In Job's Balances \ III \ Children and Stepchildren of Time


     Modern philosophy, as I said before, admits no postulates. Still more deeply does it fear legends and myths. As we have seen, philosophers have never managed to do without postulates. We shall see shortly that both legends and myths are no less indispensable to them.

     Every one knows that according to the teaching of the Bible, God created man after His own image, and after creating him, blessed him. This is the alpha and the omega of the Bible; herein lies its soul, or if I may so express myself, the essence of Biblical philosophy.

     But many are probably unaware that the Hellenic world also had its legend and its myth of the origin of man, and that this myth lies at the base of nearly all the philosophical systems of antiquity, and has also been taken over entire, in disguised form, by modern rationalist philosophy. All that Hegel says in the work quoted above about the general spirit and the individual is simply a reproduction, adapted to our tastes, of this myth. Anaximander tells the myth as follows: By coming into the world, by voluntarily detaching themselves from the single common womb and becoming individual beings, things committed a great sin. And for this great sin they are doomed to the supreme punishment, annihilation. "All single things", and particularly living beings, and among living beings, of course, particularly man. God did not, as the Bible tells, create man of His free will, and after creating bless him; it was not with God's blessing, but against His will that man in self-willed and impious fashion detached himself and seized an existence to which he had no right. And consequently individual life is in its essence impiety, and for the same reason carries with it the doom of supreme punishment, of death. Thus taught the first Greek philosopher, Anaximander. Thus also taught the last great philosopher of antiquity, Plotinus: archê men toû kakoû hê tolma kai hê genesis (the beginning of evil is audacity and birth, i.e. the appearance of the individual being). The same, I repeat, is the teaching of modern philosophy. When Hegel says that the individual belongs to the general spirit, he is only repeating Anaximander's words. For the sake of completeness I will add that Anaximander's legend was not invented by himself, nor by the Greeks at all. It came to the Hellenic world from the East, the home of all legends and myths, on which the West, although it will not admit it, has always lived and still lives.

     We have thus two legends. Man as individual being came into the world in accordance with God's will and with His blessing. Or, individual life appeared in the universe against God's will and is therefore in its essence impious, and death, annihilation, is the just and natural punishment for the sinful self-will.

     How and by whom shall it be decided where the truth lies? Did God create man for life, or did man himself reach life in audacious wise, through guile and deceit? Or can it perhaps be that some men were created by God, while others forced their own way into life, against God's will? All these disquieting, fateful questions can in our opinion be answered only by human reason. And this answers that the last suggestion is wholly inacceptable. It is impossible that the metaphysical essence of all men should not be the same. It is also clear that man did not come into the world through God's blessing. Everyday experience shows us that all that arises is also subject to decay, that all that is born dies. And more: all that is born, i.e. has a beginning, must die, i.e. end. This is not only the teaching of experience; it is self-evident, it is that clearly and distinctly apperceived truth, that veritas aeterna, to which there can be no reply, which is as binding for God Himself as for man. Death is the natural end, the end adapted to the nature of things, to that of which birth is the beginning.

     But if this is so, then there is no doubt that individual man invaded existence wrongfully, and consequently has no right to life. In that case the Bible story is clearly false. If we accept it, that means that we must renounce Descartes' "clear and distinct truth" and make Pascal's "manque de clarté" our profession! Furthermore, the Biblical God Himself, of whom it is told that He created man after His own image, becomes a myth and a false invention. For God after whose image man was created, the personal God, the individual God, is a "vague" and thus a false conception. The true idea is a clear and distinct one, it is that general or collective spirit of which we have heard from Hegel. So thought the old Greeks, so thought the men who in modern times reawakened sciences and arts, and so our contemporaries think also. But it was left to Spinoza to call everything by its own name. "For the reason and will which constitute God's essence must differ by the breadth of all heaven from our reason and will and have nothing in common with them except the name; as little, in fact, as the dog-star has in common with the dog, the barking animal."

