Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The wise man does not assent.

Apropos our last post about the discipline of error and assent, there is one other important passage we should look at, preserved for us by Aulus Gellius from a lost fifth book of the Discourses. The original text is in Latin. Here,without comment, is a translation

The way things look to the mind—what philosophers call “impressions”—have an immediate effect upon the mind, and are not subject to our will. They force us to acknowledge them by their inherent power. But inner acts of approval—what they call “assent”—whereby these same thing perceived by the mind are confirmed are something voluntary and subject to our judgments. So, when a terrifying noise from the sky or from a collapsing building,…even the mind of a wise man is disturbed and shrinks back and grows pale for a moment, not because of a judgment that something evil is imminent, but because of some quick and unconscious movements that prevent the mind and reason from acting properly. Straightaway, however, our wise man does not give his approval—he does not “assent or confirm by approval”—to these impressions, i.e., these terrifying things seen by the mind. He rejects them and dismisses them, seeing nothing in them to occasion fear. And so, they say, this is the difference between the mind of the fool and the mind of the wise man. The fool thinks that the dreadful and terrifying things seen by the mind, when it is first struck by them, actually are what they seem to be. And afterwards, as if they were really fearful, he confirms them with his own assent, “ratifying them with his judgment” as the Stoics say when discussing this. The wise man, though his color and expression change for a moment, “does not assent”, preserving his consistency and firmness of judgment…[and remembering] that these things are not proper objects of fear at all, but only things that frighten with a false façade and an empty terror. [Attic Nights XIX.1. 14-21 ]


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