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


Plato was sure that the blessed wise men of antiquity were better than we and lived closer to God. Plato, it seems, was right. In any case, no one who has studied the history of philosophy will say that the millennial efforts of the human mind have brought us closer to the final truth, to the eternal sources of being. But this millennial struggle of the human soul with eternal mystery, a struggle which ends in nothing and which thus appears to many people completely useless, is for us a guarantee that the failures experienced by philosophy till now will not discourage men, that the struggle will continue. Whether we come closer to God or become estranged from Him, whether we become better or worse than our ancestors, we cannot give up our efforts and our searches. The failures will continue as in the past but, as in the past, they will not prevent new attempts. It is not given man to stop, it is not given him to cease searching.

There is here, in this work of Sisyphus, a great enigma which we shall probably never succeed in resolving. It suggests to us, however, the idea that successes do not always have a final and decisive meaning in the general economy of human activity. The positive sciences have achieved immense and incontrovertible results. Metaphysics, on the other hand, has given us nothing solid or certain. And yet it is possible that metaphysics may, in some sense, be more useful and more important than the positive sciences. It may be that our abortive attempts to penetrate into the world which is forever hidden from us may have more value than the progress we make in the study of the world which extends visibly before us and reveals itself to all men on the condition that they manifest a certain persistence. If this be so, Kant's objections to metaphysics fall of themselves. Metaphysics has not given us a single truth obligatory upon all. That is true, but that is not an objection to metaphysics. "By its very nature" metaphysics does not wish to give us, and must not give us, truths obligatory upon all. Even more: its task consists, among other things, in devaluating the truths of the positive sciences, along with the very idea of constraint as the sign of truth. If, then, one decides to confront - as Kant wished to do - metaphysics and the positive sciences, it is necessary to reverse the problem and to put the question closer to the following way: In seeking the sources of being metaphysics has not been able to find universal and necessary truth, while in studying that which flows from these sources the positive sciences have discovered numerous "truths"; - does this not signify that the "truths" of the positive sciences are false, or at least ephemeral - enduring only for a moment?...

I think that one cannot approach philosophical problems without ridding himself at the very outset of the idea of the bond, established by Kant, between metaphysics and the positive sciences. If we do not succeed in doing this, all the judgments that we shall try to make about the final problems of existence will remain fruitless. We shall always be afraid of failure, and, instead of coming closer to God, we shall become further estranged from Him. It is more than probable that Plato considered the ancient sages blessed because they were free of all fear of positive truths and still did not know the chains of the knowledge whose weight Plato himself so painfully experienced.


How are the rare moments when the "self-evidences" lose their power over man to be used for philosophy? These moments presuppose the existence of a very special kind of inward state wherein that which ordinarily appears to us as the most important, the most essential, and even as the only reality becomes suddenly insignificant, useless, fantastic. But philosophy wishes to be objective and despises "states of the soul." If, then, one runs after objectivity, one inevitably falls into the clutches of self-evidences; and if one wishes to rid himself of self-evidences he must, before everything else and contrary to tradition, disdain objectivity.

Certainly no one will decide to do that. Everyone flatters himself that he has obtained a truth which, no matter how little, no matter how very little, will be a truth for all. It is only when we are alone with ourselves, under the impenetrable veil of the mystery of the individual being (the empirical personality), that we decide occasionally to renounce the real or illusory rights and privileges which we possess from the fact of our participation in the world common to all. It is then that there suddenly shine before our eyes the ultimate and the penultimate truths - but they appear more like dreams than truths. We forget them easily, as we forget dreams. And if it happens that we do retain a vague memory of them, we do not know what to do with it. And, to tell the truth, one cannot do anything with these truths. At the very most, one can try to translate them by means of a certain verbal music and listen to what those who, acquainted with these visions only by having heard others speak of them and not by their own immediate experience, transform them into judgments and, having thus killed them, make them necessary always and for everyone, that is, comprehensible and "evident."

But they will then be truths quite different from those that were revealed to us in our solitude. It is no longer to us that they will belong, but to everyone, to that "omnitude" which Dostoevsky so hated and which his friend and disciple, Soloviev, for the sake of traditional philosophy and theology, made the basis of his system under the less odious name of "ecumenicity." It is here that there clearly appears the fundamental opposition between the thought of Dostoevsky and that of the school out of which Soloviev arose. Dostoevsky fled from "omnitude" to himself; Soloviev fled from himself to "omnitude." The living man, whom the school calls the "empirical personality," was for Soloviev the major obstacle on the road to the truth. He thought, or, to put it better, he affirmed (who can know what a man thinks?) that one cannot see truth as long as one has not completely rid himself of his "ego" (in other words, as long as one has not overcome and destroyed his empirical individuality). Dostoevsky, however, knew that truth is revealed only to the empirical personality...


