41 - OUT OF THE BOOK OF FATE
In eternity, in the boundlessness of time and space, our conscious, living entity undergoes immense changes and becomes quite different from what it was under the conditions of limited earthly being. Much drops away, much is added. What seemed most important becomes of secondary importance, or loses its significance, and conversely, that which had no significance comes into the foreground. Now it seems to us a small matter if we chance to crush an ant under our foot, or save a cockchafer that has fallen into the water, but it seems immensely important that Germany was defeated in the "World War". But from another angle of vision it might appear that the crushed ant or the rescued beetle was far more important than the great civilized country. That seems a paradox? Yes, indeed! But has there never been anything of the sort on earth? And then: the endless past, the endless, quite unknown future and the "known" but wholly elusive present hemmed in between two eternities - is that no paradox? How na´ve to require intelligibility of metaphysical conjectures! Unintelligibility is their basic characteristic. And for that reason we naturally do not know what we should keep against eternity and what eliminate. We are recommended to eliminate "sensuousness" and keep ideas. I think that the matter is much more complicated than people think, and precisely in connection with this commonplace of philosophy I shall permit myself to recommend Descartes' rule, "de omnibus dubitandum" - the more so as Descartes doubted absolutely everything - except this sentence.
42 - METAPHYSICAL TRUTHS
Aristotle is alleged not to have understood Plato. How could this be? We who live twenty-five hundred years after Plato, and know his thoughts only from his works, on the authority and chronological sequence of which we have no exact information, and which are written in a dead language, strange to us - we understand Plato, while Aristotle, his contemporary, friend, and disciple, who sat for 18 years "at the feet" of his master - did not understand him! It is clear that he did not "understand" Plato's teaching; he did not accept it, because he felt in it something absolutely hostile. What the teacher hailed joyfully as glad tidings seemed to the pupil temptation of the devil. Aristotle rejected Plato's "Ideas" principally because he saw in them an unnecessary duplication of the world. But what was unnecessary to Aristotle seemed to Plato the supreme necessity, the supremely important and essential, to timi˘taton, for whose sake both he and all his true disciples went to philosophy. The world must be duplicated, precisely duplicated: beside the visible and natural world, in which brute force is ensured its triumph and Anytus and Meletus are victors, there is another, super-natural world to be found, wherein Socrates is the wisest, and the wisest is the strongest. Only so would Plato have been justified in esteeming as truth what Socrates said to his judges: "Ye, too, O judges, should believe in the goodness of death and be impregnated with that ultimate truth that no evil can befall a good man, either in life or after his death, and that the gods never forget him" (Apology, XXXIII). This is the basis and the root of Plato's teaching. No evil can befall a good man (ouk estin andri agath˘i kakon ouden).
It is quite clear that in Aristotle's "real" world Socrates' words are lies and empty chatter, for which, as he was evidently often told, a flogging would be too mild a punishment. Only if, beside the world directly accessible to all, there was another world, and that the supremely important and only real world - only then could Socrates speak to his judges as he did without hypocrisy. Aristotle was shocked. Unnecessary duplication! To the one it seemed necessary, to the other unnecessary. Aristotle was not troubled about Socrates' fate. His care was elsewhere, and his mission upon earth a different one, for by nature's mysterious decree he was predestined to another metaphysical fate than Plato and Socrates. This is perhaps a particularly clear illustration of the faultiness of the Platonic-Socratic teaching of general conceptions. General conceptions are not an ally to metaphysics, but its most dangerous and treacherous enemy.
To try to group Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle under the single conception "man" would be to annihilate all metaphysics. For then all Aristotle's objections to Plato would be correct, and so would his definition of truth. To overcome Aristotle, we must first and foremost destroy the conception "man", and afterwards a whole series of other general conceptions: reason, good, truth, etc. It is impossible to speak of "man" generally, so long as the metaphysical destinies of individual men are different, so long as one is destined for the empiric world, the other for the ideal, etc. There is a Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, and Alexander's groom, but each of these differs from the other far more strongly than he does from a rhinoceros, a peacock, a cypress, or a cabbage; perhaps even from a tree trunk or a rock. If metaphysics is possible, and in so far as it is possible, it has always drawn its "wisdom" from such "visions" - although never admitting it and rarely realizing it. The Platos duplicate reality, and the second reality is for them the true one. The Aristotles want no second reality - and so for them it transforms itself into a chimera, into something "superfluous".
