Tragic Sense Of Life
by Miguel de Unamuno
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In the first edition of Melanchthon's Loci Communes, that of 1521, the first Lutheran theological work, its author omits all Trinitarian and Christological speculations, the dogmatic basis of eschatology. And Dr. Hermann, professor at Marburg, the author of a book on the Christian's commerce with God (Der Verkehr des Christen mit Gott)—a book the first chapter of which treats of the opposition between mysticism and the Christian religion, and which is, according to Harnack, the most perfect Lutheran manual—tells us in another place,[18] referring to this Christological (or Athanasian) speculation, that "the effective knowledge of God and of Christ, in which knowledge faith lives, is something entirely different. Nothing ought to find a place in Christian doctrine that is not capable of helping man to recognize his sins, to obtain the grace of God, and to serve Him in truth. Until that time—that is to say, until Luther—the Church had accepted much as doctrina sacra which cannot absolutely contribute to confer upon man liberty of heart and tranquillity of conscience." For my part, I cannot conceive the liberty of a heart or the tranquillity of a conscience that are not sure of their perdurability after death. "The desire for the soul's salvation," Hermann continues, "must at last have led men to the knowledge and understanding of the effective doctrine of salvation." And in his book on the Christian's commerce with God, this eminent Lutheran doctor is continually discoursing upon trust in God, peace of conscience, and an assurance of salvation that is not strictly and precisely certainty of everlasting life, but rather certainty of the forgiveness of sins.

And I have read in a Protestant theologian, Ernst Troeltsch, that in the conceptual order Protestantism has attained its highest reach in music, in which art Bach has given it its mightiest artistic expression. This, then, is what Protestantism dissolves into—celestial music![19] On the other hand we may say that the highest artistic expression of Catholicism, or at least of Spanish Catholicism, is in the art that is most material, tangible, and permanent—for the vehicle of sounds is air—in sculpture and painting, in the Christ of Velasquez, that Christ who is for ever dying, yet never finishes dying, in order that he may give us life.

And yet Catholicism does not abandon ethics. No! No modern religion can leave ethics on one side. But our religion—although its doctors may protest against this—is fundamentally and for the most part a compromise between eschatology and ethics; it is eschatology pressed into the service of ethics. What else but this is that atrocity of the eternal pains of hell, which agrees so ill with the Pauline apocatastasis? Let us bear in mind those words which the Theologica Germanica, the manual of mysticism that Luther read, puts into the mouth of God: "If I must recompense your evil, I must recompense it with good, for I am and have none other." And Christ said: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do," and there is no man who perhaps knows what he does. But it has been necessary, for the benefit of the social order, to convert religion into a kind of police system, and hence hell. Oriental or Greek Christianity is predominantly eschatological, Protestantism predominantly ethical, and Catholicism is a compromise between the two, although with the eschatological element preponderating. The most authentic Catholic ethic, monastic asceticism, is an ethic of eschatology, directed to the salvation of the individual soul rather than to the maintenance of society. And in the cult of virginity may there not perhaps be a certain obscure idea that to perpetuate ourselves in others hinders our own personal perpetuation? The ascetic morality is a negative morality. And, strictly, what is important for a man is not to die, whether he sins or not. It is not necessary to take very literally, but as a lyrical, or rather rhetorical, effusion, the words of our famous sonnet—

No me mueve, mi Dios, para quererte el cielo que me tienes prometido,[20]

and the rest that follows.

The real sin—perhaps it is the sin against the Holy Ghost for which there is no remission—is the sin of heresy, the sin of thinking for oneself. The saying has been heard before now, here in Spain, that to be a liberal—that is, a heretic—is worse than being an assassin, a thief, or an adulterer. The gravest sin is not to obey the Church, whose infallibility protects us from reason.

And why be scandalized by the infallibility of a man, of the Pope? What difference does it make whether it be a book that is infallible—the Bible, or a society of men—the Church, or a single man? Does it make any essential change in the rational difficulty? And since the infallibility of a book or of a society of men is not more rational than that of a single man, this supreme offence in the eyes of reason had to be posited.

It is the vital asserting itself, and in order to assert itself it creates, with the help of its enemy, the rational, a complete dogmatic structure, and this the Church defends against rationalism, against Protestantism, and against Modernism. The Church defends life. It stood up against Galileo, and it did right; for his discovery, in its inception and until it became assimilated to the general body of human knowledge, tended to shatter the anthropomorphic belief that the universe was created for man. It opposed Darwin, and it did right, for Darwinism tends to shatter our belief that man is an exceptional animal, created expressly to be eternalized. And lastly, Pius IX., the first Pontiff to be proclaimed infallible, declared that he was irreconcilable with the so-called modern civilization. And he did right.

Loisy, the Catholic ex-abbe, said: "I say simply this, that the Church and theology have not looked with favour upon the scientific movement, and that on certain decisive occasions, so far as it lay in their power, they have hindered it. I say, above all, that Catholic teaching has not associated itself with, or accommodated itself to, this movement. Theology has conducted itself, and conducts itself still, as if it were self-possessed of a science of nature and a science of history, together with that general philosophy of nature and history which results from a scientific knowledge of them. It might be supposed that the domain of theology and that of science, distinct in principle and even as defined by the Vatican Council, must not be distinct in practice. Everything proceeds almost as if theology had nothing to learn from modern science, natural or historical, and as if by itself it had the power and the right to exercise a direct and absolute control over all the activities of the human mind" (Autour d'un Petit Livre, 1903, p. 211).

And such must needs be, and such in fact is, the Church's attitude in its struggle with Modernism, of which Loisy was the learned and leading exponent.

The recent struggle against Kantian and fideist Modernism is a struggle for life. Is it indeed possible for life, life that seeks assurance of survival, to tolerate that a Loisy, a Catholic priest, should affirm that the resurrection of the Saviour is not a fact of the historical order, demonstrable and demonstrated by the testimony of history alone? Read, moreover, the exposition of the central dogma, that of the resurrection of Jesus, in E. Le Roy's excellent work, Dogme et Critique, and tell me if any solid ground is left for our hope to build on. Do not the Modernists see that the question at issue is not so much that of the immortal life of Christ, reduced, perhaps, to a life in the collective Christian consciousness, as that of a guarantee of our own personal resurrection of body as well as soul? This new psychological apologetic appeals to the moral miracle, and we, like the Jews, seek for a sign, something that can be taken hold of with all the powers of the soul and with all the senses of the body. And with the hands and the feet and the mouth, if it be possible.

But alas! we do not get it. Reason attacks, and faith, which does not feel itself secure without reason, has to come to terms with it. And hence come those tragic contradictions and lacerations of consciousness. We need security, certainty, signs, and they give us motiva credibilitatis—motives of credibility—upon which to establish the rationale obsequium, and although faith precedes reason (fides praecedit rationem), according to St. Augustine, this same learned doctor and bishop sought to travel by faith to understanding (per fidem ad intellectum), and to believe in order to understand (credo ut intelligam). How far is this from that superb expression of Tertullian—et sepultus resurrexit, certum est quia impossibile est!—"and he was buried and rose again; it is certain because it is impossible!" and his sublime credo quia absurdum!—the scandal of the rationalists. How far from the il faut s'abetir of Pascal and from the "human reason loves the absurd" of our Donoso Cortes, which he must have learned from the great Joseph de Maistre!

And a first foundation-stone was sought in the authority of tradition and the revelation of the word of God, and the principle of unanimous consent was arrived at. Quod apud multos unum invenitur, non est erratum, sed traditum, said Tertullian; and Lamennais added, centuries later, that "certitude, the principle of life and intelligence ... is, if I may be allowed the expression, a social product."[21] But here, as in so many cases, the supreme formula was given by that great Catholic, whose Catholicism was of the popular and vital order, Count Joseph de Maistre, when he wrote: "I do not believe that it is possible to show a single opinion of universal utility that is not true."[22] Here you have the Catholic hall-mark—the deduction of the truth of a principle from its supreme goodness or utility. And what is there of greater, of more sovereign utility, than the immortality of the soul? "As all is uncertain, either we must believe all men or none," said Lactantius; but that great mystic and ascetic, Blessed Heinrich Seuse, the Dominican, implored the Eternal Wisdom for one word affirming that He was love, and when the answer came, "All creatures proclaim that I am love," Seuse replied, "Alas! Lord, that does not suffice for a yearning soul." Faith feels itself secure neither with universal consent, nor with tradition, nor with authority. It seeks the support of its enemy, reason.

