Metaphysics: a literary application

Verses 4 & 5 of John Donne's
"A Valediction Forbidding Mourning" (1611)

Dull sublunary lovers' love
(Whose soul is sense) cannot admit
Absence, because it doth remove
Those things which elemented it.

But we, by a love so much refined
That ourselves know not what it is,
Inter-assured of the mind
Care less eyes, lips, and hands to miss.


From the OED:

5. Of persons, their attributes, feelings, actions: Standing high above others by reason of nobility or grandeur of nature or character; of high intellectual, moral, or spiritual level. Passing into a term of high commendation: Supreme, perfect.

7. Of things in nature and art: Affecting the mind with a sense of overwhelming grandeur or irresistible power; calculated to inspire awe, deep reverence, or lofty emotion, by reason of its beauty, vastness, or grandeur.

From Wikipedia:

In his Critique of Judgment (1790)[11] , Kant investigates the sublime, stating "We call that sublime which is absolutely great"(§ 25). He distinguishes between the "remarkable differences" of the Beautiful and the Sublime, noting that beauty "is connected with the form of the object", having "boundaries", while the sublime "is to be found in a formless object", represented by a "boundlessness" (§ 23). Kant then further divides the sublime into the mathematical and the dynamical, where in the mathematical "aesthetical comprehension" is not a consciousness of a mere greater unit, but the notion of absolute greatness not inhibited with ideas of limitations (§ 27). The dynamically sublime is "nature considered in an aesthetic judgment as might that has no dominion over us", and an object can create a fearfulness "without being afraid of it" (§ 28). He considers both the beautiful and the sublime as "indefinite" concepts, but where beauty relates to the "Understanding", sublime is a concept belonging to "Reason", and "shows a faculty of the mind surpassing every standard of Sense" (§ 25). For Kant, one's inability to grasp the enormity of a sublime event such as an earthquake demonstrates inadequacy of one's sensibility and imagination. Simultaneously, one's ability to merely identify such an event as singular and whole indicates the superiority of one's cognitive, supersensible powers. Ultimately, it is this "supersensible substrate," underlying both nature and thought, on which true sublimity is located.[12]

click the title to see the Bieneke Library exhibit of sublime vistas from early American travel books.

The first principle of two-ness and three-ness

Babies Do the Math on Voices and Faces
By David Biello; reported in Scientific American (February 14, 2006)

Seven-month-old infants cannot talk, nor can they do arithmetic. But a new study seems to show that babies do have an inherent sense of numbers, regardless of whether they can add two and two to get four.

Neuroscientists Kerry Jordan and Elizabeth Brannon had previously shown that rhesus monkeys have a natural ability to match the number of voices they hear to the number of individuals they expect to see. When presented with a soundtrack of "coo" sounds, the monkeys chose to look at a picture containing the same number of fellow monkey faces. If the monkeys heard two coos, for example, they preferred to look at a picture of two monkeys rather than three and vice versa. The researchers expected the same to be true of human babies.

But other studies with infants had delivered ambiguous results. Babies trained to expect to see two objects when presented with two tones stared longer at results that violated this convention, such as two tones and then three objects. And although babies correctly matched up drumbeats and household objects in one study, efforts to duplicate the result failed. Jordan and Brannon argue that each of these studies was flawed, either because training might have skewed the response, the tasks were too difficult or the objects were irrelevant to a baby.

The two researchers found in their own study that babies spent more time looking at videos showing the same number of unfamiliar human female faces as those represented in a simultaneous soundtrack of "look" sounds. "As a result of our experiments, we conclude that the babies are showing an internal representation of 'two-ness' or 'three-ness' that is separate from the [sounds and sights] and, thus, reflects an abstract internal process," Brannon says.

The 20 seven-month-old infants in the study spent an average of nearly 22 seconds looking at the numerically appropriate video compared to just more than 14 seconds looking at the numerically wrong video. This represented 59.2 percent of their total time looking--nearly exactly the same percentage of time that the 20 rhesus monkeys spent looking at the video with the right number of monkeys. "This spontaneous matching of [numbers] across [sight and sound] supports the contention that human infants, human adults and nonhuman primates share at least one common nonverbal numerical representational system," the researchers conclude. Their report on these findings appears in this week's Proceedings of the National Academies of Science.

