THE THEORY OF KNOWLEDGE
The Theory of Knowledge as Apologetics
The modern theory of knowledge, though it always consciously takes its rise from Kant, has in one respect quite disregarded the master's commandment. It is very strange that the theorists of knowledge, who usually cannot agree among themselves upon anything, have as it were agreed to understand the problem of knowledge quite otherwise than Kant. Kant undertook to investigate our cognitive faculties in order to establish foundations, in virtue of which certain existing sciences could be accepted, and others rejected. One may say that the second purpose was chief. Hume's skepticism made him uneasy only in theory. He knew beforehand that whatever theory of knowledge he might invent, mathematics and the natural sciences would remain sciences and metaphysics be rejected. In other words, his aim was not to justify science but to explain the possibility of its existence; and he started from the point of view that no one can seriously doubt the truths of mathematics and natural science. But now the position is different. The theorists of knowledge direct all their efforts towards justifying scientific knowledge. Why? Does scientific knowledge really need justification? Of course there are cranks, sometimes even cranks of genius, like our own Tolstoy, who attack science; but their attacks offend no one, nor do they cause alarm.
Scientists continue their researches as before; the universities flourish; discovery follows discovery. And the theorists of knowledge themselves do not spend sleepless nights in the endeavour to find new justificatiOnS for science. Yet, I repeat, though they can come to an understanding about practically nothing else, they amaze us by their unanimity upon this point—they are all convinced that it is their duty to justify science and exalt her. So that the modern theory of knowledge is no longer a science, but an apology. And its demonstrations are like those of apology. Once science must be defended, it is necessary to begin by praising her, that is by selecting evidence and data to show that science fulfills some mission or other, but indubitably a very high and important one, or on the other hand, by painting a picture of the fate that would overtake mankind, if it was deprived of science. Thus the apologetic element has begun to play almost as large a part in the theory of knowledge as it has done hitherto in theology. Perhaps the time is at hand when scientific apologetics will be officially recognised as a philosophic discipline.
But, qui s’excuse s’accuse. It is plain that all is not well with science, since she has begun to justify herself. Besides, apologetics are only apologetics, and sooner or later the theory of knowledge will be tired of psalms of praise, and will demand a more complex and responsible task, and a real labour. At present the theorists start with the assumption that scientific knowledge is perfect knowledge, and therefore the premisses upon which it is built are not subject to criticism. The law of causation is not justified because it appears to be the expression of a real relation of things, nor even because we have data at our disposal which could convince us that it does not and will never admit exceptions, that uncaused effects are impossible. All these things are lacking; but, we are told, they are not needed.
The chief thing is that the causal law makes science possible, while to reject it means to reject science and knowledge generally, all anticipation, and even, as some few hold, reason itself. Clearly, if one has to choose between a slightly dubious admission on the one side and the prospect of chaos and insanity on the other, there will be no long hesitation. Apologetics, we see, has chosen the most powerful of arguments, ad hominem. But all such arguments partake of one common defect; they are not constant, and they are double-edged.
Today they defend scientific knowledge; tomorrow they will attack it. Indeed, it so happens that the very belief in the causal law begets a great disquiet and turmoil in the soul, which finally produces all the horrors of chaos and madness. The certainty that the existing order is immutable is for certain minds synonymous with the certainty that life is nonsensical and absurd. Probably the disciples of Christ had that feeling when the last words of their crucified Master reached them from the cross: ‘My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?’ And the modern theorists may explain triumphantly that when the law became the instrument of chaos and madness, it was ipso facto abolished. ‘Christ has risen,’ say the disciples of Christ.
I have said that the theorists may triumph; but I must confess that I have not found in any of them an open glorification of such an obvious proof of the truth of their teaching. Of the resurrection of Christ they say not a word—on the contrary, they make every effort to avoid it and pass it by in silence. And this circumstance compels us to pause and think. A dilemma arises: if you grant that the law of causation suffers no exception, then your soul will be eternally haunted by the last words of the crucified Christ; if you do not, then you will have no science. Some assert that it is impossible to live without science, without knowledge, that such a life is horror and madness; others cannot be reconciled to the thought that the most perfect of men died the death of a murderer. What shall we do? Without which thing is it impossible for man to live? Without scientific knowledge, or without the conviction that truth and spiritual perfection are in the last resort the victors of this world? And how will the theory of knowledge stand with regard to questions such as these?
