Potestas Clavium \ III \ On the Roots of Things
But it is most difficult for us to reconcile ourselves to this thought. And the philosophy of Schopenhauer furnishes us the best proof of this. Nietzsche says somewhere that morality was always the Circe of the philosophers. That is true. But it is still more true that reason also knew how to enchant the philosophers. It is known that Schopenhauer was not at all inclined to rationalism, not only on theoretical grounds but by the very nature of his mind. For him, reason is a parasite, almost a prostitute, as it is for Luther. And no one among the philosophers knew as well as Schopenhauer how to recognize and underscore so cleverly the weak sides of reason. He alone among the pupils and disciples of Kant accepted entirely the transcendental esthetic and logic of his master. Reason does not and can not give us true knowledge. Its function is to create an illusory world, the world of Maya, through the forms of sensibility, space and time, and the categories, chiefly the category of causality. Hence our knowledge does not extend to reality, which reason by its very nature is incapable of grasping, but only to "phenomena" which do not "reveal" but rather hide true reality. It would seem that in these conditions - after Kant had divined that reason is the source not of truth but of error and falsehood - that the whole task of philosophy should have reduced itself to delivering men from the deceptive truths imposed by the parasite and liar, reason. The essence of the world is will and its voice, its decisions, should be for us the only source of true knowledge. But the force and power of Circe-like reason are such that it succeeds in subjecting the finest and most daring minds, and there still has not been found any wise Ulysses capable of discovering the miraculous flower and breaking the magic of the sorceress.
All the philosophers have sung and glorified reason, and Schopenhauer could not avoid the common fate. What once happened to the Biblical Balaam happened to him: he wished to curse reason but in reality blessed it. His philosophy reduces itself to a kind of debate between will and reason, a debate in which it is almost always reason that triumphs. As soon as the "will," that is, the true metaphysical essence of being, tries to raise its voice, reason begins to rattle its arguments and drowns the voice of the will. The will of man aspires to life and joy; reason "demonstrates" that joys are ephemeral and life poor and empty. The will aspires to love, but reason delivers a brilliant, witty, and long discourse on the theme of the metaphysics of sexual love, from which it follows that love is only falsehood and illusion. The will of man aspires to eternal life; reason, relying on Aristotle (reason cannot do without Aristotle), proves, as if it were 2 x 2 = 4, that everything that is born must necessarily die and that consequently man must die, that our fear of death and our repugnance before the end is only a prejudice which is not justified by anything and which pales and vanishes like the flame of a candle under the immortal sun of understanding.
However, according to the doctrine even of Schopenhauer, reason does not know anything and cannot know anything; reason is a servant, a slave, whose role consists only in executing the orders of the will. By what right, then, does it permit itself this arrogant tone in arguing with its mistress? It ought to obey without murmuring but, being a rebellious slave, it dares to command and dominate. Schopenhauer himself remarks that reason in him betrayed its role, "emancipated itself," and began to function on its own account. He notices this but does not disturb himself on its account and even rejoices in it. He rejoices that the magician whom he had succeeded in chaining for a moment has again escaped and taken up its criminal activity! Why does he rejoice in it? For the reason, probably, that otherwise philosophy would be impossible, at least philosophy as "rigorous science. But philosophy does not wish to be only "rigorous science"; it seeks also the most important, it wishes to discover rhidz˘mata pant˘n, to arrive at the roots of life. And thus the dilemma: if you obey reason, you will obtain "rigorous science" but you will find yourself infinitely removed from the rhidz˘mata pant˘n; if, however, you aspire to the rhidz˘mata pant˘n, in other words, if you admit that the most important, to timi˘taton, is found where these deep roots are hidden, you must renounce reason and the hope of ever obtaining the certitude that what you consider as the roots of things are indeed roots. For if reason has always seduced man, it is because it gave him assurance, certitudo, of which Spinoza, who was ordinarily so reserved and so chary of words, speaks in inspired tones.