Thought, said Plato, is a silent dialogue of the soul with itself. Obviously this is so, if thought is dialectical. Then, even while alone, a man can not remain silent and continues to speak: he imagines himself before an adversary to whom he must demonstrate something, whom he must convince or constrain, from whom he must wrest agreement. Plotinus, the last of the great Platonists, however, could no longer bear this kind of thought. He aspired to that true freedom wherein one no longer constrains and is himself no longer constrained by others. Is the idea of such freedom really only a fantasy, and, conversely, is the idea of Necessity which constrains - the idea on which dialectic lives - really as invincible as it appears to us? Certainly he alone can demonstrate and constrain who has taken in hand the sword of Necessity. But he who takes up the sword will perish by the sword. Kant succeeded in killing metaphysics only because metaphysics wished to constrain. And so long as metaphysics does not decide to lay down its weapons, it will remain the slave of the positive sciences. Thought is not a dialogue of the soul with itself. Thought is, or to put it another way, may be, much more than a dialogue and can do without dialectic. As Pushkin said, "And the seraph tore out of my mouth the tongue that added slander to lust for falsehood."


We live in narrowness and injustice. We are obliged to press close to each other and, in order to suffer the least possible, we try to maintain a certain order. But why attribute to God, the God whom neither time nor space limits, the same respect and love for order? Why forever speak of "total unity"? If God loves men, what need has He to subordinate men to His divine will and to deprive them of their own will, the most precious of the things He has bestowed upon them? There is no need at all. Consequently the idea of total unity is an absolutely false idea. And as philosophy cannot ordinarily do without this idea, it follows therefrom, as a second consequence, that our thought is stricken with a terrible malady of which we must rid ourselves, no matter how difficult it may be. We are all endlessly concerned with the hygiene of our soul; as far as our reason is concerned, we are persuaded that it is perfectly healthy. But we must begin with reason. Reason must impose upon itself a whole series of vows, and the first of these is to renounce overly great pretensions. It is not forbidden for reason to speak of unity and even of unities, but it must renounce total unity - and other things besides. And what a sigh of relief men will breathe when they suddenly discover that the living God, the true God, in no way resembles Him whom reason has shown them until now!


Shall one speak to stones in the hope that they will end by answering "Amen," as they did to the Venerable Bede? Or before animals, thinking that one will make himself understood by them through the power of his magic, the power which Orpheus possessed in olden times? For men apparently will not even listen; they are too busy. They are making history, and they have many other things on their minds besides truth. Everyone knows that history is infinitely more important than truth. Hence, this new definition of truth: truth is that which passes history by and which history does not notice.


Phenomenology, the faithful disciples of Husserl declare, ignores the difference between homo dormiens (sleeping man) and homo vigilans (waking man). This is true. It does ignore this difference, and herein lies the source of its power and persuasive force. It exercises all its efforts towards preserving its docta ignorantia. As soon, indeed, as phenomenology feels that not only homo vigilans, the man who has been awakened (it seems there has never yet been any such person on earth), differs from the man who is asleep, but that the man who is only beginning to awaken also differs from him toto coelo - it will be at the end of its success. Consciously and unconsciously, the man who is asleep tends to consider the conditions from which his dreams flow as the only possible conditions of existence. That is why he calls them "self-evidences" and guards and protects them in all kinds of ways (logic and the theory of knowledge: the gifts of reason). But when the moment of awakening comes (the rumbling of the thunder is heard: revelation), one will begin to doubt the self-evidences and to put up a struggle against them that is completely unreasonable - that is to say, one will do precisely what, for the man who is asleep, is the height of absurdity. Can there, indeed, be anything more absurd than to answer logic with claps of thunder?


Protagoras affirmed that man is the measure of all things; Plato said that it is God. At first blush it seems that Protagoras' truth is lowly while Plato's is exalted. However, Plato himself elsewhere says that the gods do not philosophize and do not seek wisdom, being already wise. But what does it mean to philosophize and to seek truth? Is it not to "measure" things? Is not, furthermore, such an occupation more suitable to weak and ignorant mortals than to the powerful and omniscient gods?


