Athens and Jerusalem \ Part IV \ On the Second Dimension of Thought


Men, says Spinoza, imagine that they do not constitute merely one of the elements or links of the chain which is called nature and pretend to form, in the bosom of nature, a kind of state within a state. Is not rather the contrary true? Would it not be more exact to say that men have the feeling of being only tiny, powerless wheels of an enormous machine, and that they have completely forgotten that the world was created for their sakes?


And yet the Deus malignus did deceive Descartes! Descartes needed the cogito ergo sum for his theory of the clare et distincte as the sign of truth or, to put it in a different way, for his theory of truth; but the cogito ergo sum finally gave him nothing. Descartes' doubt was a sham. The philosopher pretended to doubt his own existence, then to admit it by relying on proofs that he himself had discovered. Hume is perfectly right: if Descartes had succeeded in pushing his "radical doubt" to the end, he would never have been able to get out of it. Had he doubted the existence of God, everything would have been finished and the "proofs" would have been of no help to him.

With a prudence which makes us think rather of a somnambulist than of a philosophic seeker, Descartes directs his doubts precisely to that truth which no one can deny. And over this he cries victory: proofs can conquer the most radical doubt; therefore, we have at our disposal sufficient means to attain truth. But he should have reasoned otherwise: I do not have at my disposal any proofs of my own existence, but I have no need of them; consequently, certain truths, very important truths, manage completely without proofs. Descartes would not then perhaps have become the "father of the new philosophy," but he would have attained something much more important than the right to take his place in the Pantheon of great men.


In the eye of others we see a straw, but in our own we do not even notice a beam. That is true. Every one of us has been in a position to verify it more than once. But let us raise another question: How does it happen that in the eye of our neighbor we see the smallest straw and that in our own we do not see even a beam? The simplest explanation is to allege our imperfection, our narrowness of mind. We are, indeed, imperfect and limited. But may there not be another, "better" explanation? Perhaps the straw which is in the eye of our neighbor is only a straw and will always remain a straw, while to us it is somehow miraculously given to transform the most horrible beam in our own eye into something useful, necessary, and even beautiful. And conversely, in a fashion quite as mysterious - that is, miraculous - the straw which is in our own eye may suddenly begin to grow and be transformed into a monstrous beam like that which is described in Scripture (in connection with the prophet Elijah). But people hardly like to speak of miraculous metamorphoses; they do not see them where they exist. And yet they would do well to notice them. They would also do well to read Holy Scripture more attentively.


Dogmatism is much closer to skepticism than we imagine who, versed in the history of philosophy, know with what violence these two schools have always struggled against each other. For the dogmatics, quite as much as for the skeptics, the essential thing is their epochÍ (suspension of judgment) - with this difference: that the skeptic, when he has had enough of trying to untie the Gordian knot of existence, declares, "We know nothing and can know nothing; it is useless to struggle," while the dogmatic says, "I already know all that is necessary to know; accept what I know and be content."

To put the matter in another way - if I may be permitted on this occasion to recall a popular Russian proverb - "that which the sensible man has in his head, the fool has on the tip of his tongue." Or, to speak philosophic language, it is the difference between explicite and implicite. That the dogmatics are cleverer than the skeptics - of this there is no doubt. Everything explicite is necessarily somewhat foolish: it is impossible, indeed, to say everything that one has in his heart and it is, moreover, not even necessary. How people would laugh if, instead of carefully hiding the source whence he draws his truths, the dogmatic led everyone to them! He knows quite well that his affirmations are perfectly arbitrary; perhaps he cherishes his right to the arbitrary more than anything else (Plato, for example, or Plotinus). But he knows equally well that he can keep this right only if he succeeds in hiding from the eyes of others that which is most important to him and never says a word about it to anyone. "The most important" is beyond the limits of the comprehensible and the explicable, that is to say, beyond the limits of that which can be communicated by words.


Philosophers today freely boast that their systems employ only a minimum of metaphysical postulates. The critiques of Kant have obviously done their work. People do not like metaphysics, they do not believe in it, they are ashamed of it and flee from it. And if it is impossible to flee from it, people try to justify themselves by explaining that they dealt with it only because they could not do otherwise and only so long as was absolutely necessary.