Will it still continue its exercises in apologetics or will it at last understand that this is not its real problem, and that if it would preserve the right to be called philosophy, it will have not to justify and exalt the existing science, but to examine and direct some science of its own. It means above all to put the question: Is scientific knowledge really perfect, or is it perhaps imperfect, and should it therefore yield its present honourable place to another science? Evidently this is the most important question for the theory of knowledge, yet this question it never puts. It wants to exalt existing science. It has been, is now, and probably will long continue to be, apologetics.
Truth and Utility
Mill, seeking to prove that all our sciences, even the mathematical, have an empiric origin, brings forward the following consideration. If on every occasion that we had to take twice two things, some deity slipped one extra thing into our hands, we should be convinced that twice two is not four but five. And perhaps Mill is right: perhaps we should not divine what was the matter. We are much more concerned to discover what is practically necessary and directly useful to us than to search for truth. If a deity with each four things slipped a fifth into our hands, we should accept the additional thing and consider it natural, intelligible, necessary, impossible to be otherwise. The very uniformity in the sequence of phenomena observed by the empirical philosophers was also slipped into our hands. By whom? When? Who dares to ask? Once the law is established no one is interested in anything any more. Now we can foretell the future, now we can use the thing slipped into our hands, and the rest—cometh of the evil one.
Philosophers and Teachers
Every one knows that Schopenhauer was for many years not only not recognised, but not even read. His books were used for wastepaper. It was only towards the end of his life that he had readers and admirers—and, of course, critics. For every admirer is at bottom a most merciless and importunate critic. He must understand everything, make everything agree, and of course the master must supply the necessary explanations. Schopenhauer, who did not have the experience of being a master till his old age, at first behaved very benevolently to his disciples’ questions and patiently gave the explanations required. But the further one goes into the forest, the thicker are the trees. The most loyal perplexities of his pupils became more and more importunate, until at last the old man lost patience. ‘I didn't undertake to explain all the secrets of the universe to every one who wanted to know them,’ he once exclaimed, when a certain pupil persisted in emphasising the contradictions he. had noticed in Schopenhauer. And really—is a master obliged to explain everything? In Schopenhauer's words we are given an answer, not ambiguous. A philosopher not only cannot be a teacher, he does not want to be one. There are teachers in schools, in universities: they teach arithmetic, grammar, logic, metaphysics. The philosopher has quite a different task, one which does not in the least resemble teaching.
Truth as a Social Substance
There are many ways, real and imaginary, of objectively verifying philosophic opinions. But they all reduce, we know, to trial by the law of contradiction. True, every one is aware that no single philosophic doctrine is able to support such a trial, so that, pending a better future, people consider it possible to display a certain tenderness in the examination. They are usually satisfied if they come to the conclusion that the philosopher made a genuine attempt to avoid contradictions. For instance, they forgive Spinoza his inconsistency because of his amor intellectualis Dei; Kant, for his love of morality and his praise of disinterestedness; Plato, for the originality and purity of his idealistic impulses; and Aristotle, for the vastness and universality of his knowledge. So that, strictly speaking, we must confess that we have no real objective method of verifying a philosophical truth, and when we criticise other people's systems, we judge arbitrarily after all.
If a philosopher suits us for some reason, we do not trouble him with the law of contradiction; if he does not, we summon him before the court to be judged with the utmost rigour of the law, confident beforehand that he will be found guilty on every count. But sometimes there arises the desire to verify one's own philosophic convictions. To play the farce of objective verification with them, to look for contradictions in oneself—I do not suppose that even Germans are capable of that. And yet one desires to know whether he does indeed possess the truth or whether he has only a universal error in his hands.
