Man is a reasonable being, and as such he gets appropriate food and nourishment from the pursuit of knowledge; but so narrow are the limits of human understanding that we can’t hope for any great amount of knowledge or for much security in respect of what we do know. As well as being reasonable, man is a sociable being; but he can’t always enjoy - indeed can’t always want - agreeable and amusing company. Man is also an active being; and from that disposition of his as well as from the various necessities of human life, he must submit to being busy at something; but the mind requires some relaxation, and can’t always devote itself to careful work. It seems, then, that nature has pointed out a mixed kind of life as most suitable for the human race, and has secretly warned us not to tilt too far in any of these directions so as to incapacitate ourselves for other occupations 3
and entertainments. Indulge your passion for knowledge, says nature, but seek knowledge of things that are human and directly relevant to action and society. As for abstruse thought and profound researches, ·nature also says·, I prohibit them, and if you engage in them I will severely punish you by the brooding melancholy they bring, by the endless uncertainty in which they involve you, and by the cold reception your announced discoveries will meet with when you publish them. Be a philosopher, ·nature continues·, but amidst all your philosophy be still a man. If people in general were contented to prefer the easy philosophy to the abstract and profound one, without throwing blame or contempt on the latter, it might be appropriate to go along with this general opinion, and to allow every man to enjoy without opposition his own taste and sentiment. But the friends of the easy philosophy often carry the matter further, even to point of absolutely rejecting all profound reasonings, or what is commonly called metaphysics; ·and this rejection should not be allowed to pass unchallenged·. So I shall now proceed to consider what can reasonably be pleaded on behalf of the abstract kind of philosophy. Let us first observe that the accurate and abstract kind of philosophy has one considerable advantage that comes from its being of service to the other kind. Without help from abstract philosophy, the easy and human kind can never be exact enough in its sentiments, rules, or reasonings. All literature is nothing but pictures of human life in various attitudes and situations, and these inspire us with different sentiments of praise or blame, admiration or ridicule, according to the qualities of the object they set before us. An artist must be better qualified to succeed in presenting such pictures if, in addition to delicate taste and sensitive uptake, he has an accurate knowledge of the internal structure and operations of the understanding, the workings of the passions, and the various kinds of sentiment that discriminate vice and virtue. However difficult this search into men’s interiors may appear to be, it is to some extent needed
- Spring '13
- Philosophy, Thought, .........