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A perfect crystal is rare; so the perfectly normal man is an exception; yet for all that he is a better representative of the ideal of his type than the average. Nietzsche was most assuredly very ingenious; he was unusually talented but he was not a genius in the full sense of the word. He was abnormal, titanic in his pretensions and aims, and erratic. Breaking down under the burden of his own thought, he ended his tragical career in an insane asylum…
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Copyright © 2016 by Paul Carus
Published by Perennial Press
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A PHILOSOPHY OF ORIGINALITY
A PROTEST AGAINST HIMSELF
THE PRINCIPLE OF VALUATION
PHILOSOPHIES ARE WORLD-CONCEPTIONS PRESENTING THREE main features: (1) A systematic comprehension of the knowledge of their age; (2) An emotional attitude toward the cosmos; and (3) A principle that will serve as a basis for rules of conduct. The first feature determines the worth of the several philosophical systems in the history of mankind, being the gist of that which will last, and giving them strength and backbone. The second one, however, appeals powerfully to the sentiments of those who are imbued with the same spirit and thus constitutes its immediate acceptability; while the ethics of a philosophy becomes the test by which its use and practicability can be measured.
The author’s ideal has been to harmonize these three features by making the first the regulator of the second and a safe basis of the third. What we need is truth; our fundamental emotion must be truthfulness, and our ethics must be a living of the truth. Truth is not something that we can fashion according to our pleasure; it is not subjective; its very nature is objectivity. But we must render it subjective by a love of truth; we must make it our own, and by doing so our conduct in life will unfailingly adjust itself.
Former philosophies made the subjective element predominant, and thus every philosopher worked out a philosophy of his own, endeavoring to be individual and original. The aim of our own philosophy has been to reduce the subjective to its proper sphere, and to establish, in agreement with the scientific spirit of the age, a philosophy of objective validity.
It is a well known experience that the march of progress does not advance in a straight line but proceeds in epicycles. Man seems to tire of the rigor of truth. From time to time he wants fiction. A strict adherence to exact methods becomes monotonous to clever minds lacking the power of concentration, and they gladly hail vagaries. Truth, they claim, is relative, knowledge mere opinion, and poetry had better replace science. Then they say: Error, be thou our guide; Error, thou art a liberator from the tyranny of truth. Glory be to Error!
Similar retrograde movements take place from time to time in art. Classical taste changes with romantic tendencies. Goethe, Schiller and Lessing are followed by Schlegel and Tieck, Mozart and Beethoven by Wagner.
The last half-century has been an age of unprecedented progress in science and we would expect that with all the wonderful successes and triumphs of scientific invention this age of science ought to find its consummation in the adoption of a philosophy of science. But no! The mass of mankind is weary of science, and anti-scientific tendencies grow up like mushrooms, finding spokesmen in philosophers like William James and Henri Bergson who have the ear of large masses, proclaiming the superiority of subjectivism over objectivism, and the advantages of animal instinct over human reason.
These subjective philosophies if considered as expressions of sentiment, as sentimental attitudes toward the world, as poetical effusions of a semi-philosophical nature, are perfectly legitimate and can be indulged in as well as the several religions which in allegories attune the minds of their followers toward the All of which they are parts. There is no need to condemn arts or emotions for they have a right to exist just as they are.
We protest against subjectivism in philosophy only when it denies the possibility of an objective philosophy. We do not deny that the masses of the world are not, cannot be and never will be scientific thinkers. Science is the prerogative of the few, and the large masses of mankind will always be of a pragmatist type. If the pragmatist considered himself as a psychologist pure and simple showing how the majority of mankind argues, how people are influenced by their own interest and how their thoughts are warped by what they wish the facts to be, pragmatism would be a commendable branch of the science of the soul. Pragmatism explains the errors of philosophy and we can learn much from a consideration of its principles. It becomes objectionable only in so far as it claims to be philosophy in the strict sense of the word.
The name philosophy is used in two senses, first as we defined it above, as a world-conception based upon critically sifted knowledge; and secondly it is used in a vague general sense as wisdom in the practical affairs of life. And if pragmatism claims to be a philosophy in this second sense it ought not to deny that philosophy as a science is possible.
Philosophy as a science is philosophy par excellence. It is the only philosophy of objective validity. All other philosophies are effusions of subjective points of view, of attitudes, of sentiment. But we must insist that these two contrasts may exist side by side just as art does not render mathematics supererogatory, and as a physicist who in his profession devotes himself to a study of nature according to methods of an objective exactness may in his leisure hours paint aStimmungsbild to give an artistic expression to a subjective mood.
This world is not merely the object of science. There are innumerable tendencies which exist and have a right to exist, but they ought not to banish science, scientific enquiry and scientific ideals from the place they hold; for science is the mariners’ compass which guides us over the ocean of life, and though the majority of the passengers do not and need not worry about it, science is after all the only means which makes for progress and lifts mankind to higher and higher levels.
If we criticize men like James and Bergson and other philosophers of subjectivism we do it as a defence of the indispensable character of the objectivity of science as well as of philosophy as a science.
