LEV SHESTOV \ Speculation and Revelation

Karl Jaspers


On Philosophical Honesty
(Karl Jaspers' book "Vernunft und Existenz")

Published in Put, no. 54 (August-December 1937)


     Karl Jaspers is undoubtedly at the present time one of the most eminent philosophers in Germany. He has achieved this position by reason of the depth, the power, the intensity, and the quite exceptional sincerity of his thought (that Redlichkeit, or honesty, which he so loves and values in Nietzsche and Kierkegaard and which Kant inculcated in German philosophy). Jaspers' small book Vernunft und Existenz, (Groningen: Verlag J.B. Walters, 1935),[1] which consists of a series of lectures that he delivered in Holland in the German language and that were also published in Holland in German, is therefore of enormous interest for us. It is reminiscent of the comparatively little read but nevertheless remarkable writings of Kant that are likewise not long: "On the Failure of All Philosophical Attempts at Theodicy" and "What Does It Mean to Orient Oneself in Thinking?"

     "The word reason," says Jaspers, "carries for us the Kantian scope, clarity, and veracity" (p. 32). It is indisputable that Jaspers's book would have completely satisfied the great philosopher of Koenigsberg. Jaspers could have taken as the motto of his work the words with which Kant closed the second of his essays mentioned above: "Friends of mankind and of that which is most sacred to it!... Do not deny to reason what makes it the highest good on earth, namely, the privilege of being the final touchstone of truth (der letzte Probierstein der Wahrheit zu sein)."

     Kant's essay was written on the occasion of the well-known controversy of H.F. Jacobi with Moses Mendelssohn. Although Kant always reproached Mendelssohn for not understanding the critical philosophy, in the controversy with Jacobi he forgot and forgave him all his old sins and stood entirely on Mendelssohn's side, insofar as Mendelssohn defended, against Jacobi, the right of reason to be the final touchstone of truth, or, expressed in the more solemn language of Saint Anselm, the right to be "judex et princeps omnium." "On the other hand I will show," writes Kant, "that in reality there is only reason, not an imaginary secret feeling for truth, no rapturous intuition (Anschauung) under the name of faith on which tradition or revelation can be grafted without the consent of reason, but, as Mendelssohn constantly and with rightful zeal asserted, only genuine human reason, whereby he found it necessary to orient himself, and which he commended." In full agreement with Mendelssohn, Kant rejects in the most decisive fashion a faith in which, without requesting reason's consent, the content of revelation and tradition is placed.

     In Jaspers the discussion is, of course, not about Jacobi who - rightly or wrongly - occupies a very modest place in the history of European thought, but about two philosophers of modern times whose significance and influence in our time, as Jaspers says, cannot be compared with any other, namely, Nietzsche and Kierkegaard. Moreover, both of them, in contrast to Jacobi, are far from being models of starry-eyed idealism and of universally understandable piety. For all their extraordinary endowments - Jaspers unhesitatingly numbers them among the greatest philosophical geniuses of mankind - both of them, in their extreme, harsh, unrestrained utterances, which take account neither of our experiences of reflection nor of the traditions of duty and worth that have been hallowed by centuries, are a challenge, as it were, to divine and human law.

     What mainly startles and shakes us is their totally unrestrained hatred and contempt for reason. Everything that they said to us is stamped with this hatred and contempt. Is it still possible, after Nietzsche and Kierkegaard, to trust in reason, to seek truth in reason, to construct a philosophy under its leadership? The more so as Jaspers, I repeat, does not wish and is not able to turn away from Nietzsche and Kierkegaard, to repudiate them - his thinker's conscientiousness (Redlichkeit) does not permit him to do this. "With them a jolt of Western philosophizing occurred whose final significance is yet to be estimated" (p. 11). And further: "Their thinking creates a new atmosphere. They go beyond all the boundaries that were still self-evident before them. It is as if they no longer shrink from anything in thought" (p. 11).

     In such and even stronger expressions does Jaspers speak of the philosophical creativity of Nietzsche and Kierkegaard. In contemporary literature no one has assessed them so highly and spoken of them with such tenderness and love bordering on reverence, even on adoration. Nevertheless, we cannot accept them. "Both make a leap toward transcendence, but a form of transcendence where in truth perhaps no one follows them" (p. 21). "No one has accepted their answers; they are not our own" (p. 31). And further: "Their common effect, to enchant and then to disappoint, to seize and then to leave one standing unsatisfied as if hands and heart remained empty, is only the clear expression of their own intention... They abolish every satisfaction" (p. 30). And yet philosophy is able and is obliged to give people satisfaction and has always given it. "It passes through the ages like a secret which, however, is always open to him who wishes to participate in it, a secret which in every generation can again lead to what is reported by Parmenides as well as by Anselm: a non-conceptual satisfaction in ideas which, for the uncomprehending, are only formal abstractions, empty follies" (p. 115).

