine, and so were the sun and moon and stars, and all the World was mine; and I the only spectator and enjoyer of it. I knew no churlish proprieties, nor bounds, nor divisions: but all proprieties and divisions were mine: all treasures and the possessors of them. So that with much ado I was corrupted, and made to learn the dirty devices of this world. Which now I unlearn, and become, as it were, a little child again that I may enter into the Kingdom of God.’

Thomas Traherne, from the Third Century, Centuries of Mediations.

‘The reason the impressions we receive in youth are so significant, the reason why in the dawn of life everything appears to us in so ideal and transfigured a light, is that we then first become acquainted with the genus, which is still new to us, through the individual, so that every individual thing stands as a representative of its genus: we grasp therein the (Platonic) Idea of this genus, which is essentially what constitutes beauty.’

Arthur Schopenhauer, On Aesthetics, translated by R. J. Hollingdale.

Foliage without Fruit

Erudition can produce foliage without bearing fruit.

Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, Wastebooks, translated By R. J. Hollingdale.

To read is to let someone else work for you – the most delicate form of exploitation.

Emil Cioran, Anathemas and Admirations, translated by Richard Howard.

Reading is merely a surrogate for yourself; it means letting someone else direct your thoughts. Many books, moreover, serve merely to show you how many ways there are of being wrong, and how far astray you yourself would go if you followed their guidance. You should read only when your ow thoughts dry up which will of course happen frequently enough even to the best heads; but to banish your own thoughts so as to take up a book is a sin against the holy ghost; it is like deserting a untrammeled nature to look at a herbarium or engravings of landscapes…If anyone spends almost the whole day reading…he gradually loses the capacity for thinking…This is the case with many learned persons; they have read themselves stupid.

Arthur Schopenhauer, ‘On Thinking for Yourself‘, from Essays and Aphorisms, translated and selected by R. J. Hollingdale.

Thoughts about Thinking

‘The average student is unable to study from a book, unless the book is dealt out to him in small sections. In order to become proficient in mathematics, or in any other subject, he must realize that most topics involve only a small number of basic ideas, which, once grasped, give easy access to the mass of details with which they are inevitably surrounded. Reading a book, or a paper of any length, should not mean crawling along its outer circumference, but, by whatever method one finds best suited to his own temperament, aiming straight at the centre, from which the clearest view may be found of the whole panorama.’

André Weil, The Mathematics Curriculum, Collected Papers vol II.

‘It may sometimes happen that a truth, an insight, which you have slowly and laboriously puzzled out by thinking for yourself could easily have been found already written in a book; but it is a hundred times more valuable if you have arrived at it by thinking for yourself. For only then will it enter your thought-system as an integral part and living member, be perfectly and firmly consistent with it and in accord with all its other consequences and conclusions, bear the hue, colour and stamp of your whole manner of thinking, and have arrived at just the moment it was needed; it will thus stand firmly and forever lodged in your mind. ‘

‘For the man who thinks for himself becomes acquainted with the authorities on his opinions only after he has acquired them and merely as confirmation of them, while the book-philosopher starts with his authorities, in that he constructs his opinions by collecting together the opinions of others: his mind then compares with that of the former as an automaton compares with a living man.’

Arthur Schopenhauer, On Thinking for Yourself, translated by J. R. Hollingdale.

‘I never am really satisfied that I understand anything; because, understand it well as I may, my comprehension can only be an infinitesimal fraction of all I want to understand about the many connections and relations which occur to me, how the matter in question was first thought of or arrived at, etc.’

Ada Lovelace (apparently as quoted in Harry Henderson’s Modern Mathematicians).

Tout mouvement nous descouvre

‘All motion discovers us: the very same soul of Caesar, that made itself
so conspicuous in marshalling and commanding the battle of Pharsalia, was
also seen as solicitous and busy in the softer affairs of love and
leisure. A man makes a judgment of a horse, not only by seeing him when
he is showing off his paces, but by his very walk, nay, and by seeing him
stand in the stable.’

Montaigne, Of Democritus and Heraclitus, translated by Charles Cotton.

‘It is a wonderful thing how the individuality of every man (i.e. a certain particular character with a certain particular intellect) minutely determines his every thought and action and like penetrative dye permeates even the most insignificant part of them, so that the entire life-course, i.e. the inner and outer history, of each one differs fundamentally from that of all the others. As a botanist can recognize the whole plant from one leaf, as Cuvier can construct the whole animal from one bone, so an accurate knowledge of a man’s character can be arrived at from a single characteristic action; and that is true even when this action involves some trifle – indeed this is often better for the purpose, for with important things people are on their guard, while with trifles they follow their own nature without much reflection.’

Arthur Schopenhauer, On Ethics, translated by R. J. Hollingdale.