All Things are Possible  \  Part I


Every philosophic world-conception starts from some or other solution of the general problem of human existence, and proceeds from this to direct the course of human life in some particular direction or other. We have neither the power nor the data for the solution of general problems, and consequently all our moral deductions are arbitrary, they only witness to our prejudices if we are naturally timid, or to our propensities and tastes if we are self-confident. But to keep up prejudices is a miserable, unworthy business: nobody will dispute that. Therefore let us cease to grieve about our differences in opinion, let us wish that in the future there should be many more differences, and much less unanimity. There is no arbitrary truth: it remains to suppose that truth lies in changeable human tastes and desires. In so far as our common social existence demands it—let us try to come to an understanding, to agree: but not one jot more. Any agreement which does not arise out of common necessity will be a crime against the Holy Spirit.


Chekhov was very good at expounding a system of philosophy - even several systems. We have examples in more than one of his stories, particularly in The Duel, where Fon-Koren speaks ex cathedra. But Chekhov had no use for such systems, save for purely literary purposes. When you write a story, and your hero must speak clearly and consistently, a system has its value. But when you are left to yourself, can you seriously trouble your soul about philosophy? Even a German cannot, it seems, go so far in his "idealism." Vladimir Semionovitch, the young author in Chekhov's Nice People, sincerely and deeply believes in his own ideas, but even of him, notwithstanding his blatantly comical limitations, we cannot say more than that his ideas were constant little views or pictures to him, which had gradually become a second natural setting to everything he saw. Certainly he did not live by ideas. Chekhov is right when he says that the singing of Gaudeamus igitur and the writing of a humanitarian appeal were equally important to Vladimir Semionovitch. As soon as Vladimir's sister begins to think for herself, her brother's highest ideas, which she has formerly revered, become banal and objectionable to her. Her brother cannot understand her, neither her hostility to progress and humanitarianism, nor to the university spree and Gaudeamus igitur. But Chekhov does understand. Only, let us admit, the word "understand" does not carry its ordinary meaning here. So long as the child was fed on its mother's milk, everything seemed to it smooth and easy. But when it had to give up milk and take to vodka, - and this is the inevitable law of human development - the childish suckling dreams receded into the realm of the irretrievable past.


The summit of human existence, say the philosophers, is spiritual serenity, aequanimitas. But in that case the animals should be our ideal, for in the matter of imperturbability they leave nothing to be desired. Look at a grazing sheep, or a cow. They do not look before and after, and sigh for what is not. Given a good pasture, the present suffices them perfectly.


A hungry man was given a piece of bread, and a kind word. The kindness seemed more to him than the bread. But had he been given only the kind word and no bread, he would perhaps have hated nice phrases. Therefore, caution is always to be recommended in the drawing of conclusions: and in none more than in the conclusion that truth is more urgently required than a consoling lie. The connections of isolated phenomena can very rarely be discerned. As a rule, several causes at once produce one effect. Owing to our propensity for idealising, we always make prominent that cause which seems to us loftiest.


A strange anomaly! we see thousands of human beings perish around us, yet we walk warily lest we crush a worm. The sense of compassion is strong in us, but it is adapted to the conditions of our existence. It can relieve an odd case here and there - and it raises a terrific outcry over a trifling injustice. Yet Schopenhauer wanted to make compassion the metaphysical basis of morality.


To discard logic as an instrument, a means or aid for acquiring knowledge, would be extravagant. Why should we? For the sake of consequentialism? i.e. for logic's very self? But logic, as an aim in itself, or even as the only means to knowledge, is a different matter. Against this one must fight even if he has against him all the authorities of thought beginning with Aristotle.


"When the yellowing corn-fields sway and are moved, and the fresh forest utters sound to the breeze... then I see happiness on earth, and God in heaven." It may be so, to the poet; but it may be quite different. Sometimes the corn-field waves, the woods make noise in the wind, the stream whispers its best tales: and still man cannot perceive happiness, nor forget the lesson taught in childhood, that the blue heavens are only an optical illusion. But if the sky and the boundless fields do not convince, is it possible that the arguments of Kant and the commendations of his dozens of talentless followers can do anything?