And thus scholastic theology was devised, and with it its handmaiden—ancilla theologiae—scholastic philosophy, and this handmaiden turned against her mistress. Scholasticism, a magnificent cathedral, in which all the problems of architectonic mechanism were resolved for future ages, but a cathedral constructed of unbaked bricks, gave place little by little to what is called natural theology and is merely Christianity depotentialized. The attempt was even made, where it was possible, to base dogmas upon reason, to show at least that if they were indeed super-rational they were not contra-rational, and they were reinforced with a philosophical foundation of Aristotelian-Neoplatonic thirteenth-century philosophy. And such is the Thomism recommended by Leo XIII. And now the question is not one of the enforcement of dogma but of its philosophical, medieval, and Thomist interpretation. It is not enough to believe that in receiving the consecrated Host we receive the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ; we must needs negotiate all those difficulties of transubstantiation and substance separated from accidents, and so break with the whole of the modern rational conception of substantiality.

But for this, implicit faith suffices—the faith of the coalheaver,[23] the faith of those who, like St. Teresa (Vida, cap. xxv. 2), do not wish to avail themselves of theology. "Do not ask me the reason of that, for I am ignorant; Holy Mother Church possesses doctors who will know how to answer you," as we were made to learn in the Catechism. It was for this, among other things, that the priesthood was instituted, that the teaching Church might be the depositary—"reservoir instead of river," as Phillips Brooks said—of theological secrets. "The work of the Nicene Creed," says Harnack (Dogmengeschichte, ii. 1, cap. vii. 3), "was a victory of the priesthood over the faith of the Christian people. The doctrine of the Logos had already become unintelligible to those who were not theologians. The setting up of the Niceno-Cappadocian formula as the fundamental confession of the Church made it perfectly impossible for the Catholic laity to get an inner comprehension of the Christian Faith, taking as their guide the form in which it was presented in the doctrine of the Church. The idea became more and more deeply implanted in men's minds that Christianity was the revelation of the unintelligible." And so, in truth, it is.

And why was this? Because faith—that is, Life—no longer felt sure of itself. Neither traditionalism nor the theological positivism of Duns Scotus sufficed for it; it sought to rationalize itself. And it sought to establish its foundation—not, indeed, over against reason, where it really is, but upon reason—that is to say, within reason—itself. The nominalist or positivist or voluntarist position of Scotus—that which maintains that law and truth depend, not so much upon the essence as upon the free and inscrutable will of God—by accentuating its supreme irrationality, placed religion in danger among the majority of believers endowed with mature reason and not mere coalheavers. Hence the triumph of the Thomist theological rationalism. It is no longer enough to believe in the existence of God; but the sentence of anathema falls on him who, though believing in it, does not believe that His existence is demonstrable by rational arguments, or who believes that up to the present nobody by means of these rational arguments has ever demonstrated it irrefutably. However, in this connection the remark of Pohle is perhaps capable of application: "If eternal salvation depended upon mathematical axioms, we should have to expect that the most odious human sophistry would attack their universal validity as violently as it now attacks God, the soul, and Christ."[24]

The truth is, Catholicism oscillates between mysticism, which is the inward experience of the living God in Christ, an intransmittible experience, the danger of which, however, is that it absorbs our own personality in God, and so does not save our vital longing—between mysticism and the rationalism which it fights against (see Weizsaecker, op. cit.); it oscillates between religionized science and scientificized religion. The apocalyptic enthusiasm changed little by little into neo-platonic mysticism, which theology thrust further into the background. It feared the excesses of the imagination which was supplanting faith and creating gnostic extravagances. But it had to sign a kind of pact with gnosticism and another with rationalism; neither imagination nor reason allowed itself to be completely vanquished. And thus the body of Catholic dogma became a system of contradictions, more or less successfully harmonized. The Trinity was a kind of pact between monotheism and polytheism, and humanity and divinity sealed a peace in Christ, nature covenanted with grace, grace with free will, free will with the Divine prescience, and so on. And it is perhaps true, as Hermann says (loc. cit.), that "as soon as we develop religious thought to its logical conclusions, it enters into conflict with other ideas which belong equally to the life of religion." And this it is that gives to Catholicism its profound vital dialectic. But at what a cost?

At the cost, it must needs be said, of doing violence to the mental exigencies of those believers in possession of an adult reason. It demands from them that they shall believe all or nothing, that they shall accept the complete totality of dogma or that they shall forfeit all merit if the least part of it be rejected. And hence the result, as the great Unitarian preacher Channing pointed out,[25] that in France and Spain there are multitudes who have proceeded from rejecting Popery to absolute atheism, because "the fact is, that false and absurd doctrines, when exposed, have a natural tendency to beget scepticism in those who received them without reflection. None are so likely to believe too little as those who have begun by believing too much." Here is, indeed, the terrible danger of believing too much. But no! the terrible danger comes from another quarter—from seeking to believe with the reason and not with life.

The Catholic solution of our problem, of our unique vital problem, the problem of the immortality and eternal salvation of the individual soul, satisfies the will, and therefore satisfies life; but the attempt to rationalize it by means of dogmatic theology fails to satisfy the reason. And reason has its exigencies as imperious as those of life. It is no use seeking to force ourselves to consider as super-rational what clearly appears to us to be contra-rational, neither is it any good wishing to become coalheavers when we are not coalheavers. Infallibility, a notion of Hellenic origin, is in its essence a rationalistic category.

Let us now consider the rationalist or scientific solution—or, more properly, dissolution—of our problem.


[13] Erwin Rohde, Psyche, "Seelencult und Unsterblichkeitsglaube der Griechen." Tuebingen, 1907. Up to the present this is the leading work dealing with the belief of the Greeks in the immortality of the soul.

[14] Gal. ii. 20.

[15] On all relating to this question see, among others, Harnack, Dogmengeschichte, ii., Teil i., Buch vii., cap. i.


Though we are become dust, In thee, O Lord, our hope confides, That we shall live again clad In the flesh and skin that once covered us.

[17] Libra de la Conversion de la Magdelena, part iv., chap. ix.

[18] In his exposition of Protestant dogma in Systematische christliche Religion, Berlin, 1909, one of the series entitled Die Kultur der Gegenwart, published by P. Hinneberg.

[19] The common use of the expression musica celestial to denote "nonsense, something not worth listening to," lends it a satirical byplay which disappears in the English rendering.—J.E.C.F.

[20] It is not Thy promised heaven, my God, that moves me to love Thee. (Anonymous, sixteenth or seventeenth century. See Oxford Book of Spanish Verse, No. 106.)

[21] Essai sur l'indifference en matiere de religion, part iii., chap. i.

[22] Les Soirees de Saint-Petersbourg, x^{me} entretien.

[23] The allusion is to the traditional story of the coalheaver whom the devil sought to convince of the irrationality of belief in the Trinity. The coalheaver took the cloak that he was wearing and folded it in three folds. "Here are three folds," he said, "and the cloak though threefold is yet one." And the devil departed baffled.—J.E.C.F.

[24] Joseph Pohle, "Christlich Katolische Dogmatik," in Systematische Christliche Religion, Berlin, 1909. Die Kultur der Gegenwart series.

[25] "Objections to Unitarian Christianity Considered," 1816, in The Complete Works of William Ellery Channing, D.D., London, 1884.



The great master of rationalist phenomenalism, David Hume, begins his essay "On the Immortality of the Soul" with these decisive words: "It appears difficult by the mere light of reason to prove the immortality of the soul. The arguments in favour of it are commonly derived from metaphysical, moral, or physical considerations. But it is really the Gospel, and only the Gospel, that has brought to light life and immortality." Which is equivalent to denying the rationality of the belief that the soul of each one of us is immortal.

Kant, whose criticism found its point of departure in Hume, attempted to establish the rationality of this longing for immortality and the belief that it imports; and this is the real origin, the inward origin, of his Critique of Practical Reason, and of his categorical imperative and of his God. But in spite of all this, the sceptical affirmation of Hume holds good. There is no way of proving the immortality of the soul rationally. There are, on the other hand, ways of proving rationally its mortality.

It would be not merely superfluous but ridiculous to enlarge here upon the extent to which the individual human consciousness is dependent upon the physical organism, pointing out how it comes to birth by slow degrees according as the brain receives impressions from the outside world, how it is temporarily suspended during sleep, swoons, and other accidents, and how everything leads us to the rational conjecture that death carries with it the loss of consciousness. And just as before our birth we were not, nor have we any personal pre-natal memory, so after our death we shall cease to be. This is the rational position.