But is it really so improper to deal with metaphysics? The ancient metaphysicians were not at all ashamed of metaphysics, and they did not flee from it as from a person of questionable morals. The "minimum" of metaphysics would have been, in their eyes, a timid and ridiculous limitation. Moreover, it is probable that metaphysics itself hardly appreciates timid people and those who are too much concerned with their reputation. Plato and Plotinus, who were its favorites, aspired to the maximum of metaphysics. Also, while criticizing and refuting them, people continue, nonetheless, to listen to them.


At first blush, knowledge seems to consist in the assimilation of something new, something which one did not know before. In reality, it is not at all a question of simple assimilation. Before assimilating man begins by "preparing" that which he is to assimilate, so that what he assimilates consists always of two elements: that which is given to him and that which he himself creates. Also, it is a mistake to consider the object of knowledge as "existing by itself" (das Ansichseiende); but a still greater mistake is to believe that this point of view is ontological.

"That which exists by itself," that is to say, independently of the knower, is not at all "that which truly exists." And when people try to convince us that "naturally," that is to say, before all theory, man stands opposite the object which is independent of him, and that natural knowledge consists in an effort to "grasp" this object as it exists by itself - this "description" of natural knowledge is incorrect.

Likewise, it is incorrect to believe that natural knowledge realizes that the image of the "object" which it creates is not the object itself, but only the symbol of the object, which is independent of our consciousness. "Natural knowledge" never dreamed of anything of the kind. If one should say - not even to a primitive man, but to a man little acquainted with philosophic conceptions - that the image that we make of an object is not the object itself but an ensemble of conventional signs which differ from the real object as much, for example, as the word differs from the thought that it expresses - if one should say this to him, he would be surprised and perhaps even shocked. And, of course, the idea that the objects that he knows are not independent of his knowledge would appear to him much more admissible than the theory that affirms that these objects differ completely from the image of them that his knowledge gives him.

Physics teaches us that sound is not sound, that color is not color; chemistry tells us that water is not water, etc... Philosophy goes still further in its efforts to lift the veil of Maya which covers the universe, and in place of this universe it pretends to install as "really existing" something which does not resemble our universe, something which no longer resembles anything at all. But if we were to ask a man who thinks "naturally" (that is, who does not know theories and is not afraid of them): "Does 'true being' belong to that denuded universe which philosophy sets up and which it declares to be independent of the subject who knows it, or rather to this other universe, filled with sounds and colors and forms and in the creation of which the subject who knows it has taken an active part?" - he would reply without the least hesitation that the essence of the world suffers not at all from the fact that it is given to man as the subject of knowledge to participate in its creation; but that if the objects of knowledge which exist independently of him or of anyone else are such as the philosophers represent them, then there would remain nothing of either "truth" or "being."

The role of the theory of knowledge, which wishes to be theory as little as possible, and aspires to penetrate "being," consists, then, not in trying to save or justify the independence of that which it calls das Ansichseiende (the denuded world) but in learning to see the essence of being in that universe which (though it is dependent on the subject or even precisely because it is dependent on him) has everything that it requires to be appreciated and loved. That which truly exists must be defined in terms of that which is truly important and truly valuable. The Greeks knew this, but we have forgotten it to such an extent that when people remind us of it we do not even understand what they are talking about. We have such great confidence in our thought, we are so deeply persuaded that our thought with its one dimension is the only one possible, that we consider the philosophy of the ancients, who still had the feeling of a second dimension, almost a superstition. It is true that we do not say this openly. We study the ancients and we have the greatest respect for them - verbally; but no one, I think, would repeat after Plato: "the ancient and blessed wise men who were better than we and lived closer to the gods..."

We are convinced that the ancients were only "blessed" because they were ignorant, and that, consequently, we are superior to them and closer to God. The ancients set for themselves "practical" goals, while we seek truth in an entirely disinterested way. We wish our metaphysical thought to be scientific also. Now, science demands before everything else that one should renounce the second dimension of thought, and, as follows from this renunciation, that he should be prepared to seek truth in a purely theoretical way, that is to say, passively, with a perfect indifference toward anything which may arise and firmly resolved in advance to accept everything. For us, not only philosophic truth but also metaphysical truth is adaequatio rei et intellectus (the approximation of thing and intellect); we must accept with submission all the commandments of res, no matter how monstrous they be. If a res commands us, we shall admit that people poisoned a mad dog, and we shall admit equally (we have, in fact, admitted it), at the command of another res, that the Athenians poisoned Socrates.

