Recently, I reviewed Diane Setterfield’s novel The Thirteenth Tale. As I relived my experience reading and pondering her story, I remembered a particularly poignant conversation Miss Winters had with the main character Margaret. Miss Winters asked Margaret if she would kill someone, about to destroy the last copies of her favorite books. When with the author asked this question, Margaret responded she wouldn’t. However, later when she was alone, Margaret recanted her answer, stating,
Of course I loved books more than people. Of course I valued “Jane Eyre” over the anonymous stranger…Of course all of Shakespeare was worth more than a human life.Diane Setterfield, The Thirteenth Tale
When I read this excerpt the first time I felt so conflicted. The question, “Is knowledge more valuable than human life?” was a unsettling one for me to consider. I argued back and forth in my brain how I couldn’t possible decide between one or the other.
It is the same as deciding between preserving ancient architecture and history over preserving human life. It’s the same as choosing to rebuild the recently damaged Notre Dame Chapel or donating to people starving around the world. Which do we choose? Which is the moral choice?
There is no right answer to any of these questions. I hate absolutism. I always wonder if there couldn’t be an option 3 or 4 to any of these paradigms. Both books and people are important. What if the person about to destroy the last books we love will become one of the greatest authors or scientists of our time?
We could wrap our heads around these type of philosophical questions and get nowhere.
Not every book is equal in value.
Not every person has lived a virtuous life.
People have burnt books to smother minorities or degenerates.
People often praise ideologies that are damaging and dangerous to individuals and families.
There have been moments in history when people have had to kill in order to obtain a book or record of great value for future generations.
Though there is no perfect answer for every possible circumstance, it is important to learn the value of books, the knowledge they contain, the authors who write them, and the people they may reach.
Food for thought.
Thank you for reading! See you tomorrow.
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