Mary Midgley in The Ethical Primate: Humans, Freedom and Morality writes about important things:

... When we say that any actual thing in the world (as opposed to a concept that is already abstracted) is quite simple and needs only one sort of explanation, we are, almost unavoidably, saying that it is something fairly trivial. Spoons are a great deal easier to explain than laws or trees or earthquakes or passions or symphonies, and even spoons have several aspects --- culinary, metallurgical, æsthetic and what not. Anything more important than spoons is bound to have many more.

Important things are, by definition, ones that have many connections and many aspects. Certainly we can sometimes praise people or their actions for being simple. But that seems to be because, in their particular situations, a certain particular kind of simplicity is called for. Explaining why it is called for can be very complicated indeed.

In general, important and valuable things seem to be complex ones which provoke wonder. These things impress us, producing a sense that there is a great deal about them that we do not know and perhaps do not even know how to ask, and that we are not likely ever to get to the end of pursuing it. ...

And later, Midgley says of metaphors:

... Metaphors are not just cosmetic paint on communication. They are part of its bones, crucial members in the structure of thought. ... They have always been essential parts of the conceptual system. They work as pointers towards particular ranges of theoretical possibilities, ranges which, so far, are only seen in outline. Those pointers can be immensely useful. But in following them, the first need is always to remove irrelevant ideas which the metaphor is liable to suggest.

All metaphors have their misleading features. In order to guard against them, it is essential not to rely blindly on a single image. Sensible thinkers use one to correct another, as Einstein constantly did, and as physicists have done in the case of waves and particles. In fact, people who find their thought being dominated exclusively by a single image ought always to become suspicious, to look for the limitations of that image, and to warn their readers about those limitations. ...

Wednesday, May 10, 2000 at 20:16:14 (EDT) = 2000-05-10

TopicMidgley - TopicThinking - TopicPhilosophy

(correlates: ThoughtfulMetaphors, StrippedThreads, SurfaceWaves, ...)