All Things are Possible  —  Apotheosis of Groundlessness —  Part I


If a man had come to Dostoevsky and said to him, "I am hopelessly unhappy," the great artist in human misery would probably, at the bottom of his soul, have laughed at the naïveté of the poor creature. May one confess such things of oneself? May one go to such lengths of complaint, and still expect consolation from his neighbour?

Hopelessness is the most solemn and supreme moment in life. Till that point we have been assisted - now we are left to ourselves. Previously we had to do with men and human laws - now with eternity, and with the complete absence of laws. Is it not obvious?


Belinsky, in his famous letter, accuses Gogol, among other things, that in his Correspondence with Friends, he, Gogol, succumbs to the fear of death, of devils, and of hell. I find the accusation just: Gogol definitely feared death, demons, and hell. The point is, whether it is not right to fear these things, and whether fearlessness would be a proof of the high development of a man's soul. Schopenhauer asserts that death inspired philosophy. All the best poetry, all the wonderful mythology of the ancients and of modern peoples have for their source the fear of death. Only modern science forbids men to fear, and insists on a tranquil attitude towards death. So we arrive at utilitarianism and the positivist philosophy. If you wish to be rid of both these creeds you must be allowed to think again of death, and without shame to fear hell and its devils. It may be there is really a certain justification for concealing fears of such kind: in the ability to conceal one's agitation at moments of great danger there is a true beauty. But to deaden human sensitiveness and to keep the human intelligence within the bounds of perception, such a task can have charms only for a petty creature. Happily, mankind has no means by which to perform on itself such monstrous castration. Persecuted Eros, it is true, has hidden himself from the eyes of his enemies, but he has never abjured himself; and even the strictest medieval monks could not completely tear out their hearts from their breasts. Similarly with the aspiration towards the infinite: science persecuted it and put a veto on it. But laboratory workers themselves, sooner or later, recover their senses, and thirstily long to get out of the enclosure of positive knowledge, with that same thirsty longing that tortured the monks who wanted to get out of the enclosure of monastery walls.


If fate—and they say there is such a law—punishes criminals, it has its penalty also for the lovers of good. The former it throttles, the latter it spits upon. The former end in bitter torment, the latter—in ignominy.


Philosophy has always loved to occupy the position of a servant. In the Middle Ages she was the ancilla theologiae, nowadays she waits on science. At the same time she calls herself the science of sciences.


I wonder which more effectually makes a man rush forwards without looking back: the knowledge that behind him hovers the head of Medusa, with horrible snakes, ready to turn him into stone; or the certainty that in the rear lies the unchangeable order laid down by the law of causality and by modern science. Judging from what we see, judging from the degree of tension which human thought has reached to-day, it would seem that the head of Medusa is less terrible than the law of causality. In order to escape the latter, man will face anything. Rather than return to the bosom of scientific cause and effect, he embraces madness: not that fine frenzy of madness which spends itself in fiery speeches, but technical madness, for which one is stowed away in a lunatic asylum.


"To experience a feeling of joy or sorrow, of triumph or despair, ennui or happiness, and so on, without having sufficient cause for such feeling, is an unfailing sign of mental disease..." One of the modern truths which is seeing its last days.


Count Tolstoy's German biographer regrets the constant misunderstanding and quarrels which took place between Tolstoy and Turgenev. He reminds us of Goethe and Schiller, and thinks that Russian literature would have gained a great deal if the two remarkable Russian writers had been more pacific, had remained on constantly friendly terms with one another, and bequeathed to posterity a couple of volumes of letters dealing with literary and philosophic subjects. It might have been very nice—but I refuse to imagine Tolstoy and Turgenev keeping up a long, peaceful correspondence, particularly on high subjects. Nearly every one of Turgenev’s opinions drove Tolstoy to madness, or was capable of so driving him. Dostoevsky's dislike of Turgenev was even stronger than Tolstoy's; he wrote of him very spitefully and offensively, libelling him rather than drawing a caricature. Evidently Dostoevsky, like Tolstoy, detested the "European" in their confrère.

