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


     Honest Spinoza proclaimed a lie to mankind with unprecedented force and enthusiasm. It is true that, as I said before, this lie was not of his own inventing. It has lived in the world since the day when human thought began to seek after the dominion of "knowing" over life. If we are to believe the textbooks of philosophy, this took place in Europe six hundred years before our Christian era, and Thales was the father of this lie. If we are to believe the Bible, it happened far earlier, when there were yet only two human beings upon earth, and the father of this lie was not a man but the devil, who had taken the shape of a serpent. We put no faith in the Bible; Spinoza has revealed to us that we can find there a lofty morality, well fitted to us, but that we must seek the truth elsewhere.

     However this may be, whether the lie comes from Thales or from the devil, one fact remains unaltered: men are deeply convinced, and hold it to be the most patent truth, that they are in the power of an eternally existent, incorporeal, and indifferent might to which it is given to decide, not only what is the sum of the angles of a triangle, but also what fate awaits man, the peoples, and even the universe itself. Or, as the same Spinoza expressed it with the enigmatic and disquieting calm peculiar to him: God's reason and will have as little in common with man's reason and will as the the constellation called the Dog with the dog, the barking animal. Any attempt to escape the power of this conviction, which has grown up through centuries, shipwrecks on a whole series of pudet, ineptum, and impossibile which are ready thought out, equally "self-evident", and invincible by virtue of their self-evidence.

One of the outstanding examples of the unfree character of modern philosophical thought is perhaps the famous dispute between Hume and Kant. Kant often declared that Hume had awakened him out of "dogmatic slumber". And in fact, when we read Hume and those passages of Kant in which he appeals to Hume, we might think that this could not be otherwise, and that what Hume saw and what was visible to Kant also, after Hume, must have awakened not only a sleeper but even a dead man. Hume wrote thus:
"Is there any principle in nature more mysterious than the relationship between body and soul, a principle by virtue whereof the spiritual substance acquires such power over the material that the most delicate thought can affect the coarsest of matter? If we had the power by our secret wishes to move mountains or to guide the planets in their courses, this mighty power would not be more extraordinary, nor would it more exceed our understanding, than that of which I have spoken."
Thus spake Hume. Kant, repeating his words almost exactly, wrote:
"That my will moves my arm is to me no more comprehensible than if someone should say that it could hold back the moon itself."
What more is required? One might suppose that for men who had seen this, any further slumber, any further faith in understanding, in intelligence, would become impossible and useless, and that they, like Tertullian, withdrawing themselves from the power of the devil's whisperings and awakened to final reality, would break all their fetters of pudet, ineptum, impossibile.

     Far from it. Both Hume and Kant awakened in a dream. Their awakening was an illusory one. Even the circumstance that they had discovered within themselves the wondrous power to move mountains and to guide the planets in their courses did not teach them that they had any other destiny than that of perpendiculars and triangles. Hume began to speak of "custom", and forgot the wonders which he had seen. Kant exiled the wonders, in order not to be forced to see them, into the field of the "thing in itself", and bequeathed to mankind the "synthetic a priori judgments", transcendental philosophy, and his three miserable "postulates". That is to say, he carried on Spinoza's programme to the end; he rescued piety and morality, but betrayed God by replacing Him by an idea, which he created after the image of the highest criterion of mathematical truths. And this sort of philosophy appeared to every one a "sublime" philosophy par excellence. Morality, like her mother, reason, or what was called reason, became autonomous, self-ruling. And the "purer", the more completely autonomous and self-ruling morality became, the more reverently man bowed down before her.

     After Kant came Fichte, and once again resurrected Spinoza in his "ethical idealism". Man's highest duty is submission, submission to a principle which is as alien to him as the perpendiculars and triangles extolled by Spinoza, which in their humble obedience to the supreme principle are eternal and unequalled models for unquiet, unreasonable, restless humanity. Hegel moved in the same direction; for all his opposition to Spinoza, for all his obstinate attempts to overcome his master's "static" with his "dynamic", yet he only fortified still further humanity's belief in the "autonomy" of reason. For him philosophy was the "self-development" of the spirit, i.e. the automatic unfolding of the absolute, which in the "ideality" of its nature and in its lifelessness surpassed the mathematical conceptions themselves. I will not even speak of the philosophers of the present day. Their awe of "reason" is so great, their belief in the unshakable strength of the synthetic a priori judgments so absolute, that it never even occurs to any of them that a further struggle were possible. The "wonders" revealed for a moment to Hume and Kant are forgotten. He who is not for science must expect the fate of Thales; sooner or later he will be "swept off the face of the earth", or, like Thales, fall into a well followed by the laughter of pretty young girls.

     I have said that honest Spinoza proclaimed to mankind a patent lie. Perhaps I shall be asked: "Why, then, did men believe him? How did he succeed in bewitching them; in stealing away their sight and hearing?" The attentive reader will probably already have seen how these questions are to be answered. It is not for nothing that I have had to mention Thales so often in these pages. He did, in fact, fall into a well - that is no lie, no invention. And in the same way a misfortune will happen, sooner or later, to any one who does not look before his feet. In other words: one cannot despise common sense and science with impunity. It is precisely for that reason that Hume and Kant were in such a hurry to forget the wonders they had seen; just for that reason did they cling so fast, the one to custom, the other to synthetic a priori judgments. Their pupils and admirers felt this, and it guaranteed the success of their philosophies. He who fears a fall must believe in Spinoza's "honesty", must listen to Hume and Kant, and protect himself by what means he can against everything extraordinary and "miraculous".