     How explain the startling fact that philosophy, which in every generation gave satisfaction to that person to whom it revealed its essence, revealed nothing to such brilliantly perspicacious men as Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, according to Jaspers, were? "So long as man philosophizes he knows himself... in connection with the secret-open chain of men searching in freedom" (p. 113). What then? Were Kierkegaard and Nietzsche not freely searching men? Jaspers answers: "Exceptions are they in every sense" (p. 23). "The question is how we, who are not exceptions but seek our inner way in the light of these exceptions, are to live" (p. 30). In other words: on the one side are "all of us" or, as Dostoevsky says, "omnitude," [2] and on the other side are those solitary people who, as Jaspers expressed himself about Nietzsche and Kierkegaard, "sind wie ausgestossen" ("are as pushed out"). Both on the one side and on the other philosophy is created. But where is the true philosophy? On the side of "omnitude," or on that of the lonely persons? And how should one "orient" himself in this question? Who will judge here? Reason, which Kant and Mendelssohn regard as the only touchstone of truth? Or, to speak as Jaspers does, that distant God who, "beyond all near Gods," requires of us "not to fall into the distraction of multiplicities related only by indifference" (p. 79)?

     Jaspers also uses the word Existenz, of which he says that "it was raised by Kierkegaard into a sphere through which it allows to appear in endless depth what withdraws from every definite will" (p. 32). But I ask again: to whom belongs the last, the decisive word? The distant God, to whose demands "omnitude" is prepared beforehand to submit, or one of the near Gods with their super-rational or anti-rational content of faith before whose compelling truth all must bow down ("vor dieser gewaltsamen Wahrheit soll alles sich beugen") (p. 79)? And why do "all of us" so calmly agree to accept the demands of the distant God and become so indignant and disturbed ("gewaltsame Wahreit!") at the thought that it is necessary to trust in the near God? This, of course, is a fundamental philosophical question and at the same time the fundamental question of Jaspers' book. Anticipating the further exposition, I shall respond to it here in part.

     We are all deeply convinced that there is not and cannot be any choice here. Power belongs to the distant God, not to that near God of whom Kierkegaard speaks and who, finally, has never been and could not be. Belief in a near God is, to be sure, a powerful social factor that must not be overlooked, but truth we can find only with the distant God who obtains his expression in reason, which illuminates being and makes it transparent for us. All the near Gods - among them also Kierkegaard's God - pass away, but the distant God never passes away. And it is useless to dispute with him: he will reach his goal all the same. The only thing that man can do is to reflect clearly and precisely in his truths that which is eternally enciphered in the universe. We can and must direct to being that presents itself to us the question which "since time immemorial and now and always has been raised and constantly leads to insolubilities, the question, What is being?" - Jaspers quotes Aristotle (p. 35). But once we accept this statement of Aristotle, which, as Jaspers says, already by itself arouses trust in the enduring basic meaning of philosophizing, namely, that this question and with it the task it sets for us, even though in endless transformations, "already from the beginning of philosophizing until today always recurs" - then we are at the same time compelled also to accept that definition of truth which Aristotle proposed to us (even though it contains the regressus in infinitum that was so hated by the Stagyrite): to say of that which is that it is, and of that which is not that it is not, means to speak the truth; to say of that which is that is is not, and of that which is not that it is, means to speak falsehood. Or in the brief formulation taken over from Isaac Israeli by the Middle Ages: adaequatio rei et intellectus. Moreover, we will also have to accept the Aristotelian noûs choristos ("intellectus separatus"), against which the great Scholastics struggled so obstinately and so vainly. Whatever the "intellectus separatus" may reveal to us in being - no matter how terrifying and repulsive it may appear to us - we shall nevertheless have to accept it without complaint. Der existierende Mensch, the living person, is not free to choose here: the choice has already been made for him and without him. Aristotle, for example, asserts, "Necessity does not allow itself to be persuaded." Reason has discovered this in being, which has been lit up and made transparent by it.

