§2. Practical Concerns and the Wisdom of Sentiment 1)


649. Among the advantages which our humble cousins whom it pleases us to refer to as »the lower animals« enjoy over some of our own family is that they never reason about vitally important topics, and never have to lecture nor to listen to lectures about them. Docilely allowing themselves to be guided by their instincts into almost every detail of life, they live exactly as their Maker intended them to live. The result is, that they very rarely fall into error of any kind, and never into a vital one. What a contrast to our lives! Truly, that reason upon which we so plume ourselves, though it may answer for little things, yet for great decisions is hardly surer than a toss-up. . . .

650. Logic is computation, said Hobbes;2) and those who have deepest delved in that dreary discipline testify that all reasoning whatever involves mathematics, and laugh over the fallacies of those who attempt to reason unmathematically. Now tell me, is mathematics an occupation for a gentleman and an athlete? Is not such drudgery fit only for the lower classes? One may well be struck with pity for the masses of population concentrated in New York and living under such unnatural conditions that they are forced to think mathematically. However, it is not as if they had the tender nurture of a cultured modern Harvard, that great eleemosynary institution that Massachusetts has established to the end that the élite of her youths may be aided to earning comfortable incomes and living softly cultured lives. The brains of those New York plebeians are coarse, strong, laboring brains, that don't know what it is to be free from mathematics. Their conceptions are crude and vulgar enough, but their vigor of reasoning would surprise you. I have seen my [private] scholars there wrestle with problems that I would no more venture to allow the exquisitely polished intellects of a modern university to attack than I would venture to toss a cannonball into an eggshell cup.

651. I intend to call upon you for no reasoning in these lectures more complicated than one of Hegel's dilemmas. For all reasoning is mathematical and requires effort; and I mean to shun the guilt of overstraining anybody's powers. That is why I have selected a subject for my lectures which is not at all in my line, but which I hope may prove to be to your taste.

652. On vitally important topics reasoning is out of place. . . . The very theory of reasoning, were we resolutely to attack it without any dread of mathematics, would furnish us conclusive reasons for limiting the applicability of reasoning to unimportant matters; so that, unless a problem is insignificant in importance compared with the aggregate of analogous problems, reasoning itself pronounces that there is a fallacy in submitting the question to reason, at all. That must remain merely an assertion, mathematics being taboo. . . .

653. In regard to the greatest affairs of life, the wise man follows his heart and does not trust his head. This should be the method of every man, no matter how powerful his intellect. More so still, perhaps, if mathematics is too difficult for him, that is to say, if he is unequal to any intricate reasoning whatsoever. Would not a man physically puny be a fool not to recognize it, and to allow an insane megalomania to induce him to enter a match game of football? But the slightest of physical frames might as well attempt to force back a locomotive engine, as for the mightiest of mental giants to try to regulate his life advantageously by a purely reasoned-out theory.

654. Common sense, which is the resultant of the traditional experience of mankind, witnesses unequivocally that the heart is more than the head, and is in fact everything in our highest concerns, thus agreeing with my unproved logical theorem; and those persons who think that sentiment has no part in common sense forget that the dicta of common sense are objective facts, not the way some dyspeptic may feel, but what the healthy, natural, normal democracy thinks. And yet when you open the next new book on the philosophy of religion that comes out, the chances are that it will be written by an intellectualist who in his preface offers you his metaphysics as a guide for the soul, talking as if philosophy were one of our deepest concerns. How can the writer so deceive himself?

655. If, walking in a garden on a dark night, you were suddenly to hear the voice of your sister crying to you to rescue her from a villain, would you stop to reason out the metaphysical question of whether it were possible for one mind to cause material waves of sound and for another mind to perceive them? If you did, the problem might probably occupy the remainder of your days. In the same way, if a man undergoes any religious experience and hears the call of his Saviour, for him to halt till he has adjusted a philosophical difficulty would seem to be an analogous sort of thing, whether you call it stupid or whether you call it disgusting. If on the other hand, a man has had no religious experience, then any religion not an affectation is as yet impossible for him; and the only worthy course is to wait quietly till such experience comes. No amount of speculation can take the place of experience.

656. Pray pardon my hopping about from one branch of my discourse to another and back again with no more apparent purpose than a robin redbreast or a Charles Lamb. Because it would hardly be logically consistent for me to arrange my matter with scrupulously logical accuracy when the very thing I am driving at is that logic and reasoning are only of secondary importance. There are two psychological or anthropological observations about our reasoning powers which it is convenient to insert here.


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