Descartes was a recitalist, or formulist, of what he took, often mistakenly, to be true knowledge. He himself established nothing new, nor even a system of pursuing knowledge that was novel. You are fond of quoting his Cogito Ergo Sum. Read my works. He stole that. […] Descartes spent far too much time in bed subject to the persistent hallucination that he was thinking. You are not free from a similar disorder.
St Augustine to de Selby, on Descartes.
Flann O’Brien (1964) The Dalkey Archive, chapter 4.
And by the way, what “St Augustine” says is perfectly true.
Human existence being an hallucination containing in itself the secondary hallucinations of day and night (the latter an insanitary condition of the atmosphere due to accretions of black air) it ill becomes any man of sense to be concerned at the illusory approach of the supreme hallucination known as death.
de Selby. An epigraph from the frontispiece of The Third Policeman
de Selby is included in Wikipedia’s Irish Philosopher category. We have no good evidence for his being Irish but due to the fact the vast majority of the evidence of his existence comes from an Irish source, I believe he deserves inclusion here.
Despite living a good twenty centuries later, de Selby has suffered the same fate as the preSocratics, with his original books being completely lost. In addition all original copies of the copious secondary literature on de Selby is no longer available. The vast majority of what remains is the material, both original and secondary, collected in a series of footnotes in a quasi-autobiographical work credited to a Flann O’Brien (1). Due to the patchwork nature of the references in this tertiary work it is impossible to trace the development of de Selby’s thought or get a sense of his system, if he had one. However we can piece together a small account of the theories of de Selby with a few of his epigrams and get a sense of the interest and controversy surrounding his work.(2)
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