What is to be done? I think there is a way. He should think to himself that it is absolutely impossible for his truth to be binding upon anybody. If in spite of this he still refuses to renounce her, if the truth can suffer such an ordeal and yet remain the same to him as she was before, then it may be supposed that she is worth something. For often we appreciate conviction, not because it has an intrinsic value, but because it commands a high price in the market. Robinson Crusoe probably had a totally different way of thinking to that of a modern writer or professor, whose books are exposed to the appreciation of his numerous confreres, who can create for him the renown of a wise man and a scholar, or utterly ruin his reputation. Even with the Greeks, whom we are accustomed to regard as model thinkers, opinions had—to use the language of economics—not so much a demand, as an exchange value.
The Greeks had no knowledge of the printing-press, and no literary reviews. They usually took their wisdom out into the market-place, and applied all their efforts to persuade people to acknowledge its value. And it is hard to maintain that wisdom, which is constantly being offered to people, should not adapt itself to people's tastes. It is truer to say that wisdom became accustomed to value itself to the exact degree to which it could count on people's appreciation. In other words, it appears that the value of wisdom, like that of all other commodities, not only with us, but with the Greeks before us, is a social affair. The most modern philosophy has given up concealing the fact. The teleology of the rationalists, who follow Fichte, as well as of the pragmatists who consider themselves the successors of Mill is openly based upon the social point of view, and speaks of collective creations. Truth which is not good for all, and always, in the home market and the foreign—is not truth. Perhaps its value is even defined by the quantity of labour spent upon it. Marx might triumph: under different flags his theory has found admission into every sphere of contemporary thought. There would hardly be found one philosopher who would apply the method of verifying truth which I have proposed; and hardly a single modern idea which would stand the test.
Doctrines and Deductions
If you want to ruin a new idea—try to give it the widest possible publicity. Men will begin to reflect upon it, to try it by their daily needs, to interpret it, to make deductions from it, in a word to squeeze it into their own prepared logical apparatus; or, more likely, they will cover it up with the débris of their own habitual and intelligible ideas, and it will become as dead as everything that is begotten by logic. Perhaps this explains the tendency of philosophers to so clothe their thoughts that their form may hinder the approach of the general public to them. The majority of philosophic systems are chaotically and obscurely expounded, so that not every educated person can understand them. It is a pity to kill one's own child, and every one does his best to save it from premature death.
The most dangerous enemies of an idea are ‘deductions’ from it, as though they followed of themselves. The idea does not presuppose them; they are usually pressed upon it. Indeed, people very often say: ‘the idea is quite right, but it leads to conclusions which are not at all acceptable.’ Again, how often has a philosopher to attend the sad spectacle of his pupil's deserting all his ideas, and feeding only upon the conclusions from them. Every thinker who has had the misfortune to attract attention while he was yet alive, knows by bitter experience what ‘deductions’ are. And yet you will rarely find a philosopher to offer open and courageous resistance to his continuators; and still more rarely a philosopher to say outright that his work needs no continuation, that it will not bear continuation, that it exists only in and for itself, that it is self-sufficient. If some one said this, how would he be answered? People could not dispute with him—try to dispute with a man who wants neither to dispute nor to demonstrate.
The only answer is an appeal to the popular verdict, to lynch law. People are so weak and naïve that they will at all costs see a teacher (in the usual sense of the word) in every philosopher. In other words, they really want to throw upon him the responsibility for their actions, their present, their future, and their whole fate. Socrates was not executed for teaching, but because the Athenians thought he was dangerous to Athens. And in all ages men have approached truth with this criterion, as though they knew beforehand that truth must be of use and able to protect them. One of the greatest teachings, Christianity, was also persecuted because it seemed dangerous to the self-appointed guardians, or, if you will, because it was really very dangerous to Roman ideals. Of course, neither Socrates’ death nor the deaths of thousands of the early Christians saved the ancient culture and polity from decay: but no one has learned anything from the lesson. People think that these were all accidental mistakes, against which no one was secure in ancient times, but which will never again recur; and therefore they continue to make ‘deductions’ as they used from every truth, and to judge the truth by the deductions they have made.
