The question of "What am I?" is not often understood - in fact is rarely understood, if ever by the individual, perhaps because few of us understand very much about philosophy, or science or any real study of what humanity is. People say they want to "discover themselves" - but this is an error. To put it simply, our being does not depend on our knowing about our being - but even more, my own desire, or my own guess, or my own interpretation of "me" (of what I "am") is almost never what I really am. This truth is sure to be a let-down to some, but then that's the nature of things... we're very good at misleading ourselves about our selves! Sure, we have a definite opinion about what we are, but that does not make us what we are. Yes, you can find this in vast detail in Aquinas and other philosophers, but it is easier to take a little-known book by GKC and find the simple answer there. In GKC's "green-pencil" annotations to .... er, hm. Let me start over, since this is not really easy to quote directly.
In the little collection of Holbrook Jackson's aphorisms called Platitudes In the Making you will find this:
No opinion matters finally: except your own.But GKC took a green pencil and scribbled in his own copy this slight revision:
[Holbrook Jackson, Platitudes in the Making, 15]
"No opinion matters finally: except your own."Indeed!
said the man who thought he was a rabbit.
[GKC/HJ Platitudes Undone 15]
Now, on the issue of GKC as a generalist.... Here you have given me an opportunity for a perfect demonstration of the scholastic distinguo.
Watch and see:
I distinguish "generalist" in two senses: (1) as a writer (2) in the unrestricted sense.
In sense (1) concedo - I concede the point. He wrote about just about every possible topic, wisely and insightfully, for "I would undertake to pick up any topic at random, from pork to pyrotechnics, and show that it illustrates the truth of the only true philosophy" [GKC The Thing CW3:189].
In sense (2) nego - I deny the point. Rather, he had such an intense "presence of mind" that he was utterly dependent on his wife for many of the common ordinaries of life. For example:
[Mrs. Mills, a friend] was struck by the placidity with which Frances accepted her husband's oddities in daily life. Both in London and when they stayed with one another in the country, a regular feature of each morning was a blood-curdling yell from upstairs, unutterably startling the first time you heard it. "It sounded," said Mrs. Mills, "like a werewolf." Frances would say, without a smile or the slightest sign of surprise, "Oh, that's Gilbert, he wants his tie tied." One morning he was very late. Frances went up to look and came down saying (again with no faint trace of surprise or amusement), "Gilbert dropped one of his garters [he was wearing knickerbockers and golf stockings], he went down on the floor to look for it and found a book there, so he began to read it."Ahem! Very funny. Now, on to the most important matter... the question, "what is man?":
[Ward, Return To Chesterton 75]
Oh my, Brian, and Davy, and BlogNerd, you are on the verge of great discoveries: this is one of the most important questions facing humanity: WHAT IS MAN? (and its correlate, WHAT IS WOMAN?) Or, to be a little more general: What is the meaning of our existence?
But then, you might note, that this was asked of God in the exquisite Psalm 8:
O Lord, our Lord, how admirable is thy name in the whole earth! For thy magnificence is elevated above the heavens. Out of the mouth of infants and of sucklings thou hast perfected praise, because of thy enemies, that thou mayst destroy the enemy and the avenger. For I will behold thy heavens, the works of thy fingers: the moon and the stars which thou hast founded. What is man, that thou art mindful of him? or the son of man, that thou visitest him? Thou hast made him a little less than the angels, thou hast crowned him with glory and honour: And hast set him over the works of thy hands. Thou hast subjected all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen: moreover, the beasts also of the fields. The birds of the air, and the fishes of the sea, that pass through the paths of the sea. O Lord, our Lord, how admirable is thy name in the whole earth![emphasis added]It is only by our working together that we shall begin to learn - as GKC did:
To the question, "What are you?" I could only answer, "God knows."If this seems like a riddle, we are in a well-known path:
[GKC Orthodoxy CW1:363]
Every great literature has always been allegorical - allegorical of some view of the whole universe. The 'Iliad' is only great because all life is a battle, the 'Odyssey' because all life is a journey, the Book of Job because all life is a riddle.Now,I shall go off to instigate another riddle in some other corner of the e-cosmos...
[GKC The Defendant 47]