     In such words a disciple of Descartes began to speak. It is undeniable that Spinoza was, indeed, a disciple of Descartes, as it is undeniable that he was a child of his age. The stake at which Giordano Bruno had been burned was, metaphorically speaking, still hot, and already Spinoza dares to proclaim aloud that everything the Bible says of God is pure invention of the fantasy. Hegel repeated Spinoza two centuries later (all Hegel is derived from Spinoza), but never even attempted to speak so openly and brusquely. Not from caution; he had no need to fear either Bruno's fate or Galileo's. But Hegel did not need to speak thus, he had no such inner requirement. Spinoza had said everything before him and done what was requisite. It was by no means simply because he feared the persecution of the Church, as Bossuet assumed, that Descartes did not speak with Spinoza' s tongue. Even if he had had no fears he would not have said that "God's will and reason have as little in common with man s as the dog-star has with the dog, the barking animal." A man speaks thus only when he feels that in his words lies not a testimony but a judgment. A fatal, a final judgment, a sentence of death.

     I have quoted a short passage out of Spinoza's Ethics. I shall not maintain that very many similar judgments could be found in Spinoza's books or letters. On the contrary, open admissions and brusque, challenging assertions are comparatively rare with him, and when they are found it is always quite unexpectedly, as though they broke out against his will from some mysterious depths of his being, hidden even from himself. On the surface it is always the mathematical method: quiet, consistent, clear proofs. He speaks exclusively of the clare et distincte, as though clarity and distinctness alone occupied him. Had he read Pascal's remark that one could "faire une profession" of lack of clarity, he would presumably have said, in a favourite phrase of his, that Pascal was one of those men who sleep with open eyes or dream waking.

     Spinoza probably did not know Pascal, but the kind of thoughts which Pascal held, which he, so to speak, gripped convulsively, were, of course, only too familiar to Spinoza, and he held his historic mission to be to combat precisely this kind of thought. For when Pascal maintained that he did not accept clarity, he was rejecting precisely that commandment which the time-spirit had brought to every child of all the leading peoples of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Europe. Already Giordano Bruno went to the stake in fulfillment of the demands of the mighty spirit, Campanella passed his whole life in prison and suffered the most cruel tortures, Galileo escaped Bruno's fate only by pretended recantation. All the leading men of this epoch were drawn, were driven by irresistible force, to a common goal. All sought with joy and great delight that which Descartes described by the words clare et distincte. Mystery and the mysterious were to be banished at all costs from life, utterly eradicated from it. Mystery was darkness, mystery was man's most dreadful enemy.

     Only a few lonely men of Pascal's sort did not share the general joy and delight, as though they had guessed that clare et distincte or the lumen naturale were pregnant with great danger and that the time - spirit which had attained unrestricted possession of the best minds of the time was the spirit of lies and evil, not of truth and good. But Pascal, as I said before, stood outside history. Perhaps because he was grievously sick, or perhaps his grievous sickness was expiation (or a reward? that, too, is possible) for disobedience to the time - spirit. History is much more complex and tangled than Hegel thought, and the history of philosophy, if it did not let itself be seduced by simplified and therefore apparently convincing interpretations, could discover many things much more interesting and significant than the stages of development and self-sufficient dialectic. Perhaps it would then become clear, at least in part, whence the spirit gets that strength with which it subdues man, and wherein the function of that spirit resides. Perhaps we should understand then that the task of the philosophy of history does not at all lie in depicting the "process of development" of philosophic systems, that such a process can indeed be observed, but that far from initiating us into the holy of holies of philosophers, into their most secret thoughts and experiences,~ it actually robs us of the possibility of holding intercourse with the outstanding men of the past. The history of philosophy, philosophy itself, should be and often has been simply a "wandering through human souls", and the greater philosophers were ever wanderers through souls.