And they have their reward. Although there have been on earth many wise men who knew much that is infinitely more valuable than all the treasures for which men are ready even to sacrifice their lives, still wisdom is to us a book with seven seals, a hidden board upon which we cannot lay our hands. Many—the vast majority—are even seriously convinced that philosophy is a most tedious and painful occupation to which are doomed some miserable wretches who enjoy the odious privilege of being called philosophers. I believe that even professors of philosophy, the more clever of them, not seldom share this opinion and suppose that therein lies the ultimate secret of their science, revealed to the initiate alone. Fortunately, the position is otherwise. It may be that mankind is destined never to change in this respect, and a thousand years hence men will care much more about ‘deductions,’ theoretical and practical, from the truth than about truth itself; but real philosophers, men who know what they want and at what they aim, will hardly be embarrassed by this. They will utter their truths as before, without in the least considering what conclusions will be drawn from them by the lovers of logic.
Truth, Proven and Unproven
Whence did we get the habit of requiring proofs of each idea that is expressed? if we put aside the consideration, as having no real meaning in the present case, that men do often purposely deceive their neighbours for gain or other interests, then strictly speaking the necessity for proof is entirely removed. It is true that we can still deceive ourselves and fall into involuntary error. Sometimes we take a vision for a reality, and we wish to guard against that offensive mistake. But as soon as the possibility of bona fide error is removed, then we may relate simply without arguments, judgments, or references. If you please, believe; if you don't don't. And there is one province, the very province which has always attracted to itself the most remarkable representatives of the human race, where proofs in the general acceptation are even quite impossible. We have been hitherto taught that that which cannot be proved, should not be spoken about. Still worse, we have so arranged our language that, strictly speaking, everything we say is expressed in the form of a judgment, that is, in a form which presupposes not merely the possibility but the necessity of proofs.
Perhaps this is the reason why metaphysics has been the object of incessant attack. Metaphysics evidently was not only unable to find a form of expression for her truths which would free her from the obligation of proof; she did not even want to. She considered herself the science par excellence, and therefore supposed that she had more largely and more strictly to prove the judgments which she took under her wing. She thought that if she were to neglect the duty of demonstration she would lose all her rights. And that, I imagine, was her fatal mistake. The correspondence of rights and duties is perhaps a cardinal truth (or a cardinal fiction) of the doctrine of law, but it has been introduced into the sphere of philosophy by a misunderstanding. Here, rather, the contrary principle is enthroned: rights are in inverse proportion to duties. And only there where all duties have ceased is the greatest and most sovereign right acquired—the right of communion with ultimate truths. Here we must not for one moment forget that ultimate truths have nothing in common with middle truths, the logical construction of which we have so diligently studied for the last two thousand years. The fundamental difference is that the ultimate truths are absolutely unintelligible. Unintelligible, I repeat, but not inaccessible. It is true that middle truths also are, strictly speaking, unintelligible. Who will assert that he understands light, heat, pain, pride, joy, degradation?
Nevertheless, our mind, in alliance with omnipotent habit, has, with the assistance of some strained interpretation, given to the combination of phenomena in the segment of universal life that is accessible to us, a certain kind of harmony and unity, and this from time immemorial has gained repute under the name of an intelligible explanation of the created world. But the known, which is the familiar, world is sufficiently unintelligible to make good faith require of us that we should accept unintelligibility as the fundamental predicate of being. It is impossible to hold, as some do, that the only reason why we do not understand the world is that something is hidden from us or that our mind is weak, so that if the Supreme Being wished to unveil the secret of creation to us, or if the human brain should so much develop in the next ten million years that he will excel us as far as we excel our official ancestor, the ape, then the world will be intelligible. No, no, no! By their very essence the operations which we perform upon reality to understand it are useful and necessary only so long as they do not pass a certain limit. It is possible to understand the arrangement of a locomotive. It is also legitimate to seek an explanation of an eclipse of the sun, or of an earthquake. But a moment comes—only we cannot define it exactly—when explanations lose all meaning and are good for nothing any more. It is as though we were led by a rope the law of sufficient reason—to a certain place and left there: ‘Now go wherever you like.’ And since we have grown so used to the rope in our lives, we begin to believe that it is part of the very essence of the world. One of the most remarkable thinkers, Spinoza, thought that God himself was bound by necessity.
