This I Believe

MacNeice, Louis


  • Louis MacNeice defines beliefs as statements of personal preference, and describes his belief that the world can avoid anarchism because people share many of the same preferences, including the desire to build an orderly society.
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And now, This I Believe, the living philosophies of thoughtful men and women, presented in the hope they may strengthen your beliefs so that your life may be richer, fuller, happier. Here is Edward R. Murrow.
This I Believe. Louis MacNeice is one of England's leading poets and classical scholars. He is particularly well-known to the British radio listener for the many experimental features he has written and produced for the BBC's third program. Now, Louis MacNeice states his personal creed.
When faced with this question, what I believe, I assume it is a question, not so much of fact as of value. The answer,
therefore, should not be such an answer as, “I believe that the cup is on the table,” or “I believe that 2 and 2 make 4.” It should be an answer such as, “I believe in cooking with garlic,” or “I believe in splashing in my bath." This latter kind of answer can’t, as I see it, be assessed purely in terms of fact. I know that there will always be some tiresome person to say, “You believe in cooking with garlic because it stimulates the digestion. So what you really meant was, ‘I believe that cooking with garlic is good for me.’” Well this, of course, is not what I really meant at all. I would still do these things if they were not, in a utilitarian sense, good for me. I enjoy both the taste of garlic and a good splash, and when one enjoys anything it seems to me that that thing
becomes an end in itself, even though at the same time it may be a means to something else.
So this question, what I believe, seems to me to be a question of ends and also of starting points. It’s not a mere question of fact or of utility. Lots of things are useful for the preservation of life, and their comparative usefulness may be a question of fact. But life itself…what is the use of life? I defy any scientist or rationalist or collector of facts to answer that one. Either you assume life is worthwhile or you don’t, and it is a question of value.
Well I, like the vast majority of people, I assume that life is worthwhile, and that is my starting point. But as to the end, merely
to live is inadequate. Some kinds of life seem to me preferable to others. Someone at once, of course, will bring in the De Gustibus argument and say, “That is all very well, but your preferences are not the same as mine. So it’s every man for himself and extreme individualism, which means, collectively, anarchism.” I do not, however, accept this De Gustibus argument. Apart from the facts that whether we want to or not, we have to live in communities, I think that human individuals are much more like each other than they are unlike each other. One may live on bread and another may live on meat, but they all feel hunger when they’re hungry.
And on a much higher plane than that of hunger, I think that all human beings have a hankering after pattern or order. Look at any
child with a box of chalks. There are, of course, evil patterns or orders, which is, perhaps, the great problem of our time. But what I do believe is that as a human being, it is my duty to make patterns and to contribute to order—good patterns and a good order. And when I say duty, I mean duty. I think it is the twin of enjoyment. I believe that life is worthwhile, and I believe that I have to do something for life.
That was the famous English poet and scholar, Louis MacNeice. It has been said of him that he never shrinks from bold experiment, or from being unconventional, or even from taking risks in improvisation.