Re: Thinking Makes It So?

From: Dan Fabulich (
Date: Mon May 08 2000 - 22:38:11 MDT

Damien Broderick criticized:

> >I orginally began by saying that I'd limit the scope of Shakespeare's
> >quote that "... there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it
> >so." Thus far, I've only been extending its scope to include good/bad
> >beliefs, suggesting that *everything*, *all* discourse falls prey to this.
> Hamlet wasn't talking about truth vs falsity, but about evaluative
> statements:
> Ham. Denmark's a prison.
> Ros. Then is the world one.
> Ham. A goodly one; in which there are many confines, wards, and
> dungeons, Denmark being one o' th' worst.
> Ros. We think not so, my lord.
> Ham. Why, then 'tis none to you; for there is nothing either good
> or bad but thinking makes it so. To me it is a prison.
> Ros. Why, then your ambition makes it one. 'Tis too narrow for your
> mind.
> Plainly, the world is *not*, as a matter of fact, a `prison'. But it feels
> like one to Hamlet. His feelings, he points out, are not open to disproof,
> as a claim of fact might be. Wily Rosencrantz remarks astutely that the
> proximate *cause* of Hamlet's `thinking' that `makes it so' is his ambition
> (which he might abandon if he chose) - thus at once confirming and
> undermining Hamlet's solipsistic assessment.

You suggest that Hamlet's claim applies only in certain "evaluative" areas
of discourse, and that it might not apply in other situations, like in
discussions of "matters of fact." But TRUTH is an evaluation of a
sentence. Being "correct" is a matter of adhering to the correct ethics,
whether it's an ethic of action or an ethic of belief. We talk of
justification in both cases; the "justification" involved is strictly
analogous, since in both cases, we have no algorithm of justification to
evaluate our algorithms of justification. Implied in saying that Denmark
is *not* a prison is that Hamlet *shouldn't* believe that. (At least, not
literally, not analytically, not when he's engaged in proof-games, or

I actually don't take Rosencrantz to be very wily here; rather, I find his
reply impotent. Ambition isn't really the sort of thing we CAN just throw
off if the mood strikes us, any more than you could just throw off the
belief that Denmark is a prison. We need to be convinced; while we play
an important role in our being convinced, one can't just decide to give up
a belief that way. (Though you CAN choose not to act on the belief.) So
what, we might ask Rosencrantz, if Hamlet's imprisonment IS caused by his
ambition? What possible action does THIS piece of psychology suggest?

Similarly, my original post was in response to the idea that death is only
bad because we think it is. I now ask you to stop believing that death is
bad for the next fifteen minutes, to hold no opinion on the matter for the
next five minutes, and then to restore your current beliefs about death
after those twenty minutes are up. Can you do it? *I* sure can't.

Taking a pragmatist's view, Rosencrantz may be "right" in the game he's
playing, but his advice is totally irrelevant to the game Hamlet happens
to be playing. It provides Hamlet with no consolation, no course of
action, and nothing which might convince Hamlet that he is actually wrong.

Hamlet makes himself right. So do we. Does this suggest that we ought to
change something? Not to me. I still believe that death is bad
unqualifiably, that the world is not a prison, (except when I'm engaged in
poetry,) and that statements made in one language-game have little or
no bearing on statements made in another. I've got to play my own game.


      -unless you love someone-
    -nothing else makes any sense-
           e.e. cummings

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