The designation "soul" is merely a term used to denote the individual consciousness in its integrity and continuity; and that this soul undergoes change, that in like manner as it is integrated so it is disintegrated, is a thing very evident. For Aristotle it was the substantial form of the body—the entelechy, but not a substance. And more than one modern has called it an epiphenomenon—an absurd term. The appellation phenomenon suffices.

Rationalism—and by rationalism I mean the doctrine that abides solely by reason, by objective truth—is necessarily materialist. And let not idealists be scandalized thereby.

The truth is—it is necessary to be perfectly explicit in this matter—that what we call materialism means for us nothing else but the doctrine which denies the immortality of the individual soul, the persistence of personal consciousness after death.

In another sense it may be said that, as we know what matter is no more than we know what spirit is, and as matter is for us merely an idea, materialism is idealism. In fact, and as regards our problem—the most vital, the only really vital problem—it is all the same to say that everything is matter as to say that everything is idea, or that everything is energy, or whatever you please. Every monist system will always seem to us materialist. The immortality of the soul is saved only by the dualist systems—those which teach that human consciousness is something substantially distinct and different from the other manifestations of phenomena. And reason is naturally monist. For it is the function of reason to understand and explain the universe, and in order to understand and explain it, it is in no way necessary for the soul to be an imperishable substance. For the purpose of explaining and understanding our psychic life, for psychology, the hypothesis of the soul is unnecessary. What was formerly called rational psychology, in opposition to empirical psychology, is not psychology but metaphysics, and very muddy metaphysics; neither is it rational, but profoundly irrational, or rather contra-rational.

The pretended rational doctrine of the substantiality and spirituality of the soul, with all the apparatus that accompanies it, is born simply of the necessity which men feel of grounding upon reason their inexpugnable longing for immortality and the subsequent belief in it. All the sophistries which aim at proving that the soul is substance, simple and incorruptible, proceed from this source. And further, the very concept of substance, as it was fixed and defined by scholasticism, a concept which does not bear criticism, is a theological concept, designed expressly to sustain faith in the immortality of the soul.

William James, in the third of the lectures which he devoted to pragmatism in the Lowell Institute in Boston, in December, 1906, and January, 1907[26]—the weakest thing in all the work of the famous American thinker, an extremely weak thing indeed—speaks as follows: "Scholasticism has taken the notion of substance from common sense and made it very technical and articulate. Few things would seem to have fewer pragmatic consequences for us than substances, cut off as we are from every contact with them. Yet in one case scholasticism has proved the importance of the substance-idea by treating it pragmatically. I refer to certain disputes about the mystery of the Eucharist. Substance here would appear to have momentous pragmatic value. Since the accidents of the wafer do not change in the Lord's Supper, and yet it has become the very body of Christ, it must be that the change is in the substance solely. The bread-substance must have been withdrawn and the Divine substance substituted miraculously without altering the immediate sensible properties. But though these do not alter, a tremendous difference has been made—no less a one than this, that we who take the sacrament now feed upon the very substance of Divinity. The substance-notion breaks into life, with tremendous effect, if once you allow that substances can separate from their accidents and exchange these latter. This is the only pragmatic application of the substance-idea with which I am acquainted; and it is obvious that it will only be treated seriously by those who already believe in the 'real presence' on independent grounds."

Now, leaving on one side the question as to whether it is good theology—and I do not say good reasoning because all this lies outside the sphere of reason—to confound the substance of the body—the body, not the soul—of Christ with the very substance of Divinity—that is to say, with God Himself—it would appear impossible that one so ardently desirous of the immortality of the soul as William James, a man whose whole philosophy aims simply at establishing this belief on rational grounds, should not have perceived that the pragmatic application of the concept of substance to the doctrine of the Eucharistic transubstantiation is merely a consequence of its anterior application to the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. As I explained in the preceding chapter, the Sacrament of the Eucharist is simply the reflection of the belief in immortality; it is, for the believer, the proof, by a mystical experience, that the soul is immortal and will enjoy God eternally. And the concept of substance was born, above all and before all, of the concept of the substantiality of the soul, and the latter was affirmed in order to confirm faith in the persistence of the soul after its separation from the body. Such was at the same time its first pragmatic application and its origin. And subsequently we have transferred this concept to external things. It is because I feel myself to be substance—that is to say, permanent in the midst of my changes—that I attribute substantiality to those agents exterior to me, which are also permanent in the midst of their changes—just as the concept of force is born of my sensation of personal effort in putting a thing in motion.

Read carefully in the first part of the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas the first six articles of question lxxv., which discuss whether the human soul is body, whether it is something self-subsistent, whether such also is the soul of the lower animals, whether the soul is the man, whether the soul is composed of matter and form, and whether it is incorruptible, and then say if all this is not subtly intended to support the belief that this incorruptible substantiality of the soul renders it capable of receiving from God immortality, for it is clear that as He created it when He implanted it in the body, as St. Thomas says, so at its separation from the body He could annihilate it. And as the criticism of these proofs has been undertaken a hundred times, it is unnecessary to repeat it here.

Is it possible for the unforewarned reason to conclude that our soul is a substance from the fact that our consciousness of our identity—and this within very narrow and variable limits—persists through all the changes of our body? We might as well say of a ship that put out to sea and lost first one piece of timber, which was replaced by another of the same shape and dimensions, then lost another, and so on with all her timbers, and finally returned to port the same ship, with the same build, the same sea-going qualities, recognizable by everybody as the same—we might as well say of such a ship that it had a substantial soul. Is it possible for the unforewarned reason to infer the simplicity of the soul from the fact that we have to judge and unify our thoughts? Thought is not one but complex, and for the reason the soul is nothing but the succession of co-ordinated states of consciousness.

In books of psychology written from the spiritualist point of view, it is customary to begin the discussion of the existence of the soul as a simple substance, separable from the body, after this style: There is in me a principle which thinks, wills, and feels.... Now this implies a begging of the question. For it is far from being an immediate truth that there is in me such a principle; the immediate truth is that I think, will, and feel. And I—the I that thinks, wills, and feels—am immediately my living body with the states of consciousness which it sustains. It is my living body that thinks, wills, and feels. How? How you please.

And they proceed to seek to establish the substantiality of the soul, hypostatizing the states of consciousness, and they begin by saying that this substance must be simple—that is, by opposing thought to extension, after the manner of the Cartesian dualism. And as Balmes was one of the spiritualist writers who have given the clearest and most concise form to the argument, I will present it as he expounds it in the second chapter of his Curso de Filosofia Elemental. "The human soul is simple," he says, and adds: "Simplicity consists in the absence of parts, and the soul has none. Let us suppose that it has three parts—A, B, C. I ask, Where, then, does thought reside? If in A only, then B and C are superfluous; and consequently the simple subject A will be the soul. If thought resides in A, B, and C, it follows that thought is divided into parts, which is absurd. What sort of a thing is a perception, a comparison, a judgement, a ratiocination, distributed among three subjects?" A more obvious begging of the question cannot be conceived. Balmes begins by taking it for granted that the whole, as a whole, is incapable of making a judgement. He continues: "The unity of consciousness is opposed to the division of the soul. When we think, there is a subject which knows everything that it thinks, and this is impossible if parts be attributed to it. Of the thought that is in A, B and C will know nothing, and so in the other cases respectively. There will not, therefore, be one consciousness of the whole thought: each part will have its special consciousness, and there will be within us as many thinking beings as there are parts." The begging of the question continues; it is assumed without any proof that a whole, as a whole, cannot perceive as a unit. Balmes then proceeds to ask if these parts A, B, and C are simple or compound, and repeats his argument until he arrives at the conclusion that the thinking subject must be a part which is not a whole—that is, simple. The argument is based, as will be seen, upon the unity of apperception and of judgement. Subsequently he endeavours to refute the hypothesis of a communication of the parts among themselves.

Balmes—and with him the a priori spiritualists who seek to rationalize faith in the immortality of the soul—ignore the only rational explanation, which is that apperception and judgement are a resultant, that perceptions or ideas themselves are components which agree. They begin by supposing something external to and distinct from the states of consciousness, something that is not the living body which supports these states, something that is not I but is within me.

The soul is simple, others say, because it reflects upon itself as a complete whole. No; the state of consciousness A, in which I think of my previous state of consciousness B, is not the same as its predecessor. Or if I think of my soul, I think of an idea distinct from the act by which I think of it. To think that one thinks and nothing more, is not to think.