The philosophers seek to "explain" the world in such a way that everything becomes clear and transparent and that life no longer has in itself anything, or the least possible amount, of the problematic and mysterious. Should they not, rather, concern themselves with showing that precisely what appears to men clear and comprehensible is strangely enigmatic and mysterious? Should they not try to deliver themselves and others from the power of concepts whose definiteness destroys mystery? The sources, the roots, of being lie, in fact, in that which is hidden and not in that which is revealed: Deus est Deus absconditus (God is a hidden God).


A round square or a wooden piece of iron is an absurdity and, consequently, an impossibility, for the connection of these concepts runs contrary to the principle of contradiction. But "the poisoned Socrates" is not an absurdity and, therefore, a possibility, for the principle of contradiction authorizes the bringing together of these concepts. Could one not beg the principle of contradiction to modify its decisions or even force it to do so? Or could not one discover a tribunal which would have the authority to set aside these decisions and which would establish that the poisoning of Socrates, being contradictory, is an absurdity and that, consequently, Socrates was not poisoned, while a round square is not at all absurd and, consequently, it is quite possible that it may someday be found? Or one might leave the wooden piece of iron and the round square to the principle of contradiction - let it do with them what it wishes - but on the condition that it recognize that the judgment "Socrates was poisoned" also contains within itself a contradiction and that, consequently, no matter what people say, Socrates was never poisoned. It is such questions that should occupy philosophy, and in olden times philosophy actually did concern itself with them. But today they have been completely forgotten.


"Prepare the way for God!" How prepare it? By observing fasts and festivals? By paying tithes or even distributing all of one's good to the poor? By mortifying one's flesh? By loving one's neighbor? By spending one's nights reading ancient books? All this is necessary and certainly good, but it is not the chief thing. The chief thing is to think that, even if all men without exception were convinced that God does not exist, this would not mean anything, and that if one could prove as clearly as two times two makes four that God does not exist, this also would not mean anything.

People will tell me that one cannot demand such things of men. Obviously! But God always demands of us the impossible, and it is in this that the chief difference between God and men consists. Or perhaps, on the contrary, the resemblance: is it not said that God created man in His image? It is only when man wishes the impossible that he remembers God. To obtain that which is possible he turns to his fellow men.


"I know what time is," says St. Augustine, "but when someone asks me what time is, I cannot answer and it then seems that I do not know." What St. Augustine says about time may be said about many other things. Man knows them as long as no one questions him or as long as he does not question himself about them. Man knows what freedom is, but ask him what it is and he will become confused and not be able to answer. He knows also what the soul is, but the psychologists, that is to say, scientists - people who are profoundly convinced that it is always useful and proper to raise questions - have succeeded in creating a "psychology without the soul." It should be concluded from this that our methods of searching for truth are in no way as infallible as we are sometimes accustomed to think, and that in certain cases our inability to answer a question that has been raised testifies precisely to our knowledge and the aversion to raising questions shows that we are near the truth. But no one will permit himself this conclusion. It would be a mortal offense to Socrates, Aristotle and all those who today write on the "science of logic." People have no desire to set themselves against the mighty of this world, be they living or dead.


Among the innumerable a priori, or evident, truths on which, as everyone believes, human thought is founded but which in reality have muddled human thought, one of the most firmly established is that one only asks questions in order to obtain answers. When I ask, what time is it? what is the sum of the angles of a triangle? what is the density of mercury? is God just? is the soul immortal? is the will free?, it is clear to everyone that I wish to obtain precise answers to these questions. But there are questions upon questions. He who asks, what time is it? or what is the density of mercury? needs, indeed, to be given a determinate answer, and this suffices for him. But he who asks if God is just or the soul immortal wants something quite other; and clear and distinct answers make him furious or plunge him into despair. How is one to make people understand this? How is one to explain to them that somewhere, beyond a certain limit, the human soul is so completely transformed that the very "mechanism" of thought becomes something quite other, or, to put it better, there is no longer any place for mechanism in this thought?


Socrates obeyed his demon, and he had at his side a demon who guided him. Alcibiades, however, although he had a profound respect for Socrates, did not have any demon, or, if he had, did not obey him. What should the philosophy which wishes to define and describe the moral "phenomenon" do? Should it be guided by Socrates or by Alcibiades? If it follows Socrates, the presence of the demon at man's side and man's complete submission to the orders of his demon will be considered a sign of moral perfection, and Alcibiades will be relegated to the category of immoral people. If it follows Alcibiades, Socrates must be condemned.

