In Job's Balances \ Part II \ Revolt and Submission



20 - CUR DEUS HOMO?

A man has toothache and he is incapable of anything. He sees nothing, he hears nothing, he thinks only of the pain and his tooth. Neither contemplation nor proofs of reason can convince him that it will all be over tomorrow. The cursed pain absorbs his last strength, clothes the whole world, the whole universe in its grey, torturing, dull colours. Even the idea of eternity can awake in him no enthusiasm, for even eternity seems to him a product of the tooth and the pain. Perhaps it was under such conditions that Spinoza's "Deus sive natura", the "One" of Plotinus and the mediaeval mystics was born, and also that repulsion against all creation of which philosophers speak so much. It is possible that contempt of what Spinoza called "divitiae, honores, libidines" and of our empirical ego arose out of some obstinate, enduring pain which men could not remove and which took the name of supreme truth, mounted the throne and rules imperiously over the living and the dead.

Even in Plato, as some of his warmest admirers surmise, the idea of the ideal world may have arisen in connection with Socrates' execution. According to tradition Plato did not visit Socrates in prison, sickness preventing him. Perhaps it was not sickness at all; it was certainly not sickness. The pupil could not look on the impotence of the honoured teacher. And, therefore, he brooded all his life long how it could have come about that Anytus and Meletus, the despicable Athenian judges, the dirty prison jailer, and the cup with the repulsive poison, could have shown themselves mightier than the very truth that was incorporated in Socrates. Plato turned his whole genius to banishing this fearful, never-ceasing, intolerable pain which he felt when he remembered the wretched death of the "best of men . His philosophy and his poetry were struggle and victory over this pain. The whole Greek philosophy which followed him sought, now consciously, now unconsciously, for the words which might have freed man from the mad power of senseless necessity. Mediaeval philosophy continued the work of the great Hellenes and went on seeking with equal enthusiasm and excitement. It is only the modern, or rather, the most modern philosophy, which found the solution of the question in positivism la Kant and Comte; to forget plagued and poisoned truth and live for the positive necessities of the next day, year or decade. This terms itself "idealism". It is, of course, also idealism of the purest water which has so possessed the spirit of modern man. The idea is the only god which has not yet been cast down from its pedestal. Scientists worship it no less than philosophers and theologians. If one reads the latest Catholic apologists one will convince oneself of this.

But perhaps it will be objected: "Pain is a condition of the apperception of truth. Truth is truth only because, and only in so far as, it is nailed to the cross. Possibly, certainly. But why, then, idealism? Why bedew the prose, the dirt and blood of the life beyond with the fragrant blooms of earthly poesy? Let it come before us in all its hateful nakedness! Or can this be just the function of creation - any creation, artistic as well as philosophic and religious - to cause lovely flowers of Here to burgeon from the ugly truth of Beyond? And is not man's task, whatever the ancients say, not to return to the original "One" but to move as far away from it as possible? So that in that case, the individual, in escaping from the womb of the One, would have committed no crime by its audacity (tolma), but rather an achievement, the supreme achievement! And was Protagoras, who taught that man is the measure of all things, modest and timid? A new commandment must be created: man shall be the measure of all things, therein lies his supreme purpose.

The beginning has been made. Man has escaped from the womb of the One. Now a great battle awaits him. Not yet have nearly all the fetters which bound him when he still lived in "the womb" been broken asunder. He is still tempted away by memories of his earlier contemplative, almost unreal existence, to the blissful, unperturbed peace of super-individual being. "Reason" still affrights him through the unlimited possibilities and difficulties which await the single, independent being in its new life. Philosophy - mundane as well as religious - which also draws wholly from reason, obstinately contrasts the untroubled peace of past being in the One with the eternal unrest, tension, tortures and doubts of multiple existence. And yet there are already men who no longer believe the whisperings of reason. "Instinct", or something else in them, resists such persuadings. Men resist, resist with all the forces of their nature, the worship of unfleshly ideals, even the loveliest. Even the philosophers, the professional preachers of the godhead of the ideal principle, strive in their lives in every way to shake off its yoke from them. It is as though they, like Socrates, had besides reason a second daemon for guide, which in decisive cases interposes its incomprehensible but imperious final veto. So in the Russian sect of the self-immolators the "ideal" leaders, when they led the herd of common believers as sacrifice to the flames, used themselves unobtrusively to leave the burning building through a previously prepared exit.