The soul is the principle of life, it is said. Yes; and similarly the category of force or energy has been conceived as the principle of movement. But these are concepts, not phenomena, not external realities. Does the principle of movement move? And only that which moves has external reality. Does the principle of life live? Hume was right when he said that he never encountered this idea of himself—that he only observed himself desiring or performing or feeling something.[27] The idea of some individual thing—of this inkstand in front of me, of that horse standing at my gate, of these two and not of any other individuals of the same class—is the fact, the phenomenon itself. The idea of myself is myself.

All the efforts to substantiate consciousness, making it independent of extension—remember that Descartes opposed thought to extension—are but sophistical subtilties intended to establish the rationality of faith in the immortality of the soul. It is sought to give the value of objective reality to that which does not possess it—to that whose reality exists only in thought. And the immortality that we crave is a phenomenal immortality—it is the continuation of this present life.

The unity of consciousness is for scientific psychology—the only rational psychology—simply a phenomenal unity. No one can say what a substantial unity is. And, what is more, no one can say what a substance is. For the notion of substance is a non-phenomenal category. It is a noumenon and belongs properly to the unknowable—that is to say, according to the sense in which it is understood. But in its transcendental sense it is something really unknowable and strictly irrational. It is precisely this concept of substance that an unforewarned mind reduces to a use that is very far from that pragmatic application to which William James referred.

And this application is not saved by understanding it in an idealistic sense, according to the Berkeleyan principle that to be is to be perceived (esse est percipi). To say that everything is idea or that everything is spirit, is the same as saying that everything is matter or that everything is energy, for if everything is idea or everything spirit, and if, therefore, this diamond is idea or spirit, just as my consciousness is, it is not plain why the diamond should not endure for ever, if my consciousness, because it is idea or spirit, endures for ever.

George Berkeley, Anglican Bishop of Cloyne and brother in spirit to the Anglican bishop Joseph Butler, was equally as anxious to save the belief in the immortality of the soul. In the first words of the Preface to his Treatise concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge, he tells us that he considers that this treatise will be useful, "particularly to those who are tainted with scepticism, or want a demonstration of the existence and immateriality of God, or the natural immortality of the soul." In paragraph cxl. he lays it down that we have an idea, or rather a notion, of spirit, and that we know other spirits by means of our own, from which follows—so in the next paragraph he roundly affirms—the natural immortality of the soul. And here he enters upon a series of confusions arising from the ambiguity with which he invests the term notion. And after having established the immortality of the soul, almost as it were per saltum, on the ground that the soul is not passive like the body, he proceeds to tell us in paragraph cxlvii. that the existence of God is more evident than that of man. And yet, in spite of this, there are still some who are doubtful!

The question was complicated by making consciousness a property of the soul, consciousness being something more than soul—that is to say, a substantial form of the body, the originator of all the organic functions of the body. The soul not only thinks, feels, and wills, but moves the body and prompts its vital functions; in the human soul are united the vegetative, animal, and rational functions. Such is the theory. But the soul separated from the body can have neither vegetative nor animal functions.

A theory, in short, which for the reason is a veritable contexture of confusions.

After the Renaissance and the restoration of purely rational thought, emancipated from all theology, the doctrine of the mortality of the soul was re-established by the newly published writings of the second-century philosopher Alexander of Aphrodisias and by Pietro Pomponazzi and others. And in point of fact, little or nothing can be added to what Pomponazzi has written in his Tractatus de immortalitate animae. It is reason itself, and it serves nothing to reiterate his arguments.

Attempts have not been wanting, however, to find an empirical support for belief in the immortality of the soul, and among these may be counted the work of Frederic W.H. Myers on Human Personality and its Survival of Bodily Death. No one ever approached more eagerly than myself the two thick volumes of this work in which the leading spirit of the Society for Psychical Research resumed that formidable mass of data relating to presentiments, apparitions of the dead, the phenomena of dreams, telepathy, hypnotism, sensorial automatism, ecstasy, and all the rest that goes to furnish the spiritualist arsenal. I entered upon the reading of it not only without that temper of cautious suspicion which men of science maintain in investigations of this character, but even with a predisposition in its favour, as one who comes to seek the confirmation of his innermost longings; but for this reason was my disillusion all the greater. In spite of its critical apparatus it does not differ in any respect from medieval miracle-mongering. There is a fundamental defect of method, of logic.

And if the belief in the immortality of the soul has been unable to find vindication in rational empiricism, neither is it satisfied with pantheism. To say that everything is God, and that when we die we return to God, or, more accurately, continue in Him, avails our longing nothing; for if this indeed be so, then we were in God before we were born, and if when we die we return to where we were before being born, then the human soul, the individual consciousness, is perishable. And since we know very well that God, the personal and conscious God of Christian monotheism, is simply the provider, and above all the guarantor, of our immortality, pantheism is said, and rightly said, to be merely atheism disguised; and, in my opinion, undisguised. And they were right in calling Spinoza an atheist, for his is the most logical, the most rational, system of pantheism.

Neither is the longing for immortality saved, but rather dissolved and submerged, by agnosticism, or the doctrine of the unknowable, which, when it has professed to wish to leave religious feelings scathless, has always been inspired by the most refined hypocrisy. The whole of the first part of Spencer's First Principles, and especially the fifth chapter entitled "Reconciliation"—that between reason and faith or science and religion being understood—is a model at the same time of philosophical superficiality and religious insincerity, of the most refined British cant. The unknowable, if it is something more than the merely hitherto unknown, is but a purely negative concept, a concept of limitation. And upon this foundation no human feeling can be built up.

The science of religion, on the other hand, of religion considered as an individual and social psychic phenomenon irrespective of the transcendental objective validity of religious affirmations, is a science which, in explaining the origin of the belief that the soul is something that can live disjoined from the body, has destroyed the rationality of this belief. However much the religious man may repeat with Schleiermacher, "Science can teach thee nothing; it is for science to learn from thee," inwardly he thinks otherwise.

From whatever side the matter is regarded, it is always found that reason confronts our longing for personal immortality and contradicts it. And the truth is, in all strictness, that reason is the enemy of life.

A terrible thing is intelligence. It tends to death as memory tends to stability. The living, the absolutely unstable, the absolutely individual, is, strictly, unintelligible. Logic tends to reduce everything to identities and genera, to each representation having no more than one single and self-same content in whatever place, time, or relation it may occur to us. And there is nothing that remains the same for two successive moments of its existence. My idea of God is different each time that I conceive it. Identity, which is death, is the goal of the intellect. The mind seeks what is dead, for what is living escapes it; it seeks to congeal the flowing stream in blocks of ice; it seeks to arrest it. In order to analyze a body it is necessary to extenuate or destroy it. In order to understand anything it is necessary to kill it, to lay it out rigid in the mind. Science is a cemetery of dead ideas, even though life may issue from them. Worms also feed upon corpses. My own thoughts, tumultuous and agitated in the innermost recesses of my soul, once they are torn from their roots in the heart, poured out on to this paper and there fixed in unalterable shape, are already only the corpses of thoughts. How, then, shall reason open its portals to the revelation of life? It is a tragic combat—it is the very essence of tragedy—this combat of life with reason. And truth? Is truth something that is lived or that is comprehended?

It is only necessary to read the terrible Parmenides of Plato to arrive at his tragic conclusion that "the one is and is not, and both itself and others, in relation to themselves and one another, are and are not, and appear to be and appear not to be." All that is vital is irrational, and all that is rational is anti-vital, for reason is essentially sceptical.

The rational, in effect, is simply the relational; reason is limited to relating irrational elements. Mathematics is the only perfect science, inasmuch as it adds, subtracts, multiplies, and divides numbers, but not real and substantial things, inasmuch as it is the most formal of the sciences. Who can extract the cube root of an ash-tree?

Nevertheless we need logic, this terrible power, in order to communicate thoughts and perceptions and even in order to think and perceive, for we think with words, we perceive with forms. To think is to converse with oneself; and speech is social, and social are thought and logic. But may they not perhaps possess a content, an individual matter, incommunicable and untranslatable? And may not this be the source of their power?

The truth is that man, the prisoner of logic, without which he cannot think, has always sought to make logic subservient to his desires, and principally to his fundamental desire. He has always sought to hold fast to logic, and especially in the Middle Ages, in the interests of theology and jurisprudence, both of which based themselves on what was established by authority. It was not until very much later that logic propounded the problem of knowledge, the problem of its own validity, the scrutiny of the metalogical foundations.

"The Western theology," Dean Stanley wrote, "is essentially logical in form and based on law. The Eastern theology is rhetorical in form and based on philosophy. The Latin divine succeeded to the Roman advocate. The Oriental divine succeeded to the Grecian sophist."[28]

And all the laboured arguments in support of our hunger of immortality, which pretend to be grounded on reason or logic, are merely advocacy and sophistry.

