Wednesday, August 22, 2018

A Note on Synoptic Precision in Analytic Philosophy

Hobbes, in order to daunt the reader from objecting to his friend Davenant's want of invention, says of these fabulous creations in general, in his letter prefixed to the poems of Gondibert, that "impenetrable armours, enchanted castles, invulnerable bodies, iron men, flying horses, and a thousand other such things, are easily by them that dare". These are girds at Spenser and Ariosto. But, with leave of Hobbes (who translated Homer as if on purpose to show what execrable verses could be written by a philosopher), enchanted castles and flying horses are not easily feigned, as Ariosto and Spenser feigned them; and that just makes all the difference.

            -- Leigh Hunt, Imagination and Fancy,1844
Here Hunt's remark about philosophers--in this case Hobbes--being unable to say poetic things underscores a point about poetic talent not being after all an easy thing to come by, and controverts Hobbes's condescension, which are both properly done on Hunt's part.  But when one considers Wittgenstein's emphasis on the place of the "synoptic surview" in the analysis of propositions, it is perhaps worth giving the remark a second look. 

It is necessary for a philosopher to exercise great skill in telling stories about the ways propositions, phrases, words and concepts are understood and misunderstood. In the process of examining these precisely-rendered synoptic overviews, illusion, as well as insight, are revealed.

Leigh Hunt, engraved by H. Meyer from a drawing by J. Hayter

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