Term Paper: Man as a Manifesto

Pages: 7 (2280 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Black Studies - Philosophy  ·  Buy This Paper


[. . .] In his characteristically methodical approach, Pope attempts to create a blueprint of reasoning:

What can we reason, but from what we know?

Of man, what see we but his station here,

From which to reason, or to which refer?

Through worlds unnumbered though the God be known,

Tis ours to trace him only in our own. (1.1.18-22)

These lines dovetail well with the central belief of Rationalism, which is that man can employ reason to unearth truth. Pope is saying that man can reason with the information he already has, deductively. From the truths man knows, new truths can be obtained. Interestingly, Pope makes an allusion to Milton's Paradise Lost early in "Epistle 1" ("Alexander Pope" 2263). Pope's desire to "vindicate the ways of God to man" (1.16) closely follows Milton's mission to "justify the ways of God to men" (I.26).

Here, Pope supports this cause by referring to the vastness of the universe, which man cannot see or understand, but which God knows. Pope compares the impossibility of understanding the universe to man's potential for understanding portions of his own world, "tracing" God on our own Earth. The separation between God's omniscience and man's limitations is great, a fact which Pope seems to use as evidence for "vindicating" God's plan. Man cannot negatively judge what he has no power to comprehend. Syllogistic reasoning such as this is common throughout An Essay on Man, and Pope uses it here to defend God's ways. The use of syllogism, which is the cornerstone of deductive reasoning, is in itself a manifestation of Pope's adherence to the philosophy of Rationalism.

Another occurrence of syllogistic reasoning in An Essay on Man occurs in section 6 of "Epistle 1." Pope remarks that only man, of all creatures on Earth, is dissatisfied with his lot in life, wanting powers that belong to God and to other beasts. Therefore, because he is alone in his dissatisfaction, man is unreasonable. Dissatisfaction, according to Pope, is one of man's greatest faults; it is also an effective preventative to societal progress, which is a theme that appears repeatedly throughout An Essay on Man. If man concerns himself only with what he does not have, he is unable to see other truths. Pope then goes on to discuss the reasons why it would not be advantageous for man to have additional powers, and indeed, why man should not even desire to be altered in such a way.

Why has not man a microscopic eye?

For this plain reason, man is not a fly.

Say what the use, were finer optics given,

To inspect a mite, not comprehend the heaven? (1.6.193-196)

Were men flies with a hundred eyes, they would be able to see microscopically, but they would not be able to grasp the largeness of the universe (1.6.185-206). In Pope's opinion, the uniquely human ability to comprehend a wider truth is more important to the individual than is the ability to physically see better (or run faster); the ability to understand supercedes physical invulnerability and prowess. Man is gifted with the ability to reason, a gift man should use more gratefully.

Pragmatically, Alexander Pope's An Essay on Man is an ambitious treatise with an incredibly large scope: it attempts to instruct the reader on how best to put into practice the philosophy of Rationalism. Each of the tenants of Enlightenment Rationalism are addressed: observation of the natural world as a path to other earthly discoveries; use of the scientific method to learn about the characteristics of society and of man; and utilization of newly-learned truths to improve and to benefit society (McKay, Bennett, and Buckler 604). In simple prose-poetry, Pope rhapsodizes upon the virtues of a reasonable life. However, An Essay on Man is also a paradigm of the English literature written after the Restoration (Evans 203). Pope's poem delivers its moral, philosophical, and societal lessons to the reader via a multitude of heroic couplets, an important classical form ("Alexander Pope" 2214). In keeping with the spirit of its age, An Essay on Man is unsentimental, concerns itself with the philosophical, the moral, the progressive, and most significantly, with the use of the mind for reasoning and for seeking truth.

Works Cited

Alexander Pope." The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Sixth Edition, Volume 1. Ed.

M.H. Abrams. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1993. 2212-2216.

Evans, Ifor. A Short History of English Literature. Baltimore: Penguin Books Inc., 1962.

McKay, John P., Bennett D. Hill, and John Buckler. A History of Western Civilization.

Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999.

Milton, John. Paradise Lost. The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Sixth Edition,

Volume 1. Ed M.H. Abrams. New York: W.W.… [END OF PREVIEW]

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