The property and characteristic of advocacy is, in effect, to make use of logic in the interests of a thesis that is to be defended, while, on the other hand, the strictly scientific method proceeds from the facts, the data, presented to us by reality, in order that it may arrive, or not arrive, as the case may be, at a certain conclusion. What is important is to define the problem clearly, whence it follows that progress consists not seldom in undoing what has been done. Advocacy always supposes a petitio principii, and its arguments are ad probandum. And theology that pretends to be rational is nothing but advocacy.

Theology proceeds from dogma, and dogma, dogma, in its primitive and most direct sense, signifies a decree, something akin to the Latin placitum, that which has seemed to the legislative authority fitting to be law. This juridical concept is the starting-point of theology. For the theologian, as for the advocate, dogma, law, is something given—a starting-point which admits of discussion only in respect of its application and its most exact interpretation. Hence it follows that the theological or advocatory spirit is in its principle dogmatical, while the strictly scientific and purely rational spirit is sceptical, skeptikos—that is, investigative. It is so at least in its principle, for there is the other sense of the term scepticism, that which is most usual to-day, that of a system of doubt, suspicion, and uncertainty, and this has arisen from the theological or advocatory use of reason, from the abuse of dogmatism. The endeavour to apply the law of authority, the placitum, the dogma, to different and sometimes contraposed practical necessities, is what has engendered the scepticism of doubt. It is advocacy, or what amounts to the same thing, theology, that teaches the distrust of reason—not true science, not the science of investigation, sceptical in the primitive and direct meaning of the word, which hastens towards no predetermined solution nor proceeds save by the testing of hypotheses.

Take the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas, the classical monument of the theology—that is, of the advocacy—of Catholicism, and open it where you please. First comes the thesis—utrum ... whether such a thing be thus or otherwise; then the objections—ad primum sic proceditur; next the answers to these objections—sed contra est ... or respondeo dicendum.... Pure advocacy! And underlying many, perhaps most, of its arguments you will find a logical fallacy which may be expressed more scholastico by this syllogism: I do not understand this fact save by giving it this explanation; it is thus that I must understand it, therefore this must be its explanation. The alternative being that I am left without any understanding of it at all. True science teaches, above all, to doubt and to be ignorant; advocacy neither doubts nor believes that it does not know. It requires a solution.

To the mentality that assumes, more or less consciously, that we must of necessity find a solution to every problem, belongs the argument based on the disastrous consequences of a thing. Take any book of apologetics—that is to say, of theological advocacy—and you will see how many times you will meet with this phrase—"the disastrous consequences of this doctrine." Now the disastrous consequences of a doctrine prove at most that the doctrine is disastrous, but not that it is false, for there is no proof that the true is necessarily that which suits us best. The identification of the true and the good is but a pious wish. In his Etudes sur Blaise Pascal, A. Vinet says: "Of the two needs that unceasingly belabour human nature, that of happiness is not only the more universally felt and the more constantly experienced, but it is also the more imperious. And this need is not only of the senses; it is intellectual. It is not only for the soul; it is for the mind that happiness is a necessity. Happiness forms a part of truth." This last proposition—le bonheur fait partie de la verite—is a proposition of pure advocacy, but not of science or of pure reason. It would be better to say that truth forms a part of happiness in a Tertullianesque sense, in the sense of credo quia absurdum, which means actually credo quia consolans—I believe because it is a thing consoling to me.

No, for reason, truth is that of which it can be proved that it is, that it exists, whether it console us or not. And reason is certainly not a consoling faculty. That terrible Latin poet Lucretius, whose apparent serenity and Epicurean ataraxia conceal so much despair, said that piety consists in the power to contemplate all things with a serene soul—pacata posse mente omnia tueri. And it was the same Lucretius who wrote that religion can persuade us into so great evils—tantum religio potuit suadere malorum. And it is true that religion—above all the Christian religion—has been, as the Apostle says, to the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the intellectuals foolishness.[29] The Christian religion, the religion of the immortality of the soul, was called by Tacitus a pernicious superstition (exitialis superstitio), and he asserted that it involved a hatred of mankind (odium generis humani).

Speaking of the age in which these men lived, the most genuinely rationalistic age in the world's history, Flaubert, writing to Madame Roger des Genettes, uttered these pregnant words: "You are right; we must speak with respect of Lucretius; I see no one who can compare with him except Byron, and Byron has not his gravity nor the sincerity of his sadness. The melancholy of the ancients seems to me more profound than that of the moderns, who all more or less presuppose an immortality on the yonder side of the black hole. But for the ancients this black hole was the infinite itself; the procession of their dreams is imaged against a background of immutable ebony. The gods being no more and Christ being not yet, there was between Cicero and Marcus Aurelius a unique moment in which man stood alone. Nowhere else do I find this grandeur; but what renders Lucretius intolerable is his physics, which he gives as if positive. If he is weak, it is because he did not doubt enough; he wished to explain, to arrive at a conclusion!"[30]

Yes, Lucretius wished to arrive at a conclusion, a solution, and, what is worse, he wished to find consolation in reason. For there is also an anti-theological advocacy, and an odium anti-theologicum.

Many, very many, men of science, the majority of those who call themselves rationalists, are afflicted by it.

The rationalist acts rationally—that is to say, he does not speak out of his part—so long as he confines himself to denying that reason satisfies our vital hunger for immortality; but, furious at not being able to believe, he soon becomes a prey to the vindictiveness of the odium anti-theologicum, and exclaims with the Pharisees: "This people who knoweth not the law are cursed." There is much truth in these words of Soloviev: "I have a foreboding of the near approach of a time when Christians will gather together again in the Catacombs, because of the persecution of the faith—a persecution less brutal, perhaps, than that of Nero's day, but not less refined in its severity, consummated by mendacity, derision, and all the hypocrisies."

The anti-theological hate, the scientificist—I do not say scientific—fury, is manifest. Consider, not the more detached scientific investigators, those who know how to doubt, but the fanatics of rationalism, and observe with what gross brutality they speak of faith. Vogt considered it probable that the cranial structure of the Apostles was of a pronounced simian character; of the indecencies of Haeckel, that supreme incomprehender, there is no need to speak, nor yet of those of Buechner; even Virchow is not free from them. And others work with more subtilty. There are people who seem not to be content with not believing that there is another life, or rather, with believing that there is none, but who are vexed and hurt that others should believe in it or even should wish that it might exist. And this attitude is as contemptible as that is worthy of respect which characterizes those who, though urged by the need they have of it to believe in another life, are unable to believe. But of this most noble attitude of the spirit, the most profound, the most human, and the most fruitful, the attitude of despair, we will speak later on.

And the rationalists who do not succumb to the anti-theological fury are bent on convincing men that there are motives for living and consolations for having been born, even though there shall come a time, at the end of some tens or hundreds or millions of centuries, when all human consciousness shall have ceased to exist. And these motives for living and working, this thing which some call humanism, are the amazing products of the affective and emotional hollowness of rationalism and of its stupendous hypocrisy—a hypocrisy bent on sacrificing sincerity to veracity, and sworn not to confess that reason is a dissolvent and disconsolatory power.

Must I repeat again what I have already said about all this business of manufacturing culture, of progressing, of realizing good, truth, and beauty, of establishing justice on earth, of ameliorating life for those who shall come after us, of subserving I know not what destiny, and all this without our taking thought for the ultimate end of each one of us? Must I again declare to you the supreme vacuity of culture, of science, of art, of good, of truth, of beauty, of justice ... of all these beautiful conceptions, if at the last, in four days or in four millions of centuries—it matters not which—no human consciousness shall exist to appropriate this civilization, this science, art, good, truth, beauty, justice, and all the rest?

Many and very various have been the rationalist devices—more or less rational—by means of which from the days of the Epicureans and the Stoics it has been sought to discover rational consolation in truth and to convince men, although those who sought so to do remained themselves unconvinced, that there are motives for working and lures for living, even though the human consciousness be destined some day to disappear.

The Epicurean attitude, the extreme and grossest expression of which is "Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die," or the Horatian carpe diem, which may be rendered by "Live for the day," does not differ in its essence from the Stoic attitude with its "Accomplish what the moral conscience dictates to thee, and afterward let it be as it may be." Both attitudes have a common base; and pleasure for pleasure's sake comes to the same as duty for duty's sake.