Let any one probe himself carefully, and he will find that he is not merely unable to think but almost unable ‘to live without the hypothesis of Spinoza. The work of Hume, who so brilliantly disputed the axiom of causal necessity, was only half done. He clearly showed that it is impossible to prove the existence of necessary connection. But it is also impossible to prove the contrary. In the result, everything remained as before: Kant, and all mankind after him, has returned to Spinoza’s position. Freedom has been driven into an intellectual world, an unknown land,
and everything is in its former place. Philosophy wants to be a science at all costs. It is absolutely impossible for her to succeed in this; but the price she has paid for the right to be called a science, is not returned to her. She has waived the right of seeking that which she needed wherever she would, and she is deprived of the right for ever. But did she really need it? If you glance at contemporary German philosophy you will say without hesitation that it was not needed at all. Neither by mistake, nor even in pursuit of a new title, did she renounce her great vocation: it has become an intolerable burden to her. However hard it may be to confess, it is nevertheless indubitable that the great secrets of the universe cannot be manifested with the clarity and distinctness with which the visible and tangible world is opened to us. Not only others—you will not even convince yourself of your truth with the obviousness with which you can convince all men without exception of scientific truths.
- ‘from whose bourne
No traveller returns,’
Revelations, if they do occur, are always revelations for an instant. Mahomet—Dostoevsky explains—could only stay in paradise a very short time, from half a second to five seconds, even if he succeeded in falling into it. And Dostoevsky himself entered paradise only for an instant. And here on earth, both of them lived for years, for tens of years, and there seemed to be no end to the hell of earthly existence. The hell was obvious, demonstrable; it could be fixed, exhibited, ad oculos. But how could paradise be proven? How could one fix, how express, those half-seconds of paradisic beatitude, which were from the outside manifested in ugly and horrible epileptic fits with convulsions, paroxysms, a foaming mouth, and sometimes an ill-omened sudden fall, with the spilling of blood? Again, believe, if you will: if you won't, don't. Surely a man who lives now in paradise, now in hell sees life utterly differently from others. And he wants to think that he is right, that his experience is of great value, that life is not at all as it is described by men of different experience and more limited emotions. How desperately did Dostoevsky desire to persuade all men of his rightness, how stubbornly he used to demonstrate, and how angry he was made by the consciousness that lived in the depths of his soul that he was impotent to prove anything.
But a fact remains a fact. Perhaps epileptics and madmen know things of which normal men have not even the remotest presentiment, but it is not vouchsafed to them to communicate their knowledge to others, or to prove it. And there is a universal knowledge which is the very object of philosophical seeking, with which one may commune, but which by its very essence cannot be communicated to all, that is, cannot be turned into verified and demonstrable universal truths. To renounce this knowledge in order that philosophy should have the right to be called a science! At times men acted thus. There were sober epochs when the pursuit of positive knowledge absorbed every one capable of intellectual labour. Or perhaps there were epochs in which men who sought something other than positive science were condemned to universal contempt, and passed unregarded: in such an epoch Plato would have found no sympathy, but would have died in obscurity. One thing at least is clear. He whose chief interest and motive in life is in undemonstrable truths is doomed to complete or relative sterility in the sense in which the word is generally understood. If he is clever and gifted, men may perhaps be interested in his mind and talent, but they will pass his work with indifference, contempt, and even horror; and they will begin to warn the world against him.