But here he was mistaken, in spite of his psychological acuteness. To Dostoevsky, it was enough that Turgenev wore European clothes and tried to appear like a westerner. He himself did the opposite: he tried to get rid of every trace of Europeanism from himself, apparently without great success, since he failed to make clear to himself wherein lay the strength of Europe, and where her sting. Nevertheless, the late Mikhailovsky is not wrong in calling Dostoevsky a seeker of buried treasure. Surely, in the second half of his literary activity Dostoevsky no longer sought for the real fruits of life. There awoke in him the Russian, the elemental man, with a thirst for the miraculous. Compared with what he wanted, the fruits of European civilisation seemed to him trivial, flat, insipid. The age-long civilisation of his neighbours told him that there never had been a miracle, and never would be. But all his being, not yet broken-in by civilisation, craved for the stupendous unknown. Therefore, the apparently-satisfied progressivist enraged him. Tolstoy once said of Turgenev: "I hate his democratic backside." Dostoevsky might have repeated these words...

And now, for the gratification of the German critic, please reconcile the Russian writers and make them talk serenely on high-flown matters! Dostoevsky was within a hair's breath of a quarrel with Tolstoy, with whom, not long before death interrupted him, he began a long controversy concerning "Anna Karenina." Even Tolstoy seemed to him too compliant, too accommodating.


We rarely make a display of that which is dear to us, near and dear and necessary. On the other hand, we readily exhibit that which is of no importance to us - there is nothing else to be done with it. A man takes his mistress to the theatre and sticks her in full view of everybody; he prefers to remain at home with the woman he loves, or to go about with her quietly, unnoticed. So with our "Virtues." Every time we notice in ourselves some quality we do not prize we haste to make a show of it, thinking perhaps that someone would be glad of it. If it wins us approval, we are pleased - so there is some gain. To an actor, a writer, or an orator, his own antics, without which he can have no success with the public, are often disgusting. And yet his knack of making such antics he considers a talent, a divine gift, and he would rather die than that it should be lost to the public. Talent, on the whole, is accounted a divine gift, only because it is always on show, because it serves the public in some way or other. All our judgments are permeated through and through with utilitarianism, and were we to attempt to purify them from this adulteration what would remain of modern philosophy? That is why youngish, inexperienced writers usually believe in harmonia praestabilitata, even though they have never heard of Leibnitz. They persuade themselves that there is no breach between egoistic and idealistic aspirations; that, for instance, thirst for fame and desire to serve mankind are one and the same thing. Such a persuasion is usually very tenacious of life, and lasts long in men of vigorous and courageous mind. It seems to me that Pushkin would not have lost it, even had he lived to a prolonged old age. It was also part of Turgenev’s belief - if a man of his spiritual fibre could have any belief. Tolstoy now believed, and now disbelieved, according to the work he had in hand. When he had other people's ideas to destroy he doubted the identity of egoistic and idealist aspirations; when he had his own to defend, he believed in it. Which is a line of conduct worthy of attention, and supremely worthy of imitation; for human truths are proper exclusively for ancillary purposes...


Man is such a conservative creature that any change, even a change for the better, scares him, he prefers the bad old way to the new good one. A man who has been all his life a confirmed materialist would not consent to believe that the soul was immortal, not if it were proved to him more geometrico, and not if he were a constitutional coward, fearing death like Shakespeare's Falstaff. Then we must take human conceit into account. Men do not like to admit themselves wrong. It is absurd, but it is so. Men, trivial, wretched creatures, proved by history and by every common event to be bunglers, yet must needs consider themselves infallible, omniscient. What for? Why not admit their ignorance flatly and frankly? True, it is easier said than done. But why should slavish intellect, in spite of our desire to be straightforward, deck us out with would-be truths, of which we cannot divest ourselves even when we know their flimsiness. Socrates wanted to think that he knew nothing—but he could not bring it off. He most absorbedly believed in his own knowledge; nothing could be "truth," except his teaching; he accepted the decree of the oracle, and sincerely esteemed himself the wisest of men. And so it will be, as long as philosophers feel it their duty to teach and to save their neighbours. If a man wants to help people, he is bound to become a liar.