Spinoza, the most logical and consistent of atheists—I mean of those who deny the persistence of individual consciousness through indefinite future time—and at the same time the most pious, Spinoza devoted the fifth and last part of his Ethic to elucidating the path that leads to liberty and to determining the concept of happiness. The concept! Concept, not feeling! For Spinoza, who was a terrible intellectualist, happiness (beatitudo) is a concept, and the love of God an intellectual love. After establishing in proposition xxi. of the fifth part that "the mind can imagine nothing, neither can it remember anything that is past, save during the continuance of the body"—which is equivalent to denying the immortality of the soul, since a soul which, disjoined from the body in which it lived, does not remember its past, is neither immortal nor is it a soul—he goes on to affirm in proposition xxiii. that "the human mind cannot be absolutely destroyed with the body, but there remains of it something which is eternal," and this eternity of the mind is a certain mode of thinking. But do not let yourselves be deceived; there is no such eternity of the individual mind. Everything is sub aeternitatis specie—that is to say, pure illusion. Nothing could be more dreary, nothing more desolating, nothing more anti-vital than this happiness, this beatitudo, of Spinoza, that consists in the intellectual love of the mind towards God, which is nothing else but the very love with which God loves Himself (prop, xxxvi.). Our happiness—that is to say, our liberty—consists in the constant and eternal love of God towards men. So affirms the corollary to this thirty-sixth proposition. And all this in order to arrive at the conclusion, which is the final and crowning proposition of the whole Ethic, that happiness is not the reward of virtue, but virtue itself. The everlasting refrain! Or, to put it plainly, we proceed from God and to God we return, which, translated into concrete language, the language of life and feeling, means that my personal consciousness sprang from nothingness, from my unconsciousness, and to nothingness it will return.

And this most dreary and desolating voice of Spinoza is the very voice of reason. And the liberty of which he tells us is a terrible liberty. And against Spinoza and his doctrine of happiness there is only one irresistible argument, the argument ad hominem. Was he happy, Benedict Spinoza, while, to allay his inner unhappiness, he was discoursing of happiness? Was he free?

In the corollary to proposition xli. of this same final and most tragic part of that tremendous tragedy of his Ethic, the poor desperate Jew of Amsterdam discourses of the common persuasion of the vulgar of the truth of eternal life. Let us hear what he says: "It would appear that they esteem piety and religion—and, indeed, all that is referred to fortitude or strength of mind—as burdens which they expect to lay down after death, when they hope to receive a reward for their servitude, not for their piety and religion in this life. Nor is it even this hope alone that leads them; the fear of frightful punishments with which they are menaced after death also influences them to live—in so far as their impotence and poverty of spirit permits—in conformity with the prescription of the Divine law. And were not this hope and this fear infused into the minds of men—but, on the contrary, did they believe that the soul perished with the body, and that, beyond the grave, there was no other life prepared for the wretched who had borne the burden of piety in this—they would return to their natural inclinations, preferring to accommodate everything to their own liking, and would follow fortune rather than reason. But all this appears no less absurd than it would be to suppose that a man, because he did not believe that he could nourish his body eternally with wholesome food, would saturate himself with deadly poisons; or than if because believing that his soul was not eternal and immortal, he should therefore prefer to be without a soul (amens) and to live without reason; all of which is so absurd as to be scarcely worth refuting (quae adeo absurda sunt, ut vix recenseri mereantur)."

When a thing is said to be not worth refuting you may be sure that either it is flagrantly stupid—in which case all comment is superfluous—or it is something formidable, the very crux of the problem. And this it is in this case. Yes! poor Portuguese Jew exiled in Holland, yes! that he who is convinced without a vestige of doubt, without the faintest hope of any saving uncertainty, that his soul is not immortal, should prefer to be without a soul (amens), or irrational, or idiot, that he should prefer not to have been born, is a supposition that has nothing, absolutely nothing, absurd in it. Was he happy, the poor Jewish intellectualist definer of intellectual love and of happiness? For that and no other is the problem. "What does it profit thee to know the definition of compunction if thou dost not feel it?" says a Kempis. And what profits it to discuss or to define happiness if you cannot thereby achieve happiness? Not inapposite in this connection is that terrible story that Diderot tells of a eunuch who desired to take lessons in esthetics from a native of Marseilles in order that he might be better qualified to select the slaves destined for the harem of the Sultan, his master. At the end of the first lesson, a physiological lesson, brutally and carnally physiological, the eunuch exclaimed bitterly, "It is evident that I shall never know esthetics!" Even so, and just as eunuchs will never know esthetics as applied to the selection of beautiful women, so neither will pure rationalists ever know ethics, nor will they ever succeed in defining happiness, for happiness is a thing that is lived and felt, not a thing that is reasoned about or defined.

And you have another rationalist, one not sad or submissive, like Spinoza, but rebellious, and though concealing a despair not less bitter, making a hypocritical pretence of light-heartedness, you have Nietzsche, who discovered mathematically (!!!) that counterfeit of the immortality of the soul which is called "eternal recurrence," and which is in fact the most stupendous tragi-comedy or comi-tragedy. The number of atoms or irreducible primary elements being finite and the universe eternal, a combination identical with that which at present exists must at some future time be reproduced, and therefore that which now is must be repeated an infinite number of times. This is evident, and just as I shall live again the life that I am now living, so I have already lived it before an infinite number of times, for there is an eternity that stretches into the past—a parte ante—just as there will be one stretching into the future—a parte post. But, unfortunately, it happens that I remember none of my previous existences, and perhaps it is impossible that I should remember them, for two things absolutely and completely identical are but one. Instead of supposing that we live in a finite universe, composed of a finite number of irreducible primary elements, suppose that we live in an infinite universe, without limits in space—which concrete infinity is not less inconceivable than the concrete eternity in time—then it will follow that this system of ours, that of the Milky Way, is repeated an infinite number of times in the infinite of space, and that therefore I am now living an infinite number of lives, all exactly identical. A jest, as you see, but one not less comic—that is to say, not less tragic—than that of Nietzsche, that of the laughing lion. And why does the lion laugh? I think he laughs with rage, because he can never succeed in finding consolation in the thought that he has been the same lion before and is destined to be the same lion again.

But if Spinoza and Nietzsche were indeed both rationalists, each after his own manner, they were not spiritual eunuchs; they had heart, feeling, and, above all, hunger, a mad hunger for eternity, for immortality. The physical eunuch does not feel the need of reproducing himself carnally, in the body, and neither does the spiritual eunuch feel the hunger for self-perpetuation.

Certain it is that there are some who assert that reason suffices them, and they counsel us to desist from seeking to penetrate into the impenetrable. But of those who say that they have no need of any faith in an eternal personal life to furnish them with incentives to living and motives for action, I know not well how to think. A man blind from birth may also assure us that he feels no great longing to enjoy the world of sight nor suffers any great anguish from not having enjoyed it, and we must needs believe him, for what is wholly unknown cannot be the object of desire—nihil volitum quin praecognitum, there can be no volition save of things already known. But I cannot be persuaded that he who has once in his life, either in his youth or for some other brief space of time, cherished the belief in the immortality of the soul, will ever find peace without it. And of this sort of blindness from birth there are but few instances among us, and then only by a kind of strange aberration. For the merely and exclusively rational man is an aberration and nothing but an aberration.

More sincere, much more sincere, are those who say: "We must not talk about it, for in talking about it we only waste our time and weaken our will; let us do our duty here and hereafter let come what may." But this sincerity hides a yet deeper insincerity. May it perhaps be that by saying "We must not talk about it," they succeed in not thinking about it? Our will is weakened? And what then? We lose the capacity for human action? And what then? It is very convenient to tell a man whom a fatal disease condemns to an early death, and who knows it, not to think about it.

Meglio oprando obliar, senza indagarlo, Questo enorme mister del universo!

"Better to work and to forget and not to probe into this vast mystery of the universe!" Carducci wrote in his Idilio Maremmano, the same Carducci who at the close of his ode Sul Monte Mario tells us how the earth, the mother of the fugitive soul, must roll its burden of glory and sorrow round the sun "until, worn out beneath the equator, mocked by the last flames of dying heat, the exhausted human race is reduced to a single man and woman, who, standing in the midst of dead woods, surrounded by sheer mountains, livid, with glassy eyes watch thee, O sun, set across the immense frozen waste."

But is it possible for us to give ourselves to any serious and lasting work, forgetting the vast mystery of the universe and abandoning all attempt to understand it? Is it possible to contemplate the vast All with a serene soul, in the spirit of the Lucretian piety, if we are conscious of the thought that a time must come when this All will no longer be reflected in any human consciousness?

