If you have not already done so, you may wish to read the
Introduction to Gnomica.
Saturday 12 January 2013
Read gnomica 1-200 here!
What we think, or what we know, or what we believe
is, in the end, of little consequence.
The only consequence is what we do.
John Ruskin (8 Feb 1819 – 20 Jan 1900)
This critic from the high period of Victorian Britain’s global hegemony here rings a bell in my head. The critical distinction that for me obtains between ‘knowledge’ and ‘belief’ is something that I have discussed in an earlier posting. I take ‘thought’ to be an inchoate precursor to belief, and hence subsumed under that heading. Thus, it is essentially a question of two modalities for confronting the world, and they are of course quite different from the fourth that is mentioned above, action.
And ‘action’ — in the broader sense of that word – still covers a great deal of territory. But it is a call to arms.
It is true that what I think, what I know, what I believe are entirely inconsequential as long as my thoughts, my knowledge, my beliefs never leave the hermetic chamber that is my mind and expose themselves to the world out there. I can think and know and believe the most horrifyingly ghastly things, but as long as I don’t do anything, whether for evil or good, about any of that, it is utterly private and hurts or helps no one. In absolutely no way at all. Until such time as may one day come when scientist have demonstrated beyond doubt that they can ‘read’ a person’s mind and know what kinds of thoughts and beliefs have take up residence there, the individual is as it were safe from society’s intrusive interruptions of her clandestine mental show. As a matter of fact, the notion is not entirely absurd: serious academic research in this field of what might perhaps be called (I’m not happy with the term, but it will do for now) ‘precognitive psychopathology’ is as I write already underway.
Ruskin was not only an art critic, but an artist of some renown in his own right, especially for his very fine watercolors. Thus, had he imprisoned all those images in his head, purely for his own solipsistic delight, and never let them escape into the world at large, of what consequence could they possibly have been? But Ruskin did take action as it were in that he put color to paper and produced many works that he was not shy about showing, and his action, if you will, qua critic and teacher had considerable influence on the world of nineteenth century British art.
This may not be the kind of ‘action’ one generally thinks of in connection with that word and its semantic domain. For all that, the statement rings loudly true to me, and in arenas far beyond those that I would imagine Ruskin had particularly in mind, it is evident to me that a Hamlet-like pondering in place of producing, of doing nothing, is a feckless self-indulgence unworthy of any one of us, no matter what our ‘thing’ is!