Tragic Sense Of Life
by Miguel de Unamuno
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We shall see later on, when we come to deal with faith, that faith is in its essence simply a matter of will, not of reason, that to believe is to wish to believe, and to believe in God is, before all and above all, to wish that there may be a God. In the same way, to believe in the immortality of the soul is to wish that the soul may be immortal, but to wish it with such force that this volition shall trample reason under foot and pass beyond it. But reason has its revenge.

The instinct of knowing and the instinct of living, or rather of surviving, come into conflict. In his work on the Analysis of the Sensations and the Relation of the Physical to the Psychical,[32] Dr. E. Mach tells us that not even the investigator, the savant, der Forscher, is exempted from taking his part in the struggle for existence, that even the roads of science lead mouth-wards, and that in the actual conditions of the society in which we live the pure instinct of knowing, der reine Erkenntnisstrieb, is still no more than an ideal. And so it always will be. Primum vivere, deinde philosophari, or perhaps better, primum supervivere or superesse.

Every position of permanent agreement or harmony between reason and life, between philosophy and religion, becomes impossible. And the tragic history of human thought is simply the history of a struggle between reason and life—reason bent on rationalizing life and forcing it to submit to the inevitable, to mortality; life bent on vitalizing reason and forcing it to serve as a support for its own vital desires. And this is the history of philosophy, inseparable from the history of religion.

Our sense of the world of objective reality is necessarily subjective, human, anthropomorphic. And vitalism will always rise up against rationalism; reason will always find itself confronted by will. Hence the rhythm of the history of philosophy and the alternation of periods in which life imposes itself, giving birth to spiritual forms, with those in which reason imposes itself, giving birth to materialist forms, although both of these classes of forms of belief may be disguised by other names. Neither reason nor life ever acknowledges itself vanquished. But we will return to this in the next chapter.

The vital consequence of rationalism would be suicide. Kierkegaard puts it very well: "The consequence for existence[33] of pure thought is suicide.... We do not praise suicide but passion. The thinker, on the contrary, is a curious animal—for a few spells during the day he is very intelligent, but, for the rest, he has nothing in common with man" (Afsluttende uvidenskabelig Efterskrift, chap iii., Sec. 1).

As the thinker, in spite of all, does not cease to be a man, he employs reason in the interests of life, whether he knows it or not. Life cheats reason and reason cheats life. Scholastic-Aristotelian philosophy fabricated in the interest of life a teleologic-evolutionist system, rational in appearance, which might serve as a support for our vital longing. This philosophy, the basis of the orthodox Christian supernaturalism, whether Catholic or Protestant, was, in its essence, merely a trick on the part of life to force reason to lend it its support. But reason supported it with such pressure that it ended by pulverizing it.

I have read that the ex-Carmelite, Hyacinthe Loyson, declared that he could present himself before God with tranquillity, for he was at peace with his conscience and with his reason. With what conscience? If with his religious conscience, then I do not understand. For it is a truth that no man can serve two masters, and least of all when, though they may sign truces and armistices and compromises, these two are enemies because of their conflicting interests.

To all this someone is sure to object that life ought to subject itself to reason, to which we will reply that nobody ought to do what he is unable to do, and life cannot subject itself to reason. "Ought, therefore can," some Kantian will retort. To which we shall demur: "Cannot, therefore ought not." And life cannot submit itself to reason, because the end of life is living and not understanding.

Again, there are those who talk of the religious duty of resignation to mortality. This is indeed the very summit of aberration and insincerity. But someone is sure to oppose the idea of veracity to that of sincerity. Granted, and yet the two may very well be reconciled. Veracity, the homage I owe to what I believe to be rational, to what logically we call truth, moves me to affirm, in this case, that the immortality of the individual soul is a contradiction in terms, that it is something, not only irrational, but contra-rational; but sincerity leads me to affirm also my refusal to resign myself to this previous affirmation and my protest against its validity. What I feel is a truth, at any rate as much a truth as what I see, touch, hear, or what is demonstrated to me—nay, I believe it is more of a truth—and sincerity obliges me not to hide what I feel.

And life, quick to defend itself, searches for the weak point in reason and finds it in scepticism, which it straightway fastens upon, seeking to save itself by means of this stranglehold. It needs the weakness of its adversary.

Nothing is sure. Everything is elusive and in the air. In an outburst of passion Lamennais exclaims: "But what! Shall we, losing all hope, shut our eyes and plunge into the voiceless depths of a universal scepticism? Shall we doubt that we think, that we feel, that we are? Nature does not allow it; she forces us to believe even when our reason is not convinced. Absolute certainty and absolute doubt are both alike forbidden to us. We hover in a vague mean between these two extremes, as between being and nothingness; for complete scepticism would be the extinction of the intelligence and the total death of man. But it is not given to man to annihilate himself; there is in him something which invincibly resists destruction, I know not what vital faith, indomitable even by his will. Whether he likes it or not, he must believe, because he must act, because he must preserve himself. His reason, if he listened only to that, teaching him to doubt everything, itself included, would reduce him to a state of absolute inaction; he would perish before even he had been able to prove to himself that he existed" (Essai sur l'indifference en matiere de religion, iii^e partie, chap. lxvii.).

Reason, however, does not actually lead us to absolute scepticism. No! Reason does not lead me and cannot lead me to doubt that I exist. Whither reason does lead me is to vital scepticism, or more properly, to vital negation—not merely to doubt, but to deny, that my consciousness survives my death. Scepticism is produced by the clash between reason and desire. And from this clash, from this embrace between despair and scepticism, is born that holy, that sweet, that saving incertitude, which is our supreme consolation.

The absolute and complete certainty, on the one hand, that death is a complete, definite, irrevocable annihilation of personal consciousness, a certainty of the same order as the certainty that the three angles of a triangle are equal to two right angles, or, on the other hand, the absolute and complete certainty that our personal consciousness is prolonged beyond death in these present or in other conditions, and above all including in itself that strange and adventitious addition of eternal rewards and punishments—both of these certainties alike would make life impossible for us. In the most secret chamber of the spirit of him who believes himself convinced that death puts an end to his personal consciousness, his memory, for ever, and all unknown to him perhaps, there lurks a shadow, a vague shadow, a shadow of shadow, of uncertainty, and while he says within himself, "Well, let us live this life that passes away, for there is no other!" the silence of this secret chamber speaks to him and murmurs, "Who knows!..." He may not think he hears it, but he hears it nevertheless. And likewise in some secret place of the soul of the believer who most firmly holds the belief in a future life, there is a muffled voice, a voice of uncertainty, which whispers in the ear of his spirit, "Who knows!..." These voices are like the humming of a mosquito when the south-west wind roars through the trees in the wood; we cannot distinguish this faint humming, yet nevertheless, merged in the clamour of the storm, it reaches the ear. Otherwise, without this uncertainty, how could we live?

"Is there?" "Is there not?"—these are the bases of our inner life. There may be a rationalist who has never wavered in his conviction of the mortality of the soul, and there may be a vitalist who has never wavered in his faith in immortality; but at the most this would only prove that just as there are natural monstrosities, so there are those who are stupid as regards heart and feeling, however great their intelligence, and those who are stupid intellectually, however great their virtue. But, in normal cases, I cannot believe those who assure me that never, not in a fleeting moment, not in the hours of direst loneliness and grief, has this murmur of uncertainty breathed upon their consciousness. I do not understand those men who tell me that the prospect of the yonder side of death has never tormented them, that the thought of their own annihilation never disquiets them. For my part I do not wish to make peace between my heart and my head, between my faith and my reason—I wish rather that there should be war between them!

In the ninth chapter of the Gospel according to Mark it is related how a man brought unto Jesus his son who was possessed by a dumb spirit, and wheresoever the spirit took him it tore him, causing him to foam and gnash his teeth and pine away, wherefore he sought to bring him to Jesus that he might cure him. And the Master, impatient of those who sought only for signs and wonders, exclaimed: "O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him unto me" (ver. 19), and they brought him unto him. And when the Master saw him wallowing on the ground, he asked his father how long it was ago since this had come unto him and the father replied that it was since he was & child. And Jesus said unto him: "If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth" (ver. 23). And then the father of the epileptic or demoniac uttered these pregnant and immortal words: "Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief!"—Pisteyo, kyrie, boethei te hapistia mou (ver. 24).

"Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief!" A contradiction seemingly, for if he believes, if he trusts, how is it that he beseeches the Lord to help his lack of trust? Nevertheless, it is this contradiction that gives to the heart's cry of the father of the demoniac its most profound human value. His faith is a faith that is based upon incertitude. Because he believes—that is to say, because he wishes to believe, because he has need that his son should be cured—he beseeches the Lord to help his unbelief, his doubt that such a cure could be effected. Of such kind is human faith; of such kind was the heroic faith that Sancho Panza had in his master, the knight Don Quijote de la Mancha, as I think I have shown in my Vida de Don Quijote y Sancho; a faith based upon incertitude, upon doubt. Sancho Panza was indeed a man, a whole and a true man, and he was not stupid, for only if he had been stupid would he have believed, without a shadow of doubt, in the follies of his master. And his master himself did not believe in them without a shadow of doubt, for neither was Don Quixote, though mad, stupid. He was at heart a man of despair, as I think I have shown in my above-mentioned book. And because he was a man of an heroical despair, the hero of that inward and resigned despair, he stands as the eternal exemplar of every man whose soul is the battle-ground of reason and immortal desire. Our Lord Don Quixote is the prototype of the vitalist whose faith is based upon uncertainty, and Sancho is the prototype of the rationalist who doubts his own reason.

