Human All-Too-Human, Part 1

Page 17 of 70


The Limits of Human Love.—A man who has declared that another is an idiot and a bad companion, is angry when the latter eventually proves himself to be otherwise.

[Pg 90]


Moralit Larmoyante.—What a great deal of pleasure morality gives! Only think what a sea of pleasant tears has been shed over descriptions of noble and unselfish deeds! This charm of life would vanish if the belief in absolute irresponsibility were to obtain supremacy.


The Origin of Justice.—Justice (equity) has, its origin amongst powers which are fairly equal, as Thucydides (in the terrible dialogue between the Athenian and Melian ambassadors) rightly comprehended: that is to say, where there is no clearly recognisable supremacy, and where a conflict would be useless and would injure both sides, there arises the thought of coming to an understanding and settling the opposing claims; the character of exchange is the primary character of justice. Each party satisfies the other, as each obtains what he values more than the other. Each one receives that which he desires, as his own henceforth, and whatever is desired is received in return. Justice, therefore, is recompense and exchange based on the hypothesis of a fairly equal degree of power,—thus, originally, revenge belongs to the province of justice, it is an exchange. Also gratitude.—Justice naturally is based on the point of view of a judicious self-preservation, on the egoism, therefore, of that reflection, "Why should I injure myself uselessly and perhaps not attain[Pg 91] my aim after all?" So much about the origin of justice. Because man, according to his intellectual custom, has forgotten the original purpose of so-called just and reasonable actions, and particularly because for hundreds of years children have been taught to admire and imitate such actions, the idea has gradually arisen that such an action is un-egoistic; upon this idea, however, is based the high estimation in which it is held: which, moreover, like all valuations, is constantly growing, for something that is valued highly is striven after, imitated, multiplied, and increases, because the value of the output of toil and enthusiasm of each individual is added to the value of the thing itself. How little moral would the world look without this forgetfulness! A poet might say that God had placed forgetfulness as door-keeper in the temple of human dignity.


The Right of the Weaker.—When any one submits under certain conditions to a greater power, as a besieged town for instance, the counter-condition is that one can destroy one's self, burn the town, and so cause the mighty one a great loss. Therefore there is a kind of equalisation here, on the basis of which rights may be determined. The enemy has his advantage in maintaining it. In so far there are also rights between slaves and masters, that is, precisely so far as the possession of the slave is useful and important to his master. The right originally[Pg 92] extends so far as one appears to be valuable to the other, essentially unlosable, unconquerable, and so forth. In so far the weaker one also has rights, but lesser ones. Hence the famous unusquisque tantum juris habet, quantum potentia valet (or more exactly, quantum potentia valere creditur).


The Three Phases of Hitherto Existing Morality.—It is the first sign that the animal has become man when its actions no longer have regard only to momentary welfare, but to what is enduring, when it grows useful and practical; there the free rule of reason first breaks out. A still higher step is reached when he acts according to the principle of honour by this means he brings himself into order, submits to common feelings, and that exalts him still higher over the phase in which he was led only by the idea of usefulness from a personal point of view; he respects and wishes to be respected, i.e. he understands usefulness as dependent upon what he thinks of others and what others think of him. Eventually he acts, on the highest step of the hitherto existing—morality, according to his standard of things and men; he himself decides for himself and others what is honourable, what is useful; he has become the law-giver of opinions, in accordance with the ever more highly developed idea of what is useful and honourable. Knowledge enables him to place that which is most useful, that is to say the general, enduring usefulness, above the personal,[Pg 93] the honourable recognition of general, enduring validity above the momentary; he lives and acts as a collective individual.


The Morality of the Mature Individual.—The impersonal has hitherto been looked upon as the actual distinguishing mark of moral action; and it has been pointed out that in the beginning it was in consideration of the common good that all impersonal actions were praised and distinguished. Is not an important change in these views impending, now when it is more and more recognised that it is precisely in the most personal possible considerations that the common good is the greatest, so that a strictly personal action now best illustrates the present idea of morality, as utility for the mass? To make a whole personality out of ourselves, and in all that we do to keep that personality's highest good in view, carries us further than those sympathetic emotions and actions for the benefit of others. We all still suffer, certainly, from the too small consideration of the personal in us; it is badly developed,—let us admit it; rather has our mind been forcibly drawn away from it and offered as a sacrifice to the State, to science, or to those who stand in need of help, as if it were the bad part which must be sacrificed. We are still willing to work for our fellow-men, but only so far as we find our own greatest advantage in this work, no more and no less. It is only a question of what we[Pg 94] understand as our advantage; the unripe, undeveloped, crude individual will understand it in the crudest way.


Custom and Morality.—To be moral, correct, and virtuous is to be obedient to an old-established law and custom. Whether we submit with difficulty or willingly is immaterial, enough that we do so. He is called "good" who, as if naturally, after long precedent, easily and willingly, therefore, does what is right, according to whatever this may be (as, for instance, taking revenge, if to take revenge be considered as right, as amongst the ancient Greeks). He is called good because he is good "for something"; but as goodwill, pity, consideration, moderation, and such like, have come, with the change in manners, to be looked upon as "good for something," as useful, the good-natured and helpful have, later on, come to be distinguished specially as "good." (In the beginning other and more important kinds of usefulness stood in the foreground.) To be evil is to be "not moral" (immoral), to be immoral is to be in opposition to tradition, however sensible or stupid it may be; injury to the community (the "neighbour" being understood thereby) has, however, been looked upon by the social laws of all different ages as being eminently the actual "immorality," so that now at the word "evil" we immediately think of voluntary injury to one's neighbour. The fundamental antithesis which has taught man the distinction between moral and immoral, between[Pg 95] good and evil, is not the "egoistic" and "un-egoistic," but the being bound to the tradition, law, and solution thereof. How the tradition has arisen is immaterial, at all events without regard to good and evil or any immanent categorical imperative, but above all for the purpose of preserving a community, a generation, an association, a people; every superstitious custom that has arisen on account of some falsely explained accident, creates a tradition, which it is moral to follow; to separate one's self from it is dangerous, but more dangerous for the community than for the individual (because the Godhead punishes the community for every outrage and every violation of its rights, and the individual only in proportion). Now every tradition grows continually more venerable, the farther off lies its origin, the more this is lost sight of; the veneration paid it accumulates from generation to generation, the tradition at last becomes holy and excites awe; and thus in any case the morality of piety is a much older morality than that which requires un-egoistic actions.

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