In Job's Balances \ Foreword \ Science and Free Inquiry


     This is what honest Spinoza taught us. He discovered the last judge for the living and the dead, bowed himself down before him, and left us as his testament the law that the supreme, ultimate wisdom consists in submission to this judge, by virtue of whose will-less will the sum of the angles of a triangle is equal to two right angles, man is born, and all those things happen which occur in life.

     Whatever the historical philosophers may say, Spinoza's successors have not yet, to this day, succeeded in freeing themselves from the power of the ideas proclaimed by him. Neither Kant's criticism nor Hegel's "dynamism", neither Fichte's doctrine of science nor Leibniz's and Schelling's attempts, not even the latest philosophic critique, has been able to step outside the magic circle which Spinoza drew. Much has been said about Spinoza's rationalism, people have taken great pains to contrast our "empiricism with his "reason"; but all this has led to nothing, and could not do otherwise. For no one has dared touch Spinoza's basic thesis. Every one since his day has been convinced that if we want truth, we must turn to that "unjust" judge from whom we have learned that the sum of the angles of a triangle is equal to two right angles. We all believe that there is no other, "just" judge, and can be none, and we also believe that even Spinoza himself got all his truths from the unjust judge and submitted to his judgments, even with joy. Obedience has always been regarded here on earth as the supreme virtue, for only if all men declared themselves ready to subject themselves to one principle, only then, according to our conceptions, could that "harmony" be realized which is also considered to be the supreme and the ideal achievement. No philosopher would dare say what frivolous Susanna says to her lovesick Figaro: that her caprice, the caprice of a living being, stands above the inanimate norms and laws. Susanna has first made Figaro her submissive subject; only then does she argue with him. Philosophers, on the other hand, have to turn to listeners who are totally indifferent to them, and will not subject themselves under any circumstances unless absolutely forced to obedience - whether by physical compulsion or by dialectic.

     And so we become witnesses of an astonishing phenomenon. The philosophers - men to whom truth is dearest of all things, who should be the honest men par excellence - prove less honest than uneducated women. The Thracian girl laughed when she saw Thales lying in the well; Susanna said quite openly that her caprice was for her the only source of truth. Has one ever heard anything of the sort out of the mouths of wisdom's representatives? Even the Sophists, who, God knows, were courageous men, and have compromised themselves so deeply before the bar of history through their courage - even they never allowed themselves so much honesty. They "disputed" with Socrates, they wanted Socrates and all other men to acknowledge their wisdom, to admit that their assertions were not an expression of their "fortuitous" wishes and ambitions, but something which they had received from a principle standing over men and gods, but containing nothing human, not even possessing one single characteristic of animate nature. This was precisely the point - the one point - over which Socrates used to catch them in his dialectical net - assuming, that is, that what Plato tells us of Socrates' disputes with the Sophists corresponds to historic truth. For had the Sophists, like the merry Thracian girl or carefree Susanna, answered all objections with laughter, or had they refused to argue at all against universally binding truths, either because they thought argument superfluous or out of contempt, then Socrates, the invincible master of argument, would have been entirely helpless. But the Sophists themselves clearly believed in reason's sovereign right to decree universally binding truths, or if they did not so believe, Fate has not been pleased to preserve in history the traces of so extraordinary a piece of daring. This is quite easy to suppose; we know well enough that the Gods are envious, and jealously guard the most important secrets from the eyes of men.

     However this may be, the history of philosophy shows us that the search for truth has always been for man a search after universally valid judgments. Man has not been satisfied with possessing truth. He has wanted something else, something which seemed to him "better": he has wanted his truth to be a truth "for all". To establish a right to this, he created the fiction that he did not himself create this truth, but took it over, not from a being like himself, a living, essentially unstable, mutable, capricious being, but from a being which knows no alteration and will know of none, having no will at all and caring nothing either for itself or for anything else: that being which teaches us that the sum of the angles of a triangle is equal to two right angles.

     But if the source of truth is something so peculiar, so absolutely inanimate, then human virtue reduces itself altogether to self-renunciation. Impersonal and passionless truth on the one hand, and on the other the readiness to sacrifice all to this truth - this was obviously the primum movens even of ancient philosophy. In the Middle Ages and even earlier yet - almost since the beginning of our Christian era - the philosophers and theologians who took their inspiration from the Bible have been trying to combat the "wisdom" bequeathed to them by the Hellenes. In general, however, these attempts have been unsuccessful, and foredoomed to failure. Some decades before the Bible was made accessible to the European peoples, the Jew Philo began his endeavours to "reconcile" Oriental revelation with Western science. But what he called reconciliation was treason. A few Fathers of the Church - Tertullian for example - were aware of this. But not all of them saw, as Tertullian saw, wherein lay the essence of the Hellenic spirit and the danger of its influence. He alone understood that, as he expressed it, Athens could never agree with Jerusalem. He alone resolved, and that only once, in the famous saying which I have often quoted and which, in my opinion, as I have also said, each of us should say daily before sleeping and repeat on waking - resolved to recognize the formula of incantation which alone can give us freedom from the magic spells of centuries: non pudet, quia pudendum est; prorsus credibile, quia ineptum est; certum, quia impossibile (I am not ashamed, because it is shameful; it is absolutely credible, because it is absurd; it is certain, because it is impossible).

