History, Philosophy and Language: A Happy Case of Will Durant’s Heroes of History
Department of Communication Skills, MEFGI, Rajkot
From the school days, I had developed a strange distaste for reading any history or philosophy due to the dull language. However, reading The Story of Philosophy by Will Durant changed my perception about the two great subjects. He has ways with the words. In fact, the whole exercise made me love the concept of history and philosophy, at times more than literature.
Then the book called A Case for India was a booster in my relationship with history. Will Durant knows philosophy and that’s why knows how to use language. The lesson that I learnt is, no subject is dry or dull except the writer makes it with poor language.
Finally, icing of the cake was his third book that I have recently read, Heroes of History which happens to be transcriptions of his radio talks on his voluminous work The Story of Civilization. I am not going to critique his language, philosophy or history. Rather, I am presenting to you, slices from the book so that you decide for yourself.
DISCLAIMER: You might fall in love with reading History and Philosophy!
Excerpts from the book:
“To me history is a part of philosophy is an attempt to achieve a wide perspective, a large perspective of life and reality—a large perspective which will then determine your attitude toward any part of reality or life, for example, will it make you more understanding and forgiving? Now you can achieve a large perspective in at least two ways, one through science, by studying the various sciences that colour all the aspects of external reality, but you can also achieve a large perspective by studying history, which is the history is the study of events in time---rather than of things in space I gave up the first kind, because I felt that it was too external and mathematical; it was unreal to the element of vitality that the I found in myself and in other things. I said that I will study history to find out wants man is –I can’t find that out through science. So that history is the attempt to achieve in time. Consequently, if you will allow me to say it, I believe I am a philosopher writing history.
Human history is a fragment
Furthermore, in those thousand times a thousand years, man had to be pugnacious, always ready to fight---for his food, his mate, of his life. If he could, he took more mates then mates than one, for hunting and fighting were mortally dangerous and left a surplus of women over men; so the male is still pugnacious [or pugnacious] by nature. He had little reason to contracept, for children became assets in the hut and later in the hunting pack. For these and other reasons acquisitiveness, pugnacity, and ready sexuality were virtues in the hunting stage—that is, they were qualities that made for survival.
Brilliant though he may be, he is basically tributary to the female, who is the womb and mainstream of the race.
Man is woman’s last domestic animal; only partially and reluctantly civilized.
But it realized that if acquisitiveness were not checked it would lead to retail theft, wholesale robbery, politics corruption, and to such concentration of wealth as would invite revolution.
If pugnacity were not checked, it would lead to brawls at every corner, to domination of every neighborhood by its heaviest thug, to the division of every city by rival gangs. If sex were not controlled, it would leave every girl at the mercy of every seducer, every wife at the mercy and youth, and would make not only every park, but every street, unsafe for any woman. Those powerful instincts had to be controlled, or social order and communal life would have been impossible, and men would have remained savages.
The hunting—stage instincts were controlled partly by law and police, party by a precarious general agreement called morality. The acquisitive impulses were checked by outlawing concentration of wealth. The spirit of pugnacity was restrained by inflicting punishing injury to persons or property. Sexual impulses—only slightly less powerful than hunger—were disciplined to manageable order by banning their public excitation and by trying to channel them at an early age into responsible marriage.
Civilization is social order promoting cultural creation.
All things in nature work silently. They come into being and possess nothing. They fulfill their function and make no claim. All things alike do their work, and then we see them subside. When they have reached their bloom each returns to its origin. Returning to their origin means rest, or fulfillment of destiny. This reversion is an eternal law. To know that law is wisdom.
If you do not quarrel, no one on earth will be able to quarrel with you…..Recompense injury with kindness… To those who are good, and to those who are not good I am good. To those who are sincere I am sincere, and to those who are not sincere I am also sincere, and thus all get to be sincere. The softest thing in the world in the world… overcomes the hardest.
To the Chinese the ideal is not the pious devotee but the mature and quiet mind.
Wise man does not speak, for wisdom can never be transmitted by words, only by example and experience. If the wise man known more than other men he tries to conceal it; “he will temper his brightness, and bring himself into agreement with the obscurity of others. He agrees with the simple rather than with the learned, and does not take hurt from the novice’s contradiction.” He attaches no importance to riches or power, but reduces his desires to an almost Buddhist minimum.”