In Job's Balances \ I \ The Conquest of the Self-Evident


     I have already had occasion to point out that the best and only complete definition of philosophy is to be found in Plotinus. To the question, "What is philosophy?" he replies, to timi˘taton, "what matters most".

     In the first place this definition destroys, apparently quite without premeditation, those barriers which in ancient times separated philosophy from the cognate provinces of religion and art; for the artist and the prophet are in fact also seeking to timi˘taton. But apart from this, not only does it not submit philosophy to the control and direction of science; it sets the one in direct opposition to the other. Science is objective, indifferent; it does not consider whether a thing matters or not. It coldly casts its eye over the innocent and the guilty alike, knowing neither pity nor anger. But where there is no pity or indignation, where the innocent and the guilty are alike regarded with indifference, where all "phenomena" are merely classified and not qualified, there can be no distinctions between the important and the insignificant. It follows that philosophy, defined as to timi˘taton, is in no sense science. I would go further. It must necessarily clash with science precisely when the question of sovereignty arises.

     Science pretends to the certainty, the universality, and the necessity of its statements. That is its strength, its historical significance, and its great charm. I repeat: those scientists - and they are many - who imagine that they only "collect and describe facts" are profoundly mistaken. Facts in themselves are of no use to science, even to such sciences as zoology, botany, history, or geography. What science wants is theory, something which will transform in wondrous wise what happened once, by what to ordinary eyes appeared a chance, into necessity. To deny science this supreme right is to depose it from its pedestal, to render it impotent. The simplest description of the simplest fact presupposes a supreme prerogative - that of the Last Judgment. Science does not state, it judges. It does not reflect truth, it creates it according to the autonomous laws which it has itself created. In other words, science is life set before the tribunal of reason. Reason decides what may and what may not be. It decides - and this is a point which must never be forgotten - according to its own laws, taking no account of what it calls the "human, all too human."

     Matter and energy are indestructible, but Socrates and Giordano Bruno are destructible, says reason. And all bow down to the dictum without a word; no one dares even hazard the question: Why has reason decreed this law? Why is it so paternally occupied in safeguarding matter and energy when it has forgotten all about Socrates and Giordano Bruno? Still less do they think of asking another question. Let us admit that reason has proclaimed this revolting law, disregarding all that is sacred to man, to timi˘taton; but whence does it derive the strength needful to accomplish this decision? And to accomplish it so perfectly that in no single instance since the beginning of the world has a single atom disappeared completely; that not only no gram of energy - not a fraction of a gram has vanished into space? This is a miracle indeed, the more so because ultimately reason has no actual existence either. Try to find it, to point it out; you cannot. It accomplishes miracles like the most real of beings; but it has no existence. And all of us, who are used to questioning everything, admit this miracle quite easily; for science, created by reason, pays us a good price; out of worthless "facts", it creates "experience", through which we become masters of nature. Reason has taken man up into an exceeding high mountain and shown him all the kingdoms of the world, and has said unto him: All these things will I give thee if thou wilt fall down and worship me. And man has worshipped, and obtained the promised reward (though, to be sure, not fully).

     Since that day the worship of reason has been regarded as man's first duty. And any other relationship to reason seems to us unthinkable, in some sense impossible. Regarding God there is a commandment: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul." Reason does without commandments, men will love it of themselves, unbidden. The theory of knowledge simply sings the praises of reason, but no one has the audacity to question it, and still less dare doubt its sovereign power. The miracle of the transformation of facts into "experience" has conquered all minds; all admit that reason is judge and is itself subject to no other jurisdiction.

     Dostoevsky, thanks to his second sight, soon saw that the experience from which men derive their science is a theory and not a reality. And no success, no conquest, no miracle even, can justify theory. He put the question: has "omnitude", common consciousness (from which self-evidence springs) any right to the high prerogatives which it has arrogated to itself? In other words: has reason any right to judge autonomously, rendering account to none; or are we only dealing with an usurpation of rights sanctified by centuries of possession?

