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Number.—The discovery of the laws of numbers is made upon the ground of the original, already prevailing error, that there are many similar things (but in reality there is nothing similar), at least,[Pg 34] that there are things (but there is no "thing"). The supposition of plurality always presumes that there is something which appears frequently,—but here already error reigns, already we imagine beings, unities, which do not exist. Our sensations of space and time are false, for they lead—examined in sequence—to logical contradictions. In all scientific determinations we always reckon inevitably with certain false quantities, but as these quantities are at least constant, as, for instance, our sensation of time and space, the conclusions of science have still perfect accuracy and certainty in their connection with one another; one may continue to build upon them—until that final limit where the erroneous original suppositions, those constant faults, come into conflict with the conclusions, for instance in the doctrine of atoms. There still we always feel ourselves compelled to the acceptance of a "thing" or material "sub-stratum" that is moved, whilst the whole scientific procedure has pursued the very task of resolving everything substantial (material) into motion; here, too, we still separate with our sensation the mover and the moved and cannot get out of this circle, because the belief in things has from immemorial times been bound up with our being. When Kant says, "The understanding does not derive its laws from Nature, but dictates them to her," it is perfectly true with regard to the idea of Nature which we are compelled to associate with her (Nature = World as representation, that is to say as error), but which is the summing up of a number of errors of the understanding. The laws[Pg 35] of numbers are entirely inapplicable to a world which is not our representation—these laws obtain only in the human world.
A Few Steps Back.—A degree of culture, and assuredly a very high one, is attained when man rises above superstitious and religious notions and fears, and, for instance, no longer believes in guardian angels or in original sin, and has also ceased to talk of the salvation of his soul,—if he has attained to this degree of freedom, he has still also to overcome metaphysics with the greatest exertion of his intelligence. Then, however, a retrogressive movement is necessary; he must understand the historical justification as well as the psychological in such representations, he must recognise how the greatest advancement of humanity has come therefrom, and how, without such a retrocursive movement, we should have been robbed of the best products of hitherto existing mankind. With regard to philosophical metaphysics, I always see increasing numbers who have attained to the negative goal (that all positive metaphysics is error), but as yet few who climb a few rungs backwards; one ought to look out, perhaps, over the last steps of the ladder, but not try to stand upon them. The most enlightened only succeed so far as to free themselves from metaphysics and look back upon it with superiority, while it is necessary here, too, as in the hippodrome, to turn round the end of the course.
Conjectural Victory of Scepticism.—For once let the sceptical starting-point be accepted,—granted that there were no other metaphysical world, and all explanations drawn from metaphysics about the only world we know were useless to us, in what light should we then look upon men and things? We can think this out for ourselves, it is useful, even though the question whether anything metaphysical has been scientifically proved by Kant and Schopenhauer were altogether set aside. For it is quite possible, according to historical probability, that some time or other man, as a general rule, may grow sceptical; the question will then be this: What form will human society take under the influence of such a mode of thought? Perhaps the scientific proof of some metaphysical world or other is already so difficult that mankind will never get rid of a certain distrust of it. And when there is distrust of metaphysics, there are on the whole the same results as if it had been directly refuted and could no longer be believed in. The historical question with regard to an unmetaphysical frame of mind in mankind remains the same in both cases.
Unbelief in the "monumentum re Perennius".—An actual drawback which accompanies the cessation of metaphysical views lies in the fact that the individual looks upon his short span[Pg 37] of life too exclusively and receives no stronger incentives to build durable institutions intended to last for centuries,—he himself wishes to pluck the fruit from the tree which he plants, and therefore he no longer plants those trees which require regular care for centuries, and which are destined to afford shade to a long series of generations. For metaphysical views furnish the belief that in them the last conclusive foundation has been given, upon which henceforth all the future of mankind is compelled to settle down and establish itself; the individual furthers his salvation, when, for instance, he founds a church or convent, he thinks it will be reckoned to him and recompensed to him in the eternal life of the soul, it is work for the soul's eternal salvation. Can science also arouse such faith in its results? As a matter of fact, it needs doubt and distrust as its most faithful auxiliaries; nevertheless in the course of time, the sum of inviolable truths—those, namely, which have weathered all the storms of scepticism, and all destructive analysis—may have become so great (in the regimen of health, for instance), that one may determine to found thereupon "eternal" works. For the present the contrast between our excited ephemeral existence and the long-winded repose of metaphysical ages still operates too strongly, because the two ages still stand too closely together; the individual man himself now goes through too many inward and outward developments for him to venture to arrange his own lifetime permanently, and once and for all. An entirely modern man, for instance, who is going[Pg 38] to build himself a house, has a feeling as if he were going to immure himself alive in a mausoleum.
The Age of Comparison.—The less men are fettered by tradition, the greater becomes the inward activity of their motives; the greater, again, in proportion thereto, the outward restlessness, the confused flux of mankind, the polyphony of strivings. For whom is there still an absolute compulsion to bind himself and his descendants to one place? For whom is there still anything strictly compulsory? As all styles of arts are imitated simultaneously, so also are all grades and kinds of morality, of customs, of cultures. Such an age obtains its importance because in it the various views of the world, customs, and cultures can be compared and experienced simultaneously,—which was formerly not possible with the always localised sway of every culture, corresponding to the rooting of all artistic styles in place and time. An increased sthetic feeling will now at last decide amongst so many forms presenting themselves for comparison; it will allow the greater number, that is to say all those rejected by it, to die out. In the same way a selection amongst the forms and customs of the higher moralities is taking place, of which the aim can be nothing else than the downfall of the lower moralities. It is the age of comparison! That is its pride, but more justly also its grief. Let us not be afraid of this grief! Rather will we comprehend[Pg 39] as adequately as possible the task our age sets us: posterity will bless us for doing so,—a posterity which knows itself to be as much above the terminated original national cultures as above the culture of comparison, but which looks back with gratitude on both kinds of culture as upon antiquities worthy of veneration.