Core: noun, the most important part of a thing, the essence; from the Latin cor, meaning heart.

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 Volume 2.6 This View’s Prose October 14, 2002 

    At Every Point Related to Life    

Scientists are growing more and more chary of using any forms of speech at all. Words like “idea,” “matter,” “existence,” and their derivatives have become suspect. “Old truths have to be abandoned, general terms of everyday use which we thought to be the keys to understanding will now no longer fit the lock. Evolution, yes, but be very careful with it, for the concept is slightly rusty. Elements... their immutability no longer exists. Causation... on the whole there is little one can do with the concept; it breaks at the slightest usage. Natural laws... certainly, but better not talk too much of absolute validity. Objectivity... it is still our duty as well as our ideal, but its perfect realization is not possible, at least not for the social sciences and the humanities” [Huizinga: In the Shadow of To-morrow.]

This difficulty which confronts the scientists and has compelled their flight into formulae is the result of a failure to understand or accept the analogical nature of language. Men of science spend much time and effort in the attempt to disentangle words from their metaphorical and traditional associations; the attempt is bound to prove vain since it runs counter to the law of humanity.

The confusion and difficulty are increased by the modern world’s preoccupation with the concept of progress. This concept — now rapidly becoming as precarious as those others quoted by Huizinga — imposes upon the human mind two (in the hypnotic sense) “suggestions.” The first is that any invention or creative act will necessarily tend to supersede an act of earlier date. This may be true of mechanical inventions and scientific formulae: we may say, for example, that the power-loom has superseded the hand-loom, or that Einsteinian physics has superseded Newtonian physics, and mean something by saying so. But there is no sense whatever in which we can say that Hamlet has “superseded” the Agamemnon, or that

you who were with me in the ships at Mylae
has superseded
en la sua voluntade è nostra pace
tendebantque manus ripae ulterioris amore.

The later in date leaves the earlier achievement unconquered and unchanged; that which was at the summit remains at the summit until the end of time.

The second suggestion is that, once an invention has been brought into being and made public by a creative act, the whole level of human understanding is raised to the level of that inventiveness. This is not true, even within its own sphere of application. The fact that every schoolboy can now use logarithms does not lift him to the intellectual level of the brain that first imagined the method of logarithmic calculation.

But the absurdity of the suggestion becomes glaringly obvious when we consider the arts. If a ruthless education in Shakespeare’s language could produce a nation of Shakespeares, every Englishman would at this moment be a dramatic genius. Actually, all that such an education can possibly do is to improve a little the general apparatus of linguistic machinery and so make the way smooth for the appearance of the still rare, still incalculable genius. Genius is, in fact, not subject to the “law” of progress, and it is beginning to be extremely doubtful whether progress is a “law” at all.

For these reasons, we need not allow ourselves to be abashed by any suggestion that the old metaphors are out of date and ought to be superseded. We have only to remember that they are, and always were, metaphors, and that they are still “living” metaphors so long as we use them to interpret direct experience. Metaphors become dead only when the metaphor is substituted for the experience, and the argument carried on in a sphere of abstraction without being at every point related to life.


Dorothy Sayers (1893-1957)


The Mind of the Maker (1941)
Chapter III “Idea, Energy, Power” pp. 43ff


    The Defense of Liberty    
    What constitutes the bulwark of our own liberty and independence? It is not our frowning battlements, our bristling seacoasts, the guns of our war steamers, or the strength of our gallant and disciplined army. These are not our reliance against a resumption of tyranny in our fair land. All of them may be turned against our liberties, without making us stronger or weaker for the struggle. Our reliance is in the love of liberty which God has planted in our bosoms. Our defense is in the preservation of the spirit which prizes liberty as the heritage of all men, in all lands, everywhere. Destroy this spirit, and you have planted the seeds of despotism around your own doors. Familiarize yourselves with the chains of bondage, and you are preparing your own limbs to wear them. Accustomed to trample on the rights of those around you, you have lost the genius of your own independence, and become the fit subjects of the first cunning tyrant who rises.
    Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)
    from Speech at Edwardsville, Illinois, September 11, 1858
Collected Works
Volume III p. 95

 Volume 2.6 This View’s Prose October 14, 2002 

The View from the Core, and all original material, © E. L. Core 2002. All rights reserved.

Cor ad cor loquitur J. H. Newman — “Heart speaks to heart”