Tormented by torturing doubts, August Hermann Francke resolved to call upon God, a God in whom he did not believe, or rather in whom he believed that he did not believe, imploring Him to take pity upon him, upon the poor pietist Francke, if perchance He really existed.[34] And from a similar state of mind came the inspiration of the sonnet entitled "The Atheist's Prayer," which is included in my Rosario de Sonetos Liricos, and closes with these lines:

Sufro yo a tu costa, Dios no existiente, pues si tu existieras existieria yo tambien de veras.[35]

Yes, if God the guarantor of our personal immortality existed, then should we ourselves really exist. And if He exists not, neither do we exist.

That terrible secret, that hidden will of God which, translated into the language of theology, is known as predestination, that idea which dictated to Luther his servum arbitrium, and which gives to Calvinism its tragic sense, that doubt of our own salvation, is in its essence nothing but uncertainty, and this uncertainty, allied with despair, forms the basis of faith. Faith, some say, consists in not thinking about it, in surrendering ourselves trustingly to the arms of God, the secrets of whose providence are inscrutable. Yes, but infidelity also consists in not thinking about it. This absurd faith, this faith that knows no shadow of uncertainty, this faith of the stupid coalheaver, joins hands with an absurd incredulity, the incredulity that knows no shadow of uncertainty, the incredulity of the intellectuals who are afflicted with affective stupidity in order that they may not think about it.

And what but uncertainty, doubt, the voice of reason, was that abyss, that terrible gouffre, before which Pascal trembled? And it was that which led him to pronounce his terrible sentence, il faut s'abetir—need is that we become fools!

All Jansenism, the Catholic adaptation of Calvinism, bears the same impress. Port-Royal, which owed its existence to a Basque, the Abbe de Saint-Cyran, a man of the same race as Inigo de Loyola and as he who writes these lines, always preserved deep down a sediment of religious despair, of the suicide of reason. Loyola also slew his reason in obedience.

Our affirmation is despair, our negation is despair, and from despair we abstain from affirming and denying. Note the greater part of our atheists and you will see that they are atheists from a kind of rage, rage at not being able to believe that there is a God. They are the personal enemies of God. They have invested Nothingness with substance and personality, and their No-God is an Anti-God.

And concerning that abject and ignoble saying, "If there were not a God it would be necessary to invent Him," we shall say nothing. It is the expression of the unclean scepticism of those conservatives who look upon religion merely as a means of government and whose interest it is that in the other life there shall be a hell for those who oppose their worldly interests in this life. This repugnant and Sadducean phrase is worthy of the time-serving sceptic to whom it is attributed.

No, with all this the deep vital sense has nothing to do. It has nothing to do with a transcendental police regimen, or with securing order—and what an order!—upon earth by means of promises and threats of eternal rewards and punishments after death. All this belongs to a lower plane—that is to say, it is merely politics, or if you like, ethics. The vital sense has to do with living.

But it is in our endeavour to represent to ourselves what the life of the soul after death really means that uncertainty finds its surest foundation. This it is that most shakes our vital desire and most intensifies the dissolvent efficacy of reason. For even if by a mighty effort of faith we overcome that reason which tells and teaches us that the soul is only a function of the physical organism, it yet remains for our imagination to conceive an image of the immortal and eternal life of the soul. This conception involves us in contradictions and absurdities, and it may be that we shall arrive with Kierkegaard at the conclusion that if the mortality of the soul is terrible, not less terrible is its immortality.

But when we have overcome the first, the only real difficulty, when we have overcome the impediment of reason, when we have achieved the faith, however painful and involved in uncertainty it may be, that our personal consciousness shall continue after death, what difficulty, what impediment, lies in the way of our imagining to ourselves this persistence of self in harmony with our desire? Yes, we can imagine it as an eternal rejuvenescence, as an eternal growth of ourselves, and as a journeying towards God, towards the Universal Consciousness, without ever an arrival, we can imagine it as ... But who shall put fetters upon the imagination, once it has broken the chain of the rational?

I know that all this is dull reading, tiresome, perhaps tedious, but it is all necessary. And I must repeat once again that we have nothing to do with a transcendental police system or with the conversion of God into a great Judge or Policeman—that is to say, we are not concerned with heaven or hell considered as buttresses to shore up our poor earthly morality, nor are we concerned with anything egoistic or personal. It is not I myself alone, it is the whole human race that is involved, it is the ultimate finality of all our civilization. I am but one, but all men are I's.

Do you remember the end of that Song of the Wild Cock which Leopardi wrote in prose?—the despairing Leopardi, the victim of reason, who never succeeded in achieving belief. "A time will come," he says, "when this Universe and Nature itself will be extinguished. And just as of the grandest kingdoms and empires of mankind and the marvellous things achieved therein, very famous in their own time, no vestige or memory remains to-day, so, in like manner, of the entire world and of the vicissitudes and calamities of all created things there will remain not a single trace, but a naked silence and a most profound stillness will fill the immensity of space. And so before ever it has been uttered or understood, this admirable and fearful secret of universal existence will be obliterated and lost." And this they now describe by a scientific and very rationalistic term—namely, entropia. Very pretty, is it not? Spencer invented the notion of a primordial homogeneity, from which it is impossible to conceive how any heterogeneity could originate. Well now, this entropia is a kind of ultimate homogeneity, a state of perfect equilibrium. For a soul avid of life, it is the most like nothingness that the mind can conceive.

* * * * *

To this point, through a series of dolorous reflections, I have brought the reader who has had the patience to follow me, endeavouring always to do equal justice to the claims of reason and of feeling. I have not wished to keep silence on matters about which others are silent; I have sought to strip naked, not only my own soul, but the human soul, be its nature what it may, its destiny to disappear or not to disappear. And we have arrived at the bottom of the abyss, at the irreconcilable conflict between reason and vital feeling. And having arrived here, I have told you that it is necessary to accept the conflict as such and to live by it. Now it remains for me to explain to you how, according to my way of feeling, and even according to my way of thinking, this despair may be the basis of a vigorous life, of an efficacious activity, of an ethic, of an esthetic, of a religion and even of a logic. But in what follows there will be as much of imagination as of ratiocination, or rather, much more.

I do not wish to deceive anyone, or to offer as philosophy what it may be is only poetry or phantasmagoria, in any case a kind of mythology. The divine Plato, after having discussed the immortality of the soul in his dialogue Phaedo (an ideal—that is to say, a lying—immortality), embarked upon an interpretation of the myths which treat of the other life, remarking that it was also necessary to mythologize. Let us, then, mythologize.

He who looks for reasons, strictly so called, scientific arguments, technically logical reflections, may refuse to follow me further. Throughout the remainder of these reflections upon the tragic sense, I am going to fish for the attention of the reader with the naked, unbaited hook; whoever wishes to bite, let him bite, but I deceive no one. Only in the conclusion I hope to gather everything together and to show that this religious despair which I have been talking about, and which is nothing other than the tragic sense of life itself, is, though more or less hidden, the very foundation of the consciousness of civilized individuals and peoples to-day—that is to say, of those individuals and those peoples who do not suffer from stupidity of intellect or stupidity of feeling.

And this tragic sense is the spring of heroic achievements.

If in that which follows you shall meet with arbitrary apothegms, brusque transitions, inconsecutive statements, veritable somersaults of thought, do not cry out that you have been deceived. We are about to enter—if it be that you wish to accompany me—upon a field of contradictions between feeling and reasoning, and we shall have to avail ourselves of the one as well as of the other.

That which follows is not the outcome of reason but of life, although in order that I may transmit it to you I shall have to rationalize it after a fashion. The greater part of it can be reduced to no logical theory or system; but like that tremendous Yankee poet, Walt Whitman, "I charge that there be no theory or school founded out of me" (Myself and Mine).

Neither am I the only begetter of the fancies I am about to set forth. By no means. They have also been conceived by other men, if not precisely by other thinkers, who have preceded me in this vale of tears, and who have exhibited their life and given expression to it. Their life, I repeat, not their thought, save in so far as it was thought inspired by life, thought with a basis of irrationality.

Does this mean that in all that follows, in the efforts of the irrational to express itself, there is a total lack of rationality, of all objective value? No; the absolutely, the irrevocably irrational, is inexpressible, is intransmissible. But not the contra-rational. Perhaps there is no way of rationalizing the irrational; but there is a way of rationalizing the contra-rational, and that is by trying to explain it. Since only the rational is intelligible, really intelligible, and since the absurd, being devoid of sense, is condemned to be incommunicable, you will find that whenever we succeed in giving expression and intelligibility to anything apparently irrational or absurd we invariably resolve it into something rational, even though it be into the negation of that which we affirm.