Reason is the sister of morality, and it has always known how to act by irrational means, by what are called in logic argumenta ad hominem. To be sure, reason will never admit this and even gets angry when it is suspected of such disloyalty. It pretends to absolute impartiality and supreme objectivity. Yet I believe that if, in place of his "epiphilosophy," Schopenhauer had written a special chapter on "The Metaphysics of Objective Reason," following the programme of his article on "The Metaphysics of Sexual Love," his philosophy would have gained much by it. For if it be true that the will is the metaphysical principle of life, it is hardly right that reason be delivered and emancipated from its subaltern role. In all probability, among the other illusions that reason has created at the order, and following the indications, of the will, its dream of freedom is likewise only pure illusion, an illusion created by the needs of the will. The will required that reason believe itself autonomous and in possession of all its rights. Therefore it inspired in some the idea that en archŕi ŕn ho logos, "in the beginning was the logos," and in Schopenhauer that, though the logos was not in the beginning, it was given to it to free itself from the metaphysical principle of life. Schopenhauer, who mocked human illusions with so much spirit, allowed himself to be tricked by his own reason and ended by believing in the fundamental lie of life, thus sharing the fate of all men.
There are here more than enough contradictions and complications, but I do not believe that the object of philosophy consists in unraveling or at least in cutting, at any cost, the Gordian knots of existence. If life is filled with complications, philosophy can not and must not aspire at any cost to "clarity and distinctness." If there are contradictions in life, philosophy must live from these contradictions. I think that the very abundance of contradictions and complications constitutes the merit of Schopenhauer. It is true that he let himself be seduced by "reason," but we must also do him justice: the "will" in him speaks sometimes with such force and so loudly that the considerations of reason completely cease to exist. It is not for nothing that he so insisted on the metaphysical significance of music. In his philosophy there is much music, which did not take any account of the "word," neither at the beginning nor at the end. To be sure, the essence of every philosophy, even that of Aristotle, consists entirely in music. In other words, philosophy not only sees but hears, and the source of philosophy is not only "spiritual" vision but also "spiritual" hearing, and perhaps even - who knows? - "spiritual" feeling (as in Plotinus), smelling, tasting.
One cannot even be sure that there do not exist certain "sensible faculties" still not discovered by psychology which will be found to be, and always to have been, the source of highest metaphysical revelations. It is clear, in any case, that Schopenhauer under no circumstances should have forgotten the will for the sake of reason, even if it appeared that the will, i.e., the supreme metaphysical principle, could not furnish scientific knowledge. One could have concluded from this only that scientific knowledge is not the final and most perfect form of knowledge and cannot lead us to the rhidz˘mata pant˘n, the roots of things. And, further, that there is a certain knowledge whose "logical structure" does not at all resemble the logical structure of scientific knowledge. The philosopher not only has no right to scorn it, but his duty, or rather, his royal privilege, is to seek this knowledge. But Schopenhauer, bewitched by his Circe, wrote:
These words contain all the commonplaces and all the prejudices of traditional philosophy. So could speak only the reason which imagines that it has been delivered finally and once and for all from its subaltern role and has become its own master. Just as in the popular Russian fable of the fisherman and the goldfish, reason suddenly wishes that life itself be at its service. It disdains everything that cannot be proven, admits only the consciousness common to all, and values only sure knowledge. It does not accept any "gifts," it takes only what belongs to it, and it "draws everything from itself." All this is certainly only a conventional lie, and the best refutation of the lie is offered us by the very works of Schopenhauer himself where we find at every turn statements which are based on nothing and which have no right to pretend to prove anything whatsoever. And if one eliminated from his writings all the passages which do not conform to the demands imposed by him on philosophy, there would remain to us only a few dozen pages of general dissertations having no relationship to philosophy - that is, a broken vessel, as in the fable in question: this is all that remains of the philosophies which have conscientiously observed the tradition of scientific rigor.
- Die Philosophie hat ihren Wert und ihre WŘrde darin, dass sie alle nicht zu begrŘndenden Annahmen verschmńht und in ihre Data nur das aufnimmt, was sich in der anschaulich gegebenen Aussenwelt, in der unseren Intellekt konstituirenden Formen zur Auffassung derselben und in dem allen gemeinsamen Bewusstsein des eigenen Selbst sicher nachweisen lńsst. (W.a.W.u.V.,II 720 Recl.)
[What is important and valuable about philosophy is that it refuses all groundless suppositions and only accepts data that can be firmly demostrated - whether these concern the outer, sensible world, or the intellectual forms that our mind constructs in order to know this world, or the facts, common to all, of our consciousness of self. - A.K.]
