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September 1, 2012

I came across something interesting recently, while reading the book The Wisdom of the World by Remi Brague, a French historian of philosophy or somesuch. It’s about the word “cosmos.” This is, I suppose, the sort of thing one learns if one learns ancient Greek; but, since I never did, I learned it last week.

So: while “cosmos,” as we all know, means “world,” it originally meant, and in a sense perhaps properly still means, “order,” and even “ornament.” (Hence “cosmetics.”) All of this was a “cosmos” only metaphorically. I can imagine it first being used in an awe-filled exclamation: “All of this… stuff… all this! Everything! This jewel! This cosmos!” It’s the idea of “all that is” seen as not just a large quantity of things, but as ordered, structured, forming a coherent whole, a unity; and as beautiful and good.

(Of course, “quantity has its own quality,” as they say.)

The lesson to take away from this, perhaps, is that it doesn’t make sense to ask if the world is ordered. The world is by definition ordered. The question is, ordered how, and by what. Philosophically this seems like a Kantian point, and not a particularly difficult one to understand. Still, interesting from a linguistic/literary standpoint to see it play out in the words themselves.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Simon P (e7th04sh) permalink
    September 7, 2012 5:21 am

    Hello T., glad to see you’re up and posting. :) Will sit down and check it all out in my spare time.

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