Neither Socrates nor Plato, nor Plotinus himself let his being be absorbed in the "One". The Stoics, meanwhile - witness Epictetus and noble Marcus Aurelius - the Skeptics, Epicureans, and all the numerous schools descended from Socrates and his pupils, immolated themselves conscientiously at stakes of their own driving. Socrates, Plato, and Plotinus, and Spinoza in modern times, developed in the shadow of their philosophic constructions. When they cried, "Back to the One", they advanced - away from the One. Never yet - after, of course, the first break with the One - have men so dared to document their "ego" as Socrates did. And how marvelously! Listen with what reverence Alcibiades speaks of Socrates. But follow him - no, that he does not do; his daemon forbids. It is not for nothing that the astute poet said, "Video meliora proboque, deteriora sequor" ("I see the better and approve it, I follow the worse"). Behind these words lies hidden the vast, final, and perhaps most fateful riddle of our being. Alcibiades was a frivolous, unrestful, ambitious man. And he had many "shortcomings" - I do not wish to speak of them. I do not at all wish to "justify" him, especially as that is quite unnecessary; history and the historians have already passed judgment on him. But equally indubitable is this: Socrates, too, had his shortcomings, but Alcibiades was an unusually gifted man, almost a genius. "In hoc natura quid efficere potest videtur experta," says Cornelius Nepos ("in him nature tried to see what she could create"). What else, then, is genius but the great gift of audacity sometimes granted to mortals who are frightened by their "anamnesis" of laws and imperatives accepted in their earlier existence (of the "synthetic, a priori judgments," to express it in modern terms)? Even so Alcibiades saw these imperatives no less plainly than Socrates, and approved them as the "better", but owing to some mysterious commandment (he too, like Socrates, had his own particular daemon and protector) dared to do the "worse", i.e. his own - even as Socrates acted, though he taught otherwise. Ovid remarked this "antinomy" and expressed it with "antique simplicity" in the words I quoted.

How often have men repeated Ovid's verses (we find them even in Spinoza and the Early Fathers) and yet interpreted them as though to aim at "one's own", at the "worse", were weakness, and to follow the "better", the common course, were strength. Why did they choose this interpretation? Ordinary, daily, average experience imposed it on them. In everyday reality the commandments of reason do in fact protect us from disaster, as Socrates always made admirably plain in his dialogues. An overheated man longs for cold water. Reason forbids: if you drink it will do you harm, you will fall ill. He who, seeing and approving the "better", which means the dictates of reason, yet follows the "worse", his own immediate wish, will naturally suffer for it. From this, from a series of similar examples which could be multiplied indefinitely, Socrates concluded: Reason is the source of all knowledge, its truths are unalterable, etc. But here, precisely, lay the mistake; Socrates forgot his daemon. The might of reason has and must have a bound. Precisely because reason is destined to guide man in his empiric existence, to protect him here on earth, it is essentially unable to guide us in our metaphysical wanderings. Reason can tell the carpenter, the smith, the cook, the doctor, the statesman, what is "good" and what "bad". But the "good" and "bad" of the cook and smith, the doctor or builder, are by no means the universal "good" and "bad", as Socrates maintained in his Meditations, and Plato after him. Here there is a genuine metabasis eis allo genos (transition into another field). In the field of metaphysics there are neither cooks nor carpenters, neither their "good" nor "bad". There rules the daemon of whom we are not even entitled to assume that he is interested in any norm at all. Norms arose among the cooks and were created for cooks. What need is there then to transfer all this empiria thither whither we flee to escape empiria?...

The whole art of philosophy should be directed towards freeing us from the "good and evil" of cooks and carpenters, to finding that frontier beyond which the might of general ideas ceases. But philosophy has been unable to free itself from "theorizing" Socrates. Kant himself in his Critique of Practical Reason restored to reason all the unlimited rights and privileges of infallibility taken from it by the Critique of Pure Reason. Alcibiades and with him all audacity are condemned in advance and without examination as eternally unlawful, dangerous, and harmful. The anamnesis, the innate ideas - Kant calls them the "a priori ideas"; that is, of course, more correct, safer and less questionable - which man brought with him from the epoch of his pre-mundane Babylonian captivity, have got the upper hand. And one must admit that appearances and proofs, rational and empiric, are altogether on the side of Kant and his idealism. For audacity is only audacity because it has no guarantee of success. The audacious man advances boldly, not because he knows what awaits him, but because he is audacious or - if the theological way of putting it be preferred - sola fide. It often, indeed generally, happens that he does not reckon on success at all and indeed may not do so. On the contrary, he plainly envisages a failure and assumes with the utmost horror a responsibility for actions the consequence of which neither he nor any one else can foresee. I suppose that the first entity which escaped from the womb of the One suffered the greatest tortures, if it possessed consciousness at all. Most probably it possessed no consciousness, if it took such a mad resolve. How heavy was the punishment of Prometheus simply because he stole fire from the gods!