Has not the work of the prophets who sought for ultimate truths been barren and useless? Did life hold them in any account? Life went its own way, and the voices of the prophets have been, are, and ever will be, voices in the wilderness. For that which they see and know, cannot be proved and is not capable of proof. Prophets have always been isolated, dissevered, separate, helpless men, locked up in their pride. Prophets are kings without an army. For all their love to their subjects, they can do nothing for them, for subjects respect only those kings who possess a formidable military power. And—long may it be so!
- ‘Look at him, my children,
He is stern and pale and lean.
He is poor and naked,
And all men count him mean.’
The Limits of Reality
After all, not even the most consistent and convinced realist represents life to himself as it really is. He overlooks a great deal; and on the other hand he often sees something which has no existence in reality. I do not think there is any need to show this by example. For all our desire to be objective we are, after all, extremely subjective, and those things which Kant calls synthetic judgments a priori, by which our mind forms nature and dictates laws to her, do play a great and serious part in our lives. We create something like the veil of Maia: we are awake in sleep, and sleep in wakefulness, exactly as though some magic power had charmed us. And just as in sleep we feel for instants that what is happening to us is like a half-dream, an intermediate half-life. Schopenhauer and the Buddhists were right in asserting that it is equally wrong to say of the veil of Maia, the world accessible to us, either that it exists or does not exist.
It is true that logic does not admit such judgments and persecutes them most implacably, for they violate its most fundamental laws. But it cannot be helped: when one has to choose between philosophy which is alluring and promising, and empty logic, one will always sacrifice the latter for the former. And philosophy without contradictory judgments would be either doomed to eternal silence, or would be churned into a mud of commonplace and reduced to nothing. Philosophers know that. The same is true of our own case: we must confess that we are at the same time awake and dreaming dreams, and at times we must own that though we are alive, yet we have long since been dead. As living beings we still hold to the accepted synthetic judgments a priori, and as dead, we try to do without them, or to replace them by other judgments which have nothing in common with the former but are even opposite to them. Philosophy is occupied in this work with extreme diligence, and in this and this alone is the meaning of the idealistic movement which has never, since the time of Plato, disappeared from history. The problem is not for us to find another, primordial, better, and eternal world to replace the visible world accessible to all, as idealistic philosophy is usually interpreted by her official and, unfortunately, her most influential representatives. Interpretation of that kind too obviously bears the mark of its empiric utilitarian origin: they bring us as near to superempiric reality as do the notions wherewith we define what is valuable in life. We might as well consider the super-empiric world as one of gold, diamond, or pearls simply because gold, diamonds, and pearls are very costly.
But so it usually happens. God himself is usually represented as glimmering with gold and precious stones, as omniscient and omnipotent. He is called, the King of Kings since on earth the lot of a crowned head is considered most enviable. The meaning and value of idealistic philosophy thus appears to be that she for ever ratifies all that we have found valuable on earth during our brief existence. Herein, I believe, is a fatal error. Idealistic philosophy, it is true, gave an excuse for falsely interpreting her, since she loved to be arrayed in sumptuous apparel. The religion of almost all nations has always sought for forms outwardly beautiful without stopping even before such an obvious paradox—not to put it more strongly—as a golden cross studded with diamonds. And for the sake of sumptuous words and golden crosses men overlooked great truths, and perhaps great possibilities. The philosophy of the schools also loved to array herself, so that she should not be behind the masters in this respect, and for the sake of dress she often forgot her necessary work.
Plato taught that our life was only a shadow of another reality. If this is true, and he discovered the truth, then surely our first task is to begin to live a different life, to turn our back to the wall above which the shadows are walking and to turn our face to the source of light which created the shadows or to those things of which the visible outlines give only a remote resemblance. We must be awakened, if only in part; to this end what is usually done to a person sound asleep must be done to us. He is pulled, pinched, beaten, tickled, and if all these things fail, still stronger and more heroic measures must be applied. At all events, it is out of the question to advise contemplation, which may well make one still sleepier, or quietude, which leads to the same result. Philosophy should live by sarcasm, irony, alarm, struggles, despairs, and allow herself contemplation and quietude only from time to time, as a relaxation. Then perhaps she will succeed in creating, by the side of realistic dreams, dreams of a quite different order, and visibly demonstrate that the universally accepted dreams are not the only ones. ‘What is the use”’ I do not think this question need be answered. He who asks it, shows by the fact that he needs neither an answer nor philosophy, while he who needs them will not ask but will patiently await events: a temperature of 120 degrees and epileptic fit, or something of this kind, which facilitates the difficult task of seeking...
