Wittgenstein & Chesterton’s ‘Everlasting Man’

There’s an insipid idea of “progress” that not only does a disservice to our ancestors but also fosters and spirit that robs joy and wonder from our experience of the world.  Both Chesterton and Wittgenstein named this spirit for what it was; and urged an awakening of vision of the world.  For Chesterton this awakening was one of beauty and adventure, for Wittgenstein it was one of duty and truth — and maybe the two are not as far off from each other as they might seem.

From Wittgenstein’s notes collected in Culture and Value, written in 1930.

In Renan’s ‘Peuple d’Israel’ I read: “Birth sickness, death, madness, catalepsy, sleep, dreams, all made an immense impression and,  even nowadays, only a few have the gift of seeing clearly that these phenomena have causes within our constitution.”

On the contrary there is absolutely no reason to wonder at these things, because they are such everyday occurrences. If primitive men can’t help but wonder at them, how much more so dogs and monkeys.  Or is it being assumed that men, as it were, suddenly woke up and, noticing for the first time these things that had always been there, were understandably amazed? — Well, as a matter of fact we might assume something like this; though not that they become aware of these things for the first time but that they do suddenly start to wonder at them.  But this again has nothing to do with their being primitive.  Unless it is called primitive not to wonder at things, in which case the people of today are really the primitive ones, and Renan himself too if he supposes that scientific explanation could intensify wonderment.

As though lightning were more commonplace or less astounding today that 2000 years ago.

Man has to awaken to wonder — and so perhaps do peoples.  Science is a way of sending him off to sleep again.

In other words it’s just false to say: Of course, these primitive peoples couldn’t help wondering at everything.  Though perhaps it is true that these peoples did wonder at all the things around them. — To suppose they couldn’t help wondering at them is a primitive superstition…

Things are placed right in front of our eyes, not covered by any veil. — This is where religion and art part company.

Ok, so I don’t know how much they share that last sentiment, but the likeness is enough to make me grin.


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