The German people, according to Fichte and Hegel, are called by the plan of Providence to occupy the supreme place in the history of the universe. A little consideration of this belief will perhaps lead us more surely to the heart of German philosophy than would the usual laborious approach to it through what is called the theory of knowledge. – Santayana, Egotism in German Philosophy, p21
German philosophy is a work of genius. To be heathen is easy; to have an absolute will and a belief in chaos – or rather a blind battle with chance – is probably the lot of most animals; but to be condemned to be learned, industrious, moral, and Christian, and yet, through that veil of unavoidable phenomena and conventions, to pierce to absolute will and freedom, and to set them forth persuasively as the true reality, in spite of all the ordered appearances which do not cease to confront and to occupy us – that is a work of genius. It is a wonderful achievement, to have recovered atavistically the depths of the primitive soul, in the midst of its later sophistication. In this philosophy the ancestral ego, the soul perplexed and incredulous at being born into this world, returns to haunt us in broad daylight and to persuade us with its ghostly eloquence that not that ego but this world is the ghost.
+++++The egotism which in German philosophy is justified by a theory in German genius is a form of experience. It turns everything it touches into a part of its own life, personal, spontaneous, sincere, original. It is young and self-sufficient; yet as a continual change of view is incompatible with art and learning, we see in Germany, even more than elsewhere, a division of labour between genius and tradition; nowhere are the types of the young rebel and the tireless pedant so common and so extreme. – Santayana, German Genius, Egotism in German Philosophy, p155-6
The German philosophers have carried on Protestantism beyond itself. They have separated the two ingredients mingled in traditional religions. One of these ingredients – the vital faith or self-trust of the animal will – they have retained. The other – the lessons of experience – they have rejected. To which element the name of religion should still be given, if it is given to either, is a matter of indifference. The important thing is that, call it religion or irreligion, we should know what we are clinging to. – Santayana, Egotism in German Philosophy, p31
“At last in one nation of the world the highest, purest morality, such as was never seen before among men, will arise and will be made secure for all future time, and thence will be extended over all other peoples. There will ensue a transformation of the human race from earthly and sensual creatures into pure and noble spirits.” “Do you know anything higher than death? …Who has a right to stand in the way of an enterprise begun in the face of this peril?”
+++++It may seem curious that an uncompromising puritan like Fichte, a prophet sprung from the people, a theoretical republican who quarrelled with his students for forming clubs and fighting duels, a fierce idealist full of contempt for worldlings, should have so perfectly supplied the Junkers and bankers with their philosophy. But the phenomenon is not new. Plato, divine and urbane as he was, supplied the dull Spartans with theirs. Men of idealistic faith are confident that the foundations of things must be divine, and when, upon investigating these foundations, they come upon sinister principles – blind impulse, chance, murderous competition – they fanatically erect these very principles into sacred maxims.
+++++All strength, they are antecedently convinced, must come from God; therefore if deception, wilfulness, tyranny, and big battalions are the means to power, they must be the chosen instruments of God on earth. In some such way the Catholic Church, too, for fear of impiety, is seen blessing many a form of deceit and oppression. Thus the most ardent speculation may come to sanction the most brutal practice. The primitive passions so sanctioned, because they seem to be safe and potent, are probably too narrowly organised to sustain themselves long; and meantime they miss and trample down the best things that mankind possesses. Nevertheless they are a force like any other, a force not only vehement but contagious, and capable of many victories though of no stable success. Such passions, and the philosophies that glorify them, are sincere, absorbing, and if frankly expressed irrefutable.