43 - THE IRRATIONAL RESIDUE OF BEING
The irrational residue of being, which has disquieted philosophers from the earliest times of the awakening of human thought and which men have striven so passionately and so fruitlessly to "apprehend" i.e. to resolve into elements congruous to our reason - must that really be the cause of so much fear, so much hostility and hatred? Reality cannot be deduced from reason, reality is greater, much greater than reason - is that such a misfortune? Why do men see in it a misfortune? If we had found a deficit in the balance-sheet of the world's structure, that would be different. That would mean that someone was robbing us secretly and robbing us perhaps of something very valuable and important to us. But the final balance-sheet has shown a certain "residue", a "surplus", and a substantial one at that! We have discovered an invisible and generous benefactor, and one who is considerably more powerful than human reason. We have this generous benefactor and - in so far as we seek for "knowledge" - we are anxious at any price to be rid of him! Even in metaphysics we strive for a "natural" explanation: there is to be no benefactor. Why? Out of pride? Or out of suspicion? "Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes?" We fear that although he is a benefactor and makes us gifts, in the end he will turn into an enemy and a robber and take all from us. Can we believe no one, trust no one except ourselves?
There is no doubt that mistrust and suspicion of our understanding are the chief sources of rationalism. If the benefactor were always benevolent, always gave gifts, then there would be no rationalists, and also no skeptics, who are blood-brothers of the rationalists. Men would then no longer trouble about methodologies and about criticism of the power of judgment, they would hymn the beauty of the world and the might of the creator in confidence and joy. Instead of tracts "De intellectus emendatione" and investigations about method, we should have psalms, like the old Jews who had not yet learned to reckon and examine. We today understand how to reckon, and have learned how to think also. We say: the giver is also a taker. Even with the Greeks the chief theme of philosophic contemplation was genesis and phthora - birth and destruction. A creator has made things, has given them a beginning - but as experience teaches, everything that has a beginning has also an end, and a wretched, bitter, lamentable end at that. With the Greeks the thought appears even in the pre-philosophic period that it would be best for men not to be born at all. It is better not to live at all than to live and be destined to inescapable destruction. And if some power has cast us unasked into the world, then the best thing left to us is to die as quickly as possible. Our life, that eternal hesitation between being and not being, cannot possibly have any value...
Experience has shown that all that has a beginning also comes to an end. Reason, which is convinced that it knows even more than experience tells it, sets up a veritas aeterna: all that arises cannot help finishing, all that has a beginning cannot help having an end. Consequently, concludes reason with self-assurance, gifts of any kind, precisely because they are gifts and were not there before, will inevitably be taken away again. They are given us only on loan; we have but the usufruct of them. The only thing left to us to do is to refuse gifts and giver alike. The gifts are bad because they are taken away again, and also the giver is bad because he takes away. Good alone is that which is won by our own strength, which is not given us but made our own through the "nature of things", i.e. through someone who cannot voluntarily either give or take away because, metaphorically speaking, he has no "hands". This is probably why Plotinus falls with such rage on the Gnostics in the last book of his second Ennead. They had discovered his own secret thought, but with much greater clarity and sequence than he would have wished. In other words, they were much more consistent, not only inwardly but also outwardly. Neither with Plotinus nor with Plato did "flight from the world" mean rejection of the world. Plotinus, of course, found many things repulsive here on earth, and there were many things of which he wished passionately to be rid. But there was also something which he would not have renounced at any price, even if he had had to promote matter a step and allow it a certain being. Much as Plotinus speaks of the nothingness of sensuous apperceptions, much as he tries to prove that "beauty" is better than beautiful objects - for objects appear and disappear but beauty is eternal - yet he was furious when the Gnostics proposed complete renunciation of the world. This world, our visible, sensuously perceptible world, which is corrupted by the addition of the non-existent, false, dark, and evil element of matter, this world is yet wonderfully beautiful; and although, like all "sensuous" things, it is subject to change and consequently must have had a beginning and be doomed to an end, yet Plotinus will not give it up and does not even hesitate to declare it eternal and to pillory the Gnostics, who despise the world and its creator...
