Friday, March 25, 2011

A Torch of Smoky Pine

Sonnet III
by George Santayana


O world, thou choosest not the better part!
It is not wisdom to be only wise,
And on the inward vision close the eyes,
But it is wisdom to believe the heart.
Columbus found a world, and had no chart,
Save one that faith deciphered in the skies;
To trust the soul's invincible surmise
Was all his science and his only art.

Our knowledge is a torch of smoky pine
That lights the pathway but one step ahead
Across a void of mystery and dread.
Bid, then, the tender light of faith to shine
By which alone the mortal heart is led
Unto the thinking of the thought divine.

This Sanatayana is the very same as the philosopher. Santayana held that all serious systematic thought begins in media res, with all of us already believing a great deal about the world, not on the basis of any reasoning, but on the basis of our impulse to act. He crticizes extensively the notion that everything should be based on reasoning from foundational truths (it is not wisdom to close one's eyes only on inward vision), arguing instead that we must act in the world (we must not be only wise) and this requires a sort of faith that we'll get somewhere (the soul's invincible surmise). We may well turn out to be wrong in our belief, but we start with the believing, or we get nowhere at all, Columbuses too cautious to reach New Worlds.

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