A Thousand and One Nights
(by way of a Preface)
The good is not God. We must seek that which is higher than the good. We must seek God.
- L. SHESTOV
Qu'on ne nous reproche donc plus le manque de clarté, puisque nous en faisons profession.
Do not reproach us with lack or clarity, for we make it our profession.
Has there ever been even a single philosopher who recognized God?
Aside from Plato, who recognized God only in part, all the others sought nothing but wisdom. How strange! The golden age of Greek philosophy coincides with the decay of Athens. Now, one would think that periods of decay would teach man to question, that is, to direct his thinking toward God. Obviously from the fact that man is miserable and that states, peoples, and even ideals perish, it does not by any means "follow" that an omnipotent, omniscient, absolutely good Being, to whom one can address prayers in the hope of being heard, exists. But if the existence of such a Being could be deduced from facts, one would have no need of faith and could be satisfied with science, to whose domain all "it follows" belong.
The "logic" of the religious man, however, is quite different from the logic of the scientist. The psalmist says, de profundis ad te, Domine, clamavi (out of the depths I cried unto Thee, O Lord). What relationship is there between de profundis and Dominus? If we were to put this question to a scientist, he would not "understand" it; he would say that between these two terms there is not and can not be any relationship, any more than between the howling of the night wind in the chimney and the movement of my pen on paper. At best, he would appeal to Aristotle's classic argument about the necessary and the contingent: "The causes from which lucky results might happen are indeterminate; and so luck is obscure to human calculation and is a cause by accident but, in the unqualified sense, a cause of nothing. It is good or bad luck when the result is good or evil, and prosperity or misfortune when the scale of the results is large. Since nothing accidental is prior to the essential, neither are accidental causes prior. If, then, luck or spontaneity is a cause of the material universe, reason and nature are causes before it" (Aristotle, Met. XI, 8, fin.).
The relationship between de profundis and Dominus is certainly an accidental one: reason which knows the fundamental causes of things proclaims this without any hesitation, and nature in this case takes the part of reason. For nature Dominus, clamare, and de profundis are three ideas which have no inner connections among themselves. I can make Aristotle's words still clearer by quoting Hegel who, more than Aristotle himself, was permeated with the spirit of the Stagyrite's philosophy. "The movement of the solar system follows immutable laws: and these laws are its reason." What more could one wish? It is completely Aristotelian. The supreme principle - "reason" and "nature" - is finally nothing other than the laws of motion. Spinoza with his geometric method was even more daring and rigorous than Aristotle and Hegel. He was, indeed, not afraid to declare openly: De natura rationis non est res, ut contingentes, sed ut necessarias contemplari (the nature of reason is not to contemplate things as contingent but as necessary), thus making everything contingent necessary. In our example, de profundis as well as clamare and Dominus must, according to Spinoza, be changed from contingent to necessary, that is, lose all the shadings of good and of bad (agathê kai kakê tychê) that Aristotle had still believed it possible to preserve. And still less can good and ill luck (eutychia kai distychia) constitute a philosophical problem for him. I do not wish here, naturally, to defend eudemonistic or even utilitarian theories, though I must confess that in comparison with the mechanistic world-view the most vulgar hedonism appears singularly profound. Furthermore, we must not lose sight of the fact that in Aristotle himself good and ill luck are not to be taken in the sense of ordinary success or failure. He says that luck or accident (tychê kai automaton) was the cause of the appearance of the world. A "success" such as the appearance of the world is credited to luck!
And yet this is perfectly correct: from the point of view of reason the appearance of the world is a matter of pure chance. To put it differently, reason is compelled to admit that the world might have arisen but that it also might not have arisen. If one wishes to know the whole truth, reason itself finally admits the possibility neither of the rise nor the existence of the world - so that the world arose and exists contrary to reason and to all possibilities. And when Aristotle declares that luck is obscure to human calculation, he expresses himself inexactly or, rather, he does not tell all. Not only is luck obscure to human calculation - luck does not at all exist and can not exist for human reason and it can not, of course, be the object of scientific cognition. "The accidental, then, is what occurs, but not always nor of necessity, nor for the most part. Now we have said what the accidental is, and it is obvious why there is no science of such a thing; for all science is of that which is always or for the most part, but the accidental is in neither of these classes." (Met., XI, 1065a).
Indeed, chance or the accidental exists neither always nor most of the time. It irrupts brutally and, as some think, illegitimately into well-regulated and organized unity. But if knowledge has for its purpose, as it did among the ancients, to find the prôtai archai, the fundamental principles, and to arrive at the rhidzômata pantôn, the roots of everything, has it the right to push chance or luck out of the field of its investigations? Chance does not occur always, it occurs only rarely - but does this mean that it is less important, less essential? Aristotle, it is true, unhesitatingly declared that preference must be given to that which occurs always and often rather than to that which occurs rarely and only from time to time. But this is merely an arbitrary statement that has no foundation and no value as an argument. If Aristotle could find nothing other than this to defend his ideas, it is that he really had nothing more to say.
For it is very clear that the significance, the meaning, and even the reality of a thing does not at all depend on its frequency. Genius is met with very rarely while there are multitudes of mediocre people; yet it is genius that attracts our attention. Revelations occur once in a hundred or even a thousand years, but if only one single revelation had occurred since the beginning of the world up to our time, it would have for us infinitely more value than the phenomena that repeat themselves every hour or even every minute. It will be objected that phenomena which repeat themselves can be verified and even reproduced artificially (experimentation) while accidental facts can not be verified. We confirm every day the fact that a stone sinks in water, but it was once only, on Mount Sinai and in the absence of all witnesses, that God revealed Himself to man. How shall we know with certainty whether this really happened or not?
It appears that the only essential and decisive argument that can be offered against the accidental is not that it is devoid of importance, but that it cannot be seized and recorded. Everything that is accidental is, by its very nature, capricious and arises only for an instant. That is why Plato, in formulating the fundamental thought of Greek philosophy, distinguished (Timaeus 27D) ti to on aei, genesis de ouk echon, kai ti to gignomenon men aei, on de oudepote, that is, "that which always is and has no becoming, and that which is always becoming but never is."
That which always is, is conceived by reason, by thought, as always equal to and identical with itself. As for that which arises and disappears - how is it to be seized and fixed? Reason is absolutely incapable of seizing it. In our example, de profundis ad te, Domine, clamavi, man implores God from the depths of an abyss of horror and despair. Here everything is only "accidental." When there was no abyss or horror or despair, man did not see God and did not call upon Him. But it also sometimes happens that the abyss as well as the horror and despair are there, but there is no one to call - God is absent. God is not always present. He also appears and disappears. One cannot even say of God that He is frequently present. On the contrary, ordinarily, most often, He is not. It follows then that He cannot be the object of scientific knowledge. And Aristotle's primum movens immobile, that primum movens which Aristotle calls God, is not at all worthy of being so called or, more exactly, primum movens is the direct opposite of God - so that if this is the prôtê archê, the first principle, we must say frankly that God is not. For whatever be the abyss into which man finds himself thrown, whatever be the horror and despair in which he founders, he will never implore a "prime mover," even if it were self-evident to him that this mover has always been and will be eternally. Such a God would never have inspired the psalmist, and if there had been only this God, we would never have had psalms or prophets or apostles. In brief, apart from Plato - who, as I have said, could never decide between reason which conceives what is always equal to and identical with itself and the irrational but powerful tendency that drew him toward the ancient myths - all the other philosophers were firmly convinced that God exists only for the people, only for the mob.