The greatest sin of man, in our eyes, is to set up his own demands and to express his own will; in letting his demands and his own will (as the second dimension of thought) intervene in thought, man, according to us, cannot attain the essence of being. The Greeks (not all, of course) saw things quite differently. They felt that submission, obedient acceptance of everything which happens, hides true being from man. To attain true reality, it is necessary to consider oneself the master of the world; it is necessary to learn to command and create. There where we distinguish only a criminal and impious caprice, there where there is lacking all "sufficient reason" and where, according to us, every possibility of thinking ends - there they saw the beginning of metaphysical truth. They spoke like those who "have power," that is to say, like beings to whom has been accorded a supreme power freely to express their own will, who have been called to transform this will into truth and to create a new reality.

For the ancients metaphysics was not the continuation of science. For them the final archÍ (source of truth) was to be found beyond the limits of knowledge; and this source has nothing in common with the principles upon which knowledge is founded. This seems to us absurd, completely mad. We desire metaphysics to be a science, and we believe that the Greeks deceived themselves, that they confused theoretical problems with practical goals. Was it the Greeks who deceived themselves by introducing free will into metaphysical thought, or is it rather we who are wrong in subordinating metaphysics to the idea of necessity? Who is worse? Who is closer to God? Be that as it may, among the Greek philosophers we accept and understand only Aristotle and the Stoics; the others we push away. And that is quite natural. In Aristotle and the Stoics we find a minimum of emphasis placed on metaphysics (i.e., the free will of which it is impossible for us to conceive), and a maximum on necessity (Aristotle was convinced that "necessity does not allow itself to be persuaded"), that is to say, on the order and the obedience to law which we understand so well. However, we correct even Aristotle and the Stoics and adapt them to our needs, though they themselves had already sufficiently corrected their own predecessors.

Plato, like Socrates, tried to penetrate into the regions where being is created and to participate in its creation. Such was, in their eyes, the task of metaphysics, the "preparation for death" which led them from the middle zones of human existence to the boundaries of life. Aristotle and the Stoics did not wish to go "so far." They accepted necessity and adapted themselves to it. We, also, refuse to penetrate into these regions. We are too lazy and too fearful to wish to approach God. It suffices for us to become organized after a fashion on earth. That is why we have such a fear of "our own will" and why necessity appears so lovable to us. That is why we consider the world which has been stripped by science as true being (minimum of metaphysics) and grant to it the right to an independent existence, while we call the real world a phenomenon, an appearance, and ban it from our ontology.


People seek the meaning of history and they find it. But why must history have a meaning? This question is never raised. And yet if someone raised it, he would begin, perhaps, by doubting that history must have a meaning, then continue by becoming convinced that history is not at all called to have a meaning, that history is one thing and meaning another. A candle worth a kopek set fire to Moscow. Rasputin and Lenin, themselves only kopek candles, set fire to all Russia.


According to Kant, our thought - our excellent and only guide in the labyrinth of existence - leads us finally to regions where it becomes powerless and useless, where the principle of contradiction, which never deceives and which always furnishes answers that have an unambiguous meaning, no longer rules but where, instead, antinomies which exclude all possibility of answer rule. What, then, is to be done? Kant says we must stop, for here there is nothing any longer to interest us. Where questions remain necessarily without answer, man has nothing more to do, nothing more to search.

Now, one obviously can stop, and the majority of people do stop. But is it really necessary to do so? What if it is not necessary? What if it is found, on the contrary, that man is capable of "re-learning," of transforming himself, of reeducating himself in such a way as to free himself from the need of obtaining unambiguous answers to all questions? What if man ever succeeded in coming to feel that such answers, though they had formerly consoled him and even made him rejoice, are in reality the curse of his existence, that vanity to which the creatures are subject, despite themselves, groaning and as in travail to this day? (Romans 8:20-22.)

Kant forgot Holy Scripture when he meditated on the relationships between science and metaphysics. That is a pity! If he had remembered, he would perhaps have been able to answer differently the questions he raised. Perhaps it would not have seemed to him that metaphysics loses its raison d'Ítre if it does not lead us to general and necessary judgments. Perhaps he would even have been led to recognize that the raison d'Ítre of metaphysics is precisely to return to man his primordial freedom and to break forever the bonds in which general and necessary truths have fettered us.

