Sunday, January 6, 2013

Calder on John Dee's answer to Socrates in the Cratylus

Such a position provides an answer to Socrates' objection to such procedures at the end of the Cratylus (89) that the far better and surer way to knowledge is to avoid such an attempt to learn from the image (word or sign), however exact an imitation it may be, and to examine the things themselves, that are supposedly represented. For to Dee, the figures he examines would appear to stand for intelligible concepts, employed by God in creation, principles not directly manifest to sense through particular objects, complex symbolic syntheses of the universal law. This also applies in part to his more conventional "Cabalism," using words and letters, in the Monas, while the way in which other standard objections - as those raised in theCratylus - were thought to be adequately answered has already been discussed (90). It is interesting however that Roger Bacon relies on the same text as Dee cites in the prefatory letter, to justify such practises; writing "For the Lord says, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the alw till all be fulfilled. And therefore there is an admirable exposition in the book on the meanings of the scriptures stating how the individual letters of the Hebrew Alphabet had significance respecting the ancient people, and how they show the number of centuries through which the state of that race passed as regards its different periods and ages, in accordance with the special powers and potencies ofthe letters....I cannot sufficiently admire the manner in which the examination was derived, although it may seem to the uninitiated to have a weak basis in the letters of the alphabet which are the first rudiments of children. But according to the teaching of the Apostles lesser things are more necessary and are to be accorded greater honour...."(91) Bacon, as Dee here also, gives equal status to the Greek and Latin alphabets. Agrippa does the same, declaring that it is God who has given man discourse in different languages, of which the written characters have a fixed order, and particular shapes which are not the result of chance, or human invention, but divinely formed in accordance with the celestial bodies and angelic powers and the virtue of these. In a manner very close to the method of Dee's Monas, he attempts the reduction of letters to zodiacal and planetary signs (92). Tymme sums up the case in his preface to his proposed translation of Dee's book. Adam he says gave names to creatures "agreeing with their nature," he inscribed in two tablets of stone with prophecies and philosophy in hieroglyphical characters, one of which Noah discovered after the flood in Armenia, and from this the signs of the planets derive. A universal science was then possible by their means, but the knowledge it embodied has since then not only diminished but has been divided up in such sort that its surviving fragments "make one an Astronomer, another a Magitian, a third a Cabalist, and a fourth an Alchemist"; but this lost unity of science Dee's work aims at reestablishing by means of the primitive planetary figures and the Cabalah, which last says Tymme "out of hidden and misticall sciences serveth to make away for men to come unto God."(93)

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