06 June 2010
Chesterton on the egg (which is an egg).
"Against all this the philosophy of St. Thomas stands founded on the universal common conviction that eggs are eggs. The Hegelian may say that an egg is really a hen, because it is a part of an endless process of Becoming; the Berkeleian may hold that poached eggs only exist as a dream exists; since it is quite as easy to call the dream the cause of the eggs as the eggs the cause of the dream; the Pragmatist may believe that we get the best out of scrambled eggs by forgetting that they ever were eggs, and only remembering the scramble. But no pupil of St. Thomas needs to addle his brains in order adequately to addle his eggs; to put his head at any peculiar angle in looking at eggs, or squinting at eggs, or winking the other
eye in order to see a new simplification of eggs. The Thomist stands in the broad daylight of the brotherhood of men, in their common consciousness that eggs are not hens or dreams or mere practical assumptions; but things attested by the Authority of the Senses, which is from God."
As usual, when someone intones a tautology, some form of "A is A," as if it is of tremendous significance, he or she is trying to sneak in a presumption. Here, Chesterton is being less sneaky than are some who use this ploy. For he's been quite open with us, earlier, about the presumption. By "egg" he means a common-sense egg, the egg that an untutored individual who isn't too much concerned about the "particular go of it" will understand to be an egg. When Chesterton says "eggs are eggs" he means that we can't or shouldn't try to get further in than that in our understanding of them. Addling one's brains in an effort to get behind the obviousness of egghood is a bad thing. That's the message here.
IMHO, that message is exactly wrong, and wisdom consists precisely of trying to go further than "an egg is an egg." To consider any more sustained inquiry a matter of "addling one's brains" is to ask that one's brains be perpetually chained by this "authority of the sense." Although we do need the sense to get started, we also need as humans to remember that the reports of the senses are seldom the end.
Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.