But Schopenhauer himself is different: without any embarrassment, he sometimes glorifies and sometimes insults reason. When he needs to, he recalls the "primacy" of the will and rails against those who believe in pure reason. Turn the page following the phrase I have just quoted above and you will see Schopenhauer in the company of people in whose midst he would be embarrassed even to speak of reason, and much more so of rigorous science. He converses with Angelus Silesius, admires Meister Eckhardt and the Theologia deutsch, praises enthusiastically the famous quietist Molinos, and, as if he had not just spoken of the scientific rigor of philosophy, says: "Every philosophy which is obliged to reject such a way of thinking... must necessarily be false" (Ibid., 724).
Then several pages further, in order to enable everyone to establish clearly that paradoxes are dearer to him than "well-founded" truths, he quotes the words of Saint Augustine:
Now let someone try to be clever and understand what this means: through theses based on reason, the only theses that have the right to be quoted in philosophy, or arbitrary statements coming from a mysterious source: sic volo, sic jubeo, stat pro ratione voluntas [thus I will, thus I command, my will is reason enough].
- Novi quosdam, qui murmurent: quid si inquiunt, omnes velint ab omni concubitu abstinere, unde subsistet genus humanum? Utinam omnes hoc vellent! Dumtaxat in caritate, de corde puro, ex conscientia bona, ex fide non ficta: multo citius Dei civitas compleretur, ut acceleraretur terminus mundi.
[I know those who murmur: if everyone wished to abstain from intercourse with women, what would happen to the human species? O that everyone might wish it! With love, with a pure heart and a good conscience, with an unsimulated faith, the city of God would arrive much more quickly and the end of the world be hastened.]
I do not wish to quote other fragments, even though they be very interesting, of the same chapter or of other writings of Schopenhauer to render still more evident his perfect indifference toward the principles that he himself had raised. It is quite clear that it is not "pure reason" nor the "consciousness common to all" that is the source of his philosophic aspirations. He sees, hears, touches, and has much more confidence in his impressions than in "proofs."
Schopenhauer could become what he was only because he was not afraid to scorn, when he needed to, ratio of every kind and to give full freedom to his own voluntas. To his own voluntas and not to voluntas in general, i.e., to that "personal," creative, living will which, contrary to all "eternal" laws, escaped from the bosom of the general and the immutable in order to realize its perhaps temporary and changing but independent existence. And if, nevertheless, reason appears in Schopenhauer de jure as the supreme tribunal of the living and the dead, this only indicates, it seems to me, how solid and deeply rooted are human prejudices or, if you wish, how immutable are the decrees of God.
For "reason" is the fiery sword by means of which the angel placed by God at the gates of Paradise drives men away. How strange: Schopenhauer did not like the Old Testament. But in the legend of the original sin he sees a profound meaning and a great mystery. Yet he could not or would not see that what constituted the horror of the original sin, which is transmitted from generation to generation, is that the man who has tasted the fruit of knowledge cannot do other than think by means of general ideas and forever seek "proofs." To listen to Molinos, Schopenhauer must first test his sayings by those of Angelus Silesius or of Meister Eckhardt. It was only when he became convinced that "all" say the same thing that he was willing to believe them and invited others to believe them. That is, he recognized as the supreme judge of truth and of error the "consciousness common to all." But even if the testimony of all those whom Schopenhauer invoked were found to be in agreement and if it were proven, as Schopenhauer supposes, that they could not have influenced each other directly or indirectly, this would not at all guarantee the truth of their teaching. They could all have been victims of the same falsehood and the same illusion. Were not the inhabitants of the New World as certain as the inhabitants of the Old World, from which they were separated by oceans, that the sky is a solid vault and that the truth is immovable? They were all similarly mistaken.
So, then, Molinos and Angelus Silesius and Madame Guyon could all be mistaken in the same way, and the method of "reason" on which Schopenhauer counts so greatly gives us only the appearance of certitude. Also the philosophy which hopes to find the truth by the help of general ideas lives an illusion.
What happened to Molinos, what he saw and understood, existed only for him, and beyond the limits of all "general." Angelus Silesius lived something else, and St. Theresa something still different. To verify or test Silesius by Eckhardt and vice versa is equivalent to renouncing the experience of both. And what is still worse is to conclude from the experience of two or three men, or even of a great number of human beings, what happens in general and what can happen.
By this method the logical "eye" creates for itself the illusion of solid, transparent concepts, just as the physical eye creates for itself the illusion of a crystal vault above our heads. The general and the necessary are non-being par excellence. And only when it recognizes this will philosophy redeem the sin of Adam and arrive at the rhidz˘mata pant˘n, the roots of life, at that timi˘taton, that "most important," of which men have dreamt for so many thousands of years.