+++++The transcendental theory of a world merely imagined by the ego, and the will that deems itself absolute are certainly desperate delusions; but not more desperate or deluded than many another system that millions have been brought to accept. The thing bears all the marks of a new religion. The fact that the established religions of Germany are still forms of Christianity may obscure the explicit and heathen character of the new faith: it passes for a somewhat faded speculation, or for the creed of a few extremists, when in reality it dominates the judgment and conduct of the nation. No religious tyranny could be more complete. It has its prophets in the great philosophers and historians of the last century; its high priests and pharisees in the government and the professors; its faithful flock in the disciplined mass of the nation; its heretics in the socialists; its dupes in the Catholics and the liberals, to both of whom the national creed, if they understood it, would be an abomination; it has its martyrs now by the million, and its victims among unbelievers are even more numerous, for its victims, in some degree, are all men. – Santayana, Egotism in German Philosophy, p81-3
This vortex which things, as apprehension catches them, seem to form round each whirling spectator, is the fascinating theme of lyric poetry, of psychological novels, and of German philosophy. Dominated as this philosophy is by the transcendental method, it regards views, and the history and logic of views, as more primitive and important than the objects which these views have in common. …To take what views we will of things, if things will barely suffer us to take them, and then to declare that the things are mere terms in the views we take of them – that is transcendentalism. – Santayana, Egotism in German Philosophy, p42
German philosophy is a sort of religion, and like other religions it may be capable of assimilating a great amount of wisdom, while its first foundation is folly. This first folly itself will not lack plausible grounds; there is provocation enough in a single visit to a madhouse for the assertion that the mind can know nothing but the ideas it creates; nevertheless the assertion is false, and such facile scepticism loses sight of the essence of knowledge. The most disparate minds, since they do not regard themselves, may easily regard the same object. Only the maniac stares at his own ideas; he confuses himself in his perceptions; he projects them into the wrong places, and takes surrounding objects to be different from what they are. But perceptions originally have external objects; they express a bodily reaction, or some inward preparation for such a reaction. They are reports. The porpoise and the spider are not shut up in their self-consciousness; however foreign to us may be the language of their senses, they know the sea and air that we know, and have to meet the same changes and accidents there which we meet – and they even have to meet us, sometimes, to their sorrow. Their knowledge does not end in acquaintance with that sensuous language of theirs, whatever it may be, but flies with the import of that language and salutes the forces which confront them in action, and which also confront us. In focussing these forces through the lenses and veils of sense knowledge arises; and to arrest our attention on those veils and lenses and say they are all we know, belies the facts of the case and is hardly honest. If we could really do that, we should be retracting the first act of intelligence and becoming artificial idiots. Yet this sophistication is the first principle of German philosophy (borrowed, indeed, from non-Germans), and is the thesis supposed to be proved in Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. – Santayana, Egotism in German Philosophy, p18-20
The Germans are by nature a good stolid people, and it is curious that their moralists, of every school, are so fantastic and bad. The trouble lies perhaps in this, that they are all precipitate. They have not taken the trouble to decipher human nature, which is an endowment, something many-sided, unconscious, with a margin of variation, and have started instead with the will, which is only an attitude, something casual, conscious, and narrowly absolute. Nor have they learned to respect sufficiently the external conditions under which human nature operates and to which it must conform – God, the material world, the nature and will of other men. Their morality consequently terminates in ideals, casual, conscious, and absolute expressions of the passions, or else expires in a mysticism which renounces all moral judgment. A reasonable morality terminates instead in the arts, by which human ideals and passions are compounded with experience and adapted to the materials they must work in. The immaturity of the German moralists appears in their conception that the good is life, which is what an irrational animal might say: whereas for a rational being the good is only the good part of life, that healthy, stable, wise, kind, and beautiful sort of life which he calls happiness. – Santayana, Egotism in German Philosophy, p103
Just as in pantheism God is naturalised into a cosmic force, so in German philosophy the Biblical piety of the earlier Protestants is secularised into social and patriotic zeal.
+++++German philosophy has inherited from Protestantism its earnestness and pious intention; also a tendency to retain, for whatever changed views it may put forward, the names of former beliefs. God, freedom, and immortality, for instance, may eventually be transformed into their opposites, since the oracle of faith is internal; but their names may be kept, together with a feeling that what will now bear those names is much more satisfying than what they originally stood for. If it should seem that God came nearest to us, and dwelt within us, in the form of vital energy, if freedom should turn out really to mean personality, if immortality, in the end, should prove identical with the endlessness of human progress, and if these new thoughts should satisfy and encourage us as the evanescent ideas of God, freedom, and immortality satisfied and encouraged our fathers, why should we not use these consecrated names for our new conceptions, and thus indicate the continuity of religion amid the flux of science? This expedient is not always hypocritical. It was quite candid in men like Spinoza and Emerson, whose attachment to positive religion had insensibly given way to a half-mystical, half-intellectual satisfaction with the natural world, as their eloquent imagination conceived it. But whether candid or disingenuous this habit has the advantage of oiling the wheels of progress with a sacred unction. In facilitating change it blurs the consciousness of change, and leads people to associate with their new opinions sentiments which are logically incompatible with them. The attachment of many tender-minded people to German philosophy is due to this circumstance, for German philosophy is not tender.