We should undertake doubt seriously, not in order to return at length to established beliefs, for that would be a vicious circle. Experience shows us that such a process, certainly in the development of ultimate questions, only leads from error to error; we should doubt so that doubt becomes a continuous creative force, inspiring the very essence of our life. For established knowledge argues in us a condition of imperfect receptivity. The weak, flabby spirit cannot bear quick, ceaseless change. It must look round, it must have time to gather its wits, and so it must undergo the same experience time after time. It needs the support and the security of habit. But the well-grown soul despises your crutches. He is tired of crawling on his own cabbage patch, he tears himself away from his own "native" soil, and takes himself off into the far distances, braving the infinitude of space. Surely everybody knows we are not to live in the world for ever. But cowardice prevents one straightforward admitting of it, we keep it close till there is an occasion to air it as a truism. Only when misfortune, disease, old age come upon us, then the dread fear of departure walks with us like our own skeleton. We cannot dismiss him. At length, involuntarily, we begin to examine our gruesome companion with curiosity. And then, strangely enough, we observe that he not only tortures us, but, keeping pace with us, he has begun to gnaw through all the threads that bind us to the old existence. At moments it seems as if, a few more threads gone, nothing, nothing will remain to hold us back, the eternal dream of crawling man will be fulfilled, we shall be released from the bonds, we shall betake ourselves in liberty to regions far from this damned vale of earth...


Moralists are abused because they offer us "moral consolations." This is not quite fair. Moralists would joyfully substitute palpable blessings for their abstract gifts, if they could. When he was young, Tolstoy wanted to make men happy; when he was old, and knew he could not make them happy, he began to preach renunciation, resignation, and so forth. And how angry he got when people wouldn't have his teaching! But if, instead of foisting his doctrines off on us as the solution of the ultimate problems, and as optimism, he had only spoken of the impossibility of finding satisfactory answers, and have offered himself as a pessimist, he would probably have obtained a much more willing hearing. Now he is annoying, because, finding himself unable to relieve his neighbours, he turns to them and insists that they shall consider themselves relieved by him, nay, even made happy by him. To which many will not agree: for why should they voluntarily renounce their rights? Since although, God knows, the right of quarrelling with one's fate, and cursing it, is not a very grand right, still, it is a right...


Ivanov, in Chekhov's drama of that name, compares himself to an overstrained labourer. The labourer dies, so that all that remains to Ivanov is to die. But logic, as you know, recommends great caution in coming to conclusions by analogy. Behold Chekhov himself, who, as far as we can judge, had endured in his own soul all the tragedy, just as Ivanov had, did not die or think of dying, or even turn out a wasted man. He is doing something, he struggles, he seeks, his work seems important and considerable to us, just like other human works. Ivanov shot himself because the drama must end, while Chekhov had not yet finished his own struggle. Our aesthetics demand that the drama must have a climax and a finale: though we have abandoned the Aristotelian unities. Given a little more time, however, dramatic writers will have got rid of this restriction also. They will frankly confess that they do not know how, or with what event to end their dramas. Stories have already learnt to dispense with an ending.


More of the same. - Ivanov says: "Now, where is my salvation? In what? If an intelligent, educated, healthy man for no discoverable reason sets up a Lazarus lament and starts to roll down an inclined plane, then he is rolling without resisting, and there is no salvation for him." One way out would be to accept the inclined plane and the gathering impetus as normal. Even further, one might find in the rolling descent a proof of one's spiritual superiority to other men. Of course in such a case one should go apart from the rest, not court young girls or fraternise with those who are living the ordinary life, but be alone. "Love is nonsense, caresses maudlin, work is meaningless, and song and fiery speeches are banal, played-out," continued Ivanov. To young Sasha these words are horrible, - but Ivanov will be responsible for them. He is already responsible for them. That he is tottering is nothing: it is still full early for him to shoot himself. He will live whilst his creator, Chekhov, lives. And we shall listen to the shaky, vacillating philosophy. We are so sick of symmetry and harmony and finality, sick as we are of bourgeois self-complacency.


