Despite his great moral sentiments Rousseau was a fool for condemning the arts and sciences. For these productions are the saving graces of an overall wretched condition. Unlike the beasts of the earth Man requires living quarters to live comfortably. He is easily perturbed by the heat and cold. His mind is a developing thing that will suffer from malnutrition, just as he suffers from an empty stomach. Though perhaps malnutrition of the mind is worse than of the body; for while a complete lack of sustenance merely causes death in the individual (which as I already posited is nothing to be feared and has no evil in its own right but only how people respond to it) lack of cultivation in the mind leads towards baseness, irrational fear and concerns and the agonies of living.
Baseness comes to the ignoramus through lack of reflection and appreciation of the “higher appetites.” Mill is famous for appreciating the higher pleasures in life and giving them their proper place, though perhaps not for the correct reason. Hedonistic pursuit of the lower pleasures often leads to excess, poor character and greater pain than pleasure as Epicurus and others point out. Poor character too adds to the pain of living, which is inflicted upon others, and the sensual, hedonist way of living makes a man always craving satisfaction but never being satisfied. This is how Schopenhauer depicts humanity generally, and though he may be correct of the desirous aspect, perhaps even defining aspect, of the human condition he is wrong to paint Man with such a broad brush. Many most of the time find ways to fill their time that are not vain attempts to satiate some great longing as Schopenhauer describes it. Schopenhauer is very astute, but he seems to ignore how often we can content ourselves with simple entertainment or productive tasks and instead views the contentment attained from art as a momentary and occasional respite. But now I’m getting ahead of myself.
Irrational fears and concerns take up the uneducated or uncultured man once again through lack of sober reflection. Once we realize that we will not be present at our deaths, and that the only true evil in this life (and all things are to be measured through living things) is pain we do not fear death, nor morn the dead but feel glad they have been given such a breath of compassion from fate. These irrational and in some cases immoral sentiments take hold of Man most regularly through religious indoctrination and observance. Rousseau once said that Man was born free but everywhere lived in chains and this observance should include the mental manacles that are forced on him particularly through the Abrahamic faiths. Fear of God is the existence of pain that is nothing more than needless suffering. It is a form of childish worry that plagues millions who have developed physically but are still in some ways mentally prepubescent. Also the moral values of certain interpretations of the faiths are dreadful and increase suffering. Would it be not for religion would any sane person both condemn sexual pleasure and congratulate the bringing of another innocent life into this hellish world? Particularly when one’s own situation is hellish? These Pro-Natal sentiments I would argue are inevitable by-products in our species and in a sense only manifest themselves in the religions but the fact remains that they take form due to ignorance and lack of reflection which the faiths create materially through poverty and socially through ostracizing Atheists and encouraging faith over critical thinking.
Much of life is an insignificant concern, as I’ve already stated. And though some have a naturally carefree temperament which is to be envied much concern themselves with trifles or past grievances that are best left unremembered. Our entire lives are but a brief episode in a meaningless Universe. And while we live we should endeavor that our time (collectively) be as pain-free and tranquil as possible – this is the project of ethics and civilization that requires both the tutelage of the sciences and arts.
The proper placing of the arts and sciences I have explored in another essay On Art Surpassing the Sciences in both Utility and Creativity, so I will make the remainder of this essay merely an addendum to it.
It must be said that while art has a cause to inspire action, science has the cause (or role) to make said action(s) possible and done with greater ease. However, due-to the nature of our Universe and our biology this leaves science in both a “better” and “worse” off role ethically speaking. It is better because of the poor state Man finds himself in. Ignorant, alone against the elements, prone to illness and injury, Man requires technology to defend himself and alleviate himself from the elements – both macro and micro. However, because pain is so much easier to stimulate than pleasure, and because human nature is unfortunately largely egotistical, unskeptical and tribal, science is used to control and dominate rather than to cure and aid. Modern weaponry is an example of human sophistication being used for endless savagery. The human mind can only create what it has motive for, and a mind without ethical intent will create without ethical regard – though those with ethical intent can still create that which will create much misery.
Art too, however, can and in some periods was used for largely nefarious reasons. For just as I mentioned the capacity for art to inspire compassion and sympathy so it can be used to inspire hatred and malice. A Sociological examination of a society is required to see the specifics of the art and science it produces, which is separate than its good or ill. Art largely however has the potential to have humans temporarily embody a mind and live a life that is not their own and for that reason among others it still surpasses the natural sciences.
Both are necessary for human beings to live well. But only art is necessary for human beings to be well in their actions. As I’ve already stated: the role of the sciences is to make actions possible or less strenuous, it is culture broadly speaking that motivates those actions.