The maddest dreams of the fancy have some ground of reason, and who knows if everything that the imagination of man can conceive either has not already happened, or is not now happening or will not happen some time, in some world or another? The possible combinations are perhaps infinite. It only remains to know whether all that is imaginable is possible.

It may also be said, and with justice, that much of what I am about to set forth is merely a repetition of ideas which have been expressed a hundred times before and a hundred times refuted; but the repetition of an idea really implies that its refutation has not been final. And as I do not pretend that the majority of these fancies are new, so neither do I pretend, obviously, that other voices before mine have not spoken to the winds the same laments. But when yet another voice echoes the same eternal lament it can only be inferred that the same grief still dwells in the heart.

And it comes not amiss to repeat yet once again the same eternal lamentations that were already old in the days of Job and Ecclesiastes, and even to repeat them in the same words, to the end that the devotees of progress may see that there is something that never dies. Whosoever repeats the "Vanity of vanities" of Ecclesiastes or the lamentations of Job, even though without changing a letter, having first experienced them in his soul, performs a work of admonition. Need is to repeat without ceasing the memento mori.

"But to what end?" you will ask. Even though it be only to the end that some people should be irritated and should see that these things are not dead and, so long as men exist, cannot die; to the end that they should be convinced that to-day, in the twentieth century, all the bygone centuries and all of them alive, are still subsisting. When a supposed error reappears, it must be, believe me, that it has not ceased to be true in part, just as when one who was dead reappears, it must be that he was not wholly dead.

Yes, I know well that others before me have felt what I feel and express; that many others feel it to-day, although they keep silence about it. Why do I not keep silence about it too? Well, for the very reason that most of those who feel it are silent about it; and yet, though they are silent, they obey in silence that inner voice. And I do not keep silence about it because it is for many the thing which must not be spoken, the abomination of abominations—infandum—and I believe that it is necessary now and again to speak the thing which must not be spoken. But if it leads to nothing? Even if it should lead only to irritating the devotees of progress, those who believe that truth is consolation, it would lead to not a little. To irritating them and making them say: Poor fellow! if he would only use his intelligence to better purpose!... Someone perhaps will add that I do not know what I say, to which I shall reply that perhaps he may be right—and being right is such a little thing!—but that I feel what I say and I know what I feel and that suffices me. And that it is better to be lacking in reason than to have too much of it.

And the reader who perseveres in reading me will also see how out of this abyss of despair hope may arise, and how this critical position may be the well-spring of human, profoundly human, action and effort, and of solidarity and even of progress. He will see its pragmatic justification. And he will see how, in order to work, and to work efficaciously and morally, there is no need of either of these two conflicting certainties, either that of faith or that of reason, and how still less is there any need—this never under any circumstances—to shirk the problem of the immortality of the soul, or to distort it idealistically—that is to say, hypocritically. The reader will see how this uncertainty, with the suffering that accompanies it, and the fruitless struggle to escape from it, may be and is a basis for action and morals.

And in the fact that it serves as a basis for action and morals, this feeling of uncertainty and the inward struggle between reason on the one hand and faith and the passionate longing for eternal life on the other, should find their justification in the eyes of the pragmatist. But it must be clearly stated that I do not adduce this practical consequence in order to justify the feeling, but merely because I encounter it in my inward experience. I neither desire to seek, nor ought I to seek, any justification for this state of inward struggle and uncertainty and longing; it is a fact and that suffices. And if anyone finding himself in this state, in the depth of the abyss, fails to find there motives for and incentives to life and action, and concludes by committing bodily or spiritual suicide, whether he kills himself or he abandons all co-operation with his fellows in human endeavour, it will not be I who will pass censure upon him. And apart from the fact that the evil consequences of a doctrine, or rather those which we call evil, only prove, I repeat, that the doctrine is disastrous for our desires, but not that it is false in itself, the consequences themselves depend not so much upon the doctrine as upon him who deduces them. The same principle may furnish one man with grounds for action and another man with grounds for abstaining from action, it may lead one man to direct his effort towards a certain end and another man towards a directly opposite end. For the truth is that our doctrines are usually only the justification a posteriori of our conduct, or else they are our way of trying to explain that conduct to ourselves.

Man, in effect, is unwilling to remain in ignorance of the motives of his own conduct. And just as a man who has been led to perform a certain action by hypnotic suggestion will afterwards invent reasons which would justify it and make it appear logical to himself and others, being unaware all the time of the real cause of his action, so every man—for since "life is a dream" every man is in a condition of hypnotism—seeks to find reasons for his conduct. And if the pieces on a chessboard were endowed with consciousness, they would probably have little difficulty in ascribing their moves to freewill—that is to say, they would claim for them a finalist rationality. And thus it comes about that every philosophic theory serves to explain and justify an ethic, a doctrine of conduct, which has its real origin in the inward moral feeling of the author of the theory. But he who harbours this feeling may possibly himself have no clear consciousness of its true reason or cause.

Consequently, if my reason, which is in a certain sense a part of the reason of all my brothers in humanity in time and space, teaches me this absolute scepticism in respect of what concerns my longing for never-ending life, I think that I can assume that my feeling of life, which is the essence of life itself, my vitality, my boundless appetite for living and my abhorrence of dying, my refusal to submit to death—that it is this which suggests to me the doctrines with which I try to counter-check the working of the reason. Have these doctrines an objective value? someone will ask me, and I shall answer that I do not understand what this objective value of a doctrine is. I will not say that the more or less poetical and unphilosophical doctrines that I am about to set forth are those which make me live; but I will venture to say that it is my longing to live and to live for ever that inspires these doctrines within me. And if by means of them I succeed in strengthening and sustaining this same longing in another, perhaps when it was all but dead, then I shall have performed a man's work and, above all, I shall have lived. In a word, be it with reason or without reason or against reason, I am resolved not to die. And if, when at last I die out, I die out altogether, then I shall not have died out of myself—that is, I shall not have yielded myself to death, but my human destiny will have killed me. Unless I come to lose my head, or rather my heart, I will not abdicate from life—life will be wrested from me.

To have recourse to those, ambiguous words, "optimism" and "pessimism," does not assist us in any way, for frequently they express the very contrary of what those who use them mean to express. To ticket a doctrine with the label of pessimism is not to impugn its validity, and the so-called optimists are not the most efficient in action. I believe, on the contrary, that many of the greatest heroes, perhaps the greatest of all, have been men of despair and that by despair they have accomplished their mighty works. Apart from this, however, and accepting in all their ambiguity these denominations of optimism and pessimism, that there exists a certain transcendental pessimism which may be the begetter of a temporal and terrestrial optimism, is a matter that I propose to develop in the following part of this treatise.

Very different, well I know, is the attitude of our progressives, the partisans of "the central current of contemporary European thought"; but I cannot bring myself to believe that these individuals do not voluntarily close their eyes to the grand problem of existence and that, in endeavouring to stifle this feeling of the tragedy of life, they themselves are not living a lie.

The foregoing reflections are a kind of practical summary of the criticism developed in the first six chapters of this treatise, a kind of definition of the practical position to which such a criticism is capable of leading whosoever will not renounce life and will not renounce reason and who is compelled to live and act between these upper and nether millstones which grind upon the soul. The reader who follows me further is now aware that I am about to carry him into the region of the imagination, of imagination not destitute of reason, for without reason nothing subsists, but of imagination founded on feeling. And as regards its truth, the real truth, that which is independent of ourselves, beyond the reach of our logic and of our heart—of this truth who knows aught?


[31] See Troeltsch, Systematische christliche Religion, in Die Kultur der Gegenwart series.

[32] Die Analyse der Empfindigungen und das Verhaeltniss des Physischen zum Psychischen, i., Sec. 12, note.

[33] I have left the original expression here, almost without translating it—Existents-Consequents. It means the existential or practical, not the purely rational or logical, consequence. (Author's note.)

[34] Albrecht Ritschl: Geschichte des Pietismus, ii., Abt. i., Bonn, 1884, p. 251.

[35] Thou art the cause of my suffering, O non-existing God, for if Thou didst exist, then should I also really exist.



CAIN: Let me, or happy or unhappy, learn To anticipate my immortality.

LUCIFER: Thou didst before I came upon thee.

CAIN: How?

LUCIFER: By suffering.

BYRON: Cain, Act II., Scene I.

The most tragic thing in the world and in life, readers and brothers of mine, is love. Love is the child of illusion and the parent of disillusion; love is consolation in desolation; it is the sole medicine against death, for it is death's brother.

Fratelli, a un tempo stesso, Amore e Morte Ingenero la sorte,

as Leopardi sang.

Love seeks with fury, through the medium of the beloved, something beyond, and since it finds it not, it despairs.

Whenever we speak of love there is always present in our memory the idea of sexual love, the love between man and woman, whose end is the perpetuation of the human race upon the earth. Hence it is that we never succeed in reducing love either to a purely intellectual or to a purely volitional element, putting aside that part in it which belongs to the feeling, or, if you like, to the senses. For, in its essence, love is neither idea nor volition; rather it is desire, feeling; it is something carnal in spirit itself. Thanks to love, we feel all that spirit has of flesh in it.