Here, I trust, is a perfectly legitimate question. I further trust that traditional philosophy will never succeed in resolving it. It does not even raise it. In other words, before setting out to describe a moral phenomenon, it already knows what morality is and how it is to be described. However, it may be that Socrates and Alcibiades cannot be put in the same category: "Not all persons are created equal; to some eternal life is preordained; to others eternal damnation" (Calvin). It is proper (it is ordained) for Socrates to let himself be guided by his demon, and it is proper (it is ordained) for Alcibiades to guide his demon. When Nietzsche spoke of the morality of slaves, he was much closer to Christianity than his critics imagined.


Spinoza said that if a stone were endowed with consciousness, it would imagine that it falls to earth freely. But Spinoza was mistaken. If the stone had consciousness it would be convinced that it falls to earth by virtue of the necessity of the stoney nature of all being. "It follows from this" that the idea of Necessity could only have been born and developed in stones endowed with consciousness. And, as the idea of Necessity is so deeply rooted in the human soul that it appears to everyone primordial and the foundation, even, of being (neither being nor thought are possible without it), it also follows from this that the vast, overwhelming majority of men are not men, however they may seem to be such, but stones endowed with consciousness. And it is they - these stones endowed with consciousness, to whom everything is indifferent but who think, speak and act according to the laws of their petrified consciousness - it is precisely they who have created the environment in which all humanity finds itself obliged to live, that is, not only the stones endowed or unendowed with consciousness, but also living men.

It is very difficult, impossible almost, to fight against the majority, especially considering that the stones are better adapted to the conditions of terrestrial existence and always survive much more easily. The result is that men must adapt themselves, in their turn, to the stones, flatter them and recognize as the truth and even as the good what appears true and good to the petrified consciousness. There is room to believe that the reflections of Kant on the subject of the Deus ex machina, as also the sub specie aeternitatis seu necessitatis of Spinoza, just like our ideas about the truth which constrains and the good which constrains, were suggested to living men by the stones endowed with consciousness that are mixed among them.


After reading the first writings of Plato, Socrates, according to tradition, said, "How this young man has lied about me!" Plato, however, also tells us many true things about Socrates. To my mind the Apology reflects exactly the tone and content of the speech pronounced by Socrates before his judges. Socrates certainly told them that he accepted their verdict. As his demon demanded it of him, he had to submit to a judgment which he considered unjust and revolting, and to submit not only outwardly but inwardly. But even though Socrates himself submitted, this in no way imposes upon us the obligation to submit also. There still remains to us the right - and, who knows, perhaps even the possibility - of snatching Socrates from his fate, contrary to what he said, contrary even to what he desired - of snatching Socrates, against his will, from the hands of the Athenians. And if we (or someone stronger than we) snatch him away by force, does this mean that we have taken away from him his "free will"?

At first blush it seems that we have, indeed, taken it away from him. Have we not wrested him from the hands of the Athenians against his will? And yet we have not really deprived him of his "will." On the contrary, we have given it back to him... Sapienti sat, or is it still necessary to give some explanation? In that case, I should add this: the doctrine of Luther about the servo arbitrio, that of Calvin about predestination, and even that of Spinoza about "Necessity," aimed finally only to drive away from Socrates his demon who suggested to him that he must submit to Necessity not only externally through fear but inwardly through a sense of responsibility. Certainly Aristotle is right: Necessity does not allow itself to be persuaded. But does it follow from this that it is necessary to love Necessity with all one's heart, with all one's soul, and to submit to it out of a sense of responsibility? To submit to it through fear - that is another thing; but as far as a sense of responsibility, as far as conscience is concerned, it will always protest against all constraint. And "our conscience," the conscience that teaches us "to submit" and "to accept," is only a kind of fear made up and costumed.

If, then, we succeed in driving away the demon of Socrates, if we (or someone else: we are not equal to this task) succeeded in wresting him from the hands of "history," we shall return to him his freedom, that freedom which every living being in the depth of his soul (at that depth to which the light of "our conscience" and all our "light" never attains and where the demons no longer have any power) esteems and loves above all else - even when he covers it with insults before others and brands it, in a loud voice, as arbitrariness and caprice.


