The 3 rules for GSOT, though plain and simple, must sometime tie us down. The law extinguishes life, said Paul. His message applies also to our 3 rules.
So Rule #4 is – Break these rules.
Here are the rules presented thus far:
Rule #1. Every sentence is first person.
Rule #2. The overarching viewpoint is not allowed.
Rule #3. If it doesn’t make a difference for somebody’s predisposition to act, then it doesn’t make a difference.
These rules tie me to the earth. I want to cut the ties. Soaring in the sky, I want the overarching view. With eagle’s eye, let me see all things in heaven and earth as they really are.
Freedom means tearing loose from the tethers. Freedom doesn’t care how well-reasoned, obvious, inspired, or agreeable are our chosen rules for GSOT.
The human story has always been about breaking rules, cutting the cords that keep the mind grounded, and letting new ideas take flight.
Peppering his young followers with questions, Socrates brought them to awareness that their unexamined assumptions might be wrong.
With relentless imagination, Descartes found ways to doubt almost all that he had learned from the Schoolmen. Then just as relentlessly he found ways to restore almost all.
Scientists and positivists broke away from a limited first-person viewpoint, which the latter derisively called subjectivity. The exalted height from which positivists observe the world and all that is in it, even themselves, is the celestial “we” of science, based on methods reproducible in time, place, and person.
Now for the sake of freedom, pushing aside any claim of “progress,” we try to break ties with the past. The great thinkers of ancient times can take us only so far. Rationalists of the past several centuries have been discredited. Both positivists and fundamentalists of the modern age fail in a hubris of certainty.
Through the presentation of the first 3 rules, our answer has been to define our selves. Every sentence is first person. The overarching view is not allowed. Agreement need not be universal, so all discussion is local. Every proposed belief is viewed through the lens of someone’s disposition to act. Now the call is to go beyond ourselves.
We live daily under a set of intersecting and expanding domes: First, the cranium housing each brain. The roofs of our families’ houses and automobiles. Circles of friends with differing levels of conversation – shallow, deep, and lofty. Communities and cities ringed by highways, and traffic helicopters tracing arcs above them. Nations and leagues of nations bounded by economics and politics, and overhead the programmed trajectories of nuclear missiles, hopefully never to fly. These are the referents of “I” and limited “we.” Sometimes a person or a group manages to think globally, but even such bold thinking stays within a dome as the context remains limited in time and space. Each worldview has its horizon, its hard-shelled firmament, expansive but finite.
Accepting these limits for now, let’s look critically at the idea of self. What does it mean to talk about my self? If I with eagle’s eye were to see all things on earth clearly, where would my self appear? The sorry answer is that my self remains on earth and not in the sky, and the eagle’s eye is just an awkward metaphor.
The phrase “down to earth” echoes with wisdom from the past. Yet even on earth, where might I stand to observe my self? As we discussed in the first blog of Rule #2 – there is no easy answer.
“Know thyself,” read the inscription at Delphi, quoted over and again by Socrates. Perhaps the only way to know myself is to break these rules. Let’s take a quick look now (and more later), with eyeballs turned around in our heads, at the critical problem of self-reference in philosophy.
Self-reference conflates subject and object. Am I referring to the self of the observer/presenter, or the self of that which is observed/presented? And does it make any difference to distinguish these relations? If I make a distinction, it would seem that I’ve broken Rule #2 – the overarching viewpoint is not allowed.
As stated earlier, self-reference is exhibited in each of our first 3 rules:
- Rule #1 urges the recognition of self-involvement in every symbolic expression of thought.
- Rule #2 disallows the overarching viewpoint. But is it not the case that Rule #2 itself assumes an overarching viewpoint?
- Rule #3 from the pragmatism of Charles Peirce says that I may know my own beliefs only through recognition of my disposition to act. (While this is cast in first-person singular, it also holds in plural.) Therefore, knowing my own beliefs is a matter of projecting, either actually or virtually, how my beliefs will play out in the public, social, real world.
Self is never recognized as self in isolation. It is largely a social construct.
O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as others see us!
wrote Robert Burns, Scottish poet. His inspiration came in a church service, not from sermon or music, but instead from a louse crawling up the bonnet of a lady in the pew ahead. His unspoken advice for the poor woman –
O Jenny, dinna toss your head,
An’ set your beauties a’ abread!
Ye little ken what cursed speed
The blastie’s makin!
Thae winks and finger-ends, I dread,
Are notice takin!
How disparate are the thoughts of various individuals in the room – Burns the poet, the lady in the bonnet, the preacher, and the louse.
Self-reference is difficult for logicians as well as poets and ladies. Rule #4 – Break these rules – makes self-reference explicit and flaunts the dilemma. Perhaps thereby we may negotiate with ourselves and find some kind of accommodation.
Long ago Epimenides from Crete said, “Cretans, always liars.” Was his statement a lie? Is it logically possible that he was telling the truth? Was he trying to break through our human incapacity for self-recognition?
In a time of cultural crisis, the people of Athens summoned Epimenides, who they believed “had come into relations with the gods and the oracles of the gods and Truth and Justice.” He initiated reforms for a city that had outgrown the limits of its prior culture. Within a few generations Athens entered its golden age. Even today Epimenides continues to inspire when we read about Athens in the Bible. The next 2 blogs will describe an ancient revolution in human consciousness and assess the impact of the Cretan prophet.
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Own photo of hand. Hot air balloon photograph modified from (c) Rasbak, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons.
 Maximus of Tyre, translated by William M. Ramsay in his Gifford Lecture on Epimenides, chap. 3 in Asianic Elements in Greek Civilisation, University of Edinburgh, 1915-1916, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1928; pp. 20-39. Accessed 8/14/2016 at http://www.elfinspell.com/ClassicalTexts/Ramsay-AsianicElementsInGreekCivilization/Chap3-Epimenides.html