     Jaspers speaks of what he calls das Umgreifende ("the Encompassing") that is present to us "either as being itself (als das Sein selbst), which is everything, in which and through which we are; or das Umgreifende as that which we ourselves are ("als das wir selbst sind") and in which every definite mode of being appears to us" - and he considers that "precisely here does the deepest insight into being seem attainable" (p. 35). And about what a fact is and what significance it has, he says, "Das Umgreifende which we are has its boundary in fact..., we do not create even the slightest particle of dust in its empirical existence" (p. 41). Another boundary is transcendence: "It is that which, as the absolute Umgreifende, just as inexorably 'is' as it remains unseen and unknown" (p. 42). Jaspers speaks of the three modes of what, following Kant ("We follow first of all the other way, which is unavoidable since Kant," p. 30) but expressing himself in his own fashion, he calls das Umgreifende, das wir sind ("the Encompassing that we are"). The first mode is das Umgreigende Sein ("the Encompassing of empirical reality"); the second, das Bewusstsein überhaupt ("consciousness as such"); and the third, das Umgreifende als Geist ("the Encompassing as spirit"). Although, as Jaspers says, all these modes of the Encompassing presuppose one another - "it is a basic error of pure understanding to suppose that to become the object of thought means to make conceivable in the sense of consciousness as such" (p. 87) - he himself nevertheless recognizes the decisive role, après tout, of "consciousness as such," which in the newer philosophy has taken over the role of the "noûs choristos" or "intellectus separatus" of Aristotle and the Middle Ages. The examples quoted above are sufficient evidence of this.

     From whence comes the "inexorability" of all the judgments that have been spoken of here? Why does being "encompass" us? Why does fact set a boundary for us and our truths? And to whom does the sovereign right belong to say about something that it is or is not a fact? Why is it not given to us to create even one dust-particle of existence? If we listen to Aristotle, Kant, Mendelssohn or Jaspers himself, we always run up against such final and inexorable judgments which testify that our reason - whether it be called Vernunft or Verstand - does not by far limit itself to the modest task of lighting up and making transparent that which was called into existence and created before it and without it. It seeks after more, much more. A fact is only a fact, and not a boundary and not a limit. Also in being itself there is no indication that it is not given to man to create even the slightest particle of dust. Being also contains no indication whatever of the opposition established by Kant between the phenomenon and the thing-in-itself, which Jaspers formulates in the words: "The Erscheinung, phenomenon or genuine appearance (not Schein, or 'semblance'), in the Encompassing of being itself (in den Umgreifende des Seins selbst)" (p. 41). Nietzsche rebels with all his energy against "Encompassing that we are" ('das wir sind') is not being itself but this formulation of the question in Kant (Jaspers himself recalls this, although he does not take account of it), since he felt with a sure instinct that, if he yielded here, he would never be able to free himself from the fetters of reason. Reason brought with it this opposition, as it also brought with it the judgment that it is not given to man to penetrate into the essence of things; that human inquisitiveness must halt at a well-known boundary (well-known to whom? to reason?), because here the eternally hidden begins, and that "the ultimate of thinking as of communication is silence" (p. 82).

     One could adduce any number one wishes of such judgments of reason, relating not to secondary but to fundamental problems of philosophy, from which it is obvious that reason does not content itself with the modest role of illuminating reality and making it transparent. What it offers as light is not at all light. Reason does not illuminate but judges. Those "inexorabilities" and "impossibilities" of which Jaspers has told us do not rise out of "fact" but out of reason. Kant never denied this; according to Kant reason is the source, and moreover the only source, of synthetic judgments a priori. All the judgments that have been spoken of here are not analytic but synthetic, and, along with this, as a priori they do not allow or know any other court than reason: Roma locuta, causa finita. The idea of the infallibility of the church, the idea of the "power of the keys," is by no means an original idea of Catholicism. The conviction that in the Middle Ages philosophy was the ancilla theologiae arose only through a misunderstanding. Exactly the opposite is the case: theology has always been the servant of philosophy and continues to be such to the present day. Revealed truth, as such, has satisfied men little and rarely. And they have always striven to adapt it to reason, to justify it before reason, to transform it into reasonable truth - that which semper ubique et ab omnibus creditum est, or, more correctly, credendum est. Theology, just like philosophy, shuns the "exceptions" and considers as truth only that which is acceptable to omnitude or, at least, as in Jaspers, that which appears true to many, very many.[3]


     "They leave us without giving us a goal and without setting us definite tasks. ...The question is how we, who are not exceptions but seek our inner way in the light of these exceptions, are to live." (p. 30). To this question we must reply with another question: Can we, in looking at Nietzsche and Kierkegaard,join ourselves to them? And a second, far more disturbing question: Who has suggested "to all of us" that in looking at Nietzsche and Kierkegaard, about whose lives Jaspers himself tells us so much that is horrible, that their horrors do not concern us, that we cannot and do not need to help them in any way, that we must forget them and only seek to make use of their experience for our needs?