Sexual love is the generative type of every other love. In love and by love we seek to perpetuate ourselves, and we perpetuate ourselves on the earth only on condition that we die, that we yield up our life to others. The humblest forms of animal life, the lowest of living beings, multiply by dividing themselves, by splitting into two, by ceasing to be the unit which they previously formed.

But when at last the vitality of the being that multiplies itself by division is exhausted, the species must renew the source of life from time to time by means of the union of two wasting individuals, by means of what is called, among protozoaria, conjugation. They unite in order to begin dividing again with more vigour. And every act of generation consists in a being's ceasing to be what it was, either wholly or in part, in a splitting up, in a partial death. To live is to give oneself, to perpetuate oneself, and to perpetuate oneself and to give oneself is to die. The supreme delight of begetting is perhaps nothing but a foretaste of death, the eradication of our own vital essence. We unite with another, but it is to divide ourselves; this most intimate embrace is only a most intimate sundering. In its essence, the delight of sexual love, the genetic spasm, is a sensation of resurrection, of renewing our life in another, for only in others can we renew our life and so perpetuate ourselves.

Without doubt there is something tragically destructive in the essence of love, as it presents itself to us in its primitive animal form, in the unconquerable instinct which impels the male and the female to mix their being in a fury of conjunction. The same impulse that joins their bodies, separates, in a certain sense, their souls; they hate one another, while they embrace, no less than they love, and above all they contend with one another, they contend for a third life, which as yet is without life. Love is a contention, and there are animal species in which the male maltreats the female in his union with her, and other in which the female devours the male after being fertilized by him.

It has been said that love is a mutual selfishness; and, in fact, each one of the lovers seeks to possess the other, and in seeking his own perpetuation through the instrumentality of the other, though without being at the time conscious of it or purposing it, he thereby seeks his own enjoyment. Each one of the lovers is an immediate instrument of enjoyment and a mediate instrument of perpetuation, for the other. And thus they are tyrants and slaves, each one at once the tyrant and slave of the other.

Is there really anything strange in the fact that the deepest religious feeling has condemned carnal love and exalted virginity? Avarice, said the Apostle, is the root of all evil, and the reason is because avarice takes riches, which are only a means, for an end; and therein lies the essence of sin, in taking means for ends, in not recognizing or in disesteeming the end. And since it takes enjoyment for the end, whereas it is only the means, and not perpetuation, which is the true end, what is carnal love but avarice? And it is possible that there are some who preserve their virginity in order the better to perpetuate themselves, and in order to perpetuate something more human than the flesh.

For it is the suffering flesh, it is suffering, it is death, that lovers perpetuate upon the earth. Love is at once the brother, son, and father of death, which is its sister, mother, and daughter. And thus it is that in the depth of love there is a depth of eternal despair, out of which spring hope and consolation. For out of this carnal and primitive love of which I have been speaking, out of this love of the whole body with all its senses, which is the animal origin of human society, out of this loving-fondness, rises spiritual and sorrowful love.

This other form of love, this spiritual love, is born of sorrow, is born of the death of carnal love, is born also of the feeling of compassion and protection which parents feel in the presence of a stricken child. Lovers never attain to a love of self abandonment, of true fusion of soul and not merely of body, until the heavy pestle of sorrow has bruised their hearts and crushed them in the same mortar of suffering. Sensual love joined their bodies but disjoined their souls; it kept their souls strangers to one another; but of this love is begotten a fruit of their flesh—a child. And perchance this child, begotten in death, falls sick and dies. Then it comes to pass that over the fruit of their carnal fusion and spiritual separation and estrangement, their bodies now separated and cold with sorrow but united by sorrow their souls, the lovers, the parents, join in an embrace of despair, and then is born, of the death of the child of their flesh, the true spiritual love. Or rather, when the bond of flesh which united them is broken, they breathe with a sigh of relief. For men love one another with a spiritual love only when they have suffered the same sorrow together, when through long days they have ploughed the stony ground bowed beneath the common yoke of a common grief. It is then that they know one another and feel one another, and feel with one another in their common anguish, they pity one another and love one another. For to love is to pity; and if bodies are united by pleasure, souls are united by pain.

And this is felt with still more clearness and force in the seeding, the taking root, and the blossoming of one of those tragic loves which are doomed to contend with the diamond-hard laws of Destiny—one of those loves which are born out of due time and season, before or after the moment, or out of the normal mode in which the world, which is custom, would have been willing to welcome them. The more barriers Destiny and the world and its law interpose between the lovers, the stronger is the impulse that urges them towards one another, and their happiness in loving one another turns to bitterness, and their unhappiness in not being able to love freely and openly grows heavier, and they pity one another from the bottom of their hearts; and this common pity, which is their common misery and their common happiness, gives fire and fuel to their love. And they suffer their joy, enjoying their suffering. And they establish their love beyond the confines of the world, and the strength of this poor love suffering beneath the yoke of Destiny gives them intuition of another world where there is no other law than the liberty of love—another world where there are no barriers because there is no flesh. For nothing inspires us more with hope and faith in another world than the impossibility of our love truly fructifying in this world of flesh and of appearances.

And what is maternal love but compassion for the weak, helpless, defenceless infant that craves the mother's milk and the comfort of her breast? And woman's love is all maternal.

To love with the spirit is to pity, and he who pities most loves most. Men aflame with a burning charity towards their neighbours are thus enkindled because they have touched the depth of their own misery, their own apparentiality, their own nothingness, and then, turning their newly opened eyes upon their fellows, they have seen that they also are miserable, apparential, condemned to nothingness, and they have pitied them and loved them.

Man yearns to be loved, or, what is the same thing, to be pitied. Man wishes others to feel and share his hardships and his sorrows. The roadside beggar's exhibition of his sores and gangrened mutilations is something more than a device to extort alms from the passer-by. True alms is pity rather than the pittance that alleviates the material hardships of life. The beggar shows little gratitude for alms thrown to him by one who hurries past with averted face; he is more grateful to him who pities him but does not help than to him who helps but does not pity, although from another point of view he may prefer the latter. Observe with what satisfaction he relates his woes to one who is moved by the story of them. He desires to be pitied, to be loved.

Woman's love, above all, as I have remarked, is always compassionate in its essence—maternal. Woman yields herself to the lover because she feels that his desire makes him suffer. Isabel had compassion upon Lorenzo, Juliet upon Romeo, Francesca upon Paolo. Woman seems to say: "Come, poor one, thou shalt not suffer so for my sake!" And therefore is her love more loving and purer than that of man, braver and more enduring.

Pity, then, is the essence of human spiritual love, of the love that is conscious of being love, of the love that is not purely animal, of the love, in a word, of a rational person. Love pities, and pities most when it loves most.

Reversing the terms of the adage nihil volitum quin praecognitum, I have told you that nihil cognitum quin praevolitum, that we know nothing save what we have first, in one way or another, desired; and it may even be added that we can know nothing well save what we love, save what we pity.

As love grows, this restless yearning to pierce to the uttermost and to the innermost, so it continually embraces all that it sees, and pities all that it embraces. According as you turn inwards and penetrate more deeply into yourself, you will discover more and more your own emptiness, that you are not all that you are not, that you are not what you would wish to be, that you are, in a word, only a nonentity. And in touching your own nothingness, in not feeling your permanent base, in not reaching your own infinity, still less your own eternity, you will have a whole-hearted pity for yourself, and you will burn with a sorrowful love for yourself—a love that will consume your so-called self-love, which is merely a species of sensual self-delectation, the self-enjoyment, as it were, of the flesh of your soul.

Spiritual self-love, the pity that one feels for oneself, may perhaps be called egotism; but nothing could be more opposed to ordinary egoism. For this love or pity for yourself, this intense despair, bred of the consciousness that just as before you were born you were not, so after your death you will cease to be, will lead you to pity—that is, to love—all your fellows and brothers in this world of appearance, these unhappy shadows who pass from nothingness to nothingness, these sparks of consciousness which shine for a moment in the infinite and eternal darkness. And this compassionate feeling for other men, for your fellows, beginning with those most akin to you, those with whom you live, will expand into a universal pity for all living things, and perhaps even for things that have not life but merely existence. That distant star which shines up there in the night will some day be quenched and will turn to dust and will cease to shine and cease to exist. And so, too, it will be with the whole of the star-strewn heavens. Unhappy heavens!

And if it is grievous to be doomed one day to cease to be, perhaps it would be more grievous still to go on being always oneself, and no more than oneself, without being able to be at the same time other, without being able to be at the same time everything else, without being able to be all.

If you look at the universe as closely and as inwardly as you are able to look—that is to say, if you look within yourself; if you not only contemplate but feel all things in your own consciousness, upon which all things have traced their painful impression—you will arrive at the abyss of the tedium, not merely of life, but of something more: at the tedium of existence, at the bottomless pit of the vanity of vanities. And thus you will come to pity all things; you will arrive at universal love.