But, we ask, in whose name is such a fearful warfare waged? In the name of objective truth? But neither Plotinus nor the Gnostics, of course, knew certainly whether the world was eternal or whether it arose in time and would be destroyed again. They had no "proofs" - they lacked even those empirical data which have been acquired by modern geology and paleontology and on which modern science builds up its "history of the world". But this lack of proofs no more prevented Plotinus from putting forward his own opinion than it prevented the Gnostics from standing by their own. For the Gnostics, "evil" in the world enhances beauty, and they thought: May the world perish if only the arch-evil which was intruded into it by the clumsiness of the Demiurge who created it perishes together with it. Plotinus, on the other hand, who was completely absorbed in the contemplation of the beauty of the world, said: Let us rather allow an inconsistency of thought and permit the forbidden sensuous to creep into the world again, so long as we need not give up this glorious heaven, the divine stars and the lovely sea. For although they are apperceived by the senses - without eyes one can see nothing of all this; for although "absolute beauty" should be better than the beauty of the earth, the sky, and the sea, yet without this concrete, "single" beauty, the world is no world. Such beauty must be eternal and imperishable.
And evil? Before evil one can flee, withdraw into oneself; one can, after all, put up with something on this earth where there is so much beauty. And then one can think oneself out a theodicy against evil which can scare away all human misfortune, however great. Even the moral "evil" can be explained, if one permits a barely perceptible inconsistency, which even an expert in philosophy would not notice. The main thing is not to abandon the beauty of the world, not to give it up under any circumstances. Here is the important difference between Plotinus and the Gnostics. Plotinus accepted gladly both gifts and giver, although, in obedience to Hellenic philosophic traditions, he was anxious to limit and bind the world-creator in every way and to represent him as giving "necessarily" or "naturally". In other words, he retained in theory the right of control and the greatest possible independence for himself and his reason. The Gnostics, on the other hand, being clearly more impressed by the terrors than the beauties of earth, resolved to reject all that is earthly, hoping that somewhere, in another place, they would find both the imperishable gifts and the perfect Demiurge. But here on earth men lived only to fight tirelessly against death. It is obvious that the Gnostics were more consistent.
Does this mean that they were nearer the truth? Not at all. It is fairly certain that neither the Gnostics nor Plotinus approached the truth. It is probably correct that the truth has little relation to what men like the Gnostics or Plotinus taught. Consequently they had no reason to dispute, although each of them was talking and doing on his own lines, which were quite different. Neither the Gnostics' world-renunciation nor Plotinus's world affirmation has a right to assume the name of truth and sail under its flag. Then was their dispute superfluous? If one likes to say it, they never disputed at all, and would de facto have got on perfectly well together, if tireless reason had not dragged them quite unnecessarily before the court and confronted them with one another. When there is judgment, when it is stated in advance that either condemnation or acquittal must result, one begins, of course, involuntarily to find defence and proofs of innocence, even to squabble and scratch. But is it, I ask, so absolutely necessary to run to the judge? Does the evening star strive with the lightning flash for beauty? Or the cypress with the palm? I think that Plotinus and the Gnostics only went to court "here". "There" it would not have occurred to any one to raise the question of their "rightness". The Gnostics were right when in their search for justification and compensation for the tortures of the world they forgot the beauty of the world, and Plotinus was right also when in his enthusiasm for the beauty of the world he forgot the evil that lies here. We, their distant descendants and followers, who listen in the night for the voice of men who left our earthly vale of tears more than fifteen hundred years ago, we hear both their laments and their songs of praise and only wonder how it could be that the intensive creative activity of these illustrious men could remain so entirely without influence on our modern science. Science does not trouble itself with what went on in the souls of these men. Science does not even know that they had "souls". All their "better", "worse", "for nothing in the world" and "at all costs" will not outweigh in the balances of science a pound, an ounce, a grain of ordinary sand or even dirt. All that is the "irrational residue" which is subject to no investigation.
44 - THE IDEA OF CHAOS
The idea of chaos terrifies man, for it is assumed for some reason that in chaos, in the absence of order, he cannot live. In other words, we imagine, not chaos, but a cosmos which from our point of view is not quite successful, a certain degree of order, in fact, which excludes the possibility of life. So integral a part of our spiritual structure has the idea of order become. In reality chaos is a lack of any order, and consequently also of that order which excludes the possibility of life. Chaos is no limited possibility, but the direct opposite, an unlimited possibility. To grasp and admit absolute freedom is infinitely hard for us, as it is hard for a man who has always lived in darkness to look into the light. But this is obviously no objection, the more so as in life, the life which arose on our earth, where order prevails, there are difficulties which are far greater, simply unacceptable. He who knows these difficulties will not shrink from trying his luck with the idea of chaos. And he will perhaps convince himself that the evil comes, not from chaos but from cosmos, that cosmos is the source also of all those "necessities" and "impossibilities" which transform our world into a vale of tears and lamentations.
