The Sound and the Fury

Science is the analytical description, philosophy is synthetic interpretation. Science wishes to resolve the whole into parts, the organism into organs, the obscure into the known. It does not inquire into the values and ideal possibilities of things, nor into their total and final significance; it is content to show their present actuality and operation, it narrows its gaze resolutely to the nature and process of things as they are. The scientist is as impartial as Nature in Turgenev’s poem: he is as interested in the leg of a flea as in the creative throes of a genius. But the philosopher is not content to describe the fact; he wishes to ascertain its relation to experience in general, and thereby to get at its meaning and its worth; he combines things in interpretive synthesis; he tries to put together, better than before, that great universe-watch which the inquisitive scientist has analytically taken apart. Science tells us how to heal and how to kill; it reduces the death rate in retail and then kills us wholesale in war; but only wisdom — desire coordinated in the light of all experience — can tell us when to heal and when to kill. To observe processes and to construct means is science; to criticize and coordinate ends is philosophy: and because in these days our means and instruments have multiplied beyond our interpretation and synthesis of ideals and ends, our life is full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. For a fact is nothing except in relation to desire; it is not complete except in relation to a purpose and a whole. Science without philosophy, facts without perspective and valuation, cannot save us from havoc and despair. Science gives us knowledge, but only philosophy can give us wisdom.

–from the introduction to Will Durant’s The Story of Philosophy

Since this book was first published in the 1920s, I guess by “sound and fury” Willie D. was referring to crazy new inventions like the telegraph and jazz music. It’s kinda like when Dogen tells us not to be too enticed by pretty flowers — at the time it was a major distraction from the time one could be spending on (non)attaining nirvana, or exploring the superunknown.

Will was a funny guy — a fine writer, and full of interesting quirks. For example, in the first few lines of Chapter 1, he discounts 20th century Asia Minor as “quiet and apathetic,” and goes on to say that Socrates’ bust is so hideous, he looks more like a porter than a philosopher. ZOMG dude u r so judgmental!!1!

Cool book, though a little wordy. Durant wrote a bunch in this series, giving a chronological rundown in the major events of history, philosophy, great civilizations and thinkers, etc. They’re certainly better than the dime-a-dozen history books you can buy on Amazon on any subject and be absolutely mired in poor sources or a lack of inspiration (I’m looking at you Stephen Turnbull and Thomas Cleary).

Still, I cannot even begin to assess the can of worms that the quote above opened. Better to zip my lips. For once I’d like to write a post that doesn’t generate boatloads of hate mail.


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