Tag Archives: samuel johnson

Samuel Johnson Rambles on the practicality of knowledge – essay

Ignorance is the timorous and indolent plight from fear because knowledge is considered to be remotely extensive and inscrutable to be comprehended. It retards the progress of the mind and numbs the sense. Samuel Johnson avers in his weekly essay ‘The Rambler, No. 137’ avers that one remains unenlightened unless he is diligent to search for the origin of wonder with a pause of reason, a sudden cessation of mental progress when confronting the unknown to him. The need for general knowledge, the knowledge that confers Citizenship of the World, is an essential element of human characteristics, and an easy task to fulfill in search of meaning in life.

Johnson’s idea of knowledge is simplicity. It is jettisoned from a concatenation of needless abstrusely sophisticated theories and ideologies. It also chimes the bell with the Renaissance virtuoso Leonard da Vinci’s adage that simplicity is the ultimate sophistication in all principles. However intimidating or formidable the unknown is, the essential feature is simple to understand by way of ‘Divide and Conquer,” a principle that complication is a confederacy of the abstruse that can be broken into parts marked by the gradations from the first agent to the last consequence. The force that breaks the shackle of fear for conquering the unknown huddle is patient diligence armored in confidence. The labor of inquiry for wonder follows natural curiosity and confidence that eclipses the soul’s darkness. It comes to fruition by ceaseless efforts to ascertain the origin of the wonder in simple ways. The English philosopher who also advocated democratic pedagogy, John Locke, affirms that the surest way of thorough comprehension knowledge is to attempt little by way of repetition. For the widest excursions of the mind result from short flights of mental imagery and instant thoughts triggered by neurons fired in our cerebral cortex, which can be transformed into an organization of ideas firmly engraved in the mind.

However, knowledge loses its purpose if it dissipates into the possessor’s cerebral ether or is locked in the mind’s cabinet. It becomes useful and purposeful when put into practice. That is why Johnson gives heed to those who pride themselves in the impressive educational backgrounds and belittle others whose mental capacities they arbitrarily judge ignorable or even ordinary. Knowledge is for share, and it is a duty of a scholar who has a wider variety of knowledge through years of academic endeavors for the common benefits of the world he lives in. As Francis Bacon fittingly concurs, books can never teach the use of books. Generally speaking, it is common for intellectuals, despite their ostensible calls for democracy and justice for all, to live out of touch with the practical realities of life and often regard such matters as trifles. But what is worthy of their glorious learning if it does not accommodate the purpose of life? Johnson criticizes such lofty arrogance of the rarified subset of the general population because they lose their days in unsocial silence and live in the crowd of life without a touch of humanity. It also reminds me of Bacon’s utterance of loneliness in a group as such: “Magna Civitas, Magna solitudo.” In this regard, George Orwell is together with Johnson because they saw the educated’s superciliousness, the intellectuals, who often conferred their knowledge to their honor in the voluntary seclusion.

Upon reading Johnson’s essay, I could not help but wholeheartedly agree with the purpose of knowledge and the idea of sharing it with others for the world’s common good. I was also glad to learn that I was not the only one who thought that people with academic credentials were frequently dismissive of the opinions of what they regarded as the mortals of the ordinary among whom I am. Therefore, I hope that the reader who reads this essay of mine should not belittle the soul attempting to obtain the sunshine of the light of letters to understand the world in a perspicuous way to declare to the world that I also can think and express it cogently. That is my essay on knowledge for the purpose of life.

Samuel Johnson Rambles on Dictatorship over Feelings

VFS109729 Dr. Johnson (1709-84) at Cave’s the Publisher, 1854 (oil on canvas); by Wallis, Henry (1830-1916); 49.5×59.7 cm; Private Collection; English, out of copyright

Temperance is not an abnegation of sensuous pleasure that is innate to our human nature. It is one’s willingness and ability to rein in his or her horse of impulsive id under moderation lest the driver of the mind chariot lose the control and fall by the wayside of life’s journey and leave it in the lurch of spiritual anomy. Yet, to obliterate the pleasure of the taste that our sense requires for nourishing the body and soul will only produce counterintuitive consequences, leading to noogenic neurosis, chronic depression, or existential frustration that life is nothing but a vast vacant lot. That is what Samuel Johnson, one of the great writers of the English language and a trailblazer of the English dictionary, discerned in his brilliantly unbridled and witty essay ‘The Rambler, No. 32, written on Saturday, July 7th, 1750.

Johnson was an intellectual of the best kind: erudite in the scope of knowledge drawn on his wealth of reading, artless in expressing his views on the Pooterish lettered caste that prided themselves on the florid display of arcane words and difficult syntax, and charitable in recognition of the vicissitudes of human life without prejudice. Perhaps, such admirable traits contributed to creating a dictionary of the English language, which required the universal understanding of humanity to comprehend the origins and meanings of a language of any kind. According to Johnson, Stoicism seemed too puffed up with its lofty philosophical principles of restraining feelings that would only beget misapprehension of the old school of thought for denying the most natural human emotions.

Emotions measure changes on a continuum of arousal on the one hand and the pleasantness and unpleasantness on the other. For example, High Arousal and High Unpleasantness produce Fear, whereas High Arousal and High Pleasantness equal to Ecstasy. Low Arousal and High Unpleasantness beget Misery, but Low Arousal and High Pleasantness lead to Satisfaction, which is a positive emotion. It is this physiological state of feeling that Johnson deemed it desirable in the face of existential frustration. One in despair can not eradicate the low tide of an emotional wave but can divert it in a direction that gives a fresh viewpoint on the heart’s malady, thus making life worthwhile to continue with every new try. It is logical reasoning because consciousness predicts the world we live in, a constant revolving hypothesis of reality triggered by neurons in the visual cortex. Since the brain does not have a function to think of itself, it uses a template of emotional scripts based on experience. Thus, instead of willing away unpleasant emotions, one can translate it on a different emotional template, measuring it on the arousal continuum for positive emotional affects. 

While Stoicism advocates the puritanical governance of the sense and taste for Reason’s eminence, humanity’s natural law revolts against the unnaturally philosophical dictatorship under the disguise of decency and propriety. Stoicism is a school of philosophy that distinguishes the cult from “the sensibilities of unenlightened mortals.” Johnson was right in saying that repressed feelings about pain could only lead to a dormant sense of guilt in a denial of physical reality and later erupt into violent tantrums or perverted forms of debauchery. Pain is part of life, and the way to relieve its severity is by way of finding its riddle with fortitude through doing things that channel the concentration on the pain to something meaningfully pleasant, creating a sense of fulfillment. This concept is also parallel to Viktor E. Frankl’s Logotherapy, a school of psychotherapy about willingness to meaning in life as a result of responding genuinely and humanly to life’s challenges. Both Johnson and Frankl denied no tactile sense of pain, emotional or physical, and prescribed a palliative solution for mitigating a malady of heart.

Johnson’s essay on criticism on Stoicism agrees with my idea of expressing genuine feelings about sadness to effectively communicate to listeners’ hearts in a compassionately empathic way so that pains will be less burdened, griefs shared in halves, and loneliness complemented in companionship. Likewise, I believe that suicidal feelings arise from that utterly helpless loneliness alienated from the world. They are usually concealed by the actor’s self-made barriers, where the emotions are despotically imprisoned. And I believe that Johnson would have agreed with me.