Cain, in Byron's poem, asks of Lucifer, the prince of the intellectuals, "Are ye happy?" and Lucifer replies, "We are mighty." Cain questions again, "Are ye happy?" and then the great Intellectual says to him: "No; art thou?" And further on, this same Lucifer says to Adah, the sister and wife of Cain: "Choose betwixt love and knowledge—since there is no other choice." And in the same stupendous poem, when Cain says that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was a lying tree, for "we know nothing; at least it promised knowledge at the price of death," Lucifer answers him: "It may be death leads to the highest knowledge"—that is to say, to nothingness.

To this word knowledge which Lord Byron uses in the above quotations, the Spanish ciencia, the French science, the German Wissenschaft, is often opposed the word wisdom, sabiduria, sagesse, Weisheit.

Knowledge comes, but Wisdom lingers, and he bears a laden breast, Full of sad experience, moving toward the stillness of his rest,

says another lord, Tennyson, in his Locksley Hall. And what is this wisdom which we have to seek chiefly in the poets, leaving knowledge on one side? It is well enough to say with Matthew Arnold in his Introduction to Wordsworth's poems, that poetry is reality and philosophy illusion; but reason is always reason and reality is always reality, that which can be proved to exist externally to us, whether we find in it consolation or despair.

I do not know why so many people were scandalized, or pretended to be scandalized, when Brunetiere proclaimed again the bankruptcy of science. For science as a substitute for religion and reason as a substitute for faith have always fallen to pieces. Science will be able to satisfy, and in fact does satisfy in an increasing measure, our increasing logical or intellectual needs, our desire to know and understand the truth; but science does not satisfy the needs of our heart and our will, and far from satisfying our hunger for immortality it contradicts it. Rational truth and life stand in opposition to one another. And is it possible that there is any other truth than rational truth?

It must remain established, therefore, that reason—human reason—within its limits, not only does not prove rationally that the soul is immortal or that the human consciousness shall preserve its indestructibility through the tracts of time to come, but that it proves rather—within its limits, I repeat—that the individual consciousness cannot persist after the death of the physical organism upon which it depends. And these limits, within which I say that human reason proves this, are the limits of rationality, of what is known by demonstration. Beyond these limits is the irrational, which, whether it be called the super-rational or the infra-rational or the contra-rational, is all the same thing. Beyond these limits is the absurd of Tertullian, the impossible of the certum est, quia impossibile est. And this absurd can only base itself upon the most absolute uncertainty.

The rational dissolution ends in dissolving reason itself; it ends in the most absolute scepticism, in the phenomenalism of Hume or in the doctrine of absolute contingencies of Stuart Mill, the most consistent and logical of the positivists. The supreme triumph of reason, the analytical—that is, the destructive and dissolvent—faculty, is to cast doubt upon its own validity. The stomach that contains an ulcer ends by digesting itself; and reason ends by destroying the immediate and absolute validity of the concept of truth and of the concept of necessity. Both concepts are relative; there is no absolute truth, no absolute necessity. We call a concept true which agrees with the general system of all our concepts; and we call a perception true which does not contradict the system of our perceptions. Truth is coherence. But as regards the whole system, the aggregate, as there is nothing outside of it of which we have knowledge, we cannot say whether it is true or not. It is conceivable that the universe, as it exists in itself, outside of our consciousness, may be quite other than it appears to us, although this is a supposition that has no meaning for reason. And as regards necessity, is there an absolute necessity? By necessary we mean merely that which is, and in so far as it is, for in another more transcendental sense, what absolute necessity, logical and independent of the fact that the universe exists, is there that there should be a universe or anything else at all?

Absolute relativism, which is neither more nor less than scepticism, in the most modern sense of the term, is the supreme triumph of the reasoning reason.

Feeling does not succeed in converting consolation into truth, nor does reason succeed in converting truth into consolation. But reason going beyond truth itself, beyond the concept of reality itself, succeeds in plunging itself into the depths of scepticism. And in this abyss the scepticism of the reason encounters the despair of the heart, and this encounter leads to the discovery of a basis—a terrible basis!—for consolation to build on.

Let us examine it.


[26] Pragmatism, a New Name for some Old Ways of Thinking. Popular lectures on philosophy by William James, 1907.

[27] Treatise of Human Nature, book i., part iv., sect. vi., "Of Personal Identity": "I never can catch myself at any time without a perception, and never can observe anything but the perception."

[28] Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, Lectures on the History of the Eastern Church, lecture i., sect. iii.

[29] 1 Cor. i. 23.

[30] Gustave Flaubert, Correspondance, troisieme serie (1854-1869). Paris, 1910.



Parce unicae spes totius orbis.—TERTULLIANUS, Adversus Marcionem, 5.

We have seen that the vital longing for human immortality finds no consolation in reason and that reason leaves us without incentive or consolation in life and life itself without real finality. But here, in the depths of the abyss, the despair of the heart and of the will and the scepticism of reason meet face to face and embrace like brothers. And we shall see it is from this embrace, a tragic—that is to say, an intimately loving—embrace, that the wellspring of life will flow, a life serious and terrible. Scepticism, uncertainty—the position to which reason, by practising its analysis upon itself, upon its own validity, at last arrives—is the foundation upon which the heart's despair must build up its hope.

Disillusioned, we had to abandon the position of those who seek to give consolation the force of rational and logical truth, pretending to prove the rationality, or at any rate the non-irrationality, of consolation; and we had to abandon likewise the position of those who seek to give rational truth the force of consolation and of a motive for life. Neither the one nor the other of these positions satisfied us. The one is at variance with our reason, the other with our feeling. These two powers can never conclude peace and we must needs live by their war. We must make of this war, of war itself, the very condition of our spiritual life.

Neither does this high debate admit of that indecent and repugnant expedient which the more or less parliamentary type of politician has devised and dubbed "a formula of agreement," the property of which is to render it impossible for either side to claim to be victorious. There is no place here for a time-serving compromise. Perhaps a degenerate and cowardly reason might bring itself to propose some such formula of agreement, for in truth reason lives by formulas; but life, which cannot be formulated, life which lives and seeks to live for ever, does not submit to formulas. Its sole formula is: all or nothing. Feeling does not compound its differences with middle terms.

Initium sapientiae timor Domini, it is said, meaning perhaps timor mortis, or it may be, timor vitae, which is the same thing. Always it comes about that the beginning of wisdom is a fear.

Is it true to say of this saving scepticism which I am now going to discuss, that it is doubt? It is doubt, yes, but it is much more than doubt. Doubt is commonly something very cold, of very little vitalizing force, and above all something rather artificial, especially since Descartes degraded it to the function of a method. The conflict between reason and life is something more than a doubt. For doubt is easily resolved into a comic element.

The methodical doubt of Descartes is a comic doubt, a doubt purely theoretical and provisional—that is to say, the doubt of a man who acts as if he doubted without really doubting. And because it was a stove-excogitated doubt, the man who deduced that he existed from the fact that he thought did not approve of "those turbulent (brouillonnes) and restless persons who, being called neither by birth nor by fortune to the management of public affairs, are perpetually devising some new reformation," and he was pained by the suspicion that there might be something of this kind in his own writings. No, he, Descartes, proposed only to "reform his own thoughts and to build upon ground that was wholly his." And he resolved not to accept anything as true when he did not recognize it clearly to be so, and to make a clean sweep of all prejudices and received ideas, to the end that he might construct his intellectual habitation anew. But "as it is not enough, before beginning to rebuild one's dwelling-house, to pull it down and to furnish materials and architects, or to study architecture oneself ... but it is also necessary to be provided with some other wherein to lodge conveniently while the work is in progress," he framed for himself a provisional ethic—une morale de provision—the first law of which was to observe the customs of his country and to keep always to the religion in which, by the grace of God, he had been instructed from his infancy, governing himself in all things according to the most moderate opinions. Yes, exactly, a provisional religion and even a provisional God! And he chose the most moderate opinions "because these are always the most convenient for practice." But it is best to proceed no further.

This methodical or theoretical Cartesian doubt, this philosophical doubt excogitated in a stove, is not the doubt, is not the scepticism, is not the incertitude, that I am talking about here. No! This other doubt is a passionate doubt, it is the eternal conflict between reason and feeling, science and life, logic and biotic. For science destroys the concept of personality by reducing it to a complex in continual flux from moment to moment—that is to say, it destroys the very foundation of the spiritual and emotional life, which ranges itself unyieldingly against reason.

And this doubt cannot avail itself of any provisional ethic, but has to found its ethic, as we shall see, on the conflict itself, an ethic of battle, and itself has to serve as the foundation of religion. And it inhabits a house which is continually being demolished and which continually it has to rebuild. Without ceasing the will, I mean the will never to die, the spirit of unsubmissiveness to death, labours to build up the house of life, and without ceasing the keen blasts and stormy assaults of reason beat it down.