The Given and the Possible
The law of causation as a principle of inquiry is an excellent thing: the existing sciences afford us convincing evidence of that. But as an idea in the Platonic sense it is of little value, at times at least. The strict harmony and order of the world have fascinated many people: such giants of thought as Spinoza and Goethe paused with reverent wonder in contemplation of the great and unchangeable order of nature. Therefore they exalted necessity even to the rank of a primordial, eternal, original principle. And we must confess that Goethe's and Spinoza’s conception of the world lives so much in each one of us that in most cases we can love and respect the world only when our souls feel in it a symmetrical harmony. Harmony seems to us at once the highest value and the ultimate truth. It gives to the soul great peace, a stable firmness, a trust in the Creator—the highest boons accessible to mortal men, as the philosophers teach. Nevertheless there are other yearnings. Man's heart is suddenly possessed by a longing for the fantastic, the unforeseen, for that which cannot be foreseen.
The beautiful world loves its beauty, peace of soul seems disgraceful, stability is felt as an intolerable burden. Just as a youth grown to manhood suddenly feels irritated by the bountiful tutelage of his parents, from which he has received so much, though he does not know what to do with his freedom, so is a man of insight ashamed of the happiness which is given to him, which some one has created. The law of causation, like the whole harmony of the world, seems to him a pleasant gift, facilitating life, but yet a degrading one. He has sold his birthright for peace, for undisturbed happiness—his great birthright of free creation. He does not understand how a giant like Goethe could have been seduced by the temptation of a pleasant life, he suspects the sincerity of Spinoza. There is something rotten in the state of Denmark. The apple of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, has become to him the sole purpose of life, even though the path to it should lie through extreme suffering.
And, strangely, nature herself seems to be preoccupied in urging man to that fatal path. There comes a time in our life when some imperative and secret voice forbids us to rejoice at the beauty and grandeur of the world. The world allures us as before, but it no longer gives pure happiness. Remember Chekhov. How he loved nature! What immeasurable yearning is audible in his wonderful descriptions of nature! Just as though each time that he glanced at the blue sky, the troubled sea or the green woods, a voice of authority whispered to him: ‘All this is yours no longer. You may look at it, but you have no right to rejoice. Prepare yourself for another life, where nothing will be given, complete, prepared, where nothing will be created, where there will be illimitable creation alone. And everything which is in this world shall be given to destruction, to destruction and destruction, even this nature which you so passionately love, and which it is so hard and painful for you to renounce.’ Everything drives us to the mysterious realm of the eternally fantastic, eternally chaotic, and—who knows? it may be, the eternally beautiful...
Experiment and Proof
When cogito ergo sum came into Descartes' head, he marked the day—November 10, 1619—as a remarkable day: ‘The light of a wonderful discovery,’ he wrote in his diary, ‘flashed into my mind.’ Schelling relates the same thing of himself: in the year 1808 he ‘saw the light.’ And to Nietzsche when he roamed the mountains and the valleys of the Engadine there came a mighty change: he grasped the doctrine of eternal recurrence. One might name many philosophers, poets, artists, preachers, who like these three suddenly saw the light, and considered their vision the beginning of a new life. It is even probable that all men who have been destined to display to the world something perfectly new and original have without exception experienced that miracle of sudden metamorphosis.
