Stretching his hand out to catch the stars, he forgets the flowers at his feet
One principal reason why our existence has so much less of happiness crowded into it than is accessible to us is, that we neglect to gather up those minute particles of pleasure which every moment offers to our acceptance. In striving after a sum total, we forget the cyphers of which it is composed. Struggling against inevitable results which he cannot control, too often man is heedless of those accessible pleasures, whose amount is by no means inconsiderable when collected together. Stretching his hand out to catch the stars, he forgets the flowers at his feet, – so beautiful, so fragrant, so various, so multitudinous.
Why did I post this quote?
A lot of what I quote here is meant to make readers curious. I want you to be able to go straight to a published source and read. This one, not so much. It’s unlikely to be easy to track down, and the style of writing is off-putting to today’s reader – unless you really, really, really want to go there.
I am posting this excerpt to re-affirm the place of today’s humanity within a larger and long-term whole. “Struggling against inevitable results which he cannot control, too often man is heedless of those accessible pleasures” sounds a lot like me, fumbling for my reading glasses so that I can read the display on my cell phone.
As far as “The Science of Morality,” I’m a get your laws off my body person who wonders why we can’t all just get along. My first reaction was to cringe and expect dogma. Dusty dogma.
And then I looked. At the tender age of eleven, Jeremy Bentham chose to become a reformer. Why? He was outraged by the legal inequality of women. For a moment, the mother in me was right there next to him, proud, proud, proud.
Bentham was an independent thinker who didn’t mind taking on popular ideas, or ideas that would have been unusual for his lifetime. His writings on de-criminalizing homosexuality were considered to be too controversial to publish; in his time, sodomy was punishable by hanging. It wasn’t that he approved of homosexuality – he objected to having a separate set of laws to regulate the private actions of a separate group. He didn’t have to agree. He did want it to be fair, equitable. The guy had logic, even (and maybe especially) concerning socially uncomfortable topics. I admire people who can write with a lot of logic and opinion and very little “I’m right because I’m right.”
I got more than I bargained for. I thought I’d offer up a sweet thought about reaching for stars without forgetting the flowers at our feet, but as I researched the quote’s source I wandered into something deeper. This is why I want you to know the origins of these excerpts. By giving you the source, I am opening a window that goes both ways. You can look inside, and ideas can flow through to meet you.
For a taste of more, Wikipedia’s Jeremy Bentham page gives a sense of an independent thinker who wrote thoughtful, vigorous essays about controversial, ground-breaking ideas. He sounds like a fascinating man. Soon, more will be more available in print: The Bentham Project of University College London is working to publish a new edition of Bentham’s collected works.