Desiderius Erasmus: The Praise of Folly (1509)

Science is the Plague of Mankind

But again, the virtuosi may say that there was particularly added to man the knowledge of sciences, by whose help he might recompense himself in understanding for what nature cut him short in other things. As if this had the least face of truth, that Nature that was so solicitously watchful in the production of gnats, herbs, and flowers should have so slept when she made man, that he should have need to be helped by sciences, which that old devil Thoth, the evil genius of mankind, first invented for his destruction, and are so little conducive to happiness that they rather obstruct it; to which purpose they are properly said to be first found out, as that wise king in Plato argues touching the invention of letters.

Sciences therefore crept into the world with other the pests of mankind, from the same head from whence all other mischiefs spring; we'll suppose it devils, for so the name imports when you call them demons, that is to say, knowing. For that simple people of the golden age, being wholly ignorant of everything called learning, lived only by the guidance and dictates of nature; for what use of grammar, where every man spoke the same language and had no further design than to understand one another? What use of logic, where there was no bickering about the double-meaning words? What need of rhetoric, where there were no lawsuits? Or to what purpose laws, where there were no ill manners? from which without doubt good laws first came. Besides, they were more religious than with an impious curiosity to dive into the secrets of nature, the dimension of stars, the motions, effects, and hidden causes of things; as believing it a crime for any man to attempt to be wise beyond his condition. And as to the inquiry of what was beyond heaven, that madness never came into their heads. But the purity of the golden age declining by degrees, first, as I said before, arts were invented by the evil genii; and yet but few, and those too received by fewer. After that the Chaldean superstition and Greek newfangledness, that had little to do, added I know not how many more; mere torments of wit, and that so great that even grammar alone is work enough for any man for his whole life.

Though yet among these sciences those only are in esteem that come nearest to common sense, that is to say, folly. Divines are half starved, naturalists out of heart, astrologers laughed at, and logicians slighted; only the physician is worth all the rest. And among them too, the more unlearned, impudent, or unadvised he is, the more he is esteemed, even among princes. For physic, especially as it is now professed by most men, is nothing but a branch of flattery, no less than rhetoric. Next them, the second place is given to our law-drivers, if not the first, whose profession, though I say it myself, most men laugh at as the ass of philosophy; yet there's scarce any business, either so great or so small, but is managed by these asses. These purchase their great lordships, while in the meantime the divine, having run through the whole body of divinity, sits gnawing a radish and is in continual warfare with lice and fleas.

As therefore those arts are best that have the nearest affinity with folly, so are they most happy of all others that have least commerce with sciences and follow the guidance of Nature, who is in no wise imperfect, unless perhaps we endeavor to leap over those bounds she has appointed to us. Nature hates all false coloring and is ever best where she is least adulterated with art.

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