It will be seen from the above that already in Ivanov, one of his early works, Chekhov has assumed the role of advocatus diaboli. Wherever Ivanov appears he brings ruin and destruction. It is true, Chekhov hesitates to take his side openly, and evidently does not know what to do with his hero, so that in the end he shakes him off, so to speak, he washes his hands of him in the accepted fashion: Ivanov shoots himself in the sight of everybody, has not even time to go discreetly into a corner. The only justification of Ivanov is that caricature of honesty, Doctor Lvov. Lvov is not a living figure—that is obvious. But this is why he is remarkable. It is remarkable that Chekhov should deem it necessary to resurrect the forgotten Starodoum, that utterer of truisms in Fonvisin’s comedy; and to resurrect him no longer that people may bow their heads before the incarnation of virtue, but so that they shall jeer at him. Look at Doctor Lvov! Is he not Starodoum alive again? He is honesty personified. From force of old habit, honesty sticks his chest out, and speaks in a loud voice, with imperious tone, and yet not one of his old loyal subjects gives a brass farthing for him. They don't even trouble to gibe at him, but spit on him and shove him through the door, as a disgusting and impudent toady. Poor honesty! What has he sunk to! Evidently virtues, like everything else, should not live too long on earth.

84 *

Chekhov's "Uncle Vanya" is waiting to throw himself on the neck of his friend and rival, the doctor, throw himself on his neck and sob there like a little child. But he finds that the doctor himself has an unquenchable thirst for consolation and encouragement, whilst poor Sonia can bear her maiden sorrows no longer. They all go wandering round with big, lost eyes, looking for someone to relieve them from part of their woes, at least. And lo, everybody is in the same street as themselves. All are over-heavy-laden, not one can carry his own burden, let alone give a lift to another's. The last consolation is taken away. It is no use complaining: there is no sympathetic response. On all faces the same expression of hopelessness and despair. Each must bear his cross in silence. None may weep nor utter pitiful cries—it would be uncalled-for and indecent. When Uncle Vanya, who has not realised at once the extremity of his situation, begins to cry out: "My life's a waste!" nobody wants to listen to him. "Waste, waste! Everybody knows it's a waste! Shut your mouth, howling won't help you: neither will pistol-shots solve anything. Everyone of us might start your cry - but we don't, neither do we shout:
—You think I'll weep;
No, I'll not weep: I have full cause of weeping,
But this heart shall break into a hundred
thousand flaws,
Or ere I'll weep; O Fool, I shall go mad."
Gradually there settles down a dreadful, eternal silence of the cemetery. All go mad, without words, they realise what is happening within them, and make up their minds for the last shift: to hide their grief for ever from men, and to speak in commonplace, trivial words which will be accepted as sensible, serious, and even lofty expressions. No longer will anyone cry: "Life is a waste," and intrude his feelings on his neighbours. Everybody knows that it is shameful for one's life to be a waste, and that this shame should be hidden from every eye. The last law on earth is—loneliness...

Résigne-toi, mon coeur, dors ton sommeil de brute!
(Resign yourself, my heart, sleep your brutish sleep)

[* The numeral 84 seems to have been skipped in the original Russian edition, an error corrected in newer editions - A.K.]


