Monday, 19 September 2011

Spinoza on fiction

I like the way this quote meshes with modern political ideas of controlling the narrative. Spinoza is saying that the more we understand the natural world, the less liable we are to be deceived by fictions or myths. Fact or fiction, the eternal human dichotomy, go with the narrative or strike out on your own.

Spinoza's analysis of fiction may be obvious enough now, yet fiction is still subtly important to our societies, to political narratives, the way we do business, the control we seek to exert over others and even over ourselves. Fiction in lieu of analysis - easier, more compelling and politically indispensable. It won't go away any time soon.  

Let us now pass on to fictions which concern essences alone, or with some reality or existence at the same time. Concerning these the principal point to be considered is that the less the mind understands and nevertheless perceives more, the greater will be its power of feigning, and the more it understands, the lesser will be its power. E.g., in the same manner in which we saw above that we cannot feign while we think that we think or do not think, thus also, as soon as we know the nature of body we cannot feign an infinite fly, or as soon as we know the nature of the mind we cannot feign that it is square, although anything may be expressed in words. But as we said, the less men know of nature, the more easily they can feign things; just as that trees speak, that men are turned in a moment into stones, that ghosts appear in mirrors, that of nothing something is made, that the Gods themselves are changed into men and beasts, and infinite other things of this kind.

Benedict Spinoza - On the correction of the understanding – Boyle translation


rogerh said...

Wise man that old lens grinder. Knowledge of 'truth' creates barriers in the mind. But sometimes the 'truth' is not true and sometimes it can be bent. It might be interesting to discover whether say surgeons or bridge designers are more or less liable to feign than say actors or politicians. Personally, I am too slow witted to follow a spoken argument in detail and I suspect that is why professional liars prefer speech.

Two quotations:

Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.

Experts should be on tap but never on top.

A K Haart said...

rogerh - I think professional liars respond too quickly. This can make most of us feel slow until we realise that many spoken arguments are merely automatic responses.