Experience and Cognition

Precis: Kant's Cans and Can'ts

Precis: Kant's Cans and Can'ts

In "Critique of Pure Reason," or, "Kritik der reinen Vernunft,"
Immanuel Kant attempts to outline his understanding of human reason.
Kant's first postulation, and the basis for the rest of his outline, is
that though "cognition commences with experience" (148), not all
cognition comes from experience. There are certain cognitions that can
be known without sensory experience. This type of cognition Kant
refers to as "a priori," as opposed to "a postieri" knowledge, which
derives from experience.

Kant further separates a priori knowledge into two separate realms of
judgment, analytic and synthetic. Analytic judgments are those in
which the assertion (B) made about a given subject (A) is part of the
identity of said given subject. For example, a judgment such as, "10 is
a number," could be considered an analytic judgment. Conversely, there
exist also synthetic a priori judgments. These are the focus of Kant's
"critique," and they are those judgments in which the assertion (B)
about the given subject (A) are a concept separate from the identifying
qualities of subhect (A).

post by Charles Carter


PRECIS: We Know What We Know

Kant’s article is all about how we come to understand everything that we know. He believes that since the beginning of time no cognition can precede an experience. Experience is where all cognitive thought begins. We can figure other things out that we have not experience through association with other experiences. For example, we know a car accident was caused by wet roads due to rain. We would not need to get in a car accident again to understand that snow can also make the roads wet.
Kant’s article clearly lays out why he thinks experiences brings on cognitive thought. He wants us to think about what we know and how we know it. I think our experiences do help us understand more easily other experiences. Without the experience to begin with we would be thinking blind. His argument of “Experience teaches us, to be sure, that something is constituted thus and so, but not that it could not be otherwise." It just makes sense. We know what we know through our experiences but are also smart enough to understand that also we could be wrong.

Cognizing Kant-precis

Immanuel Kant's main goal is for us to think of how we understand things in terms of origin. How is it that we came to understand what colors are? How did we learn the concept of mathematics? What types of cognition exist? These ideas are central to Kant's assertion that there are two general types of cognition. The first type is cognition from experience. Kant emphasises that, "although all our cognition commences with experience, yet it does not on that account all arise from experience" (Kant 136). This seems to say that the impulse to understand something can occur based on passed acts of instinct, but each the idea we are understanding can be what Kant would refer to as natural and pure-without derivation. Kant's idea is useful in displaying the specific circumstances in which any possible original thought can occur.
Another useful idea that Kant illustrates is his idea of analytical and synthetic judgement. According to Kant, analytic judgment comes from a two part idea where a predicate is looked at in its relationship to an existent subject. A synthetic judgement is an idea presented that doesn't rely on being compared within the realm of an existent subject. I think this is great because through Kant's explanation of the difference between the two, we are able to better understand the ways in which ideas are tackled in everyday life, whether through the restriction of analysis or through a more free-thought concept.

-Andrew Behringer


As according to the OED EXPERIENCE is defined as "The action of putting to the test; trial," " A tentative procedure; an operation performed in order to ascertain or illustrate some truth; an experiment," and "The actual observation of facts or events, considered as a source of knowledge." These definitions are very accurate and in agreement with the way that the word experience is used in the Kant essay. I realize that experience is not a terribly difficult word to understand, but I do indeed think that it is a very potent and helpful word to think about on a deeper level. I will offer two quotations that Kant uses: "There is no dount whatever that all our cognition begins with experience," and "Experience teaches us, to be sure, that something is constituted thus and so, but not that it could not be otherwise." These thoughts hold up under close scrutiny as true and I see these as valuable insights because the knowledge of the power of EXPERIENCE can do wonders to further our own cognitive, spiritual, and mental development. I would like to conclude on the following quote from T.H. White's The Once and Future King, "Experience is the essence of education, and the essence of education is self reliance."

PRECIS-- What comes first the chicken or the egg?

Kant is asking us the time old question of chicken or egg, but in the form of experience and cognition. In the article he states that "although all our cognition commences with experience, yet it does not on the account all arise from experience" (pg. 136). While Kant recognizes that experience precedes cognition, he still has yet to answer the question of why it is so.

Cognition is heavily influences by our perceptions, as well as our impressions, making it a very subjective thing. Is it possible to remove our past thoughts and experiences when viewing something for the first time? NO! It is not possible, so it is important for us to understand the strong influences that take place and understand the effect that they have on our outlook.

In the long run it does not matter which is the chicken and which is the egg. It just matters that we understand their is a strong connection between the chicken and the egg.


