The two ways of shaping knowledge.

Imagine Raphael working on the David, chipping away at the stone, uncovering a hand, and a face, and then slowly seeing the rough outline - a man shaped form, but not yet a david, not yet a copy of a model. Now Raphael is looking at his model, a young handsome man, and he closes his eyes, trying to remember him. He can see a hand here, the shape of a brow, but the details are somehow gone. And you, my reader, if you close your eyes and imagine your father, isn't most of the features there? But some of the details are blank. Some of his life history... a few lost years. But if you could only see him, then you could know. You could chip away your misconceptions, make the details more accurate.

Michel Foucault is sitting at his desk, writing. His shelf is full of books, but he isn't looking at them, for now he is writing. His considerable knowledge is woven into a well measured pattern of historical development, but, maybe he's not completely sure. After a few days he comes back to the printed page with a critical pen. A bit more reading, and inaccuracies are chipped away. More and more his text is looking like reality, and he knows that when it is published, many more will be bringing their chisels to bear on those words, and in the end, they will near a real representation much more.

Raphael is looking over the fence into his neighbor's yard. She is sitting there, back turned to him with her potters wheel. Potters don't get famous, but she is a master of her craft. There was nothing there to chip away at; she only had formless clay - but, she's making due, and a beautiful amphora is given shape between her hands. 

Elsewhere Lorenzo de Medici is drafting law. One hand is on his pen, and the other on "The Prince" by Machiavelli. He sees in it a bit of himself, and now he is about to give a new shape to Florence by his pen. A new guild is about to be established. Picking up the book, he wonders how much came directly from Machiavelli's head, and how much is an inference from direct example. "We can all suppose", he thinks, "but in the end we must bow to the simple facts." And he should know, realpolitik schews even the despots law, and however much a description rings true...

Plato is writing "The State". His characters are building it from the ground up, and he is building them. He is thinking about Sparta. How could they ever beat Sparta? What manner of organisation could beat their perfect tyranny? The state is rising in his mind, and he is walking through it, imagining citizens bartering, conniving, discussing. Something seems wrong. How do we ensure a stable food supply? The wall is raised by.... one days work on obligatory duty, and, then there is the sea? But what if there were a sea power? Sometimes he feels like a potter, and sometimes as a stone carver - only the shifting mass of the idea is between his hands, writhing and alive, and for now "on the wax", as they say.

I am sitting here, thinking about this piece - writing it. Some text is added, some is taken away. A critical thought strikes a sentence, a new one is formed, from new ideas - edging closer to truth.