     And yet Spinoza and all his spiritual heirs and children proclaimed a lie. No further words are needed; one may not with impunity despise common sense and science - man's "everyday experience" shows him this. But there is yet another kind of experience, and this shows us something different. It shows us that we are equally unable to confide ourselves "with impunity" to common sense and science. "Punishment" awaits both him who confides and him who rejects. Did the Thracian girl who laughed at Thales escape the abyss? Where is she? What has become of her merry laughter? History does not tell us. History, a strange science which tells of the actions of men long since passed away, never remembers what awaited the "victor" nor what abysses were prepared for him. One might learn by heart many volumes of historical works and yet never know so "simple" a truth. The more historical works one reads, the more thoroughly one forgets the simple truth that man is mortal. It is as though history had set itself the task of reconstructing life as if men never died. Yes, it is so.

     History has its own philosophy, which demands of it just such a reconstruction of the human past. How else could the senseless myth have arisen among men that willingness to obey science and common sense guarantee impunity? It is, incidentally, to be presumed that the historians would not achieve so difficult a task unaided. Behind them stands another, incomprehensible, driving force, or in other words - although this expression will not be pardoned me - a will. This will creates that enchantement et assoupissement surnaturel, that patently supernatural enchantment, of which Pascal speaks, and of which neither Kant nor the theoreticians of cognition who followed in his footsteps have ever caught so much as a glimpse. Neither mathematics nor the sciences which form themselves on its model can disenchant human consciousness and free it from the supernatural magic spell.

     Indeed, does science aim at "free" inquiry at all? Does it seek the path to reality? I have already adduced the thoughts of such courageous men as Hume and Kant. As soon as anything extraordinary confronted them, they withdrew into their shells and decided that this was precisely what one was not bound to see, that it was that which is not: a "miracle". To make my point clearer still, I will adduce a further example out of a book by a very well-known and influential modern philosopher. In order to explain to his readers the meaning and significance of the "philosophy of identity" bequeathed from Schelling to Hegel, of whom the former had in his turn been "enlightened" by Spinoza's books, the learned historian writes:
"So long as one allows cognition to 'direct itself' according to the object, in the sense that this describes an aim which, however closely approached, yet is and remains external, so long does the coincidence of the 'subjective' and the 'objective' remain an incomprehensible miracle. This miracle only vanishes when...", etc.

[Solange man die Erkenntnis sich nach dem Gegenstand "richten lasst" in dem Sinne, dass dieser ein Ziel beziechnet, dass fur sich bei aller noch so grossen Annaherung doch immer ein ausserliches ist und bleibt; - solange bleibt die Zusammenstimmug des "Subjectiven" und des "Objectiven" ein unbegriefliches Wunder. Dieses Wunder schwindet nur erst... etc]
     I could choose as many similar examples as I liked. They show clearly wherein lies the "fundamental faith" of science and philosophy, which latter keeps its eyes fixed on science, convinced that if it does not live in good understanding with science it will inevitably be "swept off the face of the earth" (a quotation which is again not my own, but taken from a very famous present-day philosopher). A miracle is "incomprehensible", since it cannot be caught in the net of the "universal and necessary judgments". Ergo: were it to present itself to our eyes, our science would teach us not to see it. Science cannot be appeased until everything "miraculous" vanishes from its field of vision ("the miracle vanishes"). In this spontaneous self-limitation, a limitation such as human thought has clearly never known in any previous age, science yet identifies itself quite honestly with free inquiry. What else, I ask, is this but the "supernatural enchantment" which tortured Pascal so painfully? With the methods elaborated by science for discovering the truth we are irrevocably condemned to admitting that what is most significant for us appears non-real par excellence. When it appears before us, a mad horror seizes us, the soul fears that the great nothingness will swallow her up for ever, and she flees back, without a look behind, to where the merry, carefree Thracian girls stand triumphant.

     What way out is there? How are the whisperings of delirium to be overcome, if they are decreed by a supernatural force? And "how can man dispute with God?" A supernatural magic can be dispelled only by a supernatural force. Spinoza's judge, who was not satisfied with power over triangles and perpendiculars, but subjected to himself living men also, will of course never give his sanction to the arbitrariness implicit in the supernatural, and will continue to terrorize us with the odds of his "necessity". But neither his sanction nor his threats exercise the same effect now that the magic has vanished. All the pudendum, ineptum, and impossibile which our forefathers plucked from the tree in Paradise are forgotten. Forgotten too are the "universally valid judgments" and the self-sufficient piety which so enticed us. Then, and then alone, will free inquiry begin. Perhaps the reader who is not repelled by the long "pilgrimages through souls" which form the material of this book will become convinced that Truth lies in the Scriptures and that Spinoza was destined, in fulfilment of the will of Him who sent him, to carry away this truth from our contemporaries.

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