“We are so used to disguising ourselves from others that we end up by disguising ourselves from ourselves.”
— François de La Rochefoucauld, Maximes, 119
Descartes’ magical motto, larvatus prodeo, resonates with reason of classical antiquity. Eubulides of Megara, the contemporary opponent of Aristotle, and very likely the most accomplished inventor of puzzles in the history of logic, bequeathed to him the philosophical concept of the larvatus: Though I know my father, though he is the masked man, I still may fail to know the masked man, I still may fail to know my father as the masked man. Their schools disagreed on the way of solving this paradox. Both the peripatetics and the Megarians understood that all knowledge referred to universals. But the former insisted further that such universals were both physically and logically inseparable from the concrete particulars that exemplified them. By contrast, the latter posited an unbridgeable chasm between the real thing and its ideal representation. Eubulides pointed out that the true object of my knowledge is my father’s representation, or his eidos. In so representing, the eidos enjoys no physical link with the material presence of its representandum, the object being represented. Thus it it need not manifest itself coevally and contemporaneously with the representandum. Aristotle maintained that all corporeal presentation necessarily coincides with cognitive representation by every universal exemplified in the representandum so presented. For him, therefore, the failure of my father’s palpable presence to guarantee my recognition of his person, was an acute embarrassment. Continue reading under the mask
In a passage from the Cogitationes Privatæ, a collection of fragments written around 1619 and known today from a copy made by Leibniz, René Descartes pledges: “Ut comœdi, moniti ne in fronte appareat pudor, personam induunt, sic ego hoc mundi teatrum conscensurus, in quo hactenus spectator exstiti, larvatus prodeo.” (Œuvres de Descartes, Ch. Adam and P. Tannery (eds.), X 213, 4-6.) Just as comedians are counseled not to let shame appear on their foreheads, and so put on a mask, so likewise, now that he is about to mount the stage of the world, where he has so far been a spectator, young Renatus Cartesius comes forward in a mask. Continue reading who was that masked man?