Sunday, June 27, 2004

Practical Doubts about Reason

I'm a bit surprised people interested in the practical applications of epistemological issues haven't spent more time looking at Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream. The running theme of the play is the difficulty of distinguishing true perception from self-deception in the case of romantic love. Consider the following speech by Lysander in the second act:

Content with Hermia? No, I do repent
The tedious minutes I with her have spent.
Not Hermia but Helena I love.
Who will not change a raven for a dove?
The will of man is by his reason swayed,
And reason says you are the worthier maid.
Things growing are not ripe until their season;
So I, being young, till now ripe not to reason.
And touching now the point of human skill,
Reason becomes the marshal to my will,
And leads me to your eyes,where I o'erlook
Love's stories written in love's richest book.

The irony, of course, is that Lysander loved Hermia but has been addled by the flower "love in idleness". But this is not quite the whole story, because the flower turns things to right as well. The point, of course, is not magic flowers but rationality and irrationality in love.

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