45 - THE SOURCES OF KNOWLEDGE
Flashes of thought, sudden inspiration on the one hand, and thought-out thoughts on the other, brought into relationship with the past and serving as basis for future thoughts - which of these shall one believe? If Eros is the source of the supreme cognition, then, of course, the former. The ancients believed in inspiration; it was only the men of today who took their stand on positive knowledge and required uniformity of knowledge. Plato's theory of ideas is theory only in the name. It is only loosely related to his ultimate apperceptions, and myths are always nearer to him than the "conclusions of reason" which we persist in requiring of him. It would be more true to say that with him dialectic is dominated by the mythical; in any case it is for him altogether an end to itself. Plato rejoices in the music of ideas which he catches, he treasures ideas in proportion as they produce for him their strange and ravishing - if imperceptible to others' ears - harmony. Thus ideas delight him, quite irrespective of whether they correspond to reality or not. The "love-lorn philosopher" troubles little whether or no other men share his delight in the beauty which he has discovered. He is in love. His love is final aim and self-justification. Indeed, is anything more necessary? If Eros justifies all this, does he need to justify himself before others? He has "shone forth", has done marvelous things - he has no other care. Indeed, he has no care at all. His task lies in wrenching man free from the troublesomeness of everyday existence. When once Eros arrives, all limitations, all conventions, all "works" have an end, the holiday begins on which one may do what is forbidden on ordinary days, for one is allowed not to work, not to earn, but simply to "take", because restraints, laws, arrangements, regulations, automatically drop away.
That last word in Plato's sense was to be spoken by Plotinus 700 years later. Monos pros monon - man face to face with God, beyond and above all that bound him, above even knowledge, or if you will, first and foremost above knowledge; for what limits more than knowledge? Only "there", in the blending with God, is freedom, there is truth, there is the holiest aim of all our endeavour. And this blending is rapture, is "delight " - in contrast to knowledge, it is that which is most direct, most sudden in life, that which least fits into the usual categories of understanding, whose task is to transform even divine inspirations into quod semper ubique et ab omnibus creditum est - that which is always and everywhere believed of all.
46 - A QUESTION
Insight, especially when new and unexpected, usually brings great joy in its train. It is, as it were, a reward for the virtues of indefatigability and boldness. But there are men to whom joys are denied. Is it also denied to such men to attain insight, to make discoveries? One cannot cognize without rejoicing, as a hungry man cannot eat without feeling pleasure. Ascetics have not infrequently renounced eating because they could not eat "dispassionately". Must those who have taken the vow of joylessness cease to think, to seek and to see, and only wait, senseless, dull, indifferent? Or are spiritual joys always permitted, even to those who have taken a vow? That it is sometimes impossible, not only for an individual, but also for a whole people, not to take a vow of joylessness - I think this is now very widely understood. The Jews have mourned for thousands of years over ruined Jerusalem, and now the Russians mourn for Russia. And they care for no vision, consequently no vision is possible. It is only later perhaps, in the far future, that the long-stored energy will flame up as a lurid flame of "revelation".
47 - SURFACES AND DEPTHS
Plotinus's ecstasy is the last flaming up of the Hellenic spirit, which is now capable only with difficulty and by dint of great spiritual exertion of "remembering" the witness borne by the men of old and the saints who dwelt near to the gods. Aristotle did everything to eliminate from the souls of men the traces of anamnesis of an earlier life. And then nothing more availed. For all the efforts of mediaeval Catholicism, the truth of antiquity fell ever deeper into oblivion. No one would, or could, believe that men had once dwelt nearer to the gods. The new philosophy begins with Spinoza, who broke openly with antiquity. Our forefathers, he said, had never dwelt near to the gods. And there never were gods. Man must make unto himself a god: amor dei intellectualis. And men did not go beyond Spinoza. today even Spinoza, that weak reflection of Plotinus, who only in rare moments of artificial Úlan reached something like that "union" which sufficed to make the men of antiquity happy - even he seems to us over-mystical. Gods, demons and spirits are dead - the world has peopled itself with all sorts of principles and rules, which are universally thought the most or even the sole legitimate successors of the earlier fantastic beings. The ancients, we think, were mistaken. They saw what leapt to the eye, what lay on the surface, and took what they saw for a god. But principles and general rules lie hidden in the depths, are invisible, hard. to find. Meanwhile, only what is won with labour can be true and beautiful; all life is proof and guarantee of this...
