Container or Content?

A lot of my personal and professional life has been spent straddling two great philosophical traditions, the Cartesian and the Empirical (Hobbesianism).

Two other traditions lie hidden within these discourses, these ways of being and of doing.

First, the Cartesian comes from the Catholic tradition, where doubt is a cruel master which needs must be mastered itself. The Empirical comes from the Protestant tradition, where God is personal, the world is accessible and nothing need remain numinous. The second is that the Cartesian is more a Latin way of doing things whereas the Empirical is nurtured by the Anglo-Saxon frame of mind.

The Cartesian proceeds by testing every proposition through the sheer power of doubt. To doubt at this level is knackering, requiring huge levels of intellectual power but such people can do it – just look at those superb minds of the Jesuits. Cartesians construct extraordinarily powerful worlds of ideas to create an envelope around the proposition so robust that it will contain and hold all of its potential. The content shall not corrode the container. Once all such resources are mustered, the proposition can be launched in the field. As it has survived such rigorous enquiry thus far, it is very unlikely that it will be found wanting and one can proceed with full confidence.

The difficulty the Empiricist mind has with this, is finding the patience to devote such enormous intellectual effort before being allowed to get one’s hands on the proposition and just see if the damned thing will actually work. The Empirical mind tests every proposition in the field more or less straightaway: setting up a hypothesis, testing it in the natural world and drawing a conclusion from this which either confirms the proposition or infirms it. The infirm proposition is quickly dropped before it takes up further resources – not much point in creating a container if the content is not up to it, is there? Eventually the confirmed proposition will be sufficiently tested to be given an envelope within which it is encouraged to evolve.

Would you agree that this may be seen as a more nuanced approach to the matter than the Cartesian mind allows?

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