An Aside. Of the Single.

The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy [ἁπλοῦς], your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad [πονηρός], your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

—Jesus, Matthew 6:22-23, English Standard Version

The adjective ἁπλοῦς (single, simple, without folds, uncomplicated) is opposed not merely to διπλοῦς (double) but also, here, to πονηρός (evil, wicked, toilsome).

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Four Related Thoughts. Of the Self-Evident. Of Hermeneutics. Of the American Political Religions.

We hold these truths to be self-evident. . . .

  1. No statement is eo ipso self-evident. A statement may be admitted as an axiom, but only inasmuch as one acknowledges that it has indeed been admitted—or rather, permitted. An axiom is a chosen means to an end.
  2. Jefferson’s language in the Declaration of Independence exhibits this qualification: the self-evidence of his statements is not “found,” not “discovered,” not “revealed,” not even “known,” but “held.” If they were eo ipso self-evident, he would not need to “hold” them. Rather, they are submitted to the reader as premises: if the reader permits the statements in the abstract, then the reader should permit the conclusions in the concrete. Jefferson’s argument relies on an interpretation of the British king’s actions as tyrannical, so he begins with a series of axioms to facilitate such an interpretation.
  3. The Declaration of Independence furnishes a hermeneutic for defining tyranny. This hermeneutic is still in regular use today, applied to different particulars.
  4. American political discourse—no matter how secularized—often has a religious quality because of the application of various hermeneutics whose axioms are ideals separate from published laws.

A Quote. Of Hell. Of Self.

For the one principle of hell is—“I am my own. I am my own king and my own subject. I am the centre from which go out my thoughts; I am the object and end of my thoughts; back upon me as the alpha and omega of life, my thoughts return.”

—George MacDonald, “Kingship”

A Proverb. Two Loosely Connected Thoughts. Of Virtues and Their Pretenders.

  1. “Reprove a wise man, and he will love you.”* He is wise not because he is beyond reproof but because he knows what to do in response to it.
  2. A free society is characterized by the ability of its members to speak with one another despite difference, difficulty, and even offense. A free society is not necessarily free from these things.

* Proverbs 9.8, English Standard Version

A Quote. Of the Work of Many Words.

. . . plerumque in sermone copiosa est egestas humanæ intellegentiæ, quia plus loquitur inquisitio quam inventio et longior est petitio quam inpetratio et operosior est manus pulsans quam sumens.

For the most part, in a wealth of discourse is a poverty of human understanding, for more talking is done with inquiry than with discovery, and more time is taken in asking than in obtaining, and more work is done by the hand that knocks than by the one that receives.

—Augustine, Confessions XII.i

A Quote. Of Existence. Of Creator and Creature.

Nos . . . ista quæ fecisti videmus, quia sunt, tu autem quia vides ea, sunt.

We see the things that you have made because they are. You, however—because you see them, they are.

—Augustine, Confessions XIII.xxxviii

A Quote. A Criticism. Of Teachers and the Like.

. . . [A] decent regard for truth and for honest self-criticism compels me to speak of failure as well as success—my failure, the failure of my generation, and of all who consider themselves teachers, mentors, and leaders in all walks of life. For the truth is that we have failed you. We have failed you because, being human, the better angels of our nature are often bested by the worse; and because, being consequently inconstant, we preach ideals that we fail to honor in deeds; and because, being consequently hypocritical, we are forced to hide painful truths from ourselves; and because, being consequently ignorant, we hand down to you truth and falsehood mixed indiscriminately in unknown proportions.

—William Pastille
Commencement Address, St. John’s College, Annapolis, 17 May 1998