17 September 2008

Augustinian Labeling

But, without any delusive representation of images or phantasms, I am most certain that I am, and that I know and delight in this. In respect of these truths, I am not at all afraid of the arguments of the Academicians, who say, What if you are deceived? For if I am deceived, I am. For he who is not, cannot be deceived; and if I am deceived, by this same token I am. And since I am if I am deceived, how am I deceived in believing that I am? for it is certain that I am if I am deceived. Since, therefore, I, the person deceived, should be, even if I were deceived, certainly I am not deceived in this knowledge that I am. And, consequently, neither am I deceived in knowing that I know. For, as I know that I am, so I know this also, that I know. And when I love these two things, I add to them a certain third thing, namely, my love, which is of equal moment. For neither am I deceived in this, that I love, since in those things which I love I am not deceived; though even if these were false, it would still be true that I loved false things. For how could I justly be blamed and prohibited from loving false things, if it were false that I loved them? But, since they are true and real, who doubts that when they are loved, the love of them is itself true and real? Further, as there is no one who does not wish to be happy, so there is no one who does not wish to be. For how can he be happy, if he is nothing?


I rather like this passage, though I also find it incredibly amusing. See, as soon as he is thinking, then he is trapped in the "ego." It's only when he lets go of thought that he simply is. He has shown that 'something exists which is capable of perceiving' and identified it with his sense of self. That is an assumption.

In another work (I'll cite it tomorrow; too lazy to run and grab the book now), he used the argument that if he claims "p or not p", then he knows that that statement is true by its structure. Now, from a basic logic standpoint, I'll agree. But not from a philosophical one. A zen master might assert "both p and not p and neither p nor not p".

For instance, suppose I have an object before me, that appears to be a yellow crayon. Is it the case that either it is a yellow crayon or it isn't? No. The way to demonstrate what the object is, is to make a mark with it, not to name it. If you call it a yellow crayon, it is not. If you do not call it a yellow crayon, it is. How shall you call it?

Now suppose we put a label on it, and claim the object is a yellow crayon. What have we gained? We have put ourselves at a distance from the object. Rather than experience the object as-it-is, we label it and claim we know something about it. It is what it is: no more, no less. To understand it, the label gets in the way. Worse, it gives a false impression of permanence.

Not so long ago, the crayon was a lump of wax, some pigments, maybe some other chemicals, all sitting in separate vats. The wax might have been in petroleum form or in a beehive before that. The pigments? Buried in the ground, maybe, or bound up in a living being. The vats themselves had to be constructed from raw materials, pulled out of the earth. And the earth itself was formed from cosmic dust... All that to make a yellow crayon that may melt into a car seat before ever it is applied to its "purpose."

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