Carts and Horses

As Aristotle says in the Physics: “The natural way is to go from what are more known and certain to us toward what are more certain and more knowable by nature. For the more known to us and the simply knowable are not the same. Because of which, it is necessary to proceed in this way, from what is less certain by nature but more certain to us toward what is more certain and more knowable by nature.”


Francis Bacon, the 16th century philosopher not the 20th century painter of grotesques, coined the phrase ‘idols of the tribe’ to mean characteristic ways in which the human mind goes wrong. Perhaps one such error is the tendency to treat a thing which is only known indirectly, via something else, as if it were better known than the thing we experience directly.

Some examples of what I mean can be found in popular science. Someone tells us, say, that grass is not really green. Why not, we ask? Because, the wise man replies, grass actually reflects the light waves whose frequency corresponds to the colour green, but absorbs the waves of every other frequency: so it would be truer to say that grass is every colour except green. What has happened here? Something which is primary, being the object of direct experience, the colour green, which is that by means…

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