But sometimes one feels doubts of even the most self-evident theses. Perhaps what is best and most necessary lies not in the depths but on the surface, and must be given to man not hardly but easily. What is won with labour, through culture, battle, endeavour, however we may treasure it, is yet as nothing in comparison with what was given us of itself, without effort, what we received from God as a gift. Our curse is that now we can only believe in what we won in the sweat of our brow and bore in travail. It is certain that the punishment must be accepted, cannot be evaded. But when the probationary period is over - then the depths will be forgotten and Maya will enter again into all those rights which the devil - who is none other than reason - took from her through God's counsel, by leading man away from the lucent surface of being to the dark roots and principles.
48 - THE WAY TO THE TRUTH
"I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels" (Psalm xxii, 14). To glimpse the truth one needs not only a keen eye, ingenuity, watchfulness, etc.; one must also have the capacity of supreme self-abnegation, and that not quite in the ordinary sense. It is not enough for man to declare himself ready to live in filth and cold, to endure injury and sickness, to be burned in the brazen bull of the tyrant Phalaris. That is needed of which the Psalmist sings: to melt inwardly, to shatter the skeleton of one's own soul and to break that which is held to be the basis of our being, all that ready certainty and clear-cut definition of conception in which we are accustomed to see the veritates aeternae. We must feel that all in us has become fluid, that forms are not laid down in advance through an eternal law, but that man must create for himself every hour, every moment.
For thousands of years human thought has worked tirelessly at determining and laying fast the eternal as something always the same and immutable. Socrates went to the craftsmen, the artisans, to learn this art. Smith, joiner, carpenter, cook, doctor - they know what they have to do, they have a conception of the "good", a ready-made, fixed causa finalis which is determined through their work. From them we too can learn what is the "Good", for the "Good" is always and everywhere one and the same. But the "Good" of the gods which Socrates needed has not the least resemblance to the "Good" of the smiths, carpenters, and doctors. Only the name is the same. The gods know no "craft" and need none. They seek neither firmness, nor durability, nor laws. There is a conception of a table or a hoof. But there is no conception of the "Good"; the smiths and the carpenters have to do their work and confine themselves to their work. Even as their tools, axes, hammers, saws, etc., are not needed by the philosopher and cannot help him, so also their ideas and methods will give nothing to him whom Apollo has called to his holy sacrifice. In transferring the conception of "law" and the "general conception" from everyday life into science, Socrates gave science much, yet condemned metaphysics to a slow and certain death. The Critique of Pure Reason was born in that hour when Socrates determined to seek the "Good" among the craftsmen.
Metaphysics became a craft. And so our task - perhaps an impossible one, for Socrates has become second nature to us - should consist in eliminating from our souls all that is "lawful" and "ideal". It consists, in the Psalmist's image, in shattering the skeleton which lends substance to our old ego, melting the "heart in our bowels". Laws and firmness exist only on earth, for temporal existence. The "ideal", whether causa efficiens or causa finalis, is also only on earth. Beyond temporal existence man must create for himself both causes and aims. And to learn this, man must experience that dreadful feeling of desolation of which the Twenty-second Psalm speaks in its opening words: "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me!" There is no God, man is abandoned to himself and himself alone. There is not even the hope with which Socrates sometimes consoled himself that death is a sleep without dream-faces. No - visions will haunt the sleep. And the chief vision is: God is not, man must himself become God, create all things out of nothing; all things; matter together with forms, and even the eternal laws.
That is the experience of the men of antiquity, of the Saints: away from knowledge, from firm ground, from the certainties, from all that is given to man through "general" life! Herein lies their "great" hope! And not only the ancients, but also men nearer to our times have known much about this and testified to it in their writings. Irreconcilable enemies, Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, and Luther the renegade monk, both teach that only a man who has gone astray in eternity and is abandoned to himself and to immeasurable despair is capable of directing his eyes on ultimate truth. Hence Luther's enigmatic words in his commentary on the Epistle to the Romans: "Blasphemiae... aliquanto sonant gratiores in aure Dei quam ipsum Alleluja vel quaecumque laudis jubilatio. Quanto enim horribilior et foedior est blasphemia, tanto est Deo gratior." ("Blasphemy sometimes sounds in God's ears more agreeable than even Hallelujah or any solemn hymn of praise. And the more frightful and repulsive the blasphemy, the more agreeable it is to God.") The meaning of one of the truths of Ignatius Loyola's Exercitia spiritualia is the same: "Quanto se magis repent anima segregatam ac solitariam, tanto aptiorem se ipsam reddit ad quaerendum attingendumque creatorem et dominum suum." ("The more secluded and solitary the soul feels itself, the fitter does it make itself to seek and attain its Lord and Creator.")