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.
All arguments such as the following depend upon accident. ‘Do you know what I am going to ask you?’ ‘Do you know the man who is approaching?’, or ‘the man in the mask?’ ‘Is the statue your work of art?’ or ‘Is the dog your father?’ ‘Is the product of a small number with a small number a small number?’ For it is evident in all these cases that there is no necessity for what is true of the accident to be true of the object as well. For only to things that are indistinguishable and one in substance does it seem that all the same attributes belong; whereas in the case of a good thing, to be good is not the same as to be going to be the subject of a question; nor in the case of a man approaching, or wearing a mask, is to be approaching the same thing as to be Coriscus, so that if I know Coriscus, but do not know the man who is approaching, it still isn’t the case that I both know and do not know the same man; nor, again, if this is mine and is also the work of art, is it therefore my work of art, but my property or thing or something else. The solution is the same in the other cases as well.
― Aristotle, Sophistical Refutations, 179a32–179b6, Translated by W.A. Pickard-Cambridge
William Blake’s Life Mask
Francis Bacon, Study for a Portrait, after the Life Mask of William Blake, 1955