Dostoevsky looks on the case between the living individual on the one hand, and common consciousness on the other, not so much as one of facts as of rights. "Omnitude" has usurped the power. We must wrest it away; and if we are to accomplish this, the first step is to cease to believe in the legitimacy of the usurpation, and to tell ourselves that its strength lies only in our belief in its strength. "Natural laws" and their inimitability, truths and the self-evidence thereof, are perhaps only magic, auto-suggestion, or influences from outside which hypnotize us as a goose is hypnotized if we trace round her a circle of chalk. The goose will not be able to get out of the circle, as though it were a wall that surrounded her, instead of merely a line. If the goose knew how to reason and express her thoughts in words, she would create a theory of knowledge, and hold forth on self-evidence, holding the line of chalk to be the limit of possible experience. But if this is the case, our warfare against the principles of scientific knowledge must be waged not with arguments but with other weapons. Arguments served only so long as we admitted the truth of the premises from which they follow, but if we do not admit them we must seek something else.
"'Twice two is four', gentlemen, is not life, it is the beginning of death - at any rate, man has always been afraid of this 'twice two is four', and I am still afraid of it now. It is true that man thinks of nothing else but the search for this 'twice two is four'; he will cross oceans, risk his life in order to find it, but as for discovering what it really is when he has found it - that frightens him, I promise you. But in my opinion 'twice two is four' is simply an impertinence - 'Twice two is four' is a lout; he plants himself across our path, arms akimbo, and spits on the ground. I admit that 'twice two is four' is an excellent thing, but if we are to praise all that is praiseworthy, I will tell you that 'twice two is five' is also a charming thing."
You are not accustomed to such arguments against philosophical theories; perhaps you are even incensed that when discussing the theory of knowledge I should quote these passages from Dostoevsky. You would be right, these arguments would really be out of place, if Dostoevsky had not raised the question of right and usurpation. But that is the point. "Twice two is four", and reason and all its proofs simply will not admit discussion of the question of rights. They cannot, for if they once admit it they are lost. They refuse to be judged, they wish to be both judge and law-giver, and whosoever would refuse them this right, him they will anathematize and excommunicate from the ecumenical human church. With this all possibility of discussion ceases, and a desperate and mortal struggle begins.

     The underground man is outlawed in reason's name. Laws, as we know, protect only matter, energy, and principles. There is nothing keeping guard over Socrates, Giordano Bruno, or any man great or small. And then a man, a miserable, humiliated, pitiable man, dares to rise up in defence of himself and his so-called rights. And behold, the glance of this miserable little functionary is deeper and more piercing than that of the famous scholars. Generally speaking, the philosopher fights against materialism and feels proud indeed if he succeeds in collecting a few more or less cogent arguments with which to confront his opponent. But Dostoevsky, who went no further than Claude Bernard, does not even deign to argue with the materialists; he knows that materialism is powerless in itself, that it only borrows strength from idealism, from ideas, i.e., from that reason which admits nothing else above itself. But how can the tyrant be overthrown? What methods can one invent? Do not forget that it is impossible to argue with reason. All arguments are rational arguments, which exist only to sustain the pretensions of reason. There is only one weapon: mockery, invective, a categorical "no" to all the demands of reason. To reason which created rules, and gives its sanctions to normal men, Dostoevsky replies:
"Why are you so unshakably, so solemnly convinced that only the normal is needed, only the positive, only what conduces to well-being? Cannot reason be wrong? It may well be that man loves other things besides well-being. Does he not love suffering just as well... ? Sometimes a man will passionately love suffering. This is a fact. There is no need to refer you to the history of the world. Ask yourself, if you have really lived. For my own part, I find it rather repellent to love nothing but well-being. Whether it is right or wrong I do not know, but it is sometimes very pleasant to destroy something. I am not really now defending either suffering or well-being, but I am defending my own caprice and the right to enjoy it if I want. I know, for example, that sufferings will not be admitted in a comedy. Nor are they permissible in a glass palace. Suffering is a doubt, a negation, and what would a glass palace be in which one doubted? But I am sure that man will never give up true suffering, that is to say, destruction and chaos."
The most subtle proofs, elaborated through thousands of years by theories of knowledge, must vanish in the face of such arguments as these. It is no longer law or principle which exact and obtain the guarantees, it is caprice, which by its very nature, as every one knows, is unable, either to give or receive guarantees of any sort. To deny this is to deny self-evidence. But this, as I have already told you, is precisely what Dostoevsky is engaged in doing; combating self-evidence. Our self-evidence is only auto-suggested, even as our life, he continually repeats, is not life but death. But if you want to understand Dostoevsky, you must always keep his fundamental thesis in mind; "twice two is four", is a principle of death. We must choose: either we must upset this twice two is four, or we must admit that death is the end of life and the last judgment on it.