Groundless assumptions. - "Based on nothing," because they seem to derive from common assumption of the reasonableness of human existence, which assumption surely is the child of our desires, and probably a bastard at that... In his Miserly Knight Pushkin represented a miser as a romantic figure. Gogol, with his Plyushkin, creates on the contrary a repulsive figure of a miser. Gogol was nearer to reality. A miser is ugly, whatever view you take of him - inward or outward. Yet Gogol ought not to teach people to preserve in their age the ideals of their youth. Once old age is upon us—it must not be improved upon, much less apologised for. It must be accepted, and its essence brought to light. Plyushkin, the vulgar, dirty maniac is disgusting—but who knows? perhaps he is fulfilling the serious mission of his own being. He is possessed by one desire - to everything else, to all happenings in the outer world he is indifferent. It is the same to him whether he is hungry or full, warm or cold, clean or dirty. Practically no event can distract his attention from his single purpose. He is disinterestedly mean, if one may say so. He has no need for his riches. He lets them rot in a disgusting heap, and does not dream, like Pushkin's knight, of palaces and power, or of sportive nymphs. Upon what end is he concentrated? No one has the time to think it out. At the sight of Plyushkin everyone recalls the damage the miser has done. Everyone of course is right: Plyushkins, who heap up fortunes to let them rot, are very harmful. The social judgment is nearly always to the point. But not quite always. It won't hurt morals and social considerations if at times they have to hold their tongue - and at such times we might succeed in guessing the riddle of meanness, sordidness, old age.


We have sufficient grounds for taking life mistrustfully: it has defrauded us so often of our cherished expectations. But we have still stronger grounds for mistrusting reason: since if life deceived us, it was only because futile reason let herself be deceived. Perhaps reason herself invented the deception, and then to serve her own ambitious ends, threw the blame on life, so that life shall appear sick-headed. But if we have to choose between life and reason, we choose life, and then we no longer need try to foresee and to explain, we can wait, and accept all that is unalterable as part of the game. And thus Nietzsche, having realised that all his hopes had gradually crumbled, and that he could never get back to his former strength, but must grow worse and worse every day, wrote in a private letter of May 28, 1883: "Ich will es so schwer haben, wie nur irgend ein Mensch es hat; erst unter diesem Drucke gewinne ich das gute Gewissen dafür, etwas zu besitzen, das wenige Menschen haben und gehabt haben: Flügel, um im Gleichnisse zu reden." [I want to have so crushingly a hard time of it as anybody has ever had it; only under this pressure do I gain that good consciousness that allows me to have something only a few people have or ever had: wings, to speak in parables. - A.K.] In these few simple words lies the key to the philosophy of Nietzsche.


"So long as Apollo calls him not to the sacred offering, of all the trifling children of men the most trifling perhaps is the poet." Put Pushkin's expression into plain language, and you will get a page on neuropathology. All neurasthenic individuals sink from a state of extreme excitation to one of complete prostration. Poets too: and they are proud of it.


Shy people usually receive their impressions post-dated. During those moments when an event is taking place before their eyes, they can see nothing, only later on, having evoked from their memory a fragment of what happened, they make for themselves an impression of the whole scene. And then, retrospectively arise in their soul feelings of pity, offense, surprise, so vivid, as if they were the flames of the instant moment, not rekindlings from the past. Thus shy people always think a great deal, and are always too late for their work. It is never too late for thought. Timid before others, they reach great heights of daring when alone. They are bad speakers - but often excellent writers. Their life is insignificant and tedious, they are not noticed,—until they become famous. And by the time fame comes, they do not need popular attention any more.


If Chekhov's Layevsky, in The Duel, had been a writer with a literary talent, people would have said of him that he was original, and that he was engaged in the study of the "mysticism of sex," like Gabriele D’Annunzio for example; whereas, as he stands, he is only banal. His idleness is a reproach to him: people would prefer that at least he should copy out extracts from documents.


From observations on children.—Egoism in a man strikes us unpleasantly because it betrays our poverty. "I cannot dole out my abundance to my neighbour, for if I do I myself shall be left with little." We should like to be able to scatter riches with a royal hand; and, therefore, when we see someone else clutching his rags with the phrase, "property is sacred," we are hurt. What is sacred comes from the gods, and the gods have plenty of everything, they do not count and skimp, like mortals.


We see a man repent for his actions, and conclude that such actions should be avoided: an instance of false, but apparently irreproachable reasoning. Time passes, and we see the same man repenting again of the self-same acts. If we love logic, this will confirm us in our first conclusion. But if we do not care for logic, we shall say: man is under an equal necessity to commit these acts, and to repent of them. Sometimes, however, the first conclusion is corrected differently. Having decided that repentance proves that a certain course of action should be avoided, man avoids it all his life; only to realise in the end, suddenly, with extraordinary clarity, how bitter is his regret that he has not trodden the forbidden course. But by this time a new conclusion is already useless. Life is over, and the newly-enlightened mind no longer knows how to rid itself of the superfluous light.


