What can we reason but from what we know?

An excerpt from An Essay On Man by Alexander Pope, 1734:


queensferrylampost220300Say first, of God above or Man below
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?
Thro’ worlds unnumber’d tho’ the God be known,
‘Tis ours to trace him only in our own.
He who thro’ vast immensity can pierce,
See worlds on worlds compose one universe,
Observe how system into system runs,
What other planets circle other suns,
What varied being peoples every star,
May tell why Heav’n has made us as we are:
But of this frame, the bearings and the ties,
The strong connexions, nice dependencies,
Gradations just, has thy pervading soul
Look’d thro’; or can a part contains the whole?

Is the great chain that draws all to agree,
And drawn supports, upheld by God or thee?


On its publication in 1734, An Essay on Man met with great admiration throughout Europe. Voltaire called it “the most beautiful, the most useful, the most sublime didactic poem ever written in any language.” In 1756, Rousseau wrote to Voltaire admiring the poem and saying that it “softens my ills and brings me patience.” Kant was fond of the poem and would recite long passages of the poem to his students. Voltaire later satirized some of Pope’s themes in Candide.

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