Under section three (page 139) of Kant's "Introduction," he analyzes different ways that the word "NATURAL" can be understood. His first idea of "natural" meaning "that which properly and reasonably ought to happen" is reflected by the OED's definition of natural meaning "consistent with nature; normal, expected." The idea of "natural" here can be used in the example, "That soccer player was the natural choice" - as in very much assumed or the "reasonable choice."

Kant uses a second idea of natural meaning "that which properly and reasonably ought to happen." This usage of the word can be more easily seen in the example, "That is the natural order of things" - as in, "This is usual, but there can be exceptions."

"NATURAL" Kant "Introduction" Section III, p. 139

Precis: Critique of Pure Reason

Kant's Critique discusses the difference between a priori and a posteriori knowledge, as well as analytic and synthetic judgment. He discusses that a priori is "cognition independent of all experience" (136), and a posteriori is that which is gained from experience. Though he does sound intelligent in the text, he does not do a good job of conveying his ideas. The Critique is a slow, painful read, and most of it is barely understandable. The basic idea, however, does relate back to our reading from Plato. Plato picks out the essential subjects on which we must be knowledgeable and explains that some people already have this knowledge, while Kant discusses the difference between the knowledge that we already have and that which me must obtain through experience.


Kant uses several highly technical words in this piece, but I chose to go with a word that we are all a bit more accustomed to even though Kant still brings uncertainties to our reasoning about this word. According to the OED, one of the main definitions of experience is as follows: "2. Proof by actual trial; practical demonstration. to put in experience: to fulfil in practice." I found that, even through all the extreme philosophical and mathematical garble, that the whole article and argument comes down to the essence of experience or lack thereof; we probably wouldn't be reading this text if we didn't understand that we have the cognitive ability to analyze our experiences. The last sentence of the first paragraph not only begins the journey into the explanation of pure reason but it also gives us simplicity to his thoughts: "As far as time is concerned, then, no cognition in us precedes experience, and with experience every cognition begins." Kant provides a conundrum of information on the possibilities of the attainability of knowledge; to me, Kant often times swaps the words experience and perception interchangeably. The question I continued to ask myself while I read Kant's piece (and now I will ask you to ask yourself) was: Can perception exist without experience? I realize Kant discusses the different ways of discerning the possibilities of such but what is life without experience and the recognition of those experiences? It does no good for anyone to have knowledge within you (a priori) if there is no way to understand it, so a posteriori seems to be Kant's more reasonable direction for understanding knowledge because even if we do have this a priori knowledge, we still have to take the knowledge we've worked our whole lives to obtain in order to read through the files in our brains that we, according to Kant, didn't even know we had. I hope this makes more sense than Kant's article. 

PHRASE: "A great part, perhaps the greatest part, of the business of our reason..."

"A great part, perhaps the greatest part, of the business of our reason consists in analyses of the concepts that we already have of objects."

Here, Kant discusses the fact that a priori congnition can occur about things we already see, or believe we understand. He tries to give a better understanding of what he means by being able to remove empirical, or experiential, knowledge and supplant it with a priori cognition, or "cognition independent of all experience and evel of all impressions of the senses" (Kant 136). By describing how one can use a priori cognition to develop new concepts about objects already understood, the idea behind a priori deals more with re-evaluting and redefining the concepts we already have through "pure" knowledge, or knowledge without experience or senses. Cognition without sense or experience can be closesly defined with knowledge that is innate to each of us. Kant then uses this a priori cognition, or pure knowledge, in the rest of his introduction to explain how we can come to truely know things, outside of the fact that we experience them or see them.


Phrase: "But although all our cognition commences with experience, yet it does not on that account all arise from experience."

In the first section of Kant's Introduction he states that all knowledge (or cognition) begins with experience. He goes on to say that although knowledge begins with experience, it does not always arise out of experience. The phrase I chose (shown above), exhibits these statements. The phrase is important because it is the premise for Kant's investigation of what pure reason can really determine without the aid of the senses. Kant wonders if we can discover important truths out of pure reason, that is, without experience. Kant goes on to differentiate between a priori and a posteriori knowledge, as well as between synthetic and analytic judgments. According to Kant, mathematics and principles of science contain synthetic, a priori knowledge. With this in mind, humans must be capable of using pure reason to know important truths. However, Kant says ultimately that human perception has too much of an impact on what we know. In other words, our knowledge is greatly impacted by how we percieve things in the world around us.