     Nietzsche speaks about how one "philosophizes with the hammer." But if one only looks at him who philosophizes with a hammer, having freed oneself in advance from everything that this hammer forges - what can one then see besides an effective, perhaps blinding firework of sparks that can in no way play the role "of flaring lighthouses" ('flackernder Leuchttürme') (p. 104)?

     Even more decisively than Nietzsche does Kierkegaard refuse to display himself as a spectacle for our curiosity, even if it be honest and removed from all vanity. This is a distinguishing trait of what he called, in opposition to speculative philosophy, existential philosophy. Jaspers, to be sure, considers that there is no existential philosophy. "The name is misleading, so far as it seems to limit. Philosophy can always wish only to be simply the ancient, eternal philosophy" (p. 121). Only the philosophia perennis, the philosophy of the "secret-open chain of men seeking in freedom" (p. 113), can give us that "non-conceptual satisfaction in ideas" about which people dream. But Nietzsche and Kierkegaard recoiled from this philosophy. Even more: neither the one nor the other considered as "free" those people from whom Jaspers, in the name of "omnitude," expects truth.

     Undoubtedly Socrates must be recognized, as the omniscient oracle proclaimed, as the wisest of men and, consequently, the most notable representative of the philosophia perennis. But for Nietzsche as well as for Kierkegaard, he is a fallen man, the sinner par excellence. And, indeed, he is a fallen man precisely because he valued above everything reason, which lights up all things and makes them transparent. The fall into sin and sin, however, obtain their expression above all in the loss of freedom. Moreover, both Nietzsche and Kierkegaard, in their struggle with Socrates, were perfectly clear about the fact that Socrates lived and ruled in their own souls. Nietzsche considered himself as well as Socrates a decadent, a fallen man, while Kierkegaard, although he recognized in Socrates the greatest of men who lived on earth before Christianity, associated inseparably with him the idea of blind fate, which ruled over himself even though it was hated by him. The break with Socrates was for both of them the most significant and decisive event of their lives. When Kierkegaard had to turn away from Hegel (and from the Greek symposium) he experienced this as the greatest shock. "For that reason he still did not dare to confide in anyone and to initiate him into his misfortune, into his shame, that he does not understand the famous man" (Philosophische Brocken, 2:22). And it must be assumed that for Kierkegaard, both in Hegel and in Socrates, so long as he still had not overcome them, or, more precisely, had not dared to take up the struggle with them, the most incomprehensible and enigmatic thing was that "non-conceptual satisfaction in ideas" ("unbegreifliches Befriedigtsein in Gedanken") about which we have heard from Jaspers. Kierkegaard had to admit that the Hegelian satisfaction, like all the Hegelian ideas, were for him and for all the uninitiated" only a "formal abstraction, nonsense void of all meaning." And he experienced this as his greatest shame and as a terrible misfortune.

     So it was with Nietzsche also: "suddenly" what Socrates proclaimed as the highest good (megiston agathon) - conversation on virtue - appeared to him as "empty abstraction and nonsense void of all meaning." At first, he was, of course (as almost all of his writings testify) horrified when he discovered his incapacity to understand the wisest of men, and only after long, stubborn, and agonizing struggle, did he decide, as he later expressed it, "to give his virtuous vice a name." The break with Socrates was that underground, invisible blow or jolt that cast both of them, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, out of the "general," out of "omnitude"; that placed them before questions that for the overwhelming majority of men do not, as it were, exist at all, and that taught them to think as no one else thinks.

     Their works are filled to overflowing with reports about this. In Nietzsche it is his "ugliest man," "the man into whose mouth the serpent crawled," etc.; in Kierkegaard it is the "notes of a leper," Job rolling about on the dung-heap, Abraham raising the knife against his son - all those horrors that look at us from almost every page of his writings and journals. It is therefore hardly correct to assume, following Jaspers, that Nietzsche and Kierkegaard regarded themselves from their earliest years as chosen persons upon whom fate had placed a great task. The opposite rather is correct: they always felt themselves weak and insignificant. In his letters Nietzsche says that he can only "sing a bit and sigh a bit" (ein bischen singen und ein bischen seufzen), and we have a right, without running any risk of error, to assume that his question, "Can an ass be tragic when he is unable either to bear his burden or to cast it off?" reflected how he appeared to himself in the difficult years of his "underground" existence. And Kierkegaard speaks of nothing else than his impotence: this is the pivot of all his reflections.