There we have it again: "video meliora proboque, deteriora sequor." For philosophic purposes one only has to alter the poet's way of putting it just a little; one should not decide in advance what is better and what worse. One must say: my reason leads me to the one, but my whole being yearns for another. But where, on which side is "truth"? In the forward movement away from the "One" from which we have succeeded in escaping after such indescribable efforts, or in the movement back to the One, in the consciousness that the first audacity was a primal sin? Certainly, if the first audacity was sin, then there is nothing else left but to humble ourselves and to return again to the One in order to expiate that sin. But what if, on the contrary, the first audacity was a great human achievement? If it was the beginning of life? If the "One" which is a "Nothing" is death, and escaping its power means not straying from God but moving towards God? The whole Christian Middle Ages tortured themselves with the riddle: "Cur Deus homo?" It was answered in different ways. Always, indeed, in the spirit of Plotinus, for the Middle Ages were exposed through Augustine and Dionysius the Areopagite to the influence of Hellenism.

But however the explanations may run, the fact then acknowledged universally and even today very widely, is this: there was a moment in history in which God assumed human form and thereby took on Himself all the tortures and difficulties which are the lot in this life of the most unfortunate and miserable man. But why? Cur Deus homo? Why, to what purpose, did He become man, expose Himself to injurious mistreatment, ignominious and painful death on the cross? Was it not in order to show man, through His example, that no decision is too hard, that it is worth while bearing anything only in order not to remain in the womb of the One? That any torture whatever to the living being is better than the "bliss" of the rest-satiate "ideal" being? I think that my suggestion has a right to compete with other answers to the question "Cur Deus homo?" It is not at all necessary to think, in conformity with the wrongly interpreted views of the Hellenic self-immolators, that God assumed human form in order that man should cease to be himself and become an ideal atom of the intelligible world. This end could have been attained in "natural" wise, whatever the mediaeval theologians might argue. Supernatural interference was only necessary because man had to be supported in his mad endeavour, in his incredible and unreasonable audacity of self-affirmation. God became man in order that man, shaken in his original resolve - this was expressed in the Hellenic philosophy - should again be confirmed in it.

But man would not understand God. The mediaeval philosophers and theologians interpreted the "glad tidings" in the spirit of their "philosophus" Aristotle. And our contemporaries continue to interpret it in the same way, even the Catholic and Protestant theologians. Can one hope to convince man differently, or must one wait for the Second Coming? Or - the last and most overwhelming, most appropriate reply: Are Plato and Plotinus, the mediaeval theologians with their disputes why God became man, and the "glad tidings" which God incarnate brought to earth - are they no more than empty chatter which one may pardon in young men, but for which, as Callicles said to Socrates, aged and venerable men must be beaten? This objection is very reasonable. With Plato, Plotinus, Anselm, Thomas Aquinas, one may argue. But how is one to argue with a positivist whose self-assurance and complacency surpass even the idea of peace itself? Is one to remind him of the events of recent years? But he has seen it all - and what he has seen has not enriched his knowledge any more than it has awakened in him the doubts which he so much hates.


21 - FINAL CONCLUSIONS

"Mihi ipsi scripsi!" cried Nietzsche, as he finished one of his books. He thought in fact that he had written the book for himself, but he was wrong. One cannot write a book for oneself. One cannot even write a diary for oneself. If a man did write for himself no one would understand him. It is possible that after a few years the author himself would not be able to decipher what he had written for himself. Men change with the years so much and forget their past! Caesar in old age could have understood nothing said to him by Caesar in youth or boyhood. He could not even have deciphered the meaning of his early or childhood notes if he had made them for himself. Everything written is written for others, it is made objective. So far, at least, men have found no ways or means to express themselves adequately. Writers, like artists, are faced with the dilemma: if you write as you yourself see and hear things, others will neither see nor hear them. If you wish others to see and hear, adapt yourself to external conditions and speak what can always, everywhere, be understood by every one. Is one consequently to remain dumb? Consequently I It is not at all necessary to remain dumb. And also by no means necessary to be so hasty with the conclusions. It is enough for the moment to recognize the fact, and then some time, not at once, decidedly not at once, the conclusions also will come; quite unexpected ones, indeed, and far more valuable than those which now rise to one's lips. I think that if we were not so pressed to draw direct conclusions, we should know far more.