Links to sources:


Phrase - "Judgments of experience, as such, are all synthetic"

"... For it would be absurd to ground an analytic judgment on experience..."

Synthetic: fake - unreal. But then again, what is real? 

Immanuel Kant answers all your questions of the nature of cognition and reality with more questions. "Critique of Pure Reason" is an iconoclastic approach to the way perceptions differ, even if it's a perception of the same event. His classification of Analytic and Synthetic judgments borders on skepticism by declaring the pointlessness of asserting fact from an experience. He forces the reader to examine his or her preconceptions of the very nature of reality simply by creating a distinction between the judgments we create as individuals. 

immanuel kant cartoons, immanuel kant cartoon, immanuel kant picture, immanuel kant pictures, immanuel kant image, immanuel kant images, immanuel kant illustration, immanuel kant illustrations
If you like Monte Python and bizarre humor...


1. Pertaining to the setting forth or laying down of opinion; didactic. rare.
3. Proceeding upon a priori principles accepted as true, instead of being founded upon experience or induction, as dogmatic philosophy, medicine.
4b. Of assured opinion, convinced. Obs. rare. (OED).

In Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, the word dogmatic appears a couple of times in response to the problem of metaphysics, a science which can not be derived from empirical observation, or a posterioiri. I always related the term to Catholicism and it was interesting to see it used in a way to describe a science. However the term here makes perfect sense; this article discusses Kant's investigation in trying to discover if metaphysics can be empirical when its subject matter is mostly "God, freedom and immortality" (139). The field of Metaphysics is founded dogmatically, by believing in opinions rather than experience, and Kant wants to know if it can also be studied by the expansion of a priori.

Kant, Immanuel. “Introduction (Books I-VI).” The Critique of Pure Reason. Tr. & Ed Paul Guyer, Allen W. Wood. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge IP, 1998.


“Plato abandoned the world of the senses because it set such narrow limits for the understanding, and dared to go beyond it on the wings of the ideas, in the empty space of pure understanding” (Kant 140).

There are many different ways to interpret understanding, which is a word Kant uses multiple times throughout his introduction. The Oxford English Dictionary provides one definition of understanding that is simply “mind, purpose, intent.” When discussing the differences between “understanding” and “pure understanding,” it is decided by the individual. For Kant, understanding is the ability to separate each type of cognition and the differences between experience and knowledge. Each person is responsible for discovering these truths for themselves; Kant is providing the backbone for understanding.

Kant, Immanuel. “Introduction (Books I-VI).” The Critique of Pure Reason. Tr. & Ed Paul Guyer, Allen W. Wood. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge IP, 1998.

Oxford English Dictionary: “understanding” 1d.


"Necessity and strict universality are therefore secure indications of an a priori cognition" (Kant, 137)

Necessity is a word that cropped up repeatedly in Critique of Pure Reason. I found my modern connotation of necessity, "something which one cannot do without" (OED), to be an cumbersome interpretation to my understanding of Critique. A definition the Oxford English Dictionary supplies that I found intriguing was "the fact of being inevitably fixed or determined." Thinking of necessity in this light really helped me understand Kant's argument. Necessity than is not the event of searching for answers metaphysically because the physical realm is too limited; rather, necessity might be thought of as a universal, innate truth. Being innate, it would be an intelligible idea deriving from a priori cognition.

Phrase: "If one is beyond the circle of experience..."

"If one is beyond the circle of experience, then one is sure of not being refuted through experience" (140).

To some extent, this idea is at work in Plato's analogy of the cave. The prisoners in the cave can be thought of as outside the circle of experience, for they are forced to experience the world in only one flawed way, which does not accurately reflect the true nature of the world. These prisoners rely solely on a posteriori cognition, meaning that their knowledge does not extend beyond their singular personal experiences. On the other hand, the prisoner who leaves the cave and experiences the world, returns having achieved an understanding of a priori cognition, and is capable of making synthetic cognitions between his experiences both inside and outside the cave. However, he is unable to communicate these cognitions to the prisoners, becuase they are not yet capable of understanding a priori cognitions- they are outside the circle of experience.

Some Things Just Are

"We are in possession of certain a priori cognitions, and even the common understanding is never without them."