     There is also no necessity whatever to connect the philosophical ideas of Nietzsche, as Jaspers does, with the contemporaneous situation, with the destruction of all authorities, with that regarding which he tells us: "For in the reality of western man something monstrous has taken place in all stillness" (p. 10). In essence, the last century - beginning with the fall of Napoleon up to the first World War - was the calmest and happiest period of the history of mankind known to us. As for the destruction of authorities, men have, of course, destroyed them more than once before, for example, the Sophists at the time of Socrates.

     Kierkegaard and Nietzsche themselves persistently and invariably connect their philosophy not with the general mood of their epoch but with the conditions of their personal existence. Nietzsche often repeats that he is indebted to his sickness for his philosophy. Kierkegaard not only speaks but cries out about the thorn in the flesh sent down to him by fate. There have always and at all times been men who "have fallen out of the general," who "have been expelled from omnitude." In Shakespeare Hamlet expresses this with tremendous power in the words, "The time is out of joint!" - words that are, as it were, a response to what Cassius says to Brutus in Julius Caesar: "Of your philosophy you make no use, if you give place to accidental evils."

     If Kierkegaard and Nietzsche struggle against the contemporaneous situation and rebel against it, that is only insofar as it represents the "universal," which at all times has pushed out those who could not adjust themselves to it or were deprived of the possibility of doing so. Here two philosophies stand over against each other: the philosophy of the everyday and the philosophy of tragedy. For "omnitude" reality always appeared "rational," that is, as it is supposed to be, while for solitary men reality hides in itself unavoidable terrors which, in the light of reason, become even more fearful, since reason presents them as final, eternally unconquerable, inexorable. [4] That is why Socrates, who serves, as it were, as an embodiment of light and of reason, was always a stumbling-block for Nietzsche and Kierkegaard. Both of them knew that Socrates was the greatest representative of thinking mankind; but precisely because of this they felt that, to use Luther's language, "that beast without whose killing man cannot live" (ista bellua qua non occisa homo non potest vivere) had made a nest for itself in him (and through him also in them). Socrates' "reason" signified for them the destruction of the living person and his freedom. Hence, Nietzsche's "transvaluation of all values," his "beyond good and evil," his "will to power," his "morality of slaves and morality of masters;" hence, Kierkegaard's "suspension of the ethical," his "Absurd," his "faith," his teaching about original sin and "anxiety before nothingness." What appeared to Socrates as the highest good, megiston agathon - his capacity and readiness to repulse, and protect himself from, reality and its "inexorabilities" through "thinking" and to find in this an "incomprehensible satisfaction" - was for Nietzsche and Kierkegaard the expression of the greatest fall. In Kierkegaard the knight of resignation is set over against the knight of faith, of boundless audacity, as in Nietzsche the morality of slaves is set over against the morality of masters. Both are unwilling to accept reality, to obey it; they are unwilling "to interrogate" being: they wish to command, to give orders, where everyone obeys.

     Here now appears in Kierkegaard the setting over against each other of Job and Hegel, which seems to reason totally incongruous: from the famous philosopher he goes to the "private thinker" Job. Job is for him, as a thinker, greater than Hegel, greater than Socrates and Plato (the Greek symposium). Jaspers assures us that reason can light up everything and make it transparent and that where reason ends, thinking also ends. He inherited from Kant the endless fear and certainty that only reason can protect man from "fanaticism and superstition" ("Schwärmerei und Aberglauben"). We saw that this certainty was shared with Kant by Mendelssohn who was never able to raise himself to the critical philosophy: in this respect the reason that is verified through criticism is in no way distinguished from that which is not verified. Undoubtedly Kant and Mendelssohn had every ground for being afraid of "fanaticism and superstition," as well as of the possibilities of brutal, animal arbitrariness connected with them, which for us, the inhabitants of earth, represent a constant threat and from which reason in fact is able more or less to protect men and had, indeed, de facto protected them. How excellently does Jaspers, remembering Hegel, say in regard to logic that, by "bringing about clarity of consciousness," it prevents "the transformation of men into an existence in which unclear impulses, suggestions, transpositions, and concealments extinguish the possibility of any substantial selfhood, and for which finally psychoanalysis would be the correct theory" (p. 107).