22 - THE GORDIAN KNOT

Philosophy is a science. But why do we hear so much of the sincerity of philosophers? If philosophy is a science in the same sense as physics, chemistry, geography, geology, are sciences - then what does the sincerity of philosophers concern us? No one troubles about the sincerity of a physicist who declares that water finds the same level in two communicating vessels. Even if he himself does not believe his assumption, yet if it is right and the fluid does in fact find the same level, that is all that we need. The same is true of the mathematician. He says the relation between circumference and diameter is a constant; and no one thinks of asking whether he believes what he says. Men clearly do not hold philosophy to be a science or philosophers to be scientists, if they demand sincerity of them. The philosopher is clearly primarily a witness and bears witness of something which cannot be tested at will. But if this is so, then sincerity and exactitude are the first necessity. But how ensure them?

We know where experiments with the testimony of witnesses lead. Two entirely disinterested and sincere eyewitnesses often make diametrically opposite statements when they only have to describe simple and uncomplicated events. Take a series of philosophic statements. Mill says that nothing would induce him to esteem God if he were convinced that God did not recognize his moral ideals. In the same way Kant, too, declares categorically that his moral convictions are so intimately bound up with belief in God and the immortality of the soul that if he had to renounce belief, his moral principles must collapse with it. Plato says decidedly that it is better to endure injustice than oneself to be unjust. Schopenhauer enthusiastically preached the "will not to be" and pessimism. Descartes says that he began by doubting everything. Can we rely on all these statements? Hume says that were someone to attempt so radical a doubt, after Descartes's program, he could never be cured of skepticism; and Hume seems to be right. Consequently Descartes's statement should be wrong. Schopenhauer, too, has been suspected, not without reason, of insincerity, and even the tone of his complaint about life makes men disbelieve in the sincerity of his pessimism.

And Kant? Were his moral principles so inseparably connected with his ideas of God and the immortality of the soul? Even Mill, conscientiousness incarnate, sinned by declaring so categorically that he would not have given way to God Himself where his morals were concerned. How cautious must we be, then, with such statements! Listen to the confession of our Russian saints and mystics. They, too, are, indeed, only witnesses, and consequently one must understand how to listen to them. But they would certainly have said to Mill if he had understood Russian: "Swear not, that prison and beggary should be spared thee"; and so it is with almost all philosophic statements. Even the so-called self-evident truths which claim to be equated with mathematical axioms, even they bear the character of a witness's statement. Examples: Aristotle and Heraclitus. Heraclitus denied the law of contradiction. Aristotle answers him by casting doubts on his sincerity: one can, he declares with assurance, say that sort of thing, but one cannot think it. Thousands of years passed, and Hegel, a fervent admirer of Aristotle, took up the cudgels for Heraclitus. How can one know where sincerity resides? In Heraclitus and Hegel, or in Aristotle? I am not even trying to determine where truth resides. But it is equally impossible, as we have seen, to determine where sincerity resides. If Heraclitus had heard Aristotle, he would surely have doubted his conscientiousness. One word more on Hegel. In his "logic" he gives this commandment to the philosopher: Thou shalt free thyself from all that is personal, raise thyself above all that is individual, if thou wouldst be a philosopher. Hegel held himself for a philosopher; does this mean that he obeyed his own commandment; that if, let us say, he had lived in our day, he would "quietly" have accepted all the misfortune which overwhelmed his fatherland?