The greatest temptation.—In Dostoevsky's Grand Inquisitor lurks a dreadful idea. Who can be sure, he says - metaphorically, of course - that when the crucified Christ uttered His cry: "Lord, why hast thou forsaken me?" He did not call to mind the temptation of Satan, who for one word had offered Him dominion over the world? And, if Jesus recollected this offer, how can we be sure that He did not repent not having taken it?... One had better not be told about such temptations.


From the Future Opinions concerning contemporary Europe. - "Europe of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries presented a strange picture. After Luther, Christianity degenerated into morality, and all the threads connecting man with God were cut. Together with the rationalisation of religion, all life took on a flat, rational character. Knights were replaced by a standing army, recruited on the principle of compulsory military service for all, and existing chiefly for the purpose of parades and official needs. Alchemy, which had been trying to find the philosopher's stone, was replaced by chemistry, which tried to discover the best means for cheap preparation of cheap commodities. Astrology, which had sought in the stars the destinies of men, was replaced by astronomy, which foretold the eclipses of the sun and the appearing of comets. Even the dress of the people became strangely colorless; not only men, but women also wore uniform, monochromatic clothes. Most remarkable of all, that epoch did not notice its own insignificance, but was even proud of itself. It seemed to the man of that day that never before had the common treasury of spiritual riches been so well replenished. We, of course, may smile at their naïveté, but if one of their own number had allowed himself to express an opinion disdainful of the bases of the contemporary culture he would have been declared immoral, or put away in a mad-house: a terrible punishment, very common in that coarse period, though now it is very difficult even to imagine what such a proceeding implied. But in those days, to be known as immoral, or to find oneself in a mad-house, was worse than to die. One of the famous poets of the nineteenth century, Alexander Pushkin, said: ‘God forbid that I should go mad. Rather let me be a starving beggar.’ In those times people, on the whole, were compelled to tell lies and play the hypocrite, so that not infrequently the brightest minds, who saw through the shams of their epoch, yet pretended to believe in science and morality, only in order to escape the persecution of public opinion."


Writers of tragedies on Shakespeare's model. - To obtain a spark, one must strike with all one's might with an iron upon a stone. Whereupon there is a loud noise, which many are inclined to believe more important than the little spark. Similarly, writers having shouted very loudly, are deeply assured that they have fulfilled their sacred mission, and are amazed that all do not share their raptures, that some even stop their ears and run away.


Metamorphoses. - Sense and folly are not at all native qualities in a man. In a crisis, a stupid man becomes clever. We need not go far for an example. What a gaping simpleton Dostoevsky looks in his Injured and Insulted, not to mention Poor Folk. But in Letters from the Underworld and the rest of his books he is the shrewdest and cleverest of writers. The same may be said of Nietzsche, Tolstoy, or Shakespeare. In his Birth of Tragedy Nietzsche seems just like the ordinary honest, rather simple, blue-eyed provincial German student, and in Zarathustra he reminds one of Machiavelli. Poor Shakespeare got himself into a row for his Brutus - but no man could deny the great mind in Hamlet. The best instance of all, however, is Tolstoy. Right up to to-day, whenever he likes he can be cleverer than the cleverest. Yet at times he is a schoolboy. This is the most interesting and enviable trait in him.


In Troilus and Cressida Thersites says: "Shall the elephant Ajax carry it thus? He beats me, and I rail at him: O worthy satisfaction! would it were otherwise; that I could beat him, whilst he railed at me." Dostoevsky might have said the same of his opponents. He pursued them with stings, sarcasm, abuse, and they drove him to a white heat by their quiet assurance and composure... The present-day admirers of Dostoevsky quietly believe in the teachings of their master. Does it not mean that de facto they have betrayed him and gone over to the side of his enemies.


