An Essay on Man "The Proper Study Of Mankind Is Man"

Alexander Pope

"The Proper Study Of Mankind Is Man"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Like many Europeans of his time, Pope believed in a universal and unchanging order in the world. Everything has its place, for him, in a vast chain of being. The question then is not whether man is perfect, but whether man is as perfect as he ought to be for the place he occupies in the scheme of things. The business of man cannot be to pry into God's plans; man is only to study himself and his own place in the chain of being. Following this admonition, which appears at the beginning of Epistle II, Pope looks at mankind, seeing two principles, self-love and reason, which the poet examines closely:

Know then thyself; presume not God to scan,
The proper study of mankind is Man.
Placed on this isthmus of a middle state,
A being darkly wise and rudely great:
With too much knowledge for the Sceptic side,
And too much weakness for the Stoic's pride,
He hangs between; in doubt to act or rest;
In doubt to deem himself a God or Beast;
In doubt his mind or body to prefer;
Born but to die, and reas'ning but to err.
Alike in ignorance, his reason such,
Whether he thinks too little or too much.