One could take twice and thrice as many striking examples to show how hard - indeed, how impossible - it is to test the sincerity and conscientiousness of the utterance even of philosophers who are justly esteemed as vessels of philosophic thought. And - the main point - I think that had they themselves had to pose the question of their own conscientiousness as seriously as questions are posed on which the destiny of the world and of humanity depends, they would not have known what to say. I think that Alexander himself would have hesitated to cut the Gordian knot, had he believed in prophecy, and known that the whole responsibility for the future was falling on him. Thus from the fact that the philosophers, each after his fashion, cut the Gordian knots of complicated metaphysical questions, one may conclude that men are either unconscious of the responsibility which they assume, or else feel, by some instinct, that all their decisions count for very little in the balance-sheet of the whole world's spiritual activity. Whether they exalt God or depose Him, whether they admit the law of contradiction or no, whether they are lifted up above the individual or not, whether they call life a good or an evil - it is all one, the decisive voice is not theirs. Men were not asked whether or not they wanted to be when they were fetched out of nonexistence, and will not be asked now when called out of this life into another being or returned to non-existence.

This is all very well if instinct tells us true, if indeed all our thought and all our decisions on the beginning and the end, on the first and last things, suffice to themselves and cannot influence the course of world history. But what if it is not so? What if it is no sure instinct, but unpardonable frivolity or an evil spirit that drives the best representatives of the human race to such rash action! I believe that any philosopher should make it his sacred duty to confess the latter supposition. His first commandment should not be Hegel's but rather: "Thou shalt know that this or that word of thine can save or destroy thy soul, and perchance all the human race also. If this were so, if the mediaeval idea of the dreadful Day of Judgment were reinstated in its rights, philosophy would wear quite a different air. But how is one to make men learn in the course of their brief earthly life to bear, or at least to assume occasionally, the burden of such immeasurable responsibility? The old ways and means are rejected, the new have yet to be found...


23 - WISDOM OF AGE AND EXPERIENCE OF LIFE

There is an excellent Russian proverb: "Ask not the aged, ask him who knows about life." I think that it would not hurt philosophers, who have argued so much about a priori and a posteriori knowledge, to listen now and then to the voice of popular wisdom. An aged man who, in his many days, has yet seen little of life, inclines to a priori thinking. He believes in unalterable principles, in a rigid construction of life - believes so firmly that he is inclined to hold his convictions for a priori, even innate, given by the gods. He despises "experience", thinks that there is nothing new under the sun, that all that is has often been and will often happen again. The knowledge of the experienced in life is different: as a man experienced in life, he has seen with his own eyes things that he would never have believed if he had not seen them himself. Kant lived to eighty, Nietzsche only to forty-four. But how much more experienced was Nietzsche than Kant! And accordingly, how much more fastidious in the choice of his "convictions"! For Nietzsche, "conviction", even more than a priori knowledge, is something rough, crude, coarse. When "conviction" arrives, says Nietzsche, "adventavit asinus pulcher et fortissimus".

Impatient people who cannot bear protracted inner unrest, and therefore prefer any knowledge, even if fictitious, to uncertainty, speak of Nietzsche's "skepticism", just to be rid of him. What simplicity and inexperience! This is not the place to discuss what constitutes the essence of "pure" skepticism. One skeptic is not the same as another, just as the dogmatist is, in the last end, only a general conception, a thing which, as Hegel rightly taught, bears its own opposite within itself. It does not, indeed, do so because of any life and development inherent in the conception. Neither life nor development is inherent in the conception. But if it bears within itself a contradiction which is revealed on closer inspection, this is only because the conception was created by man, and, like all human creations, is imperfect when confronted with any difficult and comprehensive task. This does not at all mean that all conceptions are self-contradictory, e.g. the conception of a privy councillor, a professor, a major-general, a chess champion, etc. A major-general is not a colonel, a professor not a junior fellow. The characteristics of all these conceptions are so definite as to present no problems to passport officials if stated clearly. This is quite natural; all ranks and their tokens are of our creation, and we have thus been able within our modest scope to achieve ideal perfection. It is different when we try with the help of conception to master a reality not of our creation. Here the matter grows infinitely complicated. Think out what conception we may - reality is not to be caught with it. Being and not being, birth and annihilation, time, space, and eternity, a little insect or a reasonable man, even one particular reasonable man - it need not be Socrates, but any donkey-driver - nothing agrees with the conception, however neatly and ingeniously the definition may have been thought out.