The opinion has gained ground that Turgenev’s ideal women - Natalie, Elena, Marianna - are created in the image and likeness of Pushkin's Tatyana. The critics have been misled by external appearances. To Pushkin his Tatyana appears as a vestal guarding the sacred flame of high morality because such a job is not fitting for a male. The Pretender in Boris Godunov says to the old monk Pimen, who preaches meekness and submission: "But you fought under the walls of Kazan, etc." That is a man's work. But in the hours of peace and leisure the fighter needs his own hearthside, he must feel assured that at home his rights are safely guarded. This is the point of Tatyana’s last words: "I belong to another, and shall remain forever true to him." But in Turgenev woman appears as the judge and the reward, sometimes even the inspirer of victorious man. There is a great difference.


From a German Introduction to Philosophy. - "We shall maintain the opinion that metaphysics, as the crown of the particular sciences, is possible and desirable, and that to it falls the task intermediate between theory and practice, experiment and anticipation, mind and feeling, the task of weighing probabilities, balancing arguments, and reconciling difficulties." Thus metaphysics is a weighing of probabilities. Ergo—further than probable conclusions it cannot go. Thus why do metaphysicians pretend to universal and obligatory, established and eternal judgments? They go beyond themselves. In the domain of metaphysics there cannot and must not be any established beliefs. The word established loses all its sense in the connection. It is reasonable to speak of eternal hesitation and temporality of thought.


From another Introduction to Philosophy, also German. - "Compared with the delusion of the materialists... the wretchedest worshipper of idols seems to us a being capable of apprehending to a certain degree the great meaning and essence of things." Perhaps this thought strayed in accidentally among the huge herd of the other thoughts of the professor, so little does it resemble the rest. But even so, it loses none of its interest. If the materialists here spoken of, those of the nineteenth century, Büchner, Vogt, Moleschot, all of them men who stood on the pinnacle of natural science, were capable of proving in the realm of philosophy more uninformed than the nakedest savage, then it follows, not only that science has nothing in common with philosophy, but that the two are even hostile. Therefore we ought to go to the savages, not to civilise them, but even to learn philosophy from them. A Papuan or a Tierra del Fuegan delivering a lecture in philosophy to the professors of the Berlin University—Friedrich Paulsen, for example—is a curious sight. I say to Friedrich Paulsen, and not to Büchner or Moleschot, because Paulsen is also an educated person, and therefore his philosophic sensibility may have suffered from contact with science, even if not so badly as that of the materialists. He needs the assistance of a red-skinned master. Why have German professors so little daring or enterprise? Why should not Paulsen, on his own initiative, go to Patagonia to perfect himself in philosophy? — or at least send his pupils there, and preach broadcast the new pilgrimage. And now lo and behold he has hatched an original and fertile idea, so he will stick in a corner with it, so that even if you wanted you could not get a good look at it. The idea is important and weighty: our philosophers would lose nothing by sitting at the feet of the savages.


From a History of Ethics. - "Doubts concerning the existence or the possibility of discovering a moral norm have, of course (I underline it), proved a stimulus to a new speculative establishing of ethics, just as the denial of the possibility of knowledge led to the discovery of the condition of knowledge." With this proposition the author does not play hide-and-seek, as Paulsen with his. He places it in a conspicuous position, in a conspicuous section of his book, and accompanies it with the trumpeting herald "of course." But only one thing is clear: namely, that the majority share the opinion of Professor Yodl, to whom the quoted words belong. So that the first assumption of ethics has as its foundation the consensus sapientium. It is enough.


"The normative theory," which has taken such hold in Germany and Russia, bears the stamp of that free and easy self-assurance which characterises the state of contentment, and which does not desire, even for the sake of theoretical perfection, to take into consideration the divided state of soul which usually accompanies discontent. Windelband (Praeludien, p. 313) is evidence of this. He exposes himself with the naive frankness almost of an irrational creature, and is not only unashamed, but even proud of his part. "Philosophic research," he says, "is possible only to those who are convinced that the norm of the universal imperative is supreme above individual activities, and that such a norm is discoverable." Not every witness will give evidence so honestly. It amounts to this: that philosophic research is not a search after truth, but a conspiracy amongst people who dethrone truth and exalt instead the all-binding norm. The task is truly ethical: morality always was and always will be utilitarian and bullying. Its active principle is: He who is not with us, is against us.


