Engaging Rationalism and Empiricism in Comus and Lamia
September 30, 2013 § 1 Comment
If not, here are my introductory remarks.
“Supposing truth is a woman,” Nietzsche writes, “What then? Are there not grounds for the suspicion that all philosophers, insofar as they were dogmatists, have been very inexpert about women…[using] awkward and very improper methods for winning a woman’s heart?” [ Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future, trans. Walter Kauffman (New York: Random House, 1989), 1.] The problem of Truth, for Nietzsche, resides more in the approach taken toward Truth than in propositional expressions of the Truth. Rationalism, against which Nietzsche is bitterly opposed, posits that Truth is deducible from axioms or postulates; Empiricism, toward which Nietzsche is much more affable, posits that all knowledge, ergo all Truth, is acquired via abstraction from raw sensory data. If the rationalists are correct, then Truth is not elusive but omnipresent, self-attesting, and perspicuous. However, if the empiricists are correct, then Nietzsche’s view is correct – Truth is seductive to philosophers, and indeed all individuals, because it is elusive, always being approached but incapable of being dominated, controlled, restrained.
The importance of Nietzsche’s anthropomorphism in the discussion of Comus and Lamia, then, becomes clearer as we seek to understand how their respective authors engaged these epistemologies. Is Truth acquired via sense data? Is Truth acquired via the deduction of moral principles from universally shared epistemological axioms and postulates? Milton and Keats, as we shall see, engage the question of correct method as Nietzsche did, via the use of fiction and its attendant devices, an irony that undergirds both their texts, and which we will briefly analyze at the end of this paper. Our conclusion is that it is the rationalism of Milton that supports a consistent use of fiction as a means of engaging the problem of Truth, whereas Keats’ empiricism is not suited to this end.