Dialogues In Limbo

by George Santayana
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"The Young Man Who Has Not Wept Is A Savage, And The Old Man Who Will Not Laugh Is A Fool"

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Last Updated on January 19, 2017, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 213

Context: Santayana develops his theme by means of a dialogue among several shades, including Democritus and Alcibiades, and the spirit of a Stranger from earth. The Greek philosopher Democritus, an exponent of atomism, argues that man's madness–the opinion that he has of things around him–is natural but that philosophy can teach him the true nature of things. Supporting Democritus' theory, the Stranger from earth tells the story of a child who had given beautiful names to flowers and plants and who then burst out crying when a botanist told him that they were only flowers and plants. The Athenian general Alcibiades, presented in the flower of his youth, says he would have cried too if he had seen his moments of crowning triumph as only clouds of atoms. The shock of seeing reality as it is, Democritus adds, is natural and man has a right to weep. He concedes the necessity of the illusion in which man encloses reality; yet, he says, philosophy has the duty of teaching the truth. He then says to Alcibiades:

Has not my own heart been pierced? Shed your tears, my son, shed your tears. The young man who has not wept is a savage, and the old man who will not laugh is a fool.

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