     Our history, however, has nothing to say about Pascal in his character of philosopher. Spinoza' s own "historical" significance was determined, not by what was for him the most important and significant thing, but by what he said and did against his own will in fulfillment of the demands of the time-spirit. For it must be repeated, again and again: our history in general, and the history of philosophy in particular, is, in Hegel's words, exclusively interested in the "general", in the conviction, instilled into us by the Hellenic philosophers, that the "general" alone is real and sure, while all "individual" is through its origin criminal, impious, and illusory.

     Spinoza's influence on the philosophy which succeeded him was immeasurable; and that precisely because, in contrast to Pascal, he did not evade the mission imposed upon him by the time-spirit. I think it will be no exaggeration to say that Spinoza, not Descartes, must be described as the father of modern philosophy, if by philosophy one understands attitude to life in the comprehensive sense of the words, if one seeks in it what the Greeks called prôtai archai hridzômata pantôn (the first principles, the roots of all things), or Plotinus to timiôtaton (what matters most). Descartes, as we remember, did not allow the thought of God to perturb him in the least. If God will not and cannot cheat men, if God is of His nature immutable and always like Himself (the two ifs are equivalent, each serves as condition for the possibility of positive, scientific knowledge) - that is all that is required. Descartes did not expect and did not wish to expect more from the "perfect being". When he proclaimed his "de omnibus dubitandum" he had no intention of really doubting everything. The only doubt was whether any one in the universe could hinder man from creating science, physics, analytic geometry, prima philosophia. He was convinced in advance that if he were left alone and not disturbed by the evil but mighty, or the good but unstable gods, he would create a perfect knowledge.

     How could a lonely man, come but yesterday into the world and to-morrow doomed to die - how could he resolve to undertake so gigantic a task, apparently so far beyond his strength, and to assume personal, individual responsibility for it? And yet he did so resolve, and without the slightest fear. On the contrary, he rejoiced and was glad; God does not interfere in our affairs, God stands outside us, or better still, there is no God. It is clear that Descartes did not so much as suspect what he had undertaken when he proclaimed his de omnibus dubitandum, his clare et distincte, and his stable, immutable God who would not cheat man and could not even if He would. He did not guess that what had happened to Adam of old was being repeated with him. The part of the Serpent is played here by the invisible time-spirit (which is so invisible that Hegel himself, and all of us after him, are prepared to hold it, not for a mythological creature, but for a mere notion). Eritis sicut dei scientes bonum et malum: ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. Hegel, who was much more care-free than Descartes, used to say outright that man, having eaten of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, had become as God. Mystery had vanished out of the world, everything had taken on sharp and clear-cut outlines, everything had become clear and distinct.

     Now we understand Pascal. In his whole being he felt that clarity and distinctness, the stable God who cannot and will not cheat man, were the beginning of death and annihilation. Spinoza felt this also. But God's ways are inscrutable. Like the Prophet Isaiah, Spinoza heard the voice of God, saying, Whom shall I send? Who will go? And he answered, Here am I, send me. And when God commanded him, saying, Go hence and proclaim it to all peoples of the earth, Spinoza went forth and said to them those dreadful words which I have quoted: God's will and reason have as little in common with man's as the dog-star with the dog, the barking animal. In other words, the Bible's words: "Man was created after God's image", are lies and invention. The Greeks, to whom the wisdom of the far East had reached, knew the truth. God did not create man; man himself rushed wickedly and impiously into being. A God as creator of heaven and earth, who created mankind of His free will, must not be. Such a God must be slain; and slain, through inscrutable decree, by him who loved Him above all others. We remember the story of how God tempted Abraham, commanding him to bring his first-born son Isaac as a sacrifice. But at the last moment an angel stayed the father's hand from the murder. Spinoza, on the other hand, had to carry his dreadful work to an end. No angel came flying to stay his hand, and he who loved God best became His murderer.

Orphus system

   home    intro    texts    links    biblio ToC