     All this is correct, and all this Nietzsche and Kierkegaard know just as well as we. And yet we hear from Nietzsche, "Nothing is true: everything is permitted." And, what is more, he goes into frenzied rapture over the "blond beast" ("blonde Bestie"). It seems to us that this is the most extreme madness, that it is fanaticism. We have become accustomed to think that reason is, precisely because man is distinguished by it from the beast, pars melior nostra, "our better part," and now suddenly the "blond beast" [5] is placed before us as a model! It is as if Nietzsche felt that the best in man is not at all that which distinguishes him from the animal but that which he has in common with the animal: freedom, fearlessness, spontaneity - and these qualities that are most valuable in man are also what attract Nietzsche most in every living being. I would here recall his remarkable words about Socrates: "It is self-deception on the part of philosophers and moralists that they have already stepped out of décadence, by making war against it. The stepping out is beyond their power: what they choose as a means, as rescue, is itself again only an expression of décadence - they change its expression but they do not remove décadence itself. Socrates was a misunderstanding... The most dazzling daylight, rationality at any price, life clear, cold, cautious, conscious, without instinct, in opposition to instinct, all this was itself only a sickness, a different sickness - and by no means a return to 'virtue,' to 'health,' to happiness... To have to fight against the instincts - this is the formula for décadence: so long as life is on the ascendant, happiness is equivalent to instinct." Light, clarity, consciousness, or reflection - that with which "true philosophy" connects all its longings and hope - are for Nietzsche only symptoms of a grievous, incur able, fateful illness of the spirit. One must flee from Socrates as from the plague, flee without turning one's head and even without thinking beforehand about where one will arrive.

     In Kierkegaard this is expressed just as strongly, if not more strongly. To be sure, he does not speak of the blonde Bestie, but from Hegel and the Greek symposium he bursts toward Job. Did Job, however, go far away from the blonde Bestie? To all the exhortations of the friends he responds with howlings and cries of woe, with an animal-like growling - altogether like a huge beast of prey that has become entangled in the nets. And his friends are really rational and noble people who honestly tell him what their intellectual conscience suggests to them: one must submit to the inevitable and adapt himself to it, for man by himself can add nothing to being, which is inexorable in its immutability.

     It is, therefore, unusually instructive to compare how Kant and Kierkegaard read the Book of Job and what they read out of it. For Kant the meaning of the book comes down to a moral controversy between Job and his friends. Reason, which always and everywhere serves as the touchstone of truth, knows definitely and finally that it is impossible to help Job, that he must accept and endure the misfortune that has fallen to his lot, and that the only satisfaction on which he can count consists in hearing a word of praise from the "ethical." Not even God Himself can give him anything more: for God that which is is just as inexorable as it is for men. It is absolutely impossible to return to the much-plagued old man his herds, his riches, his health, his children: the light of reason reveals this eternal truth both to men and to the Creator. Consequently, what the Bible relates - that Job supposedly received an in integrum restitutio - belongs in the realm of Schwärmerei or Aberglauben, or in both one and the other. Kant quite calmly and effortlessly conveys the content of the Book of Job as if God's judgment and decision came down only to a moral rehabilitation of the much-plagued old man: the friends had called him a sinner, but God said they were wrong, that the calamities that fell upon him are, like everything in the world, explicable in a natural way, and that in regard to the inexorability of the natural order of things God is just as powerless as mortal men. Mendelssohn, undoubtedly, would not have judged otherwise. Kant does not even mention that Job's herds, his riches, his health, his slain children were returned to him, as if this were not spoken of at all in Holy Scripture. [6] With Kierkegaard, however, it is just the opposite: he thinks only of this, speaks only of this. For the Greeks, he writes, the beginning of philosophy was wonder or astonishment (the Platonic and Aristotelian dia to thaumadzein), but the beginning of existential philosophy is despair. And Job, for Kierkegaard, is not only a much-plagued old man but a thinker, to be sure, not one celebrated in the history of philosophy, not a professor publicus ordinarius, but a private thinker. Job's hastily thrown-out, fragmentary retorts, his cries and laments, however, seem to Kierkegaard more valuable than anything that was spoken at the Greek symposia. Basing himself on Job, he proclaims that from now on the source of truth will no longer be recollection, as Plato taught, but repetition. And he sees the meaning of the Book of lob in the fact that God returned to Job everything that was taken away from him.

