Ignorance as the Pinnacle of Thought

How, exactly, did we get here?

By: FRATER BOVIOUS


I was talking with my son-in-law Nathan the other day and he told me about a conversation he had with a fellow student in his Continental Philosophy class. I can best describe the consequence of Continental Philosophy as received by today’s gullible youth through the exchange Nathan had with his fellow student (we’ll call him Barry.)

Barry held up some object, I think a coffee cup, and the conversation went like this:

Barry: “Prove to me this is real.”

Nathan: “What?”

Barry: “Prove to me this is real.”

Nathan: “What?”

Barry, insistent: “This! Prove to me this (shaking it) is real!”

Nathan, insistent: “What?!”

His interlocutor never got it. In many many ways.

When I recounted this episode to Frater Cowculus, holding up my cell phone instead of a coffee cup, he said that while he guessed he really wouldn’t do this, probably the only appropriate response would be to ask to see the cell phone, then drop it on the floor and smash it under his hobnailed boot. When the person freaked out, he’d say, “What? Is it real now?”

A fun variant would be to have this conversation in a parking lot at night under a street lamp, and ask to see the phone and then heave it into the darkness, out of sight. When the person said, “What the…” one could respond, “Now? Now, when you can’t even see or touch it, you think it’s real? How stupid is that?”

Such is the world of intellectual thuggery.

But, of course, the question being asked is not the question that was originally posed by Descartes. It is the mutated version of the original question, and an example of how, when you miss the mark by as little as one degree, it matters a lot when the target is a thousand miles or a thousand years away.

“Prove to me this is real” is the illegitimate child of “How do I know this is real?”

But to faux intellectuals, who don’t want to struggle with that question, it has metastasized into an odd sort of boast-as-challenge: “Prove to me this is real,” becomes, “See, I’m smarter than you,” in some weird sort of baseless self-affirmation.

Chesterton had something to say about this:

“It is ludicrous to suppose that the more sceptical we are the more we see good in everything. It is clear that the more we are certain what good is, the more we shall see good in everything.” – Heretics

The Frater Bovious corollary is: “Don’t say stupid things and think thereby you are smart. Otherwise don’t get upset at me for your inability to find your non-existent cell phone.” Another corollary would be, “Continental Philosophy is an opiate, with all that implies about its impact on your actual ability to reason vs your perceived ability to reason.

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4 responses to “Ignorance as the Pinnacle of Thought

  1. Philosophy, theology — it’s all Greek to me 😉 but I like to look smart while looking for my cell phone, if it exists. Good gravy, it’s way too early to read smart people, but so enjoyable!

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  2. How then does the DesCartesian statement of “I think therefore I am.” stand? What if I am the thought of someone thinking of someone thinking? Don’t grab and throw my cell phone, imaginary or not. Some of the realest things in my life are based on a faith that is more knowing then a believing.

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  3. Hello Anonymous! Given the parameters that Descartes chose as his starting point, his “I think, therefore I am” is a logical result. The consequence of the problem is that one question was replaced with another, to wit: “What is True?” is replaced with “Of what can I be certain?” The problem is that this replacement has been turned into, by some, “Prove to me that this self-evident thing I am holding in my hand and which you can see is real.” Basically this calls into question whether or not anything is real.

    I think real faith is more knowing than believing, especially if reason has been divorced from belief. Truth (which is what belief should be based on) need not fear reason. I can’t remember who said that, maybe Aquinas?

    Anyway, thanks for commenting!

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  4. “Truth need not fear reason”, was St. Thomas. Descartes came to a perfectly sound conclusion, but he couldn’t carry it any father. He could not proceed from “I think therefore I am” to I think therefore other things are. So while what Descartes said was true, it makes a better conclusion than a premise.

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