Immanuel Kant's "Critique of Pure Reason" relies heavily on this notion of a priori cognition. To prove the possibility of pure reason, we must agree that a priori cognition exists; that is to say that "cognition independent of all experience and even all impressions of the senses," exists. First, the distinction must be made between a priori cognition, and empirical cognition; the latter referring to "cognitons that have their sources a posteriori, in experience." Though Kant concedes that "no cognition in us precedes experience" he still argues for the possibility that pure reason, reason free from experience, is possible, with the understanding that if a judgement is thought in strict university, which is to say that no exception to that judgement is possible (e.g."bodies are heavy"), it can indeed be a cognitive fact without the necessity of experience to deem it so. He argues that Empirical cognition only augments the a priori understanding. In short, though experience is necessary to come to an understanding of certain cognitions, pure reasoning, a priori cognition, must still always be present. There must be some awareness we can come to based on intuitive cognition.

Phrase: "No cognition in us precedes experience, and with experience every cognition begins."

"...no cognition in us precedes experience, and with experience every cognition begins" (136).

Kant argues that no thought or cognition is had without previous experience. It is experience which gives us cognition. He does say that not all arises from experience. One doesn't always have to experience things to know that they are pure or a priori. Life is all about learning and the evolution of knowledge, but how does one often come about that knowledge? Experience. Whether it is the most trivial of things like learning to tie shoes or some complicated math equation, I had to experience it or be taught by someone who had. It is like Plato described the people in the cave. They never saw the real thing until they came into the light and gained knowledge through the senses. Without experience very little can be learned or gained. One has to see, hear, feel, taste, or smell to learn. Without the senses, we really do not even know the cognition exsists. We need experience to bring the cognition to light, and bring us out of the cave.


Presentation - PLATO Book VII The Allegory of the Cave

(Click on blog title to be taken to a trailer for the Matrix)

• “In the knowable realm, the form of the good is the last thing to be seen, and it is reached only with difficulty.” (1135)
- How is “good” defined by Socratese?
- If We consider the disk – what is the truth of it? If we consider what’s on the disk?
- (Which pill does Neo choose in the Matrix? Which would you chose? Why? Just curiosity? Or for an honest desire for truth?)

• “...But he'll take into consideration whether it has come from a brighter life and is dimmed through not having yet become accustomed to the dark or whether it has come from greater ignorance into greater light and is dazzled by the increased brilliance.” (1135)
- In the film - Neo's eyes hurt because he's never used them before.
- We strain to understand a new concept, we follow a process of refutation before acceptance.

• “The Power to learn is present in everyone's soul... Education takes for granted that sight is there but that it isn't turned the right way.” (1136)
- It’s not just that “it’s a matter of angles,” but that we have to choose to understand before we actually can. Remember how Neo had to choose whether or not he wanted to know what the Matrix really was.

• “...compels the soul to use understanding itself on the truth itself?” (1142)
- When does understanding take place?
- How does understanding extend passed mathematics, geometry and astronomy?

• “The first section knowledge, the second thought, the third belief, and the fourth imaging. The last two together we call opinion, the other two, intellect. Opinion is concerned with becoming, intellect with being” (1149)

• “because no free person should learn anything like a slave. forced bodily labor does no harm to the body, but nothing taught by force stays in the soul. “ (1151)

• “The case of a child brought up surrounded by much wealth and many flatterers in a great and numerous family, who finds out when he has become a man that he isn't the child of his professed parents and that he can't discover his real ones… We hold from childhood certain convictions about just and fine things; we're brought up with them as with our parents, we obey and honor them.” (1152-53)
- Is this always true? How much does Plato rely on the strict borders between black and white, good and bad?
- Can reality truly be defined if it is based on perception?

Also, check out this cartoon.

Twinned Lambs

Bosch and the garden of earthly delights

This blog includes a substantive entry on Bosch's truly bizarre triptych. Those of you who are interested in fine art / visual culture may find much in here to juxtapose with our future readings.