In order to love everything, in order to pity everything, human and extra-human, living and non-living, you must feel everything within yourself, you must personalize everything. For everything that it loves, everything that it pities, love personalizes. We only pity—that is to say, we only love—that which is like ourselves and in so far as it is like ourselves, and the more like it is the more we love; and thus our pity for things, and with it our love, grows in proportion as we discover in them the likenesses which they have with ourselves. Or, rather, it is love itself, which of itself tends to grow, that reveals these resemblances to us. If I am moved to pity and love the luckless star that one day will vanish from the face of heaven, it is because love, pity, makes me feel that it has a consciousness, more or less dim, which makes it suffer because it is no more than a star, and a star that is doomed one day to cease to be. For all consciousness is consciousness of death and of suffering.

Consciousness (conscientia) is participated knowledge, is co-feeling, and co-feeling is com-passion. Love personalizes all that it loves. Only by personalizing it can we fall in love with an idea. And when love is so great and so vital, so strong and so overflowing, that it loves everything, then it personalizes everything and discovers that the total All, that the Universe, is also a Person possessing a Consciousness, a Consciousness which in its turn suffers, pities, and loves, and therefore is consciousness. And this Consciousness of the Universe, which love, personalizing all that it loves, discovers, is what we call God. And thus the soul pities God and feels itself pitied by Him; loves Him and feels itself loved by Him, sheltering its misery in the bosom of the eternal and infinite misery, which, in eternalizing itself and infinitizing itself, is the supreme happiness itself.

God is, then, the personalization of the All; He is the eternal and infinite Consciousness of the Universe—Consciousness taken captive by matter and struggling to free himself from it. We personalize the All in order to save ourselves from Nothingness; and the only mystery really mysterious is the mystery of suffering.

Suffering is the path of consciousness, and by it living beings arrive at the possession of self-consciousness. For to possess consciousness of oneself, to possess personality, is to know oneself and to feel oneself distinct from other beings, and this feeling of distinction is only reached through an act of collision, through suffering more or less severe, through the sense of one's own limits. Consciousness of oneself is simply consciousness of one's own limitation. I feel myself when I feel that I am not others; to know and to feel the extent of my being is to know at what point I cease to be, the point beyond which I no longer am.

And how do we know that we exist if we do not suffer, little or much? How can we turn upon ourselves, acquire reflective consciousness, save by suffering? When we enjoy ourselves we forget ourselves, forget that we exist; we pass over into another, an alien being, we alienate ourselves. And we become centred in ourselves again, we return to ourselves, only by suffering.

Nessun maggior dolore che ricordarsi del tempo felice nella miseria

are the words that Dante puts into the mouth of Francesca da Rimini (Inferno, v., 121-123); but if there is no greater sorrow than the recollection in adversity of happy bygone days, there is, on the other hand, no pleasure in remembering adversity in days of prosperity.

"The bitterest sorrow that man can know is to aspire to do much and to achieve nothing" (polla phroneoita medenos chrateein)—so Herodotus relates that a Persian said to a Theban at a banquet (book ix., chap. xvi.). And it is true. With knowledge and desire we can embrace everything, or almost everything; with the will nothing, or almost nothing. And contemplation is not happiness—no! not if this contemplation implies impotence. And out of this collision between our knowledge and our power pity arises.

We pity what is like ourselves, and the greater and clearer our sense of its likeness with ourselves, the greater our pity. And if we may say that this likeness provokes our pity, it may also be maintained that it is our reservoir of pity, eager to diffuse itself over everything, that makes us discover the likeness of things with ourselves, the common bond that unites us with them in suffering.

Our own struggle to acquire, preserve, and increase our own consciousness makes us discover in the endeavours and movements and revolutions of all things a struggle to acquire, preserve, and increase consciousness, to which everything tends. Beneath the actions of those most akin to myself, of my fellow-men, I feel—or, rather, I co-feel—a state of consciousness similar to that which lies beneath my own actions. On hearing my brother give a cry of pain, my own pain awakes and cries in the depth of my consciousness. And in the same way I feel the pain of animals, and the pain of a tree when one of its branches is being cut off, and I feel it most when my imagination is alive, for the imagination is the faculty of intuition, of inward vision.

Proceeding from ourselves, from our own human consciousness, the only consciousness which we feel from within and in which feeling is identical with being, we attribute some sort of consciousness, more or less dim, to all living things, and even to the stones themselves, for they also live. And the evolution of organic beings is simply a struggle to realize fullness of consciousness through suffering, a continual aspiration to be others without ceasing to be themselves, to break and yet to preserve their proper limits.

And this process of personalization or subjectivization of everything external, phenomenal, or objective, is none other than the vital process of philosophy in the contest of life against reason and of reason against life. We have already indicated it in the preceding chapter, and we must now confirm it by developing it further.

Giovanni Baptista Vico, with his profound esthetic penetration into the soul of antiquity, saw that the spontaneous philosophy of man was to make of himself the norm of the universe, guided by the instinto d'animazione. Language, necessarily anthropomorphic, mythopeic, engenders thought. "Poetic wisdom, which was the primitive wisdom of paganism," says Vico in his Scienza Nuova, "must have begun with a metaphysic, not reasoned and abstract, like that of modern educated men, but felt and imagined, such as must have been that of primitive men. This was their own poetry, which with them was inborn, an innate faculty, for nature had furnished them with such feelings and such imaginations, a faculty born of the ignorance of causes, and therefore begetting a universal sense of wonder, for knowing nothing they marvelled greatly at everything. This poetry had a divine origin, for, while they invented the causes of things out of their own imagination, at the same time they regarded these causes with feelings of wonder as gods. In this way the first men of the pagan peoples, as children of the growing human race, fashioned things out of their ideas.... This nature of human things has bequeathed that eternal property which Tacitus elucidated with a fine phrase when he said, not without reason, that men in their terror fingunt simul creduntque."

And then, passing from the age of imagination, Vico proceeds to show us the age of reason, this age of ours in which the mind, even the popular mind, is too remote from the senses, "with so many abstractions of which all languages are full," an age in which "the ability to conceive an immense image of such a personage as we call sympathetic Nature is denied to us, for though the phrase 'Dame Nature' may be on our lips, there is nothing in our minds that corresponds with it, our minds being occupied with the false, the non-existent." "To-day," Vico continues, "it is naturally impossible for us to enter into the vast imagination of these primitive men." But is this certain? Do not we continue to live by the creations of their imagination, embodied for ever in the language with which we think, or, rather, the language which thinks in us?

It was in vain that Comte declared that human thought had already emerged from the age of theology and was now emerging from the age of metaphysics into the age of positivism; the three ages coexist, and although antagonistic they lend one another mutual support. High-sounding positivism, whenever it ceases to deny and begins to affirm something, whenever it becomes really positive, is nothing but metaphysics; and metaphysics, in its essence, is always theology, and theology is born of imagination yoked to the service of life, of life with its craving for immortality.

Our feeling of the world, upon which is based our understanding of it, is necessarily anthropomorphic and mythopeic. When rationalism dawned with Thales of Miletus, this philosopher abandoned Oceanus and Thetis, gods and the progenitors of gods, and attributed the origin of things to water; but this water was a god in disguise. Beneath nature (phhysist) and the world (khosmos), mythical and anthropomorphic creations throbbed with life. They were implicated in the structure of language itself. Xenophon tells us (Memorabilia, i., i., 6-9) that among phenomena Socrates distinguished between those which were within the scope of human study and those which the gods had reserved for themselves, and that he execrated the attempt of Anaxagoras to explain everything rationally. His contemporary, Hippocrates, regarded diseases as of divine origin, and Plato believed that the sun and stars were animated gods with their souls (Philebus, cap. xvi., Laws, x.), and only permitted astronomical investigation so long as it abstained from blasphemy against these gods. And Aristotle in his Physics tells us that Zeus rains not in order that the corn may grow, but by necessity (ex anharchest). They tried to mechanize and rationalize God, but God rebelled against them.

And what is the concept of God, a concept continually renewed because springing out of the eternal feeling of God in man, but the eternal protest of life against reason, the unconquerable instinct of personalization? And what is the notion of substance itself but the objectivization of that which is most subjective—that is, of the will or consciousness? For consciousness, even before it knows itself as reason, feels itself, is palpable to itself, is most in harmony with itself, as will, and as will not to die. Hence that rhythm, of which we spoke, in the history of thought. Positivism inducted us into an age of rationalism—that is to say, of materialism, mechanism, or mortalism; and behold now the return of vitalism, of spiritualism. What was the effort of pragmatism but an effort to restore faith in the human finality of the universe? What is the effort of a Bergson, for example, especially in his work on creative evolution, but an attempt to re-integrate the personal God and eternal consciousness? Life never surrenders.

And it avails us nothing to seek to repress this mythopeic or anthropomorphic process and to rationalize our thought, as if we thought only for the sake of thinking and knowing, and not for the sake of living. The very language with which we think prevents us from so doing. Language, the substance of thought, is a system of metaphors with a mythic and anthropomorphic base. And to construct a purely rational philosophy it would be necessary to construct it by means of algebraic formulas or to create a new language for it, an inhuman language—that is to say, one inapt for the needs of life—as indeed Dr. Richard Avenarius, professor of philosophy at Zuerich, attempted to do in his Critique of Pure Experience (Kritik der reinen Erfahrung), in order to avoid preconceptions. And this rigorous attempt of Avenarius, the chief of the critics of experience, ends strictly in pure scepticism. He himself says at the end of the Prologue to the work above mentioned: "The childish confidence that it is granted to us to discover truth has long since disappeared; as we progress we become aware of the difficulties that lie in the way of its discovery and of the limitation of our powers. And what is the end?... If we could only succeed in seeing clearly into ourselves!"