     I shall say it once again: indisputably reason is completely on the side of Kant and Mendelssohn. And what is more: Kierkegaard knows this just as well as all of us, but precisely because of this he went from Hegel and the Greek symposium to Holy Scripture, from our enlightened knowledge to the ignorance, the unwillingness to know, of the uneducated hero of one of the biblical stories. If Kant, if Mendelssohn, if "omnitude" are in possession of the truth, then there is no salvation for Job, then Job is lost. For Job also is an exception, he also has fallen out of the "general," he also is, as Kierkegaard and Nietzsche said of themselves, "driven out of the land of their fathers." Reason with its clarity and transparency, and with the truths revealed in its light, is unable to help Job. The truths, like the whole structure and order of being, are inexorable: so it is and so it will be, they say, and even do not say - for they are really dumb, and others speak for them - but simply seize the living person and choke him in their hard embraces, paying no attention to his cries and entreaties. And these truths control the world.

     This not only we Europeans know with assuredness; Asiatic knowledge in this respect is just as unshakable as our own. For the wise men of the East, just as for our own, Job is an ignorant and immoral man, condemned by morality. Nietzsche's friend and school-fellow, the famous Indologist Paul Deussen, who is permeated with Indian wisdom, is confident that it is an honor for the "Our Father" that, of its seven petitions, only one - about "our daily bread" - is low and related to earthly things while all the rest are of an exalted kind. And, of course, he thinks thus above all because he has learned from Kant and Schopenhauer, as well as from his Indian philosophers - reason is really everywhere one and the same - that bread is not to be awaited from God, whether one asks it of Him or not: bread does not come from God. "So philosophizing from the very beginning is a union with the One through the searching thinking of the existing person [des existieren den Menschen]," as Jaspers expresses himself (p. 109), and philosophy turns to those people who know how to obtain "bread" themselves or are prepared to renounce bread.

     Nietzsche, as is evident from his letters to Deussen, very sharply condemned the ideology of his friend. "Everything solemn repels me," he notes in his diary, as if he repeated Dostoevsky's words in Notes from the Underground. Especially hateful to him was joyful submissiveness in regard to the inexorabilities discovered by reason in being. He wished not dependence but power, he wished not to obey but to command, he wished to be master not only over morality but over truth, while European as well as Indian wisdom called him to submissiveness. To be sure, he spoke of the will to power only in moments of inspiration, when he succeeded in shaking off the power and yoke of reason. But as soon as he turned his face to reason, everything changed: it is not for nothing that he said that morality has always been Circe for the philosophers - for morality really is not separable from reason. In the very last years of his life, having forgotten his will to power (Luther's "Deus omnipotens ex nihilo creans omnia") as well as the morality of masters and the transvaluation of all values, he drops the hammer (again one is involuntarily reminded of Luther's malleus Dei) and on a mellifluous lute glorifies amor fati: one must not only accept but love fate, he proclaims to us, like any representative of the philosophia perennis. Reason, to express it in his own words, "has crippled the critical will."

     In his turn Kierkegaard asserted that the more gifted a man is the more clearly and distinctly does he see, or even feel, fate in being, and that the essence of genius consists precisely in discovering fate and its inexorabilities everywhere. But the greatest genius (Kierkegaard has Socrates in mind), he concludes from this (although it is difficult to recognize it) is eo ipso also the greatest sinner, the sinner par excellence.

     That is why all of Kierkegaard's thoughts as well as Nietzsche's are directed toward God. Who does not know that passage from The Gay Science in which Nietzsche tells with such shattering power of the "greatest of all crimes" committed by men: "We have killed God!" According to Jaspers, it turns out that Nietzsche's "atheism" eliminates, as it were, the God of Kierkegaard. But this is hardly the case. Luther would have said that Nietzsche's blasphemies and curses sound sweeter to God's ear than the most solemn hallelujahs. And, strange as it may seem, it is necessary to acknowledge that Nietzsche stands far closer to Luther than may appear at first glance. Even his manner of writing often reminds one of Luther, whose language took shape under the influence of the books of the Old and New Testament that he translated into German. The seven generations of pastors, both on his mother's and father's sides, left indelible traces in Nietzsche's soul. For him, as for Kierkegaard, the idea of God was and always remained the alpha and omega of the philosophical problematic. Jaspers says that rational philosophy is prepared honestly to admit that it "does not understand" either belief in God or unbelief, that for it there is no "revealed truth," but that it is prepared to acknowledge the right of existence both to belief and unbelief. This is so, of course: rational philosophy shuns the use of force. "Man is able to seek the way of his truth in unfanatical unconditionality," says Jaspers (p. 56). And further: "Out of their potential communication, they will place the struggle itself under rules, thereby ceasing to be concealed beasts" (p. 78). Herein lies the attractive power and the charms of Kant's and Mendelssohn's standpoint; herein also lies the great merit of Jaspers' philosophy.

