René Descartes and Doxian Thump

by George Harvey
Rembrandt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
“The Philosopher in Meditation”

What follows is a little-known story of events that took place in the Netherlands in 1635:

Unknown to nearly all other people, René Descartes had a friend who was what the Dutch call a Kabouter. In English, such a being is called a Kobold or Household Sprite. The Sprite’s name was Doxian Thump. He was still young at the age of 367, had spent nearly all his life helping the ladies of the households he lived with bear the burdens of keeping house.

Doxian found in Descartes a new avenue of thought, which was, of course, Philosophy. (When writing of Sprites, Philosophy must always be capitalized, because it is the formal name of the Deva of Philosophy, who is inexorably connected to the subject.)

Doxian stood patiently by, as Descartes considered new ideas, mulled his thoughts, prepared notes and manuscripts, and pondered the rational approach to Philosophy. Doxian learned much from this, but as much as he respected Descartes, he did not always approve.

Doxian’s problem with Descartes’ thoughts was that they were attempts at rationality that attempted to escape the underlying Truth (another Deva), which is, of course, that reason cannot exist without passion. This is not a hard concept to understand. If we say “If A, then B,” and “If B, then C,” and then follow it with “A is true,” the utterly passionless conclusion is not “C is true;” it is “So what?”

One day, Descartes came bustling loudly through the house, shouting something about finding “It.” He had lived with Doxian for years, and had come to value the little fellow’s opinions, and he wanted very much to see how the Kabouter felt about his newest discovery. He found Doxian dusting books in the library, and told him, “I have found the first premise of my rational examination of philosophy.” (Descartes did not capitalize the word, because he really did not understand its connections to a Deva.)

Doxian eyed him with a mixture of suspicion and trepidation. “Okay,” he said, “What is it?” (Please pardon my modern English – this is translated. I think the original was Dutch, though it might have been French.)

“I think, therefore I am!”

“How extraordinary,” Doxian said, with a slight tone of sarcasm.

“Don’t you see? This is the foundation of an entirely reasoned approach to our understanding of the world we live in!”

“It won’t work.”

“But it does work! It is a statement of truth, in and of itself!”

“René,” Doxian said gently, “The fact that something is true does not give it value.”

“Of course it does! This has value by its very nature!”

“No. It has value because you have given it value subjectively. It may be objectively stated, but its value is personal to you. When you publish it, it will most probably have value to others of your kind, as well. But the value will not be reasonably assigned. It will be subjectively assessed.”

Descartes looked at Doxian wordlessly.

Doxian continued, “This idea of yours is entirely self-centered [narcissistic]. It does not admit the existence, or even the importance, of anything else. I doubt very much that you will be able to develop it for precisely the reason you think it is important: It exists in a vacuum. I fear it will stay in a vacuum.”

Again, Descartes was speechless.

“René, there is a better approach.”

“And what is that?”

“Let’s start with a few observations. First, you and I disagree over the value of this statement of yours. Is this true?”

“Yes.”

“And our disagreement is unexpected.”

“Well, you are usually rather disagreeable.”

“But you did not anticipate the nature of my disagreement; is this true?”

“Yes.”

“So clearly, our disagreement comes from two different sources, you and me, entirely independently.”

“Yes.”

“And furthermore, we disagree on the evaluations we place on things – subjective evaluations, things that exist without reason – which neither of us could have expected or produced in the other.”

“Yes.” Decartes started sounding a bit doubtful.

“So let me suggest a better statement, which proves the existence of you, and (extending it from its original expression) other people and even the rest of the world.”

“What is that?” Descartes asked this with evident expectation that he would disagree with what he heard.

“We disagree unreasonably, therefore we both exist.”

“What good is that?” Descartes asked.

“It works, and it can be extended to all things. For example, if I believe that the wind will come from the south, but it comes from the north, it proves that both I and the wind exist.”

“Doxian,” Descartes said, “This has no value. It is entirely subjective. I want to produce an objective, reasoned basis for philosophy.”

“I think you want to do that because it is the current fashion to try to be rational.”

“And what if I do?”

“It means your objectivity is entirely based on something that is subjective.”

It is to the credit of both these people that they remained friends for the rest of Descartes’ life. Descartes died in 1650. Doxian is still alive, and lives very comfortably in an off-grid cottage in New Hampshire.

© Copyright 2019, Metamorphorica

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