James and Bergson were by no means the originators of their method of philosophizing. There have been many sages before them who deemed the spectacles through which they viewed the world to be the most important or even the only significant issue of life’s problems. The Ionian physicists were outdone by the sophists, and in modern times Friedrich Nietzsche expressed the most sovereign contempt for science.
Among all the philosophies of modern times there is perhaps none which in its inmost principle is more thoroughly opposed to our own than Nietzsche’s, and yet there are some points of mutual contact which are well worth pointing out. The problem which is at the basis of Nietzsche’s thought is the same as in our philosophy, but our solution is radically different from his.
Friedrich Nietzsche is a philosopher who astonishes his readers by the boldness with which he rebels against every tradition, tearing down the holiest and dearest things, preaching destruction of all rule, and looking with disdain upon the heap of ruins in which his revolutionary thoughts would leave the world.
For more than a century Germany has been the storm-center of philosophical thought. The commotions that started in the Fatherland reached other countries, France, England, and the United States, after they had lost their force at home. Kant’s transcendentalism and Hegel’s phenomenalism began to flourish among the English-speaking races after having become almost extinct in the home of their founders. Prof. R. M. Wenley of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Mich., expresses this truth with his native Scotch wit in the statement which I do not hesitate to endorse, that “German professors when they die go to Oxford,” and we may add that from Oxford they travel west to settle for a while in Concord, Boston, Washington, or other American cities.
Hegelianism had scarcely died out in the United States when Schopenhauer and Nietzsche began to become fashionable. The influence of the former has been felt in a quiet way for some time while the Nietzsche movement is of more recent date and also of a more violent character.
Nietzsche represents a type of most modern date. His was a genius after the heart of Lombroso. He was eccentric and atypical.
Lombroso’s psychology is an outgrowth of nominalism which does not recognize an objective norm for truth, health, reason, or normality of any kind, and regards the average as the sole method of finding a norm. If, however, the average type is the standard of measurement, the unusually excellent specimens, being rare in number, must be classed together with all other deviations from the average, and thus a genius is regarded as abnormal as much as a criminal—a theory which has found many admirers in this age that is sicklied over with agnosticism, the modern offshoot of nominalism. The truth is that true genius (not the pseudo-genius of erratic minds, not the would-be genius of those who make a failure of life) is uncommonly normal—I had almost said “abnormally normal.”
A perfect crystal is rare; so the perfectly normal man is an exception; yet for all that he is a better representative of the ideal of his type than the average.
Nietzsche was most assuredly very ingenious; he was unusually talented but he was not a genius in the full sense of the word. He was abnormal, titanic in his pretensions and aims, and erratic. Breaking down under the burden of his own thought, he ended his tragical career in an insane asylum.
The mental derangement of Nietzsche may be an unhappy accident but it appears to have come as the natural result of his philosophy. Nietzsche, by nature modest and tractable, almost submissive, was, as a thinker, too proud to submit to anything, even to truth. Schopenhauer had taught him that the intellect, with its comprehension of truth, is a mere slave of the will, ancilla voluntatis. Our cognition of the truth has a purpose; it must accommodate itself to our own interest. But the self is sovereign; the self wants to assert itself; the self alone has a right to exist; and the self that does not dare to be itself is a servile, menial creature. Therefore Nietzsche preaches the ethics of self-assertion and pride. He is too proud to recognize the duty of inquiry, the duty of adapting his mind to the world, or of recognizing the cosmic order of the universe as superior to his self. He feels bigger than the cosmos; he is himself; and he wants to be himself. His own self is sovereign; and if the world is not satisfied to submit to his will, the world may go to ruin. If the world breaks to pieces, it will only cause him to laugh; on the other hand, if his very self is forced to the wall in this conflict, he will still, from sheer pride, not suffer himself to abandon his principle of the absolute sovereignty of selfhood. He will not be a man, human and humane, but an overman (Uebermensch), a superhuman despiser of humanity and humaneness. The multitudes are to him like cattle to be used, to be milked, fleeced and butchered, and Nietzsche calls them herds, animals of the flock, Heerdentiere.
Nietzsche’s philosophy is unique in being throughout the expression of an emotion—the proud sentiment of a self-sufficient sovereignty of self. It rejects with disdain both the methods of the intellect, which submit the problems of life to an investigation, and the demands of morality, which recognize the existence of duty.
Other philosophers have claimed that rights imply duties and duties, rights. Nietzsche knows of rights only. Nietzsche claims that there is no objective science save by the permission of the sovereign self, nor is there any “ought,” except for slaves and fools. He prides himself on being “the first Unmoralist,” implying the absolute sovereignty of man—of the overman—and the foolishness as well as falsity of moral maxims.
PROFESSOR PAUL DEUSSEN, SANSKRITIST AND philosopher of Kiel, was Friedrich Nietzsche’s most intimate friend. They were chums together in school in Schulpforta, and remained friends to the end of Nietzsche’s life. Nietzsche had come to Schulpforta in 1858, and Deussen entered the next year in the same class. Once Nietzsche, who as the senior of the class had to keep order among his fellow scholars during working periods and prevent them from making a disturbance, approached Deussen while he sat in his seat peacefully chewing the sandwich he had brought for his lunch and said, “Don’t talk so loud to your crust!” using here the boys’ slang term for a sandwich. These were the first words Nietzsche had spoken to Deussen, and Deussen says: “I see Nietzsche still before me, how with the unsteady glance peculiar to extremely near-sighted people, his eye wandered over the rows of his classmates searching in vain for an excuse to interfere.”
