Monday, November 1, 2010

Idle Thinking

FLG was rereading a section of Hume the other day, one that focuses on cause and effect which is near and dear to FLG's heart, and came across this line:
Adam, though his rational faculties be supposed, at the very first, entirely perfect, could not have inferred from the fluidity and transparency of water that it would suffocate him, or from the light and warmth of fire that it would consume him. No object ever discovers, by the qualities which appear to the senses, either the causes which produced it, or the effects which will arise from it; nor can our reason, unassisted by experience, ever draw any inference concerning real existence and matter of fact.

And this reminded FLG that this passage from Genesis has long been interpreted as meaning that Adam had perfect knowledge over the material world:
19 And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.
20 And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field;

What's even more interesting is that almost immediately before it is this:
16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat:
17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.

This led FLG to think of this passage from Protagoras:
Epimetheus, who, not being very wise, forgot that he had distributed among the brute animals all the qualities which he had to give-and when he came to man, who was still unprovided, he was terribly perplexed. Now while he was in this perplexity, Prometheus came to inspect the distribution, and he found that the other animals were suitably furnished, but that man alone was naked and shoeless, and had neither bed nor arms of defence. The appointed hour was approaching when man in his turn was to go forth into the light of day; and Prometheus, not knowing how he could devise his salvation, stole the mechanical arts of Hephaestus and Athene, and fire with them (they could neither have been acquired nor used without fire), and gave them to man. Thus man had the wisdom necessary to the support of life, but political wisdom he had not; for that was in the keeping of Zeus, and the power of Prometheus did not extend to entering into the citadel of heaven, where Zeus dwelt, who moreover had terrible sentinels; but he did enter by stealth into the common workshop of Athene and Hephaestus, in which they used to practise their favourite arts, and carried off Hephaestus' art of working by fire, and also the art of Athene, and gave them to man. And in this way man was supplied with the means of life. But Prometheus is said to have been afterwards prosecuted for theft, owing to the blunder of Epimetheus.

So, Adam had complete knowledge of the material world, but none of good and evil. After The Fall, not so much. For the Greeks, or at least in this telling by Plato, Man has fire and technology because of Forethought, but only due to an Afterthought. Yet, he lacks political wisdom, which Zeus keeps. Is that like knowledge of good and evil? How can these two be reconciled? Can they be reconciled?

BTW, FLG thinks this exact discussion came up in Deneen's class last year, but he cannot, for the life of him, remember if there was a satisfactory resolution.

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