     But all this is only for people who have still not been pushed out of "omnitude." But the "exceptions," whom the "general" is no longer able to rejoice or to frighten with its threats (they really have nothing more to lose - they have already lost everything), remain cold toward all this. The right to think in their own way will be acknowledged to them, their ideas will even at times be awarded the honorary name "truth," especially if they "demonstrate" these ideas through readiness to sacrifice themselves for them, to live and die as martyrs - but their right and their truths will in the end be subjected to essential curtailment. The representatives of the philosophia perennis are called "freely" seeking people, but those who attempt to speak about revealed truth are brought into connection with purely social forces - with the church, tradition, even clericalism. Expressed in contemporary language, Jaspers makes a phenomenological reduction: both God and atheism are placed in brackets - outside the brackets remains the true philosophy. But both God and atheism will not let themselves so easily be held in brackets - even if these brackets should appear to us aere perennius: they will blow everything up, even the "true philosophy" that stands outside the brackets. For Nietzsche and Kierkegaard it is not the "exceptions" but "omnitude" with its truths for the very many (Jaspers speaks, more mildly than Kant, not of truths for all but for very many) that is only a social force, an incalculably powerful one under our conditions of existence, one that trusts only itself, that watches over strict order and custom, that is very tolerant so long as it is not itself placed in question, but that becomes "inexorable," militant and aggressive when its sovereign rights are doubted. After all, it really rests, as Jaspers says, only on the possibility of communication: a truth that would be accessible only to a single person does not exist, as it were, at all. It is true that reason boasts of seeing everything, of hearing everything, of taking everything into account; and that even madness cannot manage without it. "Every beginning of a justification steps into the circle of the rational," says Jaspers (p. 94). "The annihilation of thinking still always remains thinking, but violent, simplified, narrowed and self-blinding thinking" (p. 85). Kant expresses himself even more strongly: "If reason refuses to be subject to the law it gives itself, it will have to submit to the yoke of the law that another gives it; for without some law, nothing at all, not even the greatest nonsense, can long play its game."[7] But the guarantee of such "toleration" promises nothing good to the "exceptions" and only puts them more on guard.

[1] A second edition of this work appeared in 1947 (Bremen: Storm Verlag). The page references in the present essay are to the second edition (translator's note).

[2] Dostoevsky uses the word "omnitude" ("vsemstvo") in his Notes from the Underground. Jaspers does not speak of Dostoevsky; probably he was not interested in the Russian writer or he did not consider it necessary to mention him when it was a question of philosophy. But Nietzsche knew Notes from the Underground and expressed himself enthusiastically about the work. It is not at all impossible that his challenging utterance, "Pereat mundus, fiat philosophia, fiat phiosophus, fiam," is only a translation of the underground man's words: "Shall the world disappear, or shall I have no tea to drink? I say, let the world disappear, as long as I always have my tea."

[3] I speak about all this in more detail in my book Potestas Clavium and in the article Der gefesselte Parmenides [Parmenides in Chains], Logos 20, no. 1 (1931). This article was subsequently included in my book Athens and Jerusalem.

[4] Kant emphasized this in his introduction to the first edition of his Critique of Pure Reason: "Experience tells us, indeed, what is, but not that it must necessarily be so and not otherwise. Therefore it gives us no true universality, and reason, which is so desirous of this kind of knowledge, is more irritated by it than satisfied." This means that all necessities and inexorabiities come from reason.

[5] Here, perhaps, it is appropriate to recall the famous "s'abêtir" of Pascal, who was likewise a man fallen, pushed out of omnitude.

[6] "On the Failure of All Philosophical Attempts at Theodicy." At the end of this article, Kant, as if refuting in advance Nietzsche's idea of the "eternal return," asserts in a tone of assurance that no reasonable man would agree to repeat life again, even under the very best conditions of earthly existence.

[7] Was heisst: sich im Denken orientieren?

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