Human All-Too-Human, Part 1

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For Tranquillity.—But does not our philosophy thus become a tragedy? Does not truth become hostile to life, to improvement? A question seems to weigh upon our tongue and yet hesitate to make itself heard: whether one can consciously remain in untruthfulness? or, supposing one were obliged to do this, would not death be preferable? For there is no longer any "must"; morality, in so far as it had any "must" or "shalt", has been destroyed by our mode of contemplation, just as religion has been destroyed. Knowledge can only allow pleasure and pain, benefit and injury to subsist as motives; but how will these[Pg 50] motives agree with the sense of truth? They also contain errors (for, as already said, inclination and aversion, and their very incorrect determinations, practically regulate our pleasure and pain). The whole of human life is deeply immersed in untruthfulness; the individual cannot draw it up out of this well, without thereby taking a deep dislike to his whole past, without finding his present motives—those of honour, for instance—inconsistent, and without opposing scorn and disdain to the passions which conduce to happiness in the future. Is it true that there remains but one sole way of thinking which brings after it despair as a personal experience, as a theoretical result, a philosophy of dissolution, disintegration, and self-destruction? I believe that the decision with regard to the after-effects of the knowledge will be given through the temperament of a man; I could imagine another after-effect, just as well as that one described, which is possible in certain natures, by means of which a life would arise much simpler, freer from emotions than is the present one, so that though at first, indeed, the old motives of passionate desire might still have strength from old hereditary habit, they would gradually become weaker under the influence—of purifying knowledge. One would live at last amongst men, and with one's self as with Nature, without praise, reproach, or agitation, feasting one's eyes, as if it were a play, upon much of which one was formerly afraid. One would be free from the emphasis, and would no longer feel the goading, of the thought that one is not only nature or more than nature. Certainly, as already remarked, a[Pg 51] good temperament would be necessary for this, an even, mild, and naturally joyous soul, a disposition which would not always need to be on its guard against spite and sudden outbreaks, and would not convey in its utterances anything of a grumbling or sudden nature,—those well-known vexatious qualities of old dogs and men who have been long chained up. On the contrary, a man from whom the ordinary fetters of life have so far fallen that he continues to live only for the sake of ever better knowledge must be able to renounce without envy and regret: much, indeed almost everything that is precious to other men, he must regard as the all-sufficing and the most desirable condition; the free, fearless soaring over men, customs, laws, and the traditional valuations of things. The joy of this condition he imparts willingly, and he has perhaps nothing else to impart,—wherein, to be sure, there is more privation and renunciation. If, nevertheless, more is demanded from him, he will point with a friendly shake of his head to his brother, the free man of action, and will perhaps not conceal a little derision, for as regards this "freedom" it is a very peculiar case.

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Advantages of Psychological Observation.—That reflection on the human, all-too-human—or, according to the learned expression, psychological observation—is one of the means by which one may lighten the burden of life, that exercise in this art produces presence of mind in difficult circumstances, in the midst of tiresome surroundings, even that from the most thorny and unpleasant periods of one's own life one may gather maxims and thereby feel a little better: all this was believed, was known in former centuries. Why was it forgotten by our century, when in Germany at least, even in all Europe, the poverty of psychological observation betrays itself by many signs? Not exactly in novels, tales, and philosophical treatises,—they are the work of exceptional individuals,—rather in the judgments on public events and personalities; but above all there is a lack of the art of psychological analysis and summing-up in every rank of society, in which a great deal is talked about men, but nothing about man. Why do we allow the richest and most harmless[Pg 54] subject of conversation to escape us? Why are not the great masters of psychological maxims more read? For, without any exaggeration, the educated man in Europe who has read La Rochefoucauld and his kindred in mind and art, is rarely found, and still more rare is he who knows them and does not blame them. It is probable, however, that even this exceptional reader will find much less pleasure in them than the form of this artist should afford him; for even the clearest head is not capable of rightly estimating the art of shaping and polishing maxims unless he has really been brought up to it and has competed in it. Without this practical teaching one deems this shaping and polishing to be easier than it is; one has not a sufficient perception of fitness and charm. For this reason the present readers of maxims find in them a comparatively small pleasure, hardly a mouthful of pleasantness, so that they resemble the people who generally look at cameos, who praise because they cannot love, and are very ready to admire, but still more ready to run away.


Objection.—Or should there be a counter-reckoning to that theory that places psychological observation amongst the means of charming, curing, and relieving existence? Should one have sufficiently convinced one's self of the unpleasant consequences of this art to divert from it designedly the attention of him who is educating himself in it? As a matter of fact, a certain blind belief in the[Pg 55] goodness of human nature, an innate aversion to the analysis of human actions, a kind of shame-facedness with respect to the nakedness of the soul may really be more desirable for the general well-being of a man than that quality, useful in isolated cases, of psychological sharp-sightedness; and perhaps the belief in goodness, in virtuous men and deeds, in an abundance of impersonal goodwill in the world, has made men better inasmuch as it has made them less distrustful. When one imitates Plutarch's heroes with enthusiasm, and turns with disgust from a suspicious examination of the motives for their actions, it is not truth which benefits thereby, but the welfare of human society; the psychological mistake and, generally speaking, the insensibility on this matter helps humanity forwards, while the recognition of truth gains more through the stimulating power of hypothesis than La Rochefoucauld has said in his preface to the first edition of his "Sentences et maximes morales." ... "Ce que le monde nomme vertu n'est d'ordinaire qu'un fantme form par nos passions, qui on donne un nom honnte pour faire impunment ce qu'on veut." La Rochefoucauld and those other French masters of soul-examination who have lately been joined by a German, the author of Psychological Observations[1] resemble good marksmen who again and again hit the bull's-eye; but it is the bull's-eye of human nature. Their art arouses astonishment; but in the end a spectator who is not led by the spirit of science,[Pg 56] but by humane intentions, will probably execrate an art which appears to implant in the soul the sense of the disparagement and suspicion of mankind.

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