Brilliant insight

21 Jul

I found this quote from the Spanish-born American philosopher George Santayana:
    ‘Music is essentially useless, as life is.’

In its shocking pithy way, this sentence confronts the life-destroying fixation with function, with utility, that pervades almost everything, in our present situation.

We want to know what is the use of something, everything—and every one.
We demand this of ourselves. We want to be useful. We do not want to
face the reality that in crucial ways we are not ‘useful’, and for
really significant parts of our lives we are not much ‘use’.
So many of us spend our lives justifying our existence, we think, through ‘achieving’ things.
(Christians deny faith in doing this, constantly!)

Indeed the confrontation of this idea of utility as the be-all and
end-all is crucial for civil society, as it threatens to undermine the
most fundamental of human rights.
If utility reigns, then soon we will see no value in the ‘disabled’,
the frail aged, and it will not be long before we find ways to limit
their lives.

No, life is not about utility. In an important sense, life is ‘useless’, like music. But what beauty and joy they bring!

Indeed, in the paragrpah from which this sentence comes, Santayana went on to say so. Here it is in full:
    ‘Music is essentially useless, as life is: but both have an ideal extension which lends utility to its conditions’. (Life of Reason, Volume 4, chapter 4)

These ‘useless’ things can contribute something to the ‘utility’ of
life itself. Or, in another way of putting it, life is its own value
and ‘purpose’. Be grateful. Live the joy of beauty, music, life.

3 thoughts on “Brilliant insight

  1. Echoed by the words of Ben Lee (a philosopher for us Generation Ys) –
    “Why?” – Don’t even think it; but “why not?”

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