Our thought consists essentially in turning around, in looking backward (in German "Besinnung"). It is born out of fear. We are afraid that behind us, under us, above us, there is something that threatens us. And indeed, as soon as man turns around and looks behind himself, he "sees" dangerous and terrible things. But what if these exist (will anyone admit this supposition?) only for him who turns around and only so long as he turns around? The head of Medusa presents no danger for the man who goes straight ahead on his way without looking backward, but it turns him who looks towards it to stone. To think without looking backward, to create the "logic" of the thought which does not turn around: will philosophy and the philosophers ever understand that it is in this that man's essential task consists, that here is the way which leads to "the one thing necessary?" Will they ever understand that inertia, the law of the inertia which is at the foundation of the thought which looks backward and is always afraid of possible surprises, will never permit us to escape from the somnolent, quasi-vegetative existence to which we are condemned by the history of our intellectual development?


Ten years before the publication of his Critique of Pure Reason, Kant wrote to his friend Herz that "in the determination of the origin and validity of our knowledge the deus ex machina is the most absurd supposition and, over and above the vicious circle in the conclusions of our knowledge, it presents the disadvantage that it gives aid to every caprice and every devout or brooding fantasy." And again, "to say that a Supreme Being (höheres Wesen) has wisely introduced into us concepts and principles of this kind (that is, what Kant called synthetic a priori judgments. - L.S.) amounts to destroying at its root the possibility of all philosophy."

All of Kant's "critique of pure reason," all of his Weltanschauung, rests on this foundation. From where did Kant derive this assurance that the deus ex machina or höheres Wesen is the most absurd of suppositions and that, in accepting them, one destroys the very foundations of philosophy? It is known that Kant himself declared on many occasions that metaphysical problems are reducible to three - God, the immortality of the soul, and free will. But the ground being so prepared, what can philosophy say about God? If one knows in advance that the deus ex machina or, what is the same thing, the höheres Wesen, is the most absurd of suppositions, if one knows in advance that he puts an end to all philosophy by admitting the intrusion into life of a supreme being, then there remains nothing further for metaphysics to do. It has been suggested to us in advance that God, like the immortality of the soul and free will, is only invention and fantasy (Hirngespinst und Grille) and that, consequently, metaphysics itself is only pure arbitrariness and fantasy.

But I ask once more: Who was it who gave Kant (and Kant stands for "all of us," Kant spoke in the name of all of us) this assurance? Whom did he question on the matter of the deus ex machina (höheres Wesen)? The answer can only be this: Kant (quite like "all of us") understood philosophy as a looking backward, as Besinnung. Now, to turn around and look behind one-self presupposes that what one seeks to see possesses a certain structure that is forever determined, and that it is given neither to man nor to any "supreme being" to escape the power of the "order of being" which was not created either by them or for them. Whatever this "order," which has been introduced by itself, may be, it is something given once for all that one cannot change, that one must accept and against which one cannot fight. The very idea of such a fight appears to Kant (and to all of us) inadmissible and absurd - inadmissible not only because we are condemned in advance to defeat and because the struggle is hopeless but also because the struggle is immoral and testifies to our spirit of rebellion and egotism. Caprice, arbitrariness, fantasy - says Kant, who, like all of us, is certain (because it has been suggested to us) that these things are much worse than necessity, submission, order.

And, indeed, it suffices merely to turn around to see immediately (intuition) that one cannot and must not fight, that one must submit. The "eternal order," like the head of Medusa crowned with serpents, paralyzes not only the will but also the reason of man. And as philosophy has always been and is still now "a look thrown backward" (Besinnung) our final truths are found to be truths that do not liberate but rather enchain. The philosophers have always spoken much of freedom; almost none of them, however, has dared to wish for freedom. They have sought Necessity which puts an end to all searching, for it does not show respect for any thing or any person or according to Aristotle's formula: "Necessity does not allow itself to be persuaded" (hê anankê ametapeiston ti einai). He alone is capable of fighting against the Medusa and her serpents (the anankê of Aristotle, which inspired him as well as Kant with such a fear of the capricious and the fantastic) who has enough daring to march forward without turning around. Philosophy must not, then, be a looking around, a turning backward (Besinnen), as we have become accustomed to think - to look backward is the end of all philosophy - but it must go forward fearlessly, without taking account of anything whatever, without turning around to look at anything whatever. That is why the divine Plato said: "It is necessary to dare everything," without fearing, he adds, to pass as impudent. And Plotinus also tells us: "A great and final struggle awaits the soul." This is also what Nietzsche's "will to power" wished to be. Philosophy is not Besinnen but struggle. And this struggle has no end and will have no end. The kingdom of God, as it is written, is attained through violence.


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