Literature Information: Alexander Pope's Essays

A introduction to Alexander Pope's

Enlightenment thinkers maintain faith in the abilities of mankind to uncover and solve pressing problems of the time. They believe that human beings are rational creatures, capable of employing reason and logic in order to obtain additional amounts of knowledge. Rene Descartes embodies the Enlightenment philosophy by stating, "I think, therefore I am." The worth of human beings stems from their reasoning faculties and the ability to understand the unexplainable. Alexander Pope's Essay on Man articulates Enlightenment thinking because it exemplifies the spirit of enquiry during the period, shows human beings as rational creatures, and reveals the inherent organization of society.

During the period of Enlightenment, a frenzy of exploration and investigation pervade society. Pope states that humanity wants to "vindicate the ways of God to man." Human beings are discontent regarding their lack of knowledge of the surrounding world and seek to uncover the plan of God through reason. By observing the world around them, mankind believes that knowledge will ensue because human beings possess the ability to draw conclusions regarding evidence obtained through observation. At the commencement of the poem, Pope exclaims, "Awake, my St. John!" Pope wishes to reveal that human beings have no time to waste and need to begin using their reasoning faculties in order to solve the pressing problems facing the human race. He believes in the spirit of inquiry resulting in knowledge and insight and he possesses contempt for those unwilling to take action.

Throughout Pope's Essay on Man, he not only reveals the spirit of inquiry prevalent throughout society, he portrays human beings as rational creatures capable of using reason to investigate the surrounding world. Pope believes that reason is a "nice barrier" which separates mankind from all others. The faculties of reason are only granted to human beings and thus, mankind must take advantage of this unique ability they possess. No other creature is blessed with reason; human beings can use reason and logic to discern knowledge that is solely relegated to the powers of a Supreme Being.



Through the use of reason and investigation, humanity can discover the natural organization of society. Pope believes that "the general order"┬Žis kept by nature, and is kept in man." There is a sense of order prevalent in nature, and Pope assumes that this organization can be transferred to society as well. By the observations of human beings, the organization of nature will be revealed and can then be employed to instigate this natural order among mankind. Pope states that the "mighty maze [of mortal life is] not without a plan." Although the workings of society may appear unintelligible, Enlightenment thinkers believe that the interactions between humanity are connected to the interactions within nature. Through a closer scrutiny of the natural state, order will ultimately result because the rules set by nature also work to govern mankind.

By showing humanity engaging in an investigation of nature, possessing the rational characteristic of reason and discovering an innate order to society, Pope employs his Essay on Man in order to propagate Enlightenment philosophy. During this period, mankind wishes to understand the unexplainable problems in society and questions the answers previously given to appease society. Human beings use their reasoning capabilities in an effort to uncover knowledge and stray from traditional thought or explanation. By combining mankind's rational abilities with a spirit of investigation, humanity hopes to discover the order inherent in nature in an effort to ultimately transfer this organization to human society.

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