Nietzsche and Deussen began to take walks together and soon became chums, probably on account of their common love for Anacreon, whose poems were interesting to both perhaps on account of the easy Greek in which they are written.
In those days the boys of Schulpforta addressed each other by the formal Sie; but one day when Deussen happened to be in the dormitory, he discovered in the trunk under his bed a little package of snuff; Nietzsche was present and each took a pinch. With this pinch they swore eternal brotherhood. They did not drink brotherhood as is the common German custom, but, as Deussen humorously says, they “snuffed it”; and from that time they called each other by the more intimate du. This friendship continued through life with only one interruption, and on Laetare Sunday in 1861, they stepped to the altar together and side by side received the blessing at their confirmation. On that day both were overcome by a feeling of holiness and ecstasy. Thus their friendship was sealed in Christ, and though it may seem strange of Nietzsche who was later a most iconoclastic atheist, a supernatural vision filled their young hearts for many weeks afterwards.
There was a third boy to join this friendship—a certain Meyer, a young, handsome and amiable youth distinguished by wit and the ability to draw excellent caricatures. But Meyer was in constant conflict with his teachers and generally in rebellion against the rules of the school. He had to leave school before he finished his course. Nietzsche and Deussen accompanied him to the gate and returned in great sorrow when he had disappeared on the highway. What has become of Meyer is not known. Deussen saw him five years later in his home at Oberdreis, but at that time he was broken in health and courage, disgruntled with God, the world and himself. Later he held a subordinate position in the custom house, and soon after that all trace of him was lost. Probably he died young.
This Meyer was attached to Nietzsche for other reasons than Deussen. While Deussen appreciated more the intellectuality and congeniality of his friend, Meyer seems to have been more attracted by his erratic and wayward tendencies and this for some time endeared him to Nietzsche. Thus it came to pass that the two broke with Deussen for a time.
The way of establishing a state of hostility in Schulpforta was to declare oneself “mad” at another, and to some extent this proved to be a good institution, for since the boys came in touch with each other daily and constantly in the school, those who could not agree would have easily come to blows had it not been for this tabu which made it a rule that they were not on speaking terms. This state of things lasted for six weeks, and was only broken by an incidental discussion in a Latin lesson, when Nietzsche proposed one of his highly improbable conjectures for a verse of Virgil. The discussion grew heated, and when the professor after a long Latin disquisition finally asked whether any one had something to say on the subject, Deussen rose and extemporized a Latin hexameter which ran thus:
“Nietzschius erravit, neque coniectura probanda est“
On account of the declared state of “mad”-ness, the debate was carried on through the teacher, addressing him each time with the phrase: “Tell Nietzsche,” “Tell Deussen,” “Tell Meyer,” etc., but in the heat of the controversy they forgot to speak in the third person, and finally addressed their adversaries directly. This broke the spell of being “mad” and they came to an understanding and a definite reconciliation.
Nietzsche never had another friend with whom he became so intimate as with Deussen. Deussen says (page 9): “At that time we understood each other perfectly. In our lonely walks we discussed all possible subjects of religion, philosophy, poetry, art and music. Often our thoughts ran wild and when words failed us we would look into each other’s eyes, and one would say to the other: ‘We understand each other.’ These words became a standing phrase which forthwith we decided to avoid as trivial, and we had to laugh when occasionally it escaped our lips in spite of us. The great ordeal of the final examination came. We had to pass first through our written tests. In German composition, on the ‘advantages and dangers of wealth’ Nietzsche passed with No. 1; also in a Latin exercise de bello Punico primo; but in mathematics he failed with the lowest mark, No. 4. This upset him and in fact he who was almost the most gifted of us all was compelled to withdraw.”
While the two were strolling up and down in front of the schoolhouse, Nietzsche unburdened his grief to his friend, and Deussen tried to comfort him. “What difference does it make,” said he, “if you pass badly, if only you pass at all? You are and will always be more gifted than all the rest of us, and will soon outstrip even me whom you now envy. You must increase but I must decrease.”
The course of events was as Deussen had predicted, for Nietzsche though not passing with as much distinction as he may have deserved nevertheless received his diploma.
When Deussen with his wife visited Nietzsche in August 1907 at Sils-Maria, Nietzsche showed him a requiem which he had composed for his own funeral, and he added: “I do not believe that I will last much longer. I have reached the age at which my father died, and I fear that I shall fall a victim to the same disease as he.” Though Deussen protested vigorously against this sad prediction and tried to cheer him up, Nietzsche indeed succumbed to his sad fate within two years.
Professor Deussen, though Nietzsche’s most intimate friend, is by no means uncritical in judging his philosophy. It is true he cherishes the personal character
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