And more than this, in the concrete vital problem that concerns us, reason takes up no position whatever. In truth, it does something worse than deny the immortality of the soul—for that at any rate would be one solution—it refuses even to recognize the problem as our vital desire presents it to us. In the rational and logical sense of the term problem, there is no such problem. This question of the immortality of the soul, of the persistence of the individual consciousness, is not rational, it falls outside reason. As a problem, and whatever solution it may receive, it is irrational. Rationally even the very propounding of the problem lacks sense. The immortality of the soul is as unconceivable as, in all strictness, is its absolute mortality. For the purpose of explaining the world and existence—and such is the task of reason—it is not necessary that we should suppose that our soul is either mortal or immortal. The mere enunciation of the problem is, therefore, an irrationality.

Let us hear what our brother Kierkegaard has to say. "The danger of abstract thought is seen precisely in respect of the problem of existence, the difficulty of which it solves by going round it, afterwards boasting that it has completely explained it. It explains immortality in general, and it does so in a remarkable way by identifying it with eternity—with the eternity which is essentially the medium of thought. But with the immortality of each individually existing man, wherein precisely the difficulty lies, abstraction does not concern itself, is not interested in it. And yet the difficulty of existence lies just in the interest of the existing being—the man who exists is infinitely interested in existing. Abstract thought besteads immortality only in order that it may kill me as an individual being with an individual existence, and so make me immortal, pretty much in the same way as that famous physician in one of Holberg's plays, whose medicine, while it took away the patient's fever, took away his life at the same time. An abstract thinker, who refuses to disclose and admit the relation that exists between his abstract thought and the fact that he is an existing being, produces a comic impression upon us, however accomplished and distinguished he may be, for he runs the risk of ceasing to be a man. While an effective man, compounded of infinitude and finitude, owes his effectiveness precisely to the conjunction of these two elements and is infinitely interested in existing, an abstract thinker, similarly compounded, is a double being, a fantastical being, who lives in the pure being of abstraction, and at times presents the sorry figure of a professor who lays aside this abstract essence as he lays aside his walking-stick. When one reads the Life of a thinker of this kind—whose writings may be excellent—one trembles at the thought of what it is to be a man. And when one reads in his writings that thinking and being are the same thing, one thinks, remembering his life, that that being, which is identical with thinking, is not precisely the same thing as being a man" (Afsluttende uvidenskabelig Efterskrift, chap. iii.).

What intense passion—that is to say, what truth—there is in this bitter invective against Hegel, prototype of the rationalist!—for the rationalist takes away our fever by taking away our life, and promises us, instead of a concrete, an abstract immortality, as if the hunger for immortality that consumes us were an abstract and not a concrete hunger!

It may indeed be said that when once the dog is dead there is an end to the rabies, and that after I have died I shall no more be tortured by this rage of not dying, and that the fear of death, or more properly, of nothingness, is an irrational fear, but ... Yes, but ... Eppur si muove! And it will go on moving. For it is the source of all movement!

I doubt, however, whether our brother Kierkegaard is altogether in the right, for this same abstract thinker, or thinker of abstractions, thinks in order that he may exist, that he may not cease to exist, or thinks perhaps in order to forget that he will have to cease to exist. This is the root of the passion for abstract thought. And possibly Hegel was as infinitely interested as Kierkegaard in his own concrete, individual existence, although the professional decorum of the state-philosopher compelled him to conceal the fact.

Faith in immortality is irrational. And, notwithstanding, faith, life, and reason have mutual need of one another. This vital longing is not properly a problem, cannot assume a logical status, cannot be formulated in propositions susceptible of rational discussion; but it announces itself in us as hunger announces itself. Neither can the wolf that throws itself with the fury of hunger upon its prey or with the fury of instinct upon the she-wolf, enunciate its impulse rationally and as a logical problem. Reason and faith are two enemies, neither of which can maintain itself without the other. The irrational demands to be rationalized and reason only can operate on the irrational. They are compelled to seek mutual support and association. But association in struggle, for struggle is a mode of association.

In the world of living beings the struggle for life establishes an association, and a very close one, not only between those who unite together in combat against a common foe, but between the combatants themselves. And is there any possible association more intimate than that uniting the animal that eats another and the animal that is eaten, between the devourer and the devoured? And if this is clearly seen in the struggle between individuals, it is still more evident in the struggle between peoples. War has always been the most effective factor of progress, even more than commerce. It is through war that conquerors and conquered learn to know each other and in consequence to love each other.

Christianity, the foolishness of the Cross, the irrational faith that Christ rose from the dead in order to raise us from the dead, was saved by the rationalistic Hellenic culture, and this in its turn was saved by Christianity. Without Christianity the Renaissance would have been impossible. Without the Gospel, without St. Paul, the peoples who had traversed the Middle Ages would have understood neither Plato nor Aristotle. A purely rationalist tradition is as impossible as a tradition purely religious. It is frequently disputed whether the Reformation was born as the child of the Renaissance or as a protest against it, and both propositions may be said to be true, for the son is always born as a protest against the father. It is also said that it was the revived Greek classics that led men like Erasmus back to St. Paul and to primitive Christianity, which is the most irrational form of Christianity; but it may be retorted that it was St. Paul, that it was the Christian irrationality underlying his Catholic theology, that led them back to the classics. "Christianity is what it has come to be," it has been said, "only through its alliance with antiquity, while with the Copts and Ethiopians it is but a kind of buffoonery. Islam developed under the influence of Persian and Greek culture, and under that of the Turks it has been transformed into a destructive barbarism."[31]

We have emerged from the Middle Ages, from the medieval faith as ardent as it was at heart despairing, and not without its inward and abysmal incertitudes, and we have entered upon the age of rationalism, likewise not without its incertitudes. Faith in reason is exposed to the same rational indefensibility as all other faith. And we may say with Robert Browning,

All we have gained, then, by our unbelief Is a life of doubt diversified by faith For one of faith diversified by doubt.

(Bishop Blougram's Apology.)

And if, as I have said, faith, life, can only sustain itself by leaning upon reason, which renders it transmissible—and above all transmissible from myself to myself—that is to say, reflective and conscious—it is none the less true that reason in its turn can only sustain itself by leaning upon faith, upon life, even if only upon faith in reason, faith in its availability for something more than mere knowing, faith in its availability for living. Nevertheless, neither is faith transmissible or rational, nor is reason vital.

The will and the intelligence have need of one another, and the reverse of that old aphorism, nihil volitum quin praecognitum, nothing is willed but what is previously known, is not so paradoxical as at first sight it may appear—nihil cognitum quin praevolitum, nothing is known but what is previously willed. Vinet, in his study of Cousin's book on the Pensees of Pascal, says: "The very knowledge of the mind as such has need of the heart. Without the desire to see there is no seeing; in a great materialization of life and of thought there is no believing in the things of the spirit." We shall see presently that to believe is, in the first instance, to wish to believe.

The will and the intelligence seek opposite ends: that we may absorb the world into ourselves, appropriate it to ourselves, is the aim of the will; that we may be absorbed into the world, that of the intelligence. Opposite ends?—are they not rather one and the same? No, they are not, although they may seem to be so. The intelligence is monist or pantheist, the will monotheist or egoist. The intelligence has no need of anything outside it to exercise itself upon; it builds its foundation with ideas themselves, while the will requires matter. To know something is to make this something that I know myself; but to avail myself of it, to dominate it, it has to remain distinct from myself.

Philosophy and religion are enemies, and because they are enemies they have need of one another. There is no religion without some philosophic basis, no philosophy without roots in religion. Each lives by its contrary. The history of philosophy is, strictly speaking, a history of religion. And the attacks which are directed against religion from a presumed scientific or philosophical point of view are merely attacks from another but opposing religious point of view. "The opposition which professedly exists between natural science and Christianity really exists between an impulse derived from natural religion blended with the scientific investigation of nature, and the validity of the Christian view of the world, which assures to spirit its pre-eminence over the entire world of nature," says Ritschl (Rechtfertgung und Versoehnung, iii. chap. iv. Sec. 28). Now this instinct is the instinct of rationality itself. And the critical idealism of Kant is of religious origin, and it is in order to save religion that Kant enlarged the limits of reason after having in a certain sense dissolved it in scepticism. The system of antitheses, contradictions, and antinomies, upon which Hegel constructed his absolute idealism, has its root and germ in Kant himself, and this root is an irrational root.

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