A version of one of the scenes of Tolstoy's Power of Darkness reminds us exactly of a one-act piece of Maeterlinck. There can be no question of imitation. When the Power of Darkness was written nobody had heard of Maeterlinck. Tolstoy evidently wanted to try a new method of creating, and to get rid of his own manner, which he had evolved through tens of years of dogged labour. But the risk was too great. He preferred to cure himself of his doubts by the common expedient, manual toil and an outdoor life. So he took up the plough.


Every woodcock praises its own fen; Lermontov saw the sign of spiritual preeminence in dazzling white linen, and therefore his heroes always dressed with taste. Dostoevsky, on the other hand, despised show: Dmitri Karamazov wears dirty linen—and this is assigned to him as a merit, or almost a merit.


While he was yet young, when he wrote his story, Enough, Turgenev saw that something terrible hung over his life. He saw, but did not get frightened, although he understood that in time he ought to become frightened, because life without a continual inner disturbance would have no meaning for him.


Napoleon is reputed to have had a profound insight into the human soul; Shakespeare also. And their vision has nothing in common.


What we call imagination, which we value so highly in great poets—is, essentially, unbridled, loose, or if you will, even perverted mentality. In ordinary mortals we call it vice; but to the poets everything is forgiven on account of the benefit and pleasure we derive from their works. In spite of our high-flown theories we have always been extremely practical, great utilitarians. Two-and-a-half-thousand years went by before Tolstoy got up, and, in his turn, offered the poets their choice: either to be virtuous, or to stop creating and forfeit the fame of teachers. If Tolstoy did not make a laughing-stock of himself, he has to thank his grey hairs and the respect which was felt for his past. Anyhow, nobody took him seriously. Far from it; for never yet did poets feel so free from the shackles of morality as they do now. If Schiller were writing his dramas and philosophic essays to-day, he would scarcely find a reader.

In Tolstoy himself it is not so much his virtues as his vices which we find interesting. We begin to understand his works, not so much in the light of his striving after ideals, but from the standpoint of that incongruity which existed between the ideas he artificially imposed upon himself, and the demands of his own non-virtuous soul, which struggled ever for liberty. Nicolenka Irtenyev, in Childhood and Youth, would sit for hours on the terrace, turning over in his mind his elder brother Volodya’s love-making with the chambermaids. But, although he desired it "more than anything on earth," he could never bring himself to be like Volodya. The maid said to the elder brother, "Why doesn't Nikolai Petrovitch ever come here and have a lark?" She did not know that Nikolai Petrovitch was sitting at that moment under the stairs, ready to give anything on earth to take the place of the scamp Volodya. "Everything on earth" is twice repeated. Tolstoy gives a psychological explanation of his little hero's conduct. "I was timid by nature," Nicolenka tells us, "but my shyness was increased by the conviction of my ugliness."

Ugliness, the consciousness of one's ugliness, leads to shyness! What good can there be in virtue which has such a suspicious origin? And how can the morality of Tolstoy's heroes be trusted? Consciousness of one's ugliness begets shyness, shyness drives the passions inwards and allows them no natural outlet. Little by little there develops a monstrous discrepancy between the imagination and its desires, on the one hand, and the power to satisfy these desires, on the other. Permanent hunger, and a contracted alimentary canal, which does not pass the food through. Hence the hatred of the imagination, with its unrealised and unrealisable cravings... In our day no one has scourged love so cruelly as Tolstoy in Power of Darkness. But the feats of the village Don Juan need not necessarily end in tragedy. "More than anything on earth," however, Tolstoy hates the Don Juans, the handsome, brave, successful, the self-confident, who spontaneously act upon suggestion, the conquerors of women, who stretch out their hands to living statues cold as stone. As far as ever he can he has his revenge on them in his writing.


