Essay 17: The Platonist
Some philosophers are surprised to all people differ so much in their pursuits and inclinations even if they have the same nature and faculties.
- Some people even condemn what is fondly sought after by another.
- It is even more surprising, that a man should differ so widely from himself at different times.
- After he obtains the object of all his wishes, he sometimes rejects it with disdain.
- I think this feverish uncertainty and irresolution is unavoidable.
A rational soul, made for the contemplation of the Supreme Being, and of his works, can never enjoy tranquillity or satisfaction, while detained in the ignoble pursuits of sensual pleasure or popular applause.
- The divinity is a boundless ocean of bliss and glory.
- Human minds are smaller streams
- These waters come from this ocean, wander inland, and then return to the ocean to lose themselves in that immensity of perfection.
- When checked in this natural course, by vice or folly, they become furious and enraged.
- They swell to a torrent and then spread horror and devastation on the neighbouring plains.
In vain, by pompous phrase and passionate expression, each recommends his own pursuit.
- Each invites the credulous hearers to an imitation of his life and manners.
- The heart feels, even amid the highest success, the unsatisfactory nature of all those pleasures, which detain it from its true object.
I examine the voluptuous man before enjoyment.
- I measure the vehemence of his desire and the importance of his object.
- I find that all his happiness comes only from that hurry of thought, which takes him from himself, and turns his view from his guilt and misery.
- I consider him a moment after.
- He has now enjoyed the pleasure he sought.
- The sense of his guilt and misery returns to him with double anguish.
- His mind is tormented with fear and remorse
- His body depressed with disgust and satiety.
A more haughty persona presents himself and assumes the title of a philosopher and man of morals.
- He offers to submit to the most rigid examination.
- He challenges, with a visible, though concealed impatience, our approbation and applause.
- He seems offended, that we should hesitate a moment before we break out into admiration of his virtue.
- Seeing this impatience, I hesitate still more.
- I begin to examine the motives of his seeming virtue.
- But before I can do this, he flings himself from me!.
- He addresses his discourse to that crowd of heedless auditors, fondly abuses them by his magnificent pretensions.
O philosopher! Your wisdom is vain, and thy virtue unprofitable.
- You seek the ignorant applauses of men, not the solid reflections of thy own conscience.
- You do not seek the more solid approbation of that being who has an all-seeing eye to penetrate the universe.
- You surely are conscious of the hollowness of your pretended probity.
- While calling yourself a citizen, son, friend, you forget your higher sovereign, your true father and greatest benefactor.
- Where is the adoration due to infinite perfection, whence every thing good and valuable is derived?
- Where is the gratitude, owing to thy creator:
- who called you forth from nothing?
- who placed you in all these relations to your fellow-creatures, and requir you to fulfil the duty of each relation?
- who forbids you to neglect what you owe to himself, the most perfect being, to whom you are connected by the closest tie?
But you are your own idol
- You worship your imaginary perfections.
- Or rather, sensible of your real imperfections, you seek only to deceive the world, and to please your fancy, by multiplying your ignorant admirers.
- Thus, not content with neglecting what is most excellent in the universe, you desire to substitute in his place what is most vile and contemptible.
All human works, inventions, and the most perfect productions still comes from the most perfect thought.
- It is MIND alone that we admire while we applaud a well-proportioned statue, or the symmetry of a noble pile.
- The sculptor comes and makes us reflect on the beauty of his work.
- From a heap of unformed matter, he could extract such expressions and proportions.
- This superior beauty of thought and intelligence thou thyself acknowledgest, while thou invitest us to contemplate, in thy conduct, the harmony of affections, the dignity of sentiments, and all those graces of a mind, which chiefly merit our attention.
- But why stop short?
- Seest thou nothing farther that is valuable?
- Amid your applauses of beauty and order, you are still ignorant where beauty and the most perfect order lies?
Compare the works of art with those of nature.
- The works of art are imitations of nature.
- The nearer art approaches to nature, the more perfect it is.
- But how wide are its nearest approaches, and what an immense interval is in between them?
- Are copies only the outside of nature, leaving the inward and more admirable principles as exceeding her imitation and beyond her comprehension?
- Are copies only the minute productions of nature, despairing to reach that grandeur and magnificence which are so astonishing in the masterly works of her original?
- Can we then be so blind as not to discover an intelligence and a design in the exquisite contrivance of the universe?
- Can we be so stupid as not to feel the warmest raptures of worship and adoration on the contemplation of that intelligent being, so infinitely good and wise?
The most perfect happiness surely arises from the contemplation of the most perfect object.
- But what more perfect than beauty and virtue?
- Where is beauty to be found equal to that of the universe?
- Or virtue, which can be compared to the benevolence and justice of the Deity?
- If aught can reduce the pleasure of this contemplation, it must be either the narrowness of our faculties, which conceals from us the greatest part of these beauties and perfections; or the shortness of our lives, which allows not time sufficient to instruct us in them.
- But it is our comfort, that, if we employ worthily the faculties here assigned us, they will be enlarged in another state of existence, so as to render us more suitable worshippers of our maker:
- that the task, which can never be finished in time, will be the business of an eternity.