Reality runs through the idea as water through a sieve, and the little that remains has, to our great astonishment, no resemblance with what we put in. It seems as though a conjuror or magician were having a joke with us. Our astonishment exceeds all bounds if, into the bargain, we had decided a priori that the essence of reality lay in the idea itself. In that case being is indeed equivalent to not-being, not being to being, the living man vanishes, the state transforms itself into a god, reason understands everything, and science becomes the only purpose of the not-being being. And all this because we had imagined that the whole world could be comprehended by conceptions like privy councillor, professor, and chess champion - conceptions which we, of course, have created a priori. Here man is undoubtedly dictating laws to nature, and nature submits to him. But this, I repeat, is how old men think who have long, very long lives behind them. Men with experience of life, even if they are not old, think differently about all this. Here, too, of course, one must not be tempted into generalizations.

Thus, I at this moment imagine Schelling like the picture in his collected works. I have long been haunted by a peculiar feature in his face which gives him an expression of unrelieved and painful unrest. I remember the introductory words of his lectures in Munich and compare them with what he said when he began work in his youth as scholar and teacher. As a young man he wanted to comprehend and subdue the whole world. He comprehended and subdued it, not of course for himself, but like Alexander the Great, for the higher ends of history, for the triumph of ultimate truth. In old age, however, this is shown clearly even in the picture by the peculiar, blinking unrest of his still brilliant eyes and the undecided wrinkles or features of his face, as also by his opening lectures in Munich and later in Berlin, his letters and the remarks scattered about various of his works - in his old age he thinks and can only think of one thing: not he but Hegel has proved himself an Alexander the Great of philosophy. Hegel, his former friend and pupil, who had robbed him treacherously and shamelessly crowned his hollow head with the laurels due to him, Schelling. All questions have retired into the background, the first place is occupied by his intolerable and unremitting grief over the unjust judgment of man. And later, when, towards the end of his life, he was summoned to Berlin, he was still unable for one moment to forget the wrong done to him, and while speaking of the loftiest tasks of humanity and his prophetic calling he is thinking how to take revenge on his old enemy, how to eliminate from the book of history every trace of Hegel's philosophy and scientific activity - this would have been the only revenge which could have lightened his tortured soul. This is the truly dreadful and repulsive experience which Schelling underwent, an experience which, if Schelling had brought himself to use it for philosophy, might have overthrown all a priori which had yet been. But Schelling had behind him a strict schooling in philosophy and life, with its traditional apotheosis of past tradition and of "a priori ideas". Mad courage would have been required to abandon traditions sanctified through long centuries and trust oneself to one's own small, fortuitous "experience". To say to oneself that being and not-being, transcendental philosophy and philosophy of revelation, the whole past of humanity and even the future of the universe meant nothing, while the principal thing was that Hegel, this dull and loose man, this thief and murderer, had conquered the whole world by treachery while noble Schelling was left to himself and the consolations of metaphysics; and that this was the greatest event in the universe, upon which ancient and modern history, the whole past of humanity and its future turned as round an axis. And men guessed nothing of this. No one understands and no one troubles, although the frightful treachery, the supreme crime was done quite openly in the light of day, under the eyes of mankind and history!

So thought Schelling's "empirical ego", and expressed its thought shyly, almost imperceptibly, through hints alone, while his "reasonable ego" developed his earlier ideas of the beautiful and sublime as the one end of life, with apparent loudness and boldness, but without any inner conviction; the portrait and the style of his last works show this clearly enough. How deeply Schelling must at bottom have envied Hegel! Hegel was doubly a child of fortune: he had conquered the world and died with the happy certainty: "Si fractus illabatur orbis, impavidum ferient ruinae..." It never occurred to Hegel to suspect his own philosophic disinterestedness, but Schelling knew and could not help knowing - fate did not spare him, such knowledge was granted him - that disinterestedness was not for him, that in him the empiric ego had attained the upper hand over the transcendent and transcendental ideals. He knew that Hegel had conquered him, not only "here" in the world of appearances, but also "beyond" in the ideal world. That, not his body, but his soul was doomed and irrevocably lost because he had been untrue to the oaths which he swore as a young man to truth. What was he to do? There were two ways: the one which he himself elected later, in endlessly torturing himself, yet revealing neither to himself nor to others what went on in the secret places of his soul, and behaving as though he were remaining true both to philosophic traditions and to the oaths he had sworn. The other way was that which Luther had taken of old: to declare the Pope Antichrist and all oaths unpleasing to God. To admit openly before all the world that in his youth, seduced by the false temptations of corrupted Rome, he had committed a great crime. That when he promised to burn his "empirical ego" in honour of the absolute philosophic truths, he was betraying humanity and swearing the most godless of vows: "Ecce, Deus, tibi voveo impietatem et blasphemiam per totam meam vitam." Should he do this? But the time for a "reformation" of philosophy was clearly not yet come, and clearly it was not Schelling's destiny to become a Luther of philosophy.

