The Importance of Being Earnest :: Comedy Irony Papers
Beginning, however, with that zealous Protestant, the old Xenophanes, the austerer minds, moralists, naturalists, and wits, united in decrying the fanciful polytheism of the poets. This criticism was in one sense unjust; it did not consider the original justification of mythology in human nature and in the external facts. It was, like all heresy or partial scepticism, in a sense superficial and unphilosophical. It was far from conceiving that its own tenets and assumptions were as groundless, without being as natural or adequate, as the system it attacked. To a person sufficiently removed by time or by philosophy from the controversies of sects, orthodoxy must always appear right and heresy wrong ; for he sees in orthodoxy the product of the creative mind, of faith and constructive logic, but in heresy only the rebellion of some partial interest or partial insight against the corollaries of a formative principle imperfectly grasped and obeyed with hesitation. At a distance, the criticism that disintegrates any great product of art or mind must always appear short-sighted and unamiable.
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[The intuition of truth which we may draw from the earnest and deep-rooted conviction of many conscientious people who are sure that there is absolute contingency in their deliberate choices is] the inadequacy of the conscious arguments crowding and disputing in the mind to cause or justify the decisions taken. With this comes also the intuition of a positive truth, that beneath that loud forum of sophistical pleadings there is a silent judge, the self, that decides according to its free will, contingently, and inexplicably. For the close texture of events in nature is what it is by chance; yet what it is by chance determines, according to the occasion offered, what it shall do by nature. The affinities of this self are far more constant and certain than the passing passions or influences that may absorb conscious attention. Therefore the self can check its reasoning fancy; it can repel sensuous suggestions; it can seek dangerous adventures apparently without reason; it can recover its freedom, and reverse its habits and opinions. Moreover, this hidden self is, like every other centre or kind of movement in nature, perfectly contingent in being groundlessly determinate; and to this profound characteristic of all existence self-consciousness bears witness in the conviction that a man is the author of his actions, and that his actions are free.
I am also in doubt about "social humanism" being implicit in my physics. Materialism may, psychologically, be allied in the materialist's mind with one or another view in ethics and politics. That will depend, if materialism is true, on the man's heritage and circumstances. In that sense I entirely accept historical materialism, which is only an application of materialism to history. But the phrase carries now an association with Hegelian or Marxian dialectic, which if meant to be more than the doctrine of universal flux, is a denial of materialism. My personal sympathies are personal, and of no ultimate importance: what is implied in my natural philosophy is that all moralities and inspirations are natural, biological, animal preferences or obsessions, changing and passing with the organisms and habits that gave them birth. That is not the Catholic doctrine, which you say I represent; but it is quite compatible with liking Catholic ways, considered as a form of human society and human imagination. Yet even there, I prefer the Greeks.
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Critical essay importance of being earnest
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