Broad Oak: your emotional support animal

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Belief in experience

I’m not a close follower of Santayana’s philosophy, not making much use of his ideas on modes of being for example. Yet I greatly admire his wisdom, his elegant insights into the human situation.

Take this quote for example:-

Belief in experience is the beginning of that bold instinctive art, more plastic than the instinct of most animals, by which man has raised himself to his earthly eminence : it opens the gates of nature to him, both within him and without, and enables him to transmute his apprehension, at first merely æsthetic, into mathematical science.

This is so great a step that most minds cannot take it. They stumble, and remain entangled in poetry and in gnomic wisdom.

Science and reasonable virtue, which plunge their roots in the soil of nature, are to this day only partially welcome or understood. Although they bring freedom in the end, the approach to them seems sacrificial, and many prefer to live in the glamour of intuition, not having the courage to believe in experience.

For me, a key phrase here is not having the courage to believe in experience. Surely it does require courage to believe in experience – often considerable courage.

What Santayana does so extraordinarily well is draw our attention to it without the need to illustrate his meaning. He writes as if he is fully aware that there will be those who know just what he means and those who don’t. He isn’t writing for the latter group.

Maybe we experience told him there was no point and he had the courage to write on that basis. After all, the courage to believe in experience isn’t something easily instilled in others merely by words. Santayana knew he wasn’t likely to stiffen the rational backbone of anyone lacking this most necessary brand of intellectual courage.

Science and reasonable virtue, which plunge their roots in the soil of nature, are to this day only partially welcome or understood.

Indeed - they still are.

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3 comments:

Paddington said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paddington said...


(Typo fixed) The whole point of science is that experience cannot be trusted to be reality, is it not?

A K Haart said...

Paddington - I don't think science has a whole point, although paying the mortgage comes close.

In my experience!