* an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.
A student in the audience raised her hand and asked me:
“Why should I live?”
… In the very act of asking that question, you are seeking reasons for your convictions, and so you are committed to reason as the means to discover and justify what is important to you. And there are so many reasons to live!
As a sentient being, you have the potential to flourish. You can refine your faculty of reason itself by learning and debating. You can seek explanations of the natural world through science, and insight into the human condition through the arts and humanities. You can make the most of your capacity for pleasure and satisfaction, which allowed your ancestors to thrive and thereby allowed you to exist. You can appreciate the beauty and the richness of the natural and cultural world. As the heir to billions of years of life perpetuating itself, you can perpetuate life in turn. You have been endowed with a sense of sympathy – the ability to like , love, respect, help, and show kindness – and you can enjoy the gift of mutual benevolence with friends, family, and colleagues.
And because reason tells you that none of this is particular to you, you have the responsibility to provide to others what you expect for yourself. You can foster the welfare of other sentient beings by enhancing life, health, knowledge, freedom, abundance, safety, beauty, and peace. History shows that when we sympathize with others and apply our ingenuity to improving the human condition, we can make progress in doing so, and you can help to continue that progress.
Stephen Pinker in Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress
Comments are welcome!
*an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.
Interviewer: Well, to begin – do you feel that you were born in a place and a time, and to a family all of which combined favorably to shape you for what you were to do?
Wilder: Comparisons of one’s lot with others’ teaches us nothing and enfeebles the will. Many born in an environment of poverty, disease, and stupidity, in an age of chaos, have put us in their debt. By the standards of many people, and by my own, these dispositions were favorable – but what are our judgments in such matters? Everyone is born with an array of handicaps – even Mozart, even Sophocles – and acquires new ones. In a famous passage, Shakespeare ruefully complains that he was not endowed with another’s “scope”! We are all equally distant from the sun, but we all have a share in it. The most valuable thing I inherited was a temperament that does not revolt against Necessity and that is constantly renewed in Hope. (I am alluding to Goethe’s great poem about the problem of each man’s “lot” – the Orphische Worte).
Thornton Wilder in Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews First Series, edited, and with an introduction by Malcolm Crowley
Comments are welcome!