Kant, like his successors - Fichte, Schelling, Hegel - speaks of freedom often and enthusiastically. But when these men found themselves face to face with true freedom, they were terrified. They were petrified, as if they had seen not freedom but the head of Medusa surrounded by serpents. The scientist cannot get along without necessary judgments; how should metaphysics be able to renounce them? One can, in fact, neither discuss nor prove anything if there is not an obligatory norm. Even relationships between men become impossible if they do not submit to a single principle equally constraining for all. But all this only proves one thing: our thought has arrogated rights which do not belong to it. From the fact that, in the empirical domain, the idea of constraining truth is the condition of knowledge, one cannot in any way conclude that it must be the same in the domain of metaphysics - just as the fact that the possibility of communication between men presupposes, according to our observations in a great number of cases, the recognition of one or several fundamental principles that are common to all, does not at all justify the conclusion that communication between men is possible only if they agree to recognize the absolute power of a single truth.

Exactly the opposite is the truth. Such a demand often destroys all possibility of communication. The Eastern Church separated from the Western Church precisely because of filioque. Catholics have in fact no communication with Eastern Orthodox believers; they even hate them - even though Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy are both Christian religions. I do not even speak of the abyss which separates Christianity from Islam or Buddhism. Not only does communication become impossible, but the supposed necessity of bowing down before a single truth leads to an eternal hatred. The Crusades still exist in our day. Men who live side by side detest and despise each other. They do not dream of "communicating" with their neighbors, but each wishes to subordinate the other, to oblige him to forget himself, to renounce everything which he needs and is important to him. Obviously we can declare that there is no salvation outside our truth. But we cannot anticipate in any case that, armed with a single truth, we shall find the way to all human souls. Here again our thought deceives us with illusory promises. In this way, on the contrary, all avenues of approach are cut off and one obtains unity among men not by communication but by the destruction of all who think, feel, or desire differently than we.

It will be said that it is dangerous to grant "freedom" to men. Meister Eckhardt taught that he who has succeeded in entering into communion with God has no need of dogmas, but freedom proved to be fatal for Eckhardt. Without realizing it, he slipped from the summit that he had apparently succeeded in attaining to the plane of current thought and substituted an abstract idea for God. As for German idealism, which owes much to Eckhardt, it denied God completely. All this is perfectly correct. But if Eckhardt did not know how to stay at the altitude he had attained, if the German idealists slipped back to positivism, it was precisely because their ultimate aim was to attain a single truth for all and because they did not believe in freedom.


When God says to Abraham, "Leave your country, your friends and your father's house, and go to the land that I will show you," Abraham obeys and "leaves without knowing where he is going." And it is said in Scripture that Abraham believed God, Who imputed it to him for righteousness. All this is according to the Bible. But common sense judges quite otherwise. He who goes without knowing where he is going is a weak and frivolous man, and a faith which is founded on nothing (now faith is always founded on nothing, for it is faith itself that wishes to "found") cannot be in any way "imputed for righteousness." The same conviction, clearly and neatly formulated and raised to the level of method, reigns in science, which was born of common sense. Science, in fact, is science only so long as it does not admit faith and always demands of man that he realize what he is doing and know where he is going. Scientific philosophy, or to put it another way, the philosophy which utilizes in its search for its truths the same methods that science employs in its search for its truths also wishes to know where it is going and where it is leading its adherents. It follows from this that faith is distinguished from science, above everything else, by its methods.

The believer goes forward, without looking to the right or to the left, without asking where he is going, without calculating. The scientist will not take a step without looking around him, without asking, and is afraid to budge from his place. He wishes to know beforehand where he will arrive. Which of these two methods leads us to "truth?" One can discuss this matter, but it is beyond doubt that he alone will be able to attain the promised land who, like Abraham, decides to go forward without knowing where he is going. And if philosophy wishes to attain the promised land (Kant himself, you will recall, said that metaphysics must reveal for man God, freedom and the immortality of the soul), it must adopt the method of Abraham and not that of Socrates and teach men at all events to go forward without calculating, without seeing anything beforehand, without even knowing where they are going.

Is it possible that such a philosophy should become the philosophy of the future? Or is this rather the philosophy of a far-off, forever lost past - the philosophy of the ancient and blessed wise men who (to recall once more the terms of Plato) were better than we and lived closer to God?

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