(again, click the title to access the site)

Rib snatching and the problem of Eve

Précis: Satan's empty triumph

The first tale of mankind, viewed from the monotheism of the Old Testament and the Qur'an, depicts Adam's rise from the soil of the Earth and his exile from the Garden of Eden: Heaven on Earth. This is all thanks to Satan (also named Iblis in the Qur’an) who has been exiled from the true Heaven with God. From the viewpoint of one unfamiliar with the holy scripts, God’s respite of banishment towards Iblis’s wrongdoings in the Qur’an seems to be out of pride of his creation of Adam, whom Iblis refused to acknowledge as superior to himself. Yet the Lord is convinced of mankind’s innocence when his earthbound children repent to their own idiocy, illustrating a preference for his Earthly created beings. Thus, the fallen angel who provokes Eve into committing the “original sin” serves as Iblis’s triumph over God, but at the same time God’s willingness to undermine his own ideals of trust suggests a futility within Satan’s actions. Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale seems to reinforce the futility of the loss of innocence in Polixenes and Hermione’s dialogue. In this early scene of the play Polixenes tells of his childlike innocence when “[i]n those unflegd’d days was my wife a girl” (1.2.77) to which Hermione replies: “Of this make no conclusion, lest you say / Your queen and I are devils” (1.2.81-82). This playful manner of conversation between Kings and Queens of different kingdoms suggests that their interpretation of the original sin is the blossoming love between the two royal couples, which hardly seems to be a sinful act. Iblis remains triumphant over God in this facet, but it is an empty victory for the original sin becomes common nature among mankind.

Post by Chris Donaldson


PHRASE---Innocence for innocence

Who said that once you lost your innocence it was gone forever? In the many stories of the Qur'an and in the bible the story of Adam and Eve gives us the idea of losing our innocence and becoming aware of our nakedness, but Shakespeare says, "What we chang'd/ Was innocence for innocence: we knew not/ The doctrine of ill-doing, nor dream'd/That any did" (1.2.68-71).

Looking at the words of Shakespeare, it is possible to have two kinds of innocence, what is your flavor? Are you completely oblivious to the world around you, like Adam and Eve before partaking of the fruit? Or are you striving for the innocent expression which knows no ill-will? Who would have thought that we would have a choice to keep our innocence.

Mom's everywhere will be pleased, their little girls CAN remain innocents forever!

Word: Naked

NAKED: Without clothes (NAKEDNESS, noun form)
Interestingly, when I looked up the word NAKEDNESS in the OED, among
the four choices I was given was ‘fig leaf.’

This term is used in a number of ways throughout the Qur’an, the story
of Genesis in the New American Standard Bible, and though the word is
not directly used in The Winter’s Tale, nor in Rousseau’s Confessions,
its implications still hold weight.

Whether we examine the term in light of the Qur’an or the Bible, the
same idea is iterated: Since the story of Genesis offers itself as
predating all humanity, there was no such thing as nakedness, and for
that matter, no such thing as clothing, since clothing, or the fig leaf
or whatever we choose, must necessarily cover up our nakedness, until
Adam and Eve had their eyes “opened, and they knew that they were
naked. (3:7)” In both accounts of man’s fall from grace, this
realization causes the humans to cover themselves. Nakedness thus
becomes not only the figurative vulnerability to sin, but the physical
manifestation of the knowledge of sin. It is the catalyst for shame,
and ever has been; shame at knowing what the implications of nakedness
are, at the knowledge of sex, and so on. In fact, so much is intimated
at in The Winter’s Tale when Polixenes says to Hermione, “Temptations
have since been born to’s (1.2.l78)” referring to the women that have
tempted them since he and Leontes were boys, and free from all but
original sin. Though he jests, he implies that women are the root of
this knowledge of sex, they are the temptresses, just as Eve tempted
Adam. They are perhaps, the awakeners of that sad knowledge of

Post by Amanda Morales

If All Else Fails, Blame Women

There must be a reason that all men fall from their idealized state of childhood, into the cynical and disillusioned state of adults. As children, men are free from worry and hardship. They love and care for one another with no thought of jealousy or treachery. According to Polixenes in "A Winter's Tale", this entire state of being comes to a screeching halt upon the introduction of women to a man's world. Hermonie tosses this argument away with little concern, it is not her, or any woman's, fault that friendship fades and all people grow older and more concerned with responsibility and family than with maintaining past relationships.

Post by Emily Gibbons

Precis- Does temptation have a sex?

The Biblical tale of Adam and Eve's banishment from paradise and Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale both point to women as not only corruptible, but as the corruptor. In the Genesis account of "the garden of Eden" the Serpent specifically and successfully targets Eve in his attempt to bring humankind against the will of God, using the woman’s powers to tempt (or man’s ability to be tempted) to draw Adam into the snare as well. Shakespeare's Polixenes says that he was less sinful before his wife caused him "temptations," a renewal of the blame placed on the woman in Genesis 3. A similar scene in the Koran (al-A’raf 20-25) has both Adam and Eve tempted by Satan, who also finds no reason to disguise himself in snake costume in that case.