Here lies the source of Dostoevsky's hatred of well-being, of balance, of satisfaction; and hence his fantastic paradox: man loves suffering -
"You can say anything about the history of the world; anything that the wildest brain can conceive, but you cannot pretend one thing: that it is reasonable. Your tongue would refuse to utter the words."
Here, indeed, we must correct the underground man - he has made a mistake in facts, a mistake which tends to weaken rather than strengthen his "argument". It is quite untrue that we cannot say that world history has developed in accordance with the rules of reason and that the tongue of him who maintained this would refuse to speak. How many people have not said as much! Whole volumes have been written on the subject; eloquent, searching works. A philosophy of history has been created in which it has been demonstrated almost mathematically that there is a certain rational idea at the basis of all historical development. Hegel has achieved immortality through his philosophy of history, and who, since his day, has ever had any difficulty in enunciating the word "progress"? And the theodicies? Was it not man who invented theodicy, which is, after all, a philosophy of history? And did Leibniz's theodicy do any less for his reputation than Hegel's philosophy of history for his? Is it not written fluently? Did his tongue refuse to utter, even once? Why do I say Leibniz? Was not the divine Plotinus himself the father of theodicy? Plotinus, who proclaimed to mankind his ineffable visions, those visions which are revealed only to those who transcend in ecstasy the limits of experience possible to "omnitude".

     The etymological significance of the word theodicy is "justification of God", but with Leibniz, who followed Plotinus closely, and with Plotinus himself, it was not God who was justified by theodicy, but "twice two is four". In so far as Plotinus, as a teacher and representative of a school of philosophy, submitted loyally to reason, he could have no other object. It was not caprice which he wished to safeguard; caprice, the free will of the individual, is the source of all evil on earth, as he repeats almost mechanically, after all his predecessors. According to the tradition of the schools, caprice must be destroyed, annihilated, dissolved into a principle. Thus in his theodicy, which served as a model for all succeeding theodicies, Plotinus's sole preoccupation is to show that principles cannot be upset, whatever happens in the world. Men are born and die, they appear and disappear, but "twice two is four" is eternal, it always has been and always will be. Caprice, too, was born once; it was not, and then it appeared; therefore, it is obvious that it can have no guarantee, no protection from reason. Even its very birth was rather an act of audacity, of impiety. But impiety is always followed, sooner or later, by its punishment; the law of Nemesis or Adrasteia is pitiless, as befits a law of nature.

     Accordingly, the question of the fate of individuals and even of races takes a second place in Plotinus' theodicy. If a man has become a slave, if he suffers injury, if he loses friends, and even fatherland, it is in the natural order of things. What he suffers is individual, accidental, capricious; therefore, no question arises; any question would even be out of place. Questions only arise when the principle is affected. Only the principle, this same "twice two is four", is worthy of protection and guarantee, and does in fact obtain them.

     You may be ruined, injured, made to suffer; Adrasteia cares nothing for it. If it is an animal or a natural catastrophe which is the cause of your misfortune, it will produce no reaction in the world, and no one will come to your help. For reason has not decreed that man shall not suffer or perish. But should a man in some way fall foul of the "law"; should he have taken something from his neighbour, struck him or made him suffer in some way far less acute than the suffering to which we are continually subjected by the "caprices" of nature, that cannot be forgiven. Unsleeping Adrasteia watches to see that no infringement of the law goes unpunished; it does not matter about the victim, she pays no heed to him; but she strikes the author of the crime. If you kill, you will be reincarnated after your death, and you in your turn will be killed in this second incarnation; if you have robbed you will be robbed, if you have violated you will be reborn a woman and suffer the same. violation, and so on through all the list of crimes down to the most insignificant.

     The important thing is not the suffering of the man you have robbed, or the woman you have dishonoured; suffering and enduring are the lot of humanity; there is no harm in that, no one can be troubled to repair the offense. The evil lies in the fact that the offender has broken the law. This is absolutely inadmissible, and demands compensation. In the material, as well as in the ideal world, everything is balanced; even the idea of balance has been borrowed by the material world from the world of ideas. It is extraordinary that Plotinus, whose intelligence was so acute, did not realize that the ever-watchful activities of Adrasteia did more than guarantee the balance; they also ensured the inevitable increase of evil in the universe. Balance demands that every crime should be compensated by another crime, so that all evil in this way becomes perpetuated. If I have killed I shall be killed, but my murderer will perish in his turn and so on eternally. But since in addition to the crimes perpetuated by Adrasteia there can be others also, it is obvious that each generation must necessarily be more criminal than its predecessor.

     I do not know what Plotinus would have answered if his attention had been drawn to this circumstance. Most probably it would not have disturbed him in the least. The principle of "twice two is four", of balance, has been respected, the tribute due to reason has been paid. What more can one ask?

Orphus system

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