Human All-Too-Human, Part 1

Page 69 of 70


In essential respects we are still the same men as those of the time of the Reformation; how could it be otherwise? But the fact that we no longer allow ourselves certain means for promoting the triumph of our opinions distinguishes us from that age, and proves that we belong to a higher culture. He who still combats and overthrows opinions with calumnies and outbursts[Pg 401] of rage, after the manner of the Reformation men, obviously betrays the fact that he would have burnt his adversaries had he lived in other times, and that he would have resorted to all the methods of the Inquisition if he had been an opponent of the Reformation. The Inquisition was rational at that time; for it represented nothing else than the universal application of martial law, which had to be proclaimed throughout the entire domain of the Church, and which, like all martial law, gave a right to the extremest methods, under the presupposition, of course, (which we now no longer share with those people), that the Church possessed truth and had to preserve it at all costs, and at any sacrifice, for the salvation of mankind. Now, however, one does not so readily concede to any one that he possesses the truth; strict methods of investigation have diffused enough of distrust and precaution, so that every one who violently advocates opinions in word and deed is looked upon as an enemy of our modern culture, or, at least, as an atavist. As a matter of fact the pathos that man possesses truth is now of very little consequence in comparison with the certainly milder and less noisy pathos of the search for truth, which is never weary of learning afresh and examining anew.


Moreover, the methodical search for truth is itself the outcome of those ages in which convictions were at war with each other. If the[Pg 402] individual had not cared about his "truth," that is to say, about carrying his point, there would have been no method of investigation; thus, however, by the eternal struggle of the claims of different individuals to absolute truth, people went on step by step to find irrefragable principles according to which the rights of the claims could be tested and the dispute settled. At first people decided according to authorities; later on they criticised one another's ways and means of finding the presumed truth; in the interval there was a period when people deduced the consequences of the adverse theory, and perhaps found them to be productive of injury and unhappiness; from which it was then to be inferred by every one that the conviction of the adversary involved an error. The personal struggle of the thinker at last so sharpened his methods that real truths could be discovered, and the mistakes of former methods exposed before the eyes of all.


On the whole, scientific methods are at least as important results of investigation as any other results, for the scientific spirit is based upon a knowledge of method, and if the methods were lost, all the results of science could not prevent the renewed prevalence of superstition and absurdity. Clever people may learn as much as they like of the results of science, but one still notices in their conversation, and especially in the hypotheses they make, that they lack the[Pg 403] scientific spirit; they have not the instinctive distrust of the devious courses of thinking which, in consequence of long training, has taken root in the soul of every scientific man. It is enough for them to find any kind of hypothesis on a subject, they are then all on fire for it, and imagine the matter is thereby settled. To have an opinion is with them equivalent to immediately becoming fanatical for it, and finally taking it to heart as a conviction. In the case of an unexplained matter they become heated for the first idea that comes into their head which has any resemblance to an explanation—a course from which the worst results constantly follow, especially in the field of politics. On that account everybody should nowadays have become thoroughly acquainted with at least one science, for then surely he knows what is meant by method, and how necessary is the extremest carefulness. To women in particular this advice is to be given at present; as to those who are irretrievably the victims of all hypotheses, especially when these have the appearance of being witty, attractive, enlivening, and invigorating. Indeed, on close inspection one sees that by far the greater number of educated people still desire convictions from a thinker and nothing but convictions, and that only a small minority want certainty. The former want to be forcibly carried away in order thereby to obtain an increase of strength; the latter few have the real interest which disregards personal advantages and the increase of strength also. The former class, who[Pg 404] greatly predominate, are always reckoned upon when the thinker comports himself and labels himself as a genius, and thus views himself as a higher being to whom authority belongs. In so far as genius of this kind upholds the ardour of convictions, and arouses distrust of the cautious and modest spirit of science, it is an enemy of truth, however much it may think itself the wooer thereof.


There is, certainly, also an entirely different species of genius, that of justice; and I cannot make up my mind to estimate it lower than any kind of philosophical, political, or artistic genius. Its peculiarity is to go, with heartfelt aversion, out of the way of everything that blinds and confuses people's judgment of things; it is consequently an adversary of convictions, for it wants to give their own to all, whether they be living or dead, real or imaginary—and for that purpose it must know thoroughly; it therefore places everything in the best light and goes around it with careful eyes. Finally, it will even give to its adversary the blind or short-sighted "conviction" (as men call it,—among women it is called "faith"), what is due to conviction—for the sake of truth.


Opinions evolve out of passions; indolence of intellect allows those to congeal into convictions. He, however, who is conscious of himself as a free, restless, lively spirit can prevent this[Pg 405] congelation by constant change; and if he is altogether a thinking snowball, he will not have opinions in his head at all, but only certainties and properly estimated probabilities. But we, who are of a mixed nature, alternately inspired with ardour and chilled through and through by the intellect, want to kneel before justice, as the only goddess we acknowledge. The fire in us generally makes us unjust, and impure in the eyes of our goddess; in this condition we are not permitted to take her hand, and the serious smile of her approval never rests upon us. We reverence her as the veiled Isis of our life; with shame we offer her our pain as penance and sacrifice when the fire threatens to burn and consume us. It is the intellect that saves us from being utterly burnt and reduced to ashes; it occasionally drags us away from the sacrificial altar of justice or enwraps us in a garment of asbestos. Liberated from the fire, and impelled by the intellect, we then pass from opinion to opinion, through the change of parties, as noble betrayers of all things that can in any way be betrayed—and nevertheless without a feeling of guilt.


The Wanderer.—He who has attained intellectual emancipation to any extent cannot, for a long time, regard himself otherwise than as a wanderer on the face of the earth—and not even as a traveller towards a final goal, for there is no such thing. But he certainly wants to observe and[Pg 406] keep his eyes open to whatever actually happens in the world; therefore he cannot attach his heart too firmly to anything individual; he must have in himself something wandering that takes pleasure in change and transitoriness. To be sure such a man will have bad nights, when he is weary and finds the gates of the town that should offer him rest closed; perhaps he may also find that, as in the East, the desert reaches to the gates, that wild beasts howl far and near, that a strong wind arises, and that robbers take away his beasts of burden. Then the dreadful night closes over him like a second desert upon the desert, and his heart grows weary of wandering. Then when the morning sun rises upon him, glowing like a Deity of anger, when the town is opened, he sees perhaps in the faces of the dwellers therein still more desert, uncleanliness, deceit, and insecurity than outside the gates—and the day is almost worse than the night. Thus it may occasionally happen to the wanderer; but then there come as, compensation the delightful mornings of other lands and days, when already in the grey of the dawn he sees the throng of muses dancing by, close to him, in the mist of the mountain; when afterwards, in the symmetry of his ante-meridian soul, he strolls silently under the trees, out of whose crests and leafy hiding-places all manner of good and bright things are flung to him, the gifts of all the free spirits who are at home in mountains, forests, and solitudes, and who, like himself, alternately merry and thoughtful, are wanderers and philosophers. Born[Pg 407] of the secrets of the early dawn, they ponder the question how the day, between the hours of ten and twelve, can have such a pure, transparent, and gloriously cheerful countenance: they seek the ante-meridian philosophy.

Free Learning Resources