Seeing clearly! seeing clearly! Clear vision would be only attainable by a pure thinker who used algebra instead of language and was able to divest himself of his own humanity—that is to say, by an unsubstantial, merely objective being: a no-being, in short. In spite of reason we are compelled to think with life, and in spite of life we are compelled to rationalize thought.

This animation, this personification, interpenetrates our very knowledge. "Who is it that sends the rain? Who is it that thunders?" old Strepsiades asks of Socrates in The Clouds of Aristophanes, and the philosopher replies: "Not Zeus, but the clouds." "But," questions Strepsiades, "who but Zeus makes the clouds sweep along?" to which Socrates answers: "Not a bit of it; it is atmospheric whirligig." "Whirligig?" muses Strepsiades; "I never thought of that—that Zeus is gone and that Son Whirligig rules now in his stead." And so the old man goes on personifying and animating the whirlwind, as if the whirlwind were now a king, not without consciousness of his kingship. And in exchanging a Zeus for a whirlwind—God for matter, for example—we all do the same thing. And the reason is because philosophy does not work upon the objective reality which we perceive with the senses, but upon the complex of ideas, images, notions, perceptions, etc., embodied in language and transmitted to us with our language by our ancestors. That which we call the world, the objective world, is a social tradition. It is given to us ready made.

Man does not submit to being, as consciousness, alone in the Universe, nor to being merely one objective phenomenon the more. He wishes to save his vital or passional subjectivity by attributing life, personality, spirit, to the whole Universe. In order to realize his wish he has discovered God and substance; God and substance continually reappear in his thought cloaked in different disguises. Because we are conscious, we feel that we exist, which is quite another thing from knowing that we exist, and we wish to feel the existence of everything else; we wish that of all the other individual things each one should also be an "I."

The most consistent, although the most incongruous and vacillating, idealism, that of Berkeley, who denied the existence of matter, of something inert and extended and passive, as the cause of our sensations and the substratum of external phenomena, is in its essence nothing but an absolute spiritualism or dynamism, the supposition that every sensation comes to us, causatively, from another spirit—that is, from another consciousness. And his doctrine has a certain affinity with those of Schopenhauer and Hartmann. The former's doctrine of the Will and the latter's doctrine of the Unconscious are already implied in the Berkeleyan theory that to be is to be perceived. To which must be added: and to cause others to perceive what is. Thus the old adage operari sequitur esse (action follows being) must be modified by saying that to be is to act, and only that which acts—the active—exists, and in so far as it acts.

As regards Schopenhauer, there is no need to endeavour to show that the will, which he posits as the essence of things, proceeds from consciousness. And it is only necessary to read his book on the Will in Nature to see how he attributed a certain spirit and even a certain personality to the plants themselves. And this doctrine of his carried him logically to pessimism, for the true property and most inward function of the will is to suffer. The will is a force which feels itself—that is, which suffers. And, someone will add, which enjoys. But the capacity to enjoy is impossible without the capacity to suffer; and the faculty of enjoyment is one with that of pain. Whosoever does not suffer does not enjoy, just as whosoever is insensible to cold is insensible to heat.

And it is also quite logical that Schopenhauer, who deduced pessimism from the voluntarist doctrine or doctrine of universal personalization, should have deduced from both of these that the foundation of morals is compassion. Only his lack of the social and historical sense, his inability to feel that humanity also is a person, although a collective one, his egoism, in short, prevented him from feeling God, prevented him from individualizing and personalizing the total and collective Will—the Will of the Universe.

On the other hand, it is easy to understand his aversion from purely empirical, evolutionist, or transformist doctrines, such as those set forth in the works of Lamarck and Darwin which came to his notice. Judging Darwin's theory solely by an extensive extract in The Times, he described it, in a letter to Adam Louis von Doss (March 1, 1860), as "downright empiricism" (platter Empirismus). In fact, for a voluntarist like Schopenhauer, a theory so sanely and cautiously empirical and rational as that of Darwin left out of account the inward force, the essential motive, of evolution. For what is, in effect, the hidden force, the ultimate agent, which impels organisms to perpetuate themselves and to fight for their persistence and propagation? Selection, adaptation, heredity, these are only external conditions. This inner, essential force has been called will on the supposition that there exists also in other beings that which we feel in ourselves as a feeling of will, the impulse to be everything, to be others as well as ourselves yet without ceasing to be what we are. And it may be said that this force is the divine in us, that it is God Himself who works in us because He suffers in us.

And sympathy teaches us to discover this force, this aspiration towards consciousness, in all things. It moves and activates the most minute living creatures; it moves and activates, perhaps, the very cells of our own bodily organism, which is a confederation, more or less solidary, of living beings; it moves the very globules of our blood. Our life is composed of lives, our vital aspiration of aspirations existing perhaps in the limbo of subconsciousness. Not more absurd than so many other dreams which pass as valid theories is the belief that our cells, our globules, may possess something akin to a rudimentary cellular, globular consciousness or basis of consciousness. Or that they may arrive at possessing such consciousness. And since we have given a loose rein to the fancy, we may fancy that these cells may communicate with one another, and that some of them may express their belief that they form part of a superior organism endowed with a collective personal consciousness. And more than once in the history of human feeling this fancy has been expressed in the surmisal of some philosopher or poet that we men are a kind of globules in the blood of a Supreme Being, who possesses his own personal collective consciousness, the consciousness of the Universe.

Perhaps the immense Milky Way which on clear nights we behold stretching across the heavens, this vast encircling ring in which our planetary system is itself but a molecule, is in its turn but a cell in the Universe, in the Body of God. All the cells of our body combine and co-operate in maintaining and kindling by their activity our consciousness, our soul; and if the consciousness or the souls of all these cells entered completely into our consciousness, into the composite whole, if I possessed consciousness of all that happens in my bodily organism, I should feel the universe happening within myself, and perhaps the painful sense of my limitedness would disappear. And if all the consciousness of all beings unite in their entirety in the universal consciousness, this consciousness—that is to say, God—is all.

In every instant obscure consciousnesses, elementary souls, are born and die within us, and their birth and death constitute our life. And their sudden and violent death constitutes our pain. And in like manner, in the heart of God consciousnesses are born and die—but do they die?—and their births and deaths constitute His life.

If there is a Universal and Supreme Consciousness, I am an idea in it; and is it possible for any idea in this Supreme Consciousness to be completely blotted out? After I have died, God will go on remembering me, and to be remembered by God, to have my consciousness sustained by the Supreme Consciousness, is not that, perhaps, to be?

And if anyone should say that God has made the universe, it may be rejoined that so also our soul has made our body as much as, if not more than, it has been made by it—if, indeed, there be a soul.

When pity, love, reveals to us the whole universe striving to gain, to preserve, and to enlarge its consciousness, striving more and more to saturate itself with consciousness, feeling the pain of the discords which are produced within it, pity reveals to us the likeness of the whole universe with ourselves; it reveals to us that it is human, and it leads us to discover our Father in it, of whose flesh we are flesh; love leads us to personalize the whole of which we form a part.

To say that God is eternally producing things is fundamentally the same as saying that things are eternally producing God. And the belief in a personal and spiritual God is based on the belief in our own personality and spirituality. Because we feel ourselves to be consciousness, we feel God to be consciousness—that is to say, a person; and because we desire ardently that our consciousness shall live and be independently of the body, we believe that the divine person lives and exists independently of the universe, that his state of consciousness is ad extra.

No doubt logicians will come forward and confront us with the evident rational difficulties which this involves; but we have already stated that, although presented under logical forms, the content of all this is not strictly rational. Every rational conception of God is in itself contradictory. Faith in God is born of love for God—we believe that God exists by force of wishing that He may exist, and it is born also, perhaps, of God's love for us. Reason does not prove to us that God exists, but neither does it prove that He cannot exist.

But of this conception of faith in God as the personalization of the universe we shall have more to say presently.

And recalling what has been said in another part of this work, we may say that material things, in so far as they are known to us, issue into knowledge through the agency of hunger, and out of hunger issues the sensible or material universe in which we conglomerate these things; and that ideal things issue out of love, and out of love issues God, in whom we conglomerate these ideal things as in the Consciousness of the Universe. It is social consciousness, the child of love, of the instinct of perpetuation, that leads us to socialize everything, to see society in everything, and that shows us at last that all Nature is really an infinite Society. For my part, the feeling that Nature is a society has taken hold of me hundreds of times in walking through the woods possessed with a sense of solidarity with the oaks, a sense of their dim awareness of my presence.

Imagination, which is the social sense, animates the inanimate and anthropomorphizes everything; it humanizes everything and even makes everything identical with man.[36] And the work of man is to supernaturalize Nature—that is to say, to make it divine by making it human, to help it to become conscious of itself, in short. The action of reason, on the other hand, is to mechanize or materialize.

