Monday, December 13, 2010

Satire Against Reason . . .

     John Wilmot (1647-1680), 2nd Earl of Rochester, was a friend of King Charles II, and author of much satirical and bawdy poetry. Even though logical reasoning is central in mathematics, reason has not lead us to a utopian society -- and Wilmot's poem, "Satire Against Reason and Mankind," reminds us of the many ways that we can be wrong. 
     The first two stanzas of Wilmot's poem are offered here.  A complete and annotated version is available at this link and a selection of Wilmot's other work is available here:

 Satire Against Reason and Mankind 

          by John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester

Were I (who to my cost already am
One of those strange, prodigious creatures, man)
A spirit free to choose, for my own share,
What case of flesh and blood I pleased to wear,
I'd be a dog, a monkey or a bear,
Or anything but that vain animal
Who is so proud of being rational.

The senses are too gross, and he'll contrive
A sixth, to contradict the other five,
And before certain instinct, will prefer
Reason, which fifty times for one does err;
Reason, an ignis fatuus in the mind,
Which, leaving light of nature, sense, behind,
Pathless and dangerous wandering ways it takes
Through error's fenny bogs and thorny brakes;
Whilst the misguided follower climbs with pain
Mountains of whimseys, heaped in his own brain;
Stumbling from thought to thought, falls headlong down
Into doubt's boundless sea, where, like to drown,
Books bear him up a while, and make him try
To swim with bladders of philosophy;
In hopes still to o'ertake th' escaping light,
The vapor dances in his dazzling sight
Till, spent, it leaves him to eternal night.
Then old age and experience, hand in hand,
Lead him to death, and make him understand,
After a search so painful and so long,
That all his life he has been in the wrong.
Huddled in dirt the reasoning engine lies,
Who was proud, so witty, and so wise.

To continue with the rest of Wilmot's poem, you may follow this link.

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