Bacon, Comenius, Tolstoy, Truth and my Absorption System
By John Taylor; 2020 December 12
Long ago I began what I call my "system" of quotations revolving around on the Baha'i principles by collecting together my notes from the writings of Frances Bacon. Bacon inspired my whole career, and his idea for "nursery gardens of the mind" is the basis of all the directions in which the internet, education, libraries, virtual reality and social media SHOULD be going.
In my declining years I am finishing it all off by "absorbing" John Amos Comenius, collected under each principle. Comenius also was inspired by Bacon's suggestions for collecting knowledge into a single, encyclopedic system and then distributing it through specially designed means and institutions. Comenius added on to Bacon a new and crucial idea, that of turning all knowledge into the Most Great, the grandest of consummations: the formation of a democratic world government.
During the forced pause of the pandemic this year, I have absorbed and organized the entire digitized portion of my collection of quotations. For this, I used a now ancient (1986) program called Maxthink. In a fireside talk last week, I even presented my findings in Maxthink on Zoom, which I would not have thought possible. Now that the quotes are accessible, I plan next year to take my system to the next level by plunging into organizing my vast newspaper article collection.
Lately, I realized that it was so long ago that I studied Bacon's works that I no longer seem to have the hard-copy books that I made use of so long ago. So I ordered this more recent collection of his English (as opposed to Latin) writings,
"Francis Bacon, The Major Works, including New Atlantis and the Essays," Brian Vickers Ed., Oxford University Press, Oxford, U.K., 1996,
I have been forced by my disability, which leaves me with brief, unpredictable moments of clarity, to deal mostly with short quotes in this system. But now, going over Bacon, I see that what he called "apothegms" is indeed central to the project he had in mind. The book's editor explains,
"The main value of the aphorism for Bacon was not so much its brevity as the fact that it could contain original observations of nature or human life in separate, uncoordinated units. This meant that they could not be prematurely forced into a system, which would then close down further development. `Knowledge, while it is in aphorisms, is in growth.'" (Ibid, Introduction, xxiv)
If it is growing, it is changing. That is why Socrates and Plato were so suspicious of thoughts even written down. Once it is committed to writing, it dies, like an organism under a microscope. The principles should be kept alive.
The fact that I am up to my elbows in quotations does not mean that I do not sometimes feel that I am missing out on some. For example, I remember reading somewhere in Tolstoy where he said something like, "truth is self-evident and spreads naturally, but lies have to be constructed with great effort and fall apart soon enough without constant effort." I have tried several times through the years to find that saying but all the keywords and all search engines on the net failed to turn it up.
Lately, I found in my library a little-known final work of Tolstoy called "A Calendar of Wisdom" where he collected for each day of the year eight or ten quotations from himself and others. Apparently, he read these daily readings intensively during the last decade or so of his life. The entry for December 15th recalls that long lost quote about truth by him, and also, I think, illuminates the Master's central postulate that truthfulness is the bedrock of character. So here, without elaboration, before I absorb them severally into my system, are Tolstoy's apothegms for that day in mid-December (p. 350) on truth and being truthful.
Truth is not a virtue in itself, but it is a necessary condition of everything that is good. (Tolstoy)
A lie can be deliberate if a person knows that he tells a lie and takes some profit from this. At the same time, there are unintentional lies, such as when, in certain circumstances, a person would like to tell the truth but cannot or does not know how to say it. (Tolstoy)
Only misconceptions need to be supported by artificial arguments. Truth can always stand alone. (Tolstoy)
All goodness is nothing compared to the goodness of truth, all sweets are nothing compared to the sweetness of truth, and the bliss of truth is greater than all the joy in the world. (Buddhist Wisdom)
No one can be completely truthful all of the time because different forces and aspirations are fighting within him and sometimes he cannot express them. (Tolstoy)
Misconceptions exist only for some time, but the truth persists in spite of sophistry. (Tolstoy)
At all times, you should learn how to do, think and say the truth. Only those who start to learn this can understand how far we are from the real truth. (Tolstoy)
Lies are always harmful to all things. (Tolstoy)
From: Leo Tolstoy, A Calendar of Wisdom, Wise Thoughts for Every Day, Peter Sekirin, tr., Hodder and Staughton, London, 1997