Post by Dan Ficklin

PRECIS: We've Fallen, and We Can't Get Up

In the creation stories of the Bible's Genesis, the Quran, Shakespeare's "The Winter's Tale," and Rousseau's confessions, many elements are repeated that attempt to explain why we sin. In all of the texts, life was beautiful before man sinned. In Genesis and the Quran, man falls due to his pursuit for knowledge in the tree of knowledge. Obviously, knowledge was considered the highest possession (as Plato thought that knowledge was the highest human pursuit) as it was the only possession we were not allowed. Because of this, humans are bound to God as inherent sinners and always will be. This is the life that humans are born in to, and cannot change.

Shakespeare writes that the boys were innocent until they sinned, but that it was "hereditary," suggesting that the boys could not escape from sinning. Rousseau in his own "creation" story shows his parents lives as beautiful before his innocent existence came about. It was not his fault directly that his mother died, yet he was born into a situation in which his sin was being born. This is much like our own situations, where we are born into sin, and so that becomes itself a sin.

PHRASE: Lambs frisking in the sun, little did they know...

In Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, Polixenes reminds us of the blissfully unaware state that Adam and Eve experienced in the garden: “We were as twinn’d lambs that did frisk I’ th’ sun/and bleat th’ one at the other: what we chang’d/was innocence for innocence: we knew not the doctrine of ill doing, nor dream’d/ that any did” (Shakespeare; lines 67-71).

The destructive nature of knowledge seems to be the most intriguing aspect of these lines, or at least what becomes of them. As his story goes, Polixenes and Leontes remain in this enchanted/euphoric state until they become aware of a temptation procured, of course, by the sight of their future wives, who are all but explicitly considered (by Polixenes) to be the devil (Shakespeare; lines77-79). Knowing they will not be “boys eternal,” and their acknowledgement of some evil feminine power, seems to prevent them from entering heaven (or from thinking that they can enter heaven) without guilt (and as the footnote explains, Polixenes is speaking of guilt distinct from original sin). So, knowledge in the Genesis story, and knowledge in The Winter’s Tale basically ruins everyone’s chances of happiness, especially since they know what happiness isn’t.

PHRASE: Qur'an

Throughout the Qur'an repetition is commonly used as a device to emphasize certain verses. This is done as a way to demonstrate the magnitude of the repeated text. Key ideas found in biblical texts cannot possibly have their importance expressed through words alone, so to compensate for that, the ideas are repeated in many verses, with their wording altered only slightly. In the particular text we read, the story of the Lord's appointment of Adam as the first man and his subsequent downfall at the hands of Iblis is told several times with slightly varied wording. One phrase that is repeated consistentaly is "You are each other's enemies" (Qur'an 7:24). This is representative of the idea that as we become human we turn into individuals that are aware of our properties. Another repeated idea to complement this is "Their nakedness became exposed to them when they had eaten from the tree; they began to put together leaves from the Garden to cover themselves" (Quar'an 7:22). The reason they cover themselves is because they understand they are not unified any longer, they are now individuals and are stricken with conflicting traits that will forcethem to be enemies for the remainder of mankind's existence.


Iblis is the primary devil in Islam.  It appears in the Qur'an as the devil who refuses to bow down before Adam.  In Islam, Iblis represents more than just an evil being.  Iblis is a culmination of all things that are evil and wrong in the world.  He is satan and the devil to all Christians.  He is more than just an idea or a spirit.  He is given a name and it is even capitalized to give the devil more of a human-like quality.  It makes him more real and threatening than just being a serpent or spirit.  Dictionary.com defines Iblis as the chief of the wicked Jinn.  All other information is from http://www.babylon.com/definition/Iblis/English.


I noticed that the word "innocence" popped up quite a bit throughout the readings for today. It is mentioned on line 69 in "The Winter's Tale" by Shakespeare, as well as by Jean-Jacques Rousseau
in his Confessions when he says, "...I had been the innocent child of his misfortune." Furthermore, all of the stories from the Quran, as well as the passage in Genesis, give some account of the religious story about the eating of the apple by Adam and Eve and the "fall of man". This story is often referred to as "the loss of innocence". I looked up innocence in the OED online and found this definition to be most applicable: "Freedom from sin, guilt, or moral wrong in general; the state of being untainted with, or unacquainted with, evil; moral purity." I believe this definition to be the most applicable to the texts.