     With such a novum organon did Tertullian attempt to attack the Holy Book. Once only in the course of the two thousand years which have passed since the peoples of the West began to read the Bible has it occurred to some man that all the pudet, ineptum, impossibile so cherished by reason take from us what is most necessary and valuable. No one, not even himself, has hearkened to Tertullian's voice. His words have either been forgotten altogether, or, if occasionally quoted by lay or theological writers, cited only as an example of supreme contradiction and perfect absurdity. Every one thinks it his duty, not only to reconcile Athens with Jerusalem, but to require of Jerusalem to seek her justification and her blessing in Athens. Philo's thought has even made its way into Holy Writ and has given the Fourth Gospel a tinge of its own. "In the beginning was the Word" - that meant: first Athens was, and only later Jerusalem. And consequently everything which proceeded out of Jerusalem must be weighed in the balances of Athens. The Bible God must consent to alter His "nature" where He fell short of the Hellenic conception of the supremely perfect being. Above all, He had to renounce His "image", for the supremely perfect being - of this the Greeks were definitely assured - may have no "image", least of all man as an image...

     The ontological proof of God, which is so attractive to many, even to-day (and even if it was rejected by Kant, yet Hegel has convinced us that we must return to it), means nothing else but the readiness to deliver up Jerusalem to the judgment of Athens. The idea of the supremely perfect being had arisen in Athens, and the Bible God, if He wished to attain the predicate of existence, had to seek it on His knees in Athens, where all predicates which cannot dispense with universal recognition were forged and distributed. Not one "reasonable" man will admit that God will be able to achieve the necessary predicates according to Tertullian's novum organon: non pudet, quia pudendum est, and certum, quia impossibile. And that is not only true for our contemporaries alone, or for antiquity; it must not be forgotten that the "religiously" minded Middle Ages openly revered in Aristotle the praecursor Christi in naturalibus and cherished the thought that the philosophus was a precursor of Christ in supranaturalibus also.

     This ancient idea, which did not die even in the "dark epoch" of the Middle Ages, found its full modern expression in the philosophy of Spinoza. To-day this has acquired such predominance that there is no one living who even suspects that honest Spinoza was by no means so honest as is commonly thought. He spoke quite otherwise than he thought, and that right often. It is not true that he held his philosophy to be not the best, but the true. Neither is it true that when he created it he wept not, laughed not, was not wroth, but only listened to the voice of reason, that voice of that universally indifferent, because inanimate, judge, who proclaimed that the sum of the angles of a triangle is equal to two right angles. Let him who does not believe me read the Tractatus de intellectus emendatione, or at least its opening words. Then he will see that Spinoza, like Thales of old, had fallen into an abyss and cried unto God out of its depths. It is equally untrue that he treated of God, the understanding, and the human passions as men commonly treat of lines and surfaces, and that he, like that judge whom he imposed upon man, was indifferent towards good and evil, towards the beautiful and the ugly, and only sought for "understanding". He had "borrowed" the mathematical trappings in which he enveloped his thoughts in order to give more weight to his expositions - since men are so ready to identify weightiness with significance. But try to tear asunder these trappings, and you will see how little the true Spinoza resembles that Spinoza whom history has handed down.

     I repeat that, in direct contradiction to what he told his correspondent so categorically, he held his philosophy to be not the true one, but the best. He admitted this himself at the end of his Ethics where he says: omnia praeclara tam difficilia, quam rara sunt - all noble things are as difficult as they are rare. He was not seeking there for the verum, but the optimum; yet he, honest Spinoza, told men that that which decrees that the sum of the angles of a triangle is equal to two right angles is able to solve all the questions which arise in the restless and yearning spirit of man. How it could come about that honest Spinoza all his life long proclaimed so ugly a lie - that I describe in another place. Here I will only repeat once again that that lie has been accepted by the men of to-day for the only possible supreme truth. To them Spinoza seems not merely a sage but also a saint. He is for us the only sober man amid a drunken mob, as Anaxagoras once appeared to Aristotle. He has actually been canonized a saint - we need only recall Schleiermacher's words: "Sacrifice reverently with me to the shade of holy, outcast Spinoza", etc.

Orphus system

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