And just as a fruitful union is consummated between the individual—who is, in a certain sense, a society—and society, which is also an individual—the two being so inseparable from one another that it is impossible to say where the one begins and the other ends, for they are rather two aspects of a single essence—so also the spirit, the social element, which by relating us to others makes us conscious, unites with matter, the individual and individualizing element; similarly, reason or intelligence and imagination embrace in a mutually fruitful union, and the Universe merges into one with God.

* * * * *

Is all this true? And what is truth? I in my turn will ask, as Pilate asked—not, however, only to turn away and wash my hands, without waiting for an answer.

Is truth in reason, or above reason, or beneath reason, or outside of reason, in some way or another? Is only the rational true? May there not be a reality, by its very nature, unattainable by reason, and perhaps, by its very nature, opposed to reason? And how can we know this reality if reason alone holds the key to knowledge?

Our desire of living, our need of life, asks that that may be true which urges us to self-preservation and self-perpetuation, which sustains man and society; it asks that the true water may be that which assuages our thirst, and because it assuages it, that the true bread may be that which satisfies our hunger, because it satisfies it.

The senses are devoted to the service of the instinct of preservation, and everything that satisfies this need of preserving ourselves, even though it does not pass through the senses, is nevertheless a kind of intimate penetration of reality in us. Is the process of assimilating nutriment perhaps less real than the process of knowing the nutritive substance? It may be said that to eat a loaf of bread is not the same thing as seeing, touching, or tasting it; that in the one case it enters into our body, but not therefore into our consciousness. Is this true? Does not the loaf of bread that I have converted into my flesh and blood enter more into my consciousness than the other loaf which I see and touch, and of which I say: "This is mine"? And must I refuse objective reality to the bread that I have thus converted into my flesh and blood and made mine when I only touch it?

There are some who live by air without knowing it. In the same way, it may be, we live by God and in God—in God the spirit and consciousness of society and of the whole Universe, in so far as the Universe is also a society.

God is felt only in so far as He is lived; and man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God (Matt. iv. 4; Deut. viii. 3).

And this personalization of the all, of the Universe, to which we are led by love, by pity, is the personalization of a person who embraces and comprehends within himself the other persons of which he is composed.

The only way to give finality to the world is to give it consciousness. For where there is no consciousness there is no finality, finality presupposing a purpose. And, as we shall see, faith in God is based simply upon the vital need of giving finality to existence, of making it answer to a purpose. We need God, not in order to understand the why, but in order to feel and sustain the ultimate wherefore, to give a meaning to the Universe.

And neither ought we to be surprised by the affirmation that this consciousness of the Universe is composed and integrated by the consciousnesses of the beings which form the Universe, by the consciousnesses of all the beings that exist, and that nevertheless it remains a personal consciousness distinct from those which compose it. Only thus is it possible to understand how in God we live, move, and have our being. That great visionary, Emanuel Swedenborg, saw or caught a glimpse of this in his book on Heaven and Hell (De Coelo et Inferno, lii.), when he tells us: "An entire angelic society appears sometimes in the form of a single angel, which also it hath been granted me by the Lord to see. When the Lord Himself appears in the midst of the angels, He doth not appear as encompassed by a multitude, but as a single being in angelic form. Hence it is that the Lord in the Word is called an angel, and likewise that on entire society is so called. Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael are nothing but angelical societies, which are so named from their functions."

May we not perhaps live and love—that is, suffer and pity—in this all-enveloping Supreme Person—we, all the persons who suffer and pity and all the beings that strive to achieve personality, to acquire consciousness of their suffering and their limitation? And are we not, perhaps, ideas of this total Grand Consciousness, which by thinking of us as existing confers existence upon us? Does not our existence consist in being perceived and felt by God? And, further on, this same visionary tells us, under the form of images, that each angel, each society of angels, and the whole of heaven comprehensively surveyed, appear in human form, and in virtue of this human form the Lord rules them as one man.

"God does not think, He creates; He does not exist, He is eternal," wrote Kierkegaard (Afslutende uvidens-kabelige Efterskrift); but perhaps it is more exact to say with Mazzini, the mystic of the Italian city, that "God is great because His thought is action" (Ai giovani d'ltalia), because with Him to think is to create, and He gives existence to that which exists in His thought by the mere fact of thinking it, and the impossible is the unthinkable by God. Is it not written in the Scriptures that God creates with His word—that is to say, with His thought—and that by this, by His Word, He made everything that exists? And what God has once made does He ever forget? May it not be that all the thoughts that have ever passed through the Supreme Consciousness still subsist therein? In Him, who is eternal, is not all existence eternalized?

Our longing to save consciousness, to give personal and human finality to the Universe and to existence, is such that even in the midst of a supreme, an agonizing and lacerating sacrifice, we should still hear the voice that assured us that if our consciousness disappears, it is that the infinite and eternal Consciousness may be enriched thereby, that our souls may serve as nutriment to the Universal Soul. Yes, I enrich God, because before I existed He did not think of me as existing, because I am one more—one more even though among an infinity of others—who, having really lived, really suffered, and really loved, abide in His bosom. It is the furious longing to give finality to the Universe, to make it conscious and personal, that has brought us to believe in God, to wish that God may exist, to create God, in a word. To create Him, yes! This saying ought not to scandalize even the most devout theist. For to believe in God is, in a certain sense, to create Him, although He first creates us.[37] It is He who in us is continually creating Himself.

We have created God in order to save the Universe from nothingness, for all that is not consciousness and eternal consciousness, conscious of its eternity and eternally conscious, is nothing more than appearance. There is nothing truly real save that which feels, suffers, pities, loves, and desires, save consciousness; there is nothing substantial but consciousness. And we need God in order to save consciousness; not in order to think existence, but in order to live it; not in order to know the why and how of it, but in order to feel the wherefore of it. Love is a contradiction if there is no God.

Let us now consider this idea of God, of the logical God or the Supreme Reason, and of the vital God or the God of the heart—that is, Supreme Love.


[36] Todo lo humaniza, y aun lo humana.

[37] In the translation it is impossible to retain the play upon the verbs crear, to create, and creer, to believe: "Porque creer en Dios es en cierto modo crearle, aunque El nos cree antes."—J.E.C.F.



To affirm that the religious sense is a sense of divinity and that it is impossible without some abuse of the ordinary usages of human language to speak of an atheistic religion, is not, I think, to do violence to the truth; although it is clear that everything will depend upon the concept that we form of God, a concept which in its turn depends upon the concept of divinity.

Our proper procedure, in effect, will be to begin with this sense of divinity, before prefixing to the concept of this quality the definite article and the capital letter and so converting it into "the Divinity"—that is, into God. For man has not deduced the divine from God, but rather he has reached God through the divine.

In the course of these somewhat wandering but at the same time urgent reflections upon the tragic sense of life, I have already alluded to the timor fecit deos of Statius with the object of limiting and correcting it. It is not my intention to trace yet once again the historical processes by which peoples have arrived at the consciousness and concept of a personal God like the God of Christianity. And I say peoples and not isolated individuals, for if there is any feeling or concept that is truly collective and social it is the feeling and concept of God, although the individual subsequently individualizes it. Philosophy may, and in fact does, possess an individual origin; theology is necessarily collective.

Schleiermacher's theory, which attributes the origin, or rather the essence, of the religious sense to the immediate and simple feeling of dependency, appears to be the most profound and exact explanation. Primitive man, living in society, feels himself to be dependent upon the mysterious forces invisibly environing him; he feels himself to be in social communion, not only with beings like himself, his fellow-men, but with the whole of Nature, animate and inanimate, which simply means, in other words, that he personalizes everything. Not only does he possess a consciousness of the world, but he imagines that the world, like himself, possesses consciousness also. Just as a child talks to his doll or his dog as if it understood what he was saying, so the savage believes that his fetich hears him when he speaks to it, and that the angry storm-cloud is aware of him and deliberately pursues him. For the newly born mind of the primitive natural man has not yet wholly severed itself from the cords which still bind it to the womb of Nature, neither has it clearly marked out the boundary that separates dreaming from waking, imagination from reality.

The divine, therefore, was not originally something objective, but was rather the subjectivity of consciousness projected exteriorly, the personalization of the world. The concept of divinity arose out of the feeling of divinity, and the feeling of divinity is simply the dim and nascent feeling of personality vented upon the outside world. And strictly speaking it is not possible to speak of outside and inside, objective and subjective, when no such distinction was actually felt; indeed it is precisely from this lack of distinction that the feeling and concept of divinity proceed. The clearer our consciousness of the distinction between the objective and the subjective, the more obscure is the feeling of divinity in us.