PRECIS: I will survive.

As beings with "souls", we walk this Earth as autonomous individuals. We are not what we are born or who our parents were. As indiviudals we are always in the power to think and act in accordance with what is right and just. The Qur'an says, "Children of Adam, do not let Satan secude you, as he did your parents, causing them to leave the Garden..."(7:27) Likewise, whatever force pushes against us or tries to restrain us must always be overcome with the power of mind.

9/9 Phrase: Rousseau/Satan

Rousseau says a line in his book very similar to Satan’s in the Qur’an: “I am not made like any one I have been acquainted with, perhaps like no one in existence; if not better” (Rousseau 7). In the Qur’an, Satan says, "I am better than him (Adam), You created me from fire, and him You created from clay” (Surah Al-A’raf 7:12). Not only does Rousseau claim to be better than Adam, but it seems as if he puts himself above his god. He says, “I will present myself before the sovereign judge with this book in my hand” (Rousseau 7). He brings his own book to be judged, as if to say that his god’s is unnecessary because he keeps track of his own deeds. Does he not trust his god’s own book? Similar to Satan’s claiming to be better than Adam, Rousseau also claims to be better than every man who might be summoned to judge him. Good luck making friends up there.

Precis: Apples to Apples, Dust to Dust

In a seemingly perfect world, what creates chaos? Indeed it is the lack of true perfection. If Adam had been “perfect”, he would have perfect sight, perfect wisdom; he would have been created not in God’s image, but as a god himself. In Genesis, we see the condition placed upon Adam by God and the implications of violating that condition: "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die" (Genesis 2: 16 – 18). Yet when the opportunity presents itself, there is no hesitation to acquire the knowledge that separates Adam from his maker. In this act, the result is well known, and the value of wisdom is shown to be greater than that of a seemingly perfect world.

Word: Nakedness

The Qur’an and the Genesis section of the Bible use this word
repeatedly. The Oxford English Dictionary gives varying definitions
for the word nakedness, but the two definitions focused on in the
passages are, the obvious one, “the state or condition of being
unclothed;” but it is the other definition that is inferred from the
word nakedness, “Openness to attack or injury; vulnerability,
defencelessness,” that strikes a note of importance. This second
definition leads to deeper thought about the “nakedness” of Adam and
Eve in their interactions with the serpent, Satan. The innate quality
of human fallacy makes the two easily convinced, even when coerced with
evil; however, this same vulnerability makes it easier for God to
forgive Adam and Eve, when the two repent their sins.

post by Nicole Pluchinsky

Precis : Lemonade from Lemons

No man is born in paradise. We are born for toil. The question is how
can a man construct a life in which they achieve their highest
considered state despite this precondition. Because human beings are
descents from Adam, Eve, the original sin, Iblis, etc, we are not born
into the perfect world. We must spend life working and obtaining the
goal of a good existence. I think Rousseau understands the origin
story of flawed beginnings in the retelling of his parent's story. He
embellishes his parent's imperfect situation and how that condition
couldn't keep him down. "I mean to present my fellow-mortals with a
man in all the integrity of nature; and this man shall be myself"
(Rousseau; p.7).

post by Charlie Gardner

9/9 Word: JINN

The word JINN is used in Al-Hijr, the 15th sura of the Qur'an. "We created man out of dried clay formed from dark mud-the jinn We created before, from the fire of scorching wind" (15:26-7). According to the OED, the term jinn comes from Muslim demonology and is an order of spirit lower than the angels, and "said to have the power of appearing in human and animal forms, and to exercise supernatural influence over men." Jinn is an important term to understand, as Iblis is a jinn. He was forged from fire, which he states in 7:12, and he assumes an animal form, the serpent, when tempting Eve.


9/9 Word: Respite

RESPITE (noun) is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as a short period of rest and relief from something difficult or unpleasant (http://www.askoxford.com/concise_oed/orexxspite?view=uk). The term respite is found numerous times throughout the texts, mostly in the Qur'an. In book seven, Iblis asked for respite after tempting Adam and Eve to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil (95). He asked for respite until the day the people rose up from the dead, where he would then try to sway them off the path to God (95). Even while God is being merciful and forgiving, granting Iblis respite, Iblis is still planning on trying to take God's followers off the straight path for banishing him to Hell.