"If, besides the reality which is evident to us, we were susceptible to another form of reality, chaotic, lawless, then this latter could not be the subject of thought." (Riehl - Philosophie der Gegenwart.) This is one of the a priori of critical philosophy - one of the unproved first assumptions, evidently. It is only an expression in other words of Windelband’s assertion quoted above, concerning the ethical basis of the law of causation. Thus, the a priori of contemporary thought convince us more and more that Nietzsche's instinct was not at fault. The root of all our philosophies lies, not in our objective observations, but in the demands of our own heart, in the subjective, moral will, and therefore science cannot be uprooted except we first destroy morality.


One of the lofty truisms - "The philosopher conquers passion by perceiving it, the artist by bodying it forth." In German it sounds still more lofty: but does not for that reason approach any nearer to the truth. "Der Philosoph überwindet die Leidenschaft, indem er sie begreift - der Künstler, indem er sie darstellt." (Windelband, Praeludien, p. 198)


The Germans always try to get at Allgemeingültigkeit. Well, if the problem of knowledge is to fathom all the depths of actual life, then experience, in so far as it repeats itself, is uninteresting, or at least has a limit of interest. It is necessary, however, to know what nobody yet knows, and therefore we must walk, not on the common road of Allgemeingültigkeit but on new tracks, which have never yet seen human feet. Thus morality, which lays down definite rules and thereby guards life for a time from any surprise, exists only by convention, and in the end collapses before the non-moral surging-up of individual human aspirations. Laws—all of them—have only a regulating value, and are necessary only to those who want rest and security. But the first and essential condition of life is lawlessness. Laws are a refreshing sleep—lawlessness is creative activity.


A = A. —They say that logic does not need this postulate, and could easily develop it by deduction. I think not. On the contrary, in my opinion, logic could not exist without this premise. Meanwhile it has a purely empirical origin. In the realm of fact. A is always more or less equal to A. But it might be otherwise. The universe might be so constituted as to admit of the most fantastic metamorphoses. That which now equals A would successively equal B and then C, and so on. At present a stone remains long enough a stone, a plant a plant, an animal an animal. But it might be that a stone changed into a plant before our eyes, and the plant into an animal. That there is nothing unthinkable in such a supposition is proved by the theory of evolution. This theory only puts centuries in place of seconds. So that, in spite of the risk to which I expose myself from the admirers of the famous Epicurean system, I am compelled to repeat once more that anything you please may come from anything you please, that A may not equal A, and that consequently logic is dependent, for its soundness, on the empirically-derived law of the unchangeableness of the external world. Admit the possibility of supernatural interference - and logic will lose that certitude and inevitability of its conclusions which at present is so attractive to us.


The effort to understand people, life, the universe prevents us from getting to know them at all. Since "to know" and "to understand" are two concepts which are not only non-identical, but just the opposite of one another in meaning; in spite of their being in constant use as synonyms. We think we have understood a phenomenon if we have included it in a list of others, previously known to us. And, since all our mental aspiration reduces itself to understanding the universe, we refuse to know a great deal which will not adapt itself to the plane surface of the contemporary world-conceptions. For instance the Leibnitz question, put by Kant into the basis of the critique of reason: "How can we know a thing outside us, if it does not enter into us?" It is non-understandable; that is, it does not agree with our notion of understanding. Hence it follows that it must be squeezed out of the field of view—which is exactly what Kant attempted to do. To us it seems, on the contrary, that in the interests of knowing we should sacrifice, and gladly, understanding, since understanding in any case is a secondary affair. —Zu fragmentarisch ist Welt und Leben!...

Orphus system

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