It has been said, and very justly so it would appear, that Hellenic paganism was not so much polytheistic as pantheistic. I do not know that the belief in a multitude of gods, taking the concept of God in the sense in which we understand it to-day, has ever really existed in any human mind. And if by pantheism is understood the doctrine, not that everything and each individual thing is God—a proposition which I find unthinkable—but that everything is divine, then it may be said without any great abuse of language that paganism was pantheistic. Its gods not only mixed among men but intermixed with them; they begat gods upon mortal women and upon goddesses mortal men begat demi-gods. And if demi-gods, that is, demi-men, were believed to exist, it was because the divine and the human were viewed as different aspects of the same reality. The divinization of everything was simply its humanization. To say that the sun was a god was equivalent to saying that it was a man, a human consciousness, more or less, aggrandized and sublimated. And this is true of all beliefs from fetichism to Hellenic paganism.

The real distinction between gods and men consisted in the fact that the former were immortal. A god came to be identical with an immortal man and a man was deified, reputed as a god, when it was deemed that at his death he had not really died. Of certain heroes it was believed that they were alive in the kingdom of the dead. And this is a point of great importance in estimating the value of the concept of the divine.

In those republics of gods there was always some predominating god, some real monarch. It was through the agency of this divine monarchy that primitive peoples were led from monocultism to monotheism. Hence monarchy and monotheism are twin brethren. Zeus, Jupiter, was in process of being converted into an only god, just as Jahwe originally one god among many others, came to be converted into an only god, first the god of the people of Israel, then the god of humanity, and finally the god of the whole universe.

Like monarchy, monotheism had a martial origin. "It is only on the march and in time of war," says Robertson Smith in The Prophets of Israel,[38] "that a nomad people feels any urgent need of a central authority, and so it came about that in the first beginnings of national organization, centring in the sanctuary of the ark, Israel was thought of mainly as the host of Jehovah. The very name of Israel is martial, and means 'God (El) fighteth,' and Jehovah in the Old Testament is Iahwe Cebaeoth—the Jehovah of the armies of Israel. It was on the battlefield that Jehovah's presence was most clearly realized; but in primitive nations the leader in time of war is also the natural judge in time of peace."

God, the only God, issued, therefore, from man's sense of divinity as a warlike, monarchical and social God. He revealed himself to the people as a whole, not to the individual. He was the God of a people and he jealously exacted that worship should be rendered to him alone. The transition from this monocultism to monotheism was effected largely by the individual action, more philosophical perhaps than theological, of the prophets. It was, in fact, the individual activity of the prophets that individualized the divinity. And above all by making the divinity ethical.

Subsequently reason—that is, philosophy—took possession of this God who had arisen in the human consciousness as a consequence of the sense of divinity in man, and tended to define him and convert him into an idea. For to define a thing is to idealize it, a process which necessitates the abstraction from it of its incommensurable or irrational element, its vital essence. Thus the God of feeling, the divinity felt as a unique person and consciousness external to us, although at the same time enveloping and sustaining us, was converted into the idea of God.

The logical, rational God, the ens summum, the primum movens, the Supreme Being of theological philosophy, the God who is reached by the three famous ways of negation, eminence and causality, viae negationis, eminentiae, causalitatis, is nothing but an idea of God, a dead thing. The traditional and much debated proofs of his existence are, at bottom, merely a vain attempt to determine his essence; for as Vinet has very well observed, existence is deduced from essence; and to say that God exists, without saying what God is and how he is, is equivalent to saying nothing at all.

And this God, arrived at by the methods of eminence and negation or abstraction of finite qualities, ends by becoming an unthinkable God, a pure idea, a God of whom, by the very fact of his ideal excellence, we can say that he is nothing, as indeed he has been defined by Scotus Erigena: Deus propter excellentiam non inmerito nihil vocatur. Or in the words of the pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, in his fifth Epistle, "The divine darkness is the inaccessible light in which God is said to dwell." The anthropomorphic God, the God who is felt, in being purified of human, and as such finite, relative and temporal, attributes, evaporates into the God of deism or of pantheism.

The traditional so-called proofs of the existence of God all refer to this God-Idea, to this logical God, the God by abstraction, and hence they really prove nothing, or rather, they prove nothing more than the existence of this idea of God.

In my early youth, when first I began to be puzzled by these eternal problems, I read in a book, the author of which I have no wish to recall,[39] this sentence: "God is the great X placed over the ultimate barrier of human knowledge; in the measure in which science advances, the barrier recedes." And I wrote in the margin, "On this side of the barrier, everything is explained without Him; on the further side, nothing is explained, either with Him or without Him; God therefore is superfluous." And so far as concerns the God-Idea, the God of the proofs, I continue to be of the same opinion. Laplace is said to have stated that he had not found the hypothesis of God necessary in order to construct his scheme of the origin of the Universe, and it is very true. In no way whatever does the idea of God help us to understand better the existence, the essence and the finality of the Universe.

That there is a Supreme Being, infinite, absolute and eternal, whose existence is unknown to us, and who has created the Universe, is not more conceivable than that the material basis of the Universe itself, its matter, is eternal and infinite and absolute. We do not understand the existence of the world one whit the better by telling ourselves that God created it. It is a begging of the question, or a merely verbal solution, intended to cover up our ignorance. In strict truth, we deduce the existence of the Creator from the fact that the thing created exists, a process which does not justify rationally His existence. You cannot deduce a necessity from a fact, or else everything were necessary.

And if from the nature of the Universe we pass to what is called its order, which is supposed to necessitate an Ordainer, we may say that order is what there is, and we do not conceive of any other. This deduction of God's existence from the order of the Universe implies a transition from the ideal to the real order, an outward projection of our mind, a supposition that the rational explanation of a thing produces the thing itself. Human art, instructed by Nature, possesses a conscious creative faculty, by means of which it apprehends the process of creation, and we proceed to transfer this conscious and artistic creative faculty to the consciousness of an artist-creator, but from what nature he in his turn learnt his art we cannot tell.

The traditional analogy of the watch and the watchmaker is inapplicable to a Being absolute, infinite and eternal. It is, moreover, only another way of explaining nothing. For to say that the world is as it is and not otherwise because God made it so, while at the same time we do not know for what reason He made it so, is to say nothing. And if we knew for what reason God made it so, then God is superfluous and the reason itself suffices. If everything were mathematics, if there were no irrational element, we should not have had recourse to this explanatory theory of a Supreme Ordainer, who is nothing but the reason of the irrational, and so merely another cloak for our ignorance. And let us not discuss here that absurd proposition that, if all the type in a printing-press were printed at random, the result could not possibly be the composition of Don Quixote. Something would be composed which would be as good as Don Quixote for those who would have to be content with it and would grow in it and would form part of it.

In effect, this traditional supposed proof of God's existence resolves itself fundamentally into hypostatizing or substantivating the explanation or reason of a phenomenon; it amounts to saying that Mechanics is the cause of movement, Biology of life, Philology of language, Chemistry of bodies, by simply adding the capital letter to the science and converting it into a force distinct from the phenomena from which we derive it and distinct from our mind which effects the derivation. But the God who is the result of this process, a God who is nothing but reason hypostatized and projected towards the infinite, cannot possibly be felt as something living and real, nor yet be conceived of save as a mere idea which will die with us.

The question arises, on the other hand, whether a thing the idea of which has been conceived but which has no real existence, does not exist because God wills that it should not exist, or whether God does not will it to exist because, in fact, it does not exist; and, with regard to the impossible, whether a thing is impossible because God wills it so, or whether God wills it so because, in itself and by the very fact of its own inherent absurdity, it is impossible. God has to submit to the logical law of contradiction, and He cannot, according to the theologians, cause two and two to make either more or less than four. Either the law of necessity is above Him or He Himself is the law of necessity. And in the moral order the question arises whether falsehood, or homicide, or adultery, are wrong because He has so decreed it, or whether He has so decreed it because they are wrong. If the former, then God is a capricious and unreasonable God, who decrees one law when He might equally well have decreed another, or, if the latter, He obeys an intrinsic nature and essence which exists in things themselves independently of Him—that is to say, independently of His sovereign will; and if this is the case, if He obeys the innate reason of things, this reason, if we could but know it, would suffice us without any further need of God, and since we do not know it, God explains nothing. This reason would be above God. Neither is it of any avail to say that this reason is God Himself, the supreme reason of things. A reason of this kind, a necessary reason, is not a personal something. It is will that gives personality. And it is because of this problem of the relations between God's reason, necessarily necessary, and His will, necessarily free, that the logical and Aristotelian God will always be a contradictory God.

The scholastic theologians never succeeded in disentangling themselves from the difficulties in which they found themselves involved when they attempted to reconcile human liberty with divine prescience and with the knowledge that God possesses of the free and contingent future; and that is strictly the reason why the rational God is wholly inapplicable to the contingent, for the notion of contingency is fundamentally the same as the notion of irrationality. The rational God is necessarily necessary in His being and in His working; in every single case He cannot do other than the best, and a number of different things cannot all equally be the best, for among infinite possibilities there is only one that is best accommodated to its end, just as among the infinite number of lines that can be drawn from one point to another, there is only one straight line. And the rational God, the God of reason, cannot but follow in each case the straight line, the line that leads most directly to the end proposed, a necessary end, just as the only straight line that leads to it is a necessary line. And thus for the divinity of God is substituted His necessity. And in the necessity of God, His free will—that is to say, His conscious personality—perishes. The God of our heart's desire, the God who shall save our soul from nothingness, must needs be an arbitrary God.

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