Human All-Too-Human, Part 1

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Nevertheless.—However it may be with reckoning and counter-reckoning, in the present condition of philosophy the awakening of moral observation is necessary. Humanity can no longer be spared the cruel sight of the psychological dissecting-table with its knives and forceps. For here rules that science which inquires into the origin and history of the so-called moral sentiments, and which, in its progress, has to draw up and solve complicated sociological problems:—the older philosophy knows the latter one not at all, and has always avoided the examination of the origin and history of moral sentiments on any feeble pretext. With what consequences it is now very easy to see, after it has been shown by many examples how the mistakes of the greatest philosophers generally have their starting-point in a wrong explanation of certain human actions and sensations, just as on the ground of an erroneous analysis—for instance, that of the so-called unselfish actions a false ethic is built up; then, to harmonise with this again, religion and mythological confusion are brought in to assist, and finally the shades of these dismal spirits fall also over physics and the general mode of regarding the world. If it is certain, however, that superficiality in psychological[Pg 57] observation has laid, and still lays, the most dangerous snares for human judgments and conclusions, then there is need now of that endurance of work which does not grow weary of piling stone upon stone, pebble on pebble; there is need of courage not to be ashamed of such humble work and to turn a deaf ear to scorn. And this is also true,—numberless single observations on the human and all-too-human have first been discovered, and given utterance to, in circles of society which were accustomed to offer sacrifice therewith to a clever desire to please, and not to scientific knowledge,—and the odour of that old home of the moral maxim, a very seductive odour, has attached itself almost inseparably to the whole species, so that on its account the scientific man involuntarily betrays a certain distrust of this species and its earnestness. But it is sufficient to point to the consequences, for already it begins to be seen what results of a serious kind spring from the ground of psychological observation. What, after all, is the principal axiom to which the boldest and coldest thinker, the author of the book On the Origin of Moral Sensations[2] has attained by means of his incisive and decisive analyses of human actions? "The moral man," he says, "is no nearer to the intelligible (metaphysical) world than is the physical man." This theory, hardened and sharpened under the hammer-blow of historical knowledge, may some time or other, perhaps in[Pg 58] some future period, serve as the axe which is applied to the root of the "metaphysical need" of man,—whether more as a blessing than a curse to the general welfare it is not easy to say, but in any case as a theory with the most important consequences, at once fruitful and terrible, and looking into the world with that Janus-face which all great knowledge possesses.


How Far Useful.—It must remain for ever undecided whether psychological observation is advantageous or disadvantageous to man; but it is certain that it is necessary, because science cannot do without it. Science, however, has no consideration for ultimate purposes, any more than Nature has, but just as the latter occasionally achieves things of the greatest suitableness without intending to do so, so also true science, as the imitator of nature in ideas, will occasionally and in many ways further the usefulness and welfare of man,—but also without intending to do so.

But whoever feels too chilled by the breath of such a reflection has perhaps too little fire in himself; let him look around him meanwhile and he will become aware of illnesses which have need of ice-poultices, and of men who are so "kneaded together" of heat and spirit that they can hardly find an atmosphere that is cold and biting enough. Moreover, as individuals and nations that are too serious have need of frivolities, as others too[Pg 59] mobile and excitable have need occasionally of heavily oppressing burdens for the sake of their health, should not we, the more intellectual people of this age, that grows visibly more and more inflamed, seize all quenching and cooling means that exist, in order that we may at least remain as constant, harmless, and moderate as we still are, and thus, perhaps, serve some time or other as mirror and self-contemplation for this age?


The Fable of Intelligible Freedom.—The history of the sentiments by means of which we make a person responsible consists of the following principal phases. First, all single actions are called good or bad without any regard to their motives, but only on account of the useful or injurious consequences which result for the community. But soon the origin of these distinctions is forgotten, and it is deemed that the qualities "good" or "bad" are contained in the action itself without regard to its consequences, by the same error according to which language describes the stone as hard, the tree as green,—with which, in short, the result is regarded as the cause. Then the goodness or badness is implanted in the motive, and the action in itself is looked upon as morally ambiguous. Mankind even goes further, and applies the predicate good or bad no longer to single motives, but to the whole nature of an individual, out of whom the motive grows as the plant grows out of the earth. Thus, in turn, man[Pg 60] is made responsible for his operations, then for his actions, then for his motives, and finally for his nature. Eventually it is discovered that even this nature cannot be responsible, inasmuch as it is an absolutely necessary consequence concreted out of the elements and influences of past and present things,—that man, therefore, cannot be made responsible for anything, neither for his nature, nor his motives, nor his actions, nor his effects. It has therewith come to be recognised that the history of moral valuations is at the same time the history of an error, the error of responsibility, which is based upon the error of the freedom of will. Schopenhauer thus decided against it: because certain actions bring ill humour ("consciousness of guilt") in their train, there must be a responsibility; for there would be no reason for this ill humour if not only all human actions were not done of necessity,—which is actually the case and also the belief of this philosopher,—but man himself from the same necessity is precisely the being that he is—which Schopenhauer denies. From the fact of that ill humour Schopenhauer thinks he can prove a liberty which man must somehow have had, not with regard to actions, but with regard to nature; liberty, therefore, to be thus or otherwise, not to act thus or otherwise. From the esse, the sphere of freedom and responsibility, there results, in his opinion, the operari, the sphere of strict causality, necessity, and irresponsibility. This ill humour is apparently directed to the operari,—in so far it is erroneous,—but in reality it is directed to the esse, which is the deed of a free will, the[Pg 61] fundamental cause of the existence of an individual, man becomes that which he wishes to be, his will is anterior to his existence. Here the mistaken conclusion is drawn that from the fact of the ill humour, the justification, the reasonable admissableness of this ill humour is presupposed; and starting from this mistaken conclusion, Schopenhauer arrives at his fantastic sequence of the so-called intelligible freedom. But the ill humour after the deed is not necessarily reasonable, indeed it is assuredly not reasonable, for it is based upon the erroneous presumption that the action need not have inevitably followed. Therefore, it is only because man believes himself to be free, not because he is free, that he experiences remorse and pricks of conscience. Moreover, this ill humour is a habit that can be broken off; in many people it is entirely absent in connection with actions where others experience it. It is a very changeable thing, and one which is connected with the development of customs and culture, and probably only existing during a comparatively short period of the world's history. Nobody is responsible for his actions, nobody for his nature; to judge is identical with being unjust. This also applies when an individual judges himself. The theory is as clear as sunlight, and yet every one prefers to go back into the shadow and the untruth, for fear of the consequences.

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