Thursday, November 4, 2010

A Quotation

Nature attains perfection, but man never does. There is a perfect ant, a perfect bee, but man is perpetually unfinished. He is both an unfinished animal and an unfinished man. It is this incurable unfinishedness which sets man apart from other living things. For, in the attempt to finish himself, man becomes a creator. Moreover, the incurable unfinishedness keeps man perpetually immature, perpetually capable of learning and growing.

Eric Hoffer
from Reflection on the Human Condition

Interesting thought--but I wonder if nature does attain perfection. Does he mean that ants and bees are perfect or have stopped changing and have achieved the maximum development possible for them?

Are we incurably unfinished and therefore perpetually immature?

I wonder how this makes us creators, or some of us anyway.

What would happen if we did finally achieve the finished state, whatever that may be?


  1. I'm not familiar with Hoffer, but that quote reflects either not understanding the basics of evolution, or simply not believing in it. There's no such thing as a "perfect bee" or a "perfect ant" so the rest of it kind of falls apart.

  2. Richard,

    Or perhaps Hoffer means that bees and other creatures are complete within themselves as they are, whereas humans are continually trying to extend or expand themselves because they don't feel complete as they are, and therefore are perpetually learning and growing?

    Is this possible?

  3. It's certainly possible that's what Hoffer meant…but if so, he didn't express it well! He says "nature attains perfection" which is simply not the case. If he means "ants and bees feel as if they have achieved perfection and experience no desire to change themselves" -- well, I'm not qualified to guess what Hymenoptera feel. Perhaps a larva has some innate sense of ambition or desire that makes it develop into a queen while another female remains a commoner? If a bee or an ant were trying to improve its station in life, how would we ever know? ;-)

  4. Richard,

    And humans? What do you think of the second part of the quotation?

  5. retrospect I may have been too harsh in my original comment, because as much as I disagree with the first part of the quote I can't really argue with the second part. When we stop learning and growing as people, it's because we've started the process of decline that leads to stasis. In that sense, "maturity" and "being finished" are synonymous.