In the drama of the future the whole presentation will be different. First of all, the difficulties of the dénouement will be set aside. The new hero has a past - reminiscent - but no present; neither wife, nor sweetheart, nor friends, nor occupation. He is alone, he communes only with himself or with imaginary listeners. He lives a life apart. So that the stage will represent either a desert island or a room in a large densely-populated city, where among millions of inhabitants one can live alone as on a desert island. The hero must not return to people and to social ideals. He must go forward to loneliness, to absolute loneliness. Even now nobody, looking at Gogol's Plyushkin, will feel any more the slightest response to the pathetic appeal for men to preserve the ideals of youth on into old age. Modern youths go to see Plyushkin, not for the sake of laughing at him or of benefiting from the warning which his terrible miserly figure offers them, but in order to see if there may not be some few little pearls there where they could be least expected, in the midst of his heap of dirt... Lycurgus succeeded in fixing the Spartans like cement for some centuries but after that came the thaw, and all their hardness melted. The last remains of the petrified Doric art are now removed to museums... Is something happening——?


If I sow not in the spring, in autumn I shall eat no bread. Every day brings troubles and worries enough for poor, weak man. He had to forget his work for a moment, and now he is lost: he will die of hunger or cold. In order merely to preserve our existence we have to strain mind and body to the utmost: nay more, we have to think of the surrounding world exclusively with a view to gaining a livelihood from it. There is no time to think about truth! This is why positivism was invented, with its theory of natural development. Really, everything we see is mysterious and incomprehensible. A tiny midge and a huge elephant, a caressing breeze and a blizzard, a young tree and a rocky mountain - what are all these? What are they, why are they? we incessantly ask ourselves, but we may not speak out. For philosophy is ever pushed aside to make room for the daily needs. Only those think who are unable to trouble about self-preservation, or who will not trouble, or who are too careless: that is, sick, desperate, or lazy people. These return to the riddle which workaday men, confirmed in the certainty that they are right, have construed into "naturalness."


Kant, and after him Schopenhauer, was exceedingly fond of the epithet "disinterested," and used it on every occasion when the supply of laudatory terms he had at his disposal was exhausted. "Disinterested thinking," which does not pursue any practical aim, is, according to Schopenhauer, the highest ideal towards which man can strive. This truth he considered universal, an a priori. But had he chanced to be brought amongst Russian peasants he would have had to change his opinion. With them thoughts about destiny and the way and wherefore of the universe and infinity and so on, would by no means be considered disinterested, particularly if the man who devoted himself to such thoughts were at the same time to announce, as becomes a philosopher, that he claimed complete freedom from physical labour. There the philosopher, were he even Plato, would be stigmatised with the disgraceful nickname, "Idle-jack." There the highest activity is interested activity, directed towards strictly practical purposes; and if the peasants could speak learnedly, they would certainly call the principle upon which their judgment is founded an a priori. Tolstoy, who draws his wisdom from the folk-sources, attacks the learned for the very fact that they do not want to work, but are disinterestedly occupied in the search for truth.


It is clear to any impartial observer that practically every man changes his opinion ten times a day. Much has been said on this subject, it has served for innumerable satires and humorous sketches. Nobody has ever doubted that it was a vice to be unstable in one's opinions. Three-fourths of our education goes to teaching us most carefully to conceal within ourselves the changeableness of our moods and judgments. A man who cannot keep his word is the last of men: never to be trusted. Likewise, a man with no firm convictions: it is impossible to work together with him. Morality, here as always making towards utilitarian ends, issues the "eternal" principle: thou shalt remain true to thy convictions. In cultured circles this commandment is considered so unimpeachable that men are terrified even to appear inconstant in their own eyes. They become petrified in their beliefs, and no greater shame can happen to them than that they should be forced to admit that they have altered in their convictions. When a straightforward man like Montaigne plainly speaks of the inconstancy of his mind and his views, he is regarded as a libeller of himself. One need neither see, nor hear, nor understand what is taking place around one: once your mind is made up, you have lost your right to grow, you must remain a stock, a statue, the qualities and defects of which are known to everybody.

Orphus system

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