There was, indeed, one other way out, which might appear the simplest and most natural. To admit his own weakness, his own impotence. There are weak men enough, what great misfortune would it be if Schelling were proved one more among many? Not all can be great, not all philosophers! This seems simple and natural; but Schelling did not take this way, and so far as I know, history can show no case of such open and honest humility. Teach humility - so did they all, but none can learn it. I think that if Hegel had found himself in Schelling's place, if it were not heaven crumbling over him but only history playing a trick with him, he would have shown no more self-abnegation than Schelling. And I think, too, that we cannot reproach Schelling if in his great "misfortune" he forgot the sublime philosophic edifices. There is obviously a balance in which Schelling's misfortune weighs more heavily than the philosophy of nature and the philosophy of revelation. But how shall we find such a balance? Schelling, where art thou now? And why comest thou not to defend thy good repute? Or is perhaps good repute itself fallen a prey to rust and moth, and do those who enter another world leave it behind here with us, together with their other treasure? In any case, so long as philosophy remains a handmaid of mathematics and positive science it will not find the right balance: that is almost a self-evident truth.


24 - THE LIFE OF IDEAS

Ideas live a quite independent, free, and autonomous life, as though there were no men in the world at all. They come - who knows whence? They go - who knows whither? Then they return when they think fit. And we "understand" this, it seems to us that this is good, that this must be so, that this is quite in accordance with our highest apperceptions which we have borrowed from the "royal" science of mathematics. Mathematics has the idea of the straight line, the point, the plane. A plane bounded by three intersecting lines gives a triangle; in a triangle the sum of the angles equals two right angles; if the bisectors of the angles meet at a point, the bisectors of the sides also meet at a point, etc. Ideas beget new ideas with a necessity highly agreeable to us. Yes, with necessity, and agreeable, for they release us from any responsibility for their activities and give us an example of exemplary constancy, unalterability, and complete subjection to the supreme law. The bisectors of angles and sides can under no circumstances escape their destiny. today, yesterday, and tomorrow, in the present, in the infinite past, and in the infinite future, in the sight of men, angels, and demons, they have crossed, cross, and will cross at one point. They have no fear of time the all-destroyer. God Himself cannot alter the established ordo et connexio of those things which term themselves triangles, bisectors of angles and sides, etc. Their nature is unalterable and - enviable lot! - they do not feel this their immutability as a burden. Necessity is for them a necessity of their own nature, and therefore harmonizes completely with freedom. The triangle is completely content with itself and has never envied the quadrangle, nor even the circle. And even the points of the circle have never desired to achieve the privileged position of the center, and there has been no case in history in which some ordinary point has rebelled against its lot, wanted to be center too, and sulked. And were men to attempt to stir up the points by arguments in favour of the equality of them all, etc., the points who, of course, are well versed in rational philosophy (which was born of them) would answer them: The will and reason of points, as of every ideal entity, differ toto caelo from the will and reason of men.

In the last end these are only similar words, just as one describes with one and the same word the dog-star and the barking animal called dog. And if any one had to learn, it would not be points from men, but men from points. For the point is, as is said above, an ideal being and not a temporal one, which knows neither birth nor death, while all that is real, and consequently man also, rises for a moment out of eternity and sinks into eternity again. If then, you would also share eternity - and who would not - you must become like us and cease to question "ideas" on the sources of their high being. Let them come whence they will and go whither they will, live their independent life and multiply according to their own laws. They are of the same essence as we, the points, and so too are those laws which we and they obey humbly without a murmur of rebellion. The best that you men, you real entities, can attain is to become like us ideal entities. As soon as you understand this, as soon as you melt with us into a single and eternal being, you will instantly make an end of that ceaseless unrest which through your being you have brought into the harmony of the eternal and ever self-contented world. Your unrest is your well-deserved punishment; the wisest among you have long since recognized this great truth. If you want to be released from torture, submit yourselves to ideas, become yourselves ideas. Herein and herein alone lies your salvation.

Orphus system


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