Nevertheless, though much is spoken of these miracles and often, in nearly all biographies of great men, we cannot strictly make any use of them. Descartes, Schelling, Nietzsche tell the story of their conversion; and with us, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky tell of theirs; in the less remote past, there are Mahomet and Paul the Apostle; in far antiquity the legend of Moses. But if I had chosen tenfold the number, if thousands even had been collected, it would still be impossible for the mind to make any deduction from them. In other words, all these cases have no value as scientific material, whereas one fossil skeleton or a unique case of an unknown rare disease is a precious windfall to the scientist. What is still more interesting, Descartes was so struck with his cogito ergo sum, Nietzsche with his eternal recurrence, Mahomet with his paradise, Paul the Apostle with his vision, while we remain more or less indifferent to anything they may relate of their experiences. Only the most sensitive among us have an ear for stories of that kind, and even they are obliged to hide their impressions within them, for what can be done with them?
It is even impossible to fix them as indubitable facts, for facts also require a verification and must be proved. There are no proofs. Philosophic and religious teachings offered by men who have had extraordinary inward experiences, not only do not generally confirm, but rather refute their own stories of revelation. For philosophic and religious teaching have always hitherto assigned themselves the task of attracting all and sundry to themselves, and in order to attain this end they had to have recourse to such methods as have effect with the ordinary man, who knows of nothing extraordinary—to proof, to the authority of visible and tangible phenomena, which can be measured, weighed and counted. In their pursuit of proofs, of persuasiveness and popularity, they had to sacrifice the important and essential, and expose for show that which is agreeable to reason—things already more or less known, and therefore of little interest and importance. In course of time, as experimental science, so-called, gained more and more power, the habit of hiding in oneself all that cannot be demonstrated ad oculos, has become more and more firmly rooted, until it is almost man's second nature.
Nowadays we ‘naturally’ share but a small part of an experience with our friends, so that if Mahomet and Paul lived in our time, it would not enter their heads to tell their extraordinary stories. And for all his bravery. Nietzsche nevertheless passes quickly over eternal recurrence, and is much more occupied with preaching the morality of the Superman. which, though it at first astounded people, was after all accepted with more or less modification, because it was demonstrable. Evidently we are confronted with a great dilemma. If we continue to cultivate modern methodology. we run the risk of becoming so accustomed to it that we will lose not only the faculty of sharing all undemonstrable and exceptional experiences with others, but even of retaining them firmly in the memory. They will begin to be forgotten as dreams, they will even seem to he waking dreams. Thus we will cut ourselves off for ever from a vast realm of reality, whose meaning and value have by no means been divined or appreciated. In olden times men could add dreams and madmen's visions to reality; but we shall curtail the real indubitable reality, transferring it to the realm of hallucinations and dreams.
I suppose even a modern man will feel some hesitation in coming over to the side of this methodology, even though he is incapable of thinking. with the ancients, that dreams are by no means worthless things. And if this is so. then the rights of experiences must not be defined by the degree of their demonstrability. However capricious our experiences may be, however little they agree with the rooted and predominant conceptions of the necessary character of events in the inward and outward life—once they have taken place in the soul of man, they acquire, ipso facto, the lawful right of figuring side by side with facts which are most demonstrable and susceptible of control and verification, and even with a deliberate experiment.
It may be said that we would not then be protected against deliberate frauds. People who have never been in paradise will give themselves out for Mahomets. That is true; they will talk and they will lie. ‘[here will be no method of objective verification. But they will surely tell the truth also. For the sake of that truth we may make up our minds to swim through a whole ocean of lies. Yes, it is not in the least impossible to distinguish truth from lie in this realm, though, certainly, not by the signs which have been evolved by logic; and not even by signs, but by no signs at all. The signs of the beautiful have not yet been even approximately defined, and, please God—be it said without offence to the Germans—they never will be defined. but yet we distinguish between Apollo and Venus. So it is with truth: she too may be recognised. But what if a man cannot distinguish without signs, and, moreover, does not want to?... What is to be done with him? Really, I do not know; besides, I do not imagine that all men down to the last should act in unison. When did all men act in agreement? Men have mostly acted separately, meeting in certain places, and parting in others. Long may it be so! Some will recognise and seek after truth by signs, others without signs, as they please, and yet others, in both ways.