Thursday, 12 August 2010

I think therefore I am, and Berlusconi can ignore his rivals

It’s funny how things that happen today can evoke half-remembered memories from decades ago.

For instance, when I was a student I spent a lot of time grappling with Descartes and his idea of mind-matter dualism. This overthrew the earlier view that the universe contained a colossal number of substances, so that fire was of a wholly different substance from water or wood or earth and so on. Descartes only had two: matter and mind. The essence of matter was extension, in other words the capacity to occupy space. The essence of mind was thought. So there you had it. Clear. Simple. Coherent.

The problem is that between these two, Descartes did tend to give the precedence to mind over matter. ‘I think therefore I am’ has got to be the most famous statement in all philosophy, and it does rather suggest that existence depends on thought.

Now lots of people weren’t convinced about that. John Locke, for instance, and Voltaire after him, felt sure that there were times when they really weren’t thinking, but that didn’t mean they stopped existing. My personal experience seems to confirm their view. I know lots of people who exist rather a lot – rather more, I often feel, than absolutely necessary for the comfort of those around them – and hardly ever think at all.

Despite all that, it’s amazing how often we seem to drift back into the habit of putting mind ahead of matter.

I was struck by that most forcibly when I was reading about the recent happenings in Italy concerning the man who has to be world’s most extraordinary politician. The Prime Minister, Sivio Berlusconi has had a bit of a spat with his old best friend Gianfranco Fini, the former-neo-fascist-reinvented-as-liberal-conservative, and it’s not clear the government will survive the crisis (though this being Italy, I fear it might). The beauty is that Berlusconi’s reacting by apparently simply dissing his opponents as though they were barely worth taking seriously.

‘We don’t mind,’ he seems to be saying, ‘so they don’t matter.’

OK, so it’s a different take on the question of mind-matter dualism and the assertion of primacy of the mind. Even so, it's  a bit evocative of all that stuff, isn't it?

I wonder whether Berlusconi is aware of his debt to Descartes. Of course, that would mean he’d have to know who Descartes was.

So perhaps not, then.


Anonymous said...

I gather that Fini has agreed to support Berlu for the time being.
I much prefer I THINK THEREFORE IBM! to old Blaise's dicton.

David Beeson said...

Mix up René and Blaise and I’m not sure which you’d offend more

Anonymous said...

egg on my face!