Philosophers  Not needed on the voyage


The crew of the Pequod had to be alert on such a voyage. This was particularly true of the men who each had to man one of the 3 masts. From their lonely fearful posts at the top they had to keep at all time their lookout for whales. They had to be vigilant. Of course that really meant, they were to keep out their lookout for God. They had to be spiritually vigilant. After all, this was a true religious quest. Ishmael admitted he did a poor job of it:

“Let me make a clean breast of it here, and frankly admit that I kept but sorry guard. With the problem of the universe revolving in me, how could I—being completely to myself at such a thought-engendering altitude—how could I but lightly hold my obligations to observe all whale-ships’ standing orders,” Keep your weather eye open, and sing out every time.”

Those at the watch were expected to be keenly aware of approaching whales (or gods) and sing out when spotted. The worst thing for a whaling ship was to have someone on the watch like this:

“any lad with lean brow and hollow eye, given to unseasonable meditativeness…Beware of such an one, I say your whales must be seen before they can be killed; and this sunken-eyed young Platonist will tow you ten wakes round the world, and never make you one pint of sperm the richer.”

The young Platonists dreaming of metaphysics instead of whales were a dangerous extravagance on a whaling ship:

“…lulled into such an opium-like listlessness of vacant, unconscious reverie is this absent-minded youth by the blending cadence of waves with thoughts, that at last he loses his identity; takes the mystic ocean at his feet for the visible image of that deep, blue, bottomless soul, pervading mankind and nature; and every strange, half-seen, gliding, beautiful thing that eludes him; every dimly-discovered, uprising fin of some indiscernible form, seems to him the embodiment  of those elusive thoughts that only people the soul by continually flitting through it. In this enchanted mood, they sprint ebbs away who whence it came; becomes diffused through time and space; like Cranmer’s sprinkled Pantheist ashes, forming at last a part of every shore round the globe over.

The young “sunken-eyed Platonist” has no life left in him “except that rocking life imparted by a gentle rolling ship; by her, borrowed from the sea; by the sea, from the inscrutable tides of God.”

In other words, on a religious quest, philosophers were not needed. They were a hindrance. Darn.

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