Human All-Too-Human, Part 1

Page 6 of 70


Phenomenon and Thing-in-itself.—Philosophers are in the habit of setting themselves before life and experience—before that which they call the world of appearance—as before a picture that is once for all unrolled and exhibits unchangeably fixed the same process,—this process, they think, must be rightly interpreted in order to come to a conclusion about the being that produced the picture: about the thing-in-itself, therefore, which is always accustomed to be regarded as sufficient ground for the world of phenomenon. On the other hand, since one always makes the idea of the metaphysical stand definitely as that of th[Pg 29]e unconditioned, consequently also unconditioning, one must directly disown all connection between the unconditioned (the metaphysical world) and the world which is known to us; so that the thing-in-itself should most certainly not appear in the phenomenon, and every conclusion from the former as regards the latter is to be rejected. Both sides overlook the fact that that picture—that which we now call human life and experience—has gradually evolved,—nay, is still in the full process of evolving,—and therefore should not be regarded as a fixed magnitude from which a conclusion about its originator might be deduced (the sufficing cause) or even merely neglected. It is because for thousands of years we have looked into the world with moral, sthetic, and religious pretensions, with blind inclination, passion, or fear, and have surfeited ourselves in the vices of illogical thought, that this world has gradually become so marvellously motley, terrible, full of meaning and of soul, it has acquired colour—but we were the colourists; the human intellect, on the basis of human needs, of human emotions, has caused this "phenomenon" to appear and has carried its erroneous fundamental conceptions into things. Late, very late, it takes to thinking, and now the world of experience and the thing-in-itself seem to it so extraordinarily different and separated, that it gives up drawing conclusions from the former to the latter—or in a terribly mysterious manner demands the renunciation of our intellect, of our personal will, in order thereby to reach the essential, that one may become essential. Again,[Pg 30] others have collected all the characteristic features of our world of phenomenon,—that is, the idea of the world spun out of intellectual errors and inherited by us,—and instead of accusing the intellect as the offenders, they have laid the blame on the nature of things as being the cause of the hard fact of this very sinister character of the world, and have preached the deliverance from Being. With all these conceptions the constant and laborious process of science (which at last celebrates its greatest triumph in a history of the origin of thought) becomes completed in various ways, the result of which might perhaps run as follows:—"That which we now call the world is the result of a mass of errors and fantasies which arose gradually in the general development of organic being, which are inter-grown with each other, and are now inherited by us as the accumulated treasure of all the past,—as a treasure, for the value of our humanity depends upon it. From this world of representation strict science is really only able to liberate us to a very slight extent—as it is also not at all desirable—inasmuch as it cannot essentially break the power of primitive habits of feeling; but it can gradually elucidate the history of the rise of that world as representation,—and lift us, at least for moments, above and beyond the whole process. Perhaps we shall then recognise that the thing in itself is worth a Homeric laugh; that it seemed so much, indeed everything, and is really empty, namely, empty of meaning."

[Pg 31]


Metaphysical Explanations.—The young man values metaphysical explanations, because they show him something highly significant in things which he found unpleasant or despicable, and if he is dissatisfied with himself, the feeling becomes lighter when he recognises the innermost world-puzzle or world-misery in that which he so strongly disapproves of in himself. To feel himself less responsible and at the same time to find things more interesting—that seems to him a double benefit for which he has to thank metaphysics. Later on, certainly, he gets distrustful of the whole metaphysical method of explanation; then perhaps it grows clear to him that those results can be obtained equally well and more scientifically in another way: that physical and historical explanations produce the feeling of personal relief to at least the same extent, and that the interest in life and its problems is perhaps still more aroused thereby.


Fundamental Questions of Metaphysics.—When the history of the rise of thought comes to be written, a new light will be thrown on the following statement of a distinguished logician:—"The primordial general law of the cognisant subject consists in the inner necessity of recognising every object in itself in its own nature, as a thing identical with itself, consequently self-existing[Pg 32] and at bottom remaining ever the same and unchangeable: in short, in recognising everything as a substance." Even this law, which is here called "primordial," has evolved: it will some day be shown how gradually this tendency arises in the lower organisms, how the feeble mole-eyes of their organisations at first see only the same thing,—;how then, when the various awakenings of pleasure and displeasure become noticeable, various substances are gradually distinguished, but each with one attribute, i.e. one single relation to such an organism. The first step in logic is the judgment,—the nature of which, according to the decision of the best logicians, consists in belief. At the bottom of all belief lies the sensation of the pleasant or the painful in relation to the sentient subject. A new third sensation as the result of two previous single sensations is the judgment in its simplest form. We organic beings have originally no interest in anything but its relation to us in connection with pleasure and pain. Between the moments (the states of feeling) when we become conscious of this connection, lie moments of rest, of non-feeling; the world and everything is then without interest for us, we notice no change in it (as even now a deeply interested person does not notice when any one passes him). To the plant, things are as a rule tranquil and eternal, everything like itself. From the period of the lower organisms man has inherited the belief that similar things exist (this theory is only contradicted by the matured experience of the most advanced science). The primordial belief of[Pg 33] everything organic from the beginning is perhaps even this, that all the rest of the world is one and immovable. The point furthest removed from those early beginnings of logic is the idea of Causality,—indeed we still really think that all sensations and activities are acts of the free will; when the sentient individual contemplates himself, he regards every sensation, every alteration as something isolated, that is to say, unconditioned and disconnected,—it rises up in us without connection with anything foregoing or following. We are hungry, but do not originally think that the organism must be nourished; the feeling seems to make itself felt without cause and purpose, it isolates itself and regards itself as arbitrary. Therefore, belief in the freedom of the will is an original error of everything organic, as old as the existence of the awakenings of logic in it; the belief in unconditioned substances and similar things is equally a primordial as well as an old error of everything organic. But inasmuch as all metaphysics has concerned itself chiefly with substance and the freedom of will, it may be designated as the science which treats of the fundamental errors of mankind, but treats of them as if they were fundamental truths.

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