Simon Duffy

Thoughts, Bemusements & Arguments

Tag: judgement

Six Blind Men of Hindustan

There were six men of Hindustan,
to learning much inclined,
Who went to see an elephant,
though all of them were blind,
That each by observation
might satisfy his mind.

The first approached the elephant,
and happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
at once began to bawl,
“This mystery of an elephant
is very like a wall.”

The second, feeling of the tusk,
cried, “Ho, what have we here,
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me ’tis mighty clear,
This wonder of an elephant
is very like a spear.”

The third approached the elephant,
and happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
thus boldly up and spake,
“I see,” quoth he,
“the elephant is very like a snake.”

The fourth reached out an eager hand,
and felt above the knee,
“What this most wondrous beast
is like is very plain” said he,
“‘Tis clear enough the elephant
is very like a tree.”

The fifth who chanced to touch the ear
said, “E’en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
deny the fact who can;
This marvel of an elephant
is very like a fan.”

The sixth no sooner had begun
about the beast to grope,
Than seizing on the swinging tail
that fell within his scope;
“I see,” said he, “the elephant
is very like a rope.”

So six blind men of Hindustan
disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
exceeding stiff and strong;
Though each was partly in the right,
they all were in the wrong!

So oft in theologic wars,
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!

John Godfrey Saxe

It may be that the treatment for attitude is experience. But what do we each experience? Our experiences are never the same. As Hannah Arendt argues: it is only when we allow different perspectives to come into view and when we try to understand and integrate those perspectives that we can then come towards some kind of ‘sanity’ (wholeness).

The Gift of Judgement

Arendt accepts from Kant that judgement emerges as a “peculiar talent which can be practised only and cannot be taught” because “judgement deals with particulars, and when the thinking ego moving among generalities emerges from its withdrawal and returns to the world of particular appearances, it turns out that the mind needs a new “gift” to deal with them.”

 Hannah Arendt (paraphrased by Minnich)

This may seem a very hard and complex thought, but it is important because it helps us understand both the power and limitation of thought when it comes to actually understanding the real world before us. Arendt was very aware of how theories or ideologies could go madly out of control. How one attractive thought  – like equality is good – can drive us to bloody acts of horror – if that thought was allowed to follow its own tracks.

Respect for the limitations of thoughts, theory and ideology is at the heart of her work. Instead we need perspective, communication and a kind of humility in the face of a complex reality which will always somehow escape our grasp.

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