+++++The beauty and the torment of Protestantism is that it opens the door so wide to what lies beyond it. This progressive quality it has fully transmitted to all the systems of German philosophy. Not that each of them, like the earlier Protestant sects, does not think itself true and final; but in spite of itself it suggests some next thing. We must expect, therefore, that the more conservative elements in each system should provoke protests in the next generation; and it is hard to say whether such inconstancy is a weakness, or is simply loyalty to the principle of progress. Kant was a puritan; he revered the rule of right as something immutable and holy, perhaps never obeyed in the world. Fichte was somewhat freer in his Calvinism; the rule of right was the moving power in all life and nature, though it might have been betrayed by a doomed and self-seeking generation. Hegel was a very free and superior Lutheran; he saw that the divine will was necessarily and continuously realised in this world, though we might not recognise the fact in our petty moral judgments. Schopenhauer, speaking again for this human judgment, revolted against that cruel optimism, and was an indignant atheist; and finally, in Nietzsche, this atheism became exultant; he thought it the part of a man to abet the movement of things, however calamitous, in order to appropriate its wild force and be for a moment the very crest of its wave. – Santayana, Egotism in German Philosophy, p23-5
German philosophy…is not a cumulative science that can be transmitted ready made. It is essentially a reform, a revision of traditional knowledge, which each neophyte must make for himself, under pain of rendering only lip-service to transcendental truth, and remaining at heart unregenerate. His chief business is to be converted; he must refute for himself the natural views with which he and all other men have begun life. And still these views – like the temptations of Satan – inevitably form themselves afresh in each generation, and even in the philosopher, between one spell of introspective thought and another, so that he always has to recapitulate his saving arguments from the beginning. Each new idealist in each of his books, often in every lecture and every chapter, must run back to refute again the same homely opponents – materialism, naturalism, dualism, or whatever he may call them. Dead as each day he declares these foes to be, he has to fight them again in his own soul on the morrow. Hence his continual preoccupation lest he fall away, or lest the world should forget him. To preserve his freedom and his idealism he must daily conquer them anew. This philosophy is secondary, critical, sophistical; it has a perennial quarrel with inevitable opinions. …
+++++…German religion and philosophy are homesick: they wish to be quite primitive once more. And they actually remain primitive in spirit, spontaneous and tentative, even in the midst of the most cumbrous erudition, as a composition of Dürer’s, where flesh, fish, and fowl crowd every comer, still remains primitive, puzzled, and oppressed. Such a naive but overloaded mind is lost in admiration of its own depth and richness; yet, in fact, it is rather helpless and immature; it has not learned to select what suffices, or to be satisfied with what is best. – Santayana, Egotism in German Philosophy, p26-7
Faith for the Germans must be a primitive and groundless assurance, not knowledge credibly transmitted by others whose experience may have been greater than our own. Philosophy is not conceived as a reasonable adjustment to what may have been discovered to be the constitution of the world; it is in the first instance a criticism, to dissolve that reputed knowledge, and then, when primitive innocence is happily restored, it is a wager or demand made beyond all evidence, and in contempt of all evidence, in obedience to an innate impulse. Of course, it is usual, as a concession to the weaker brethren, to assume that experience, in the end, will seem to satisfy these demands, and that we shall win our bets and our wars; but the point of principle, borrowed by German philosophy from Protestantism, is that the authority of faith is intrinsic and absolute, while any external corroboration of it is problematical and not essential to the rightness of the assumptions that faith makes. In this we have a fundamental characteristic of the school. Carried (as it seldom is) to its logical conclusion, it leads to the ultra-romantic and ultra-idealistic doctrine that the very notion of truth or fact is a fiction of the will, invented to satisfy our desire for some fixed point of reference in thought. In this doctrine we may see the culmination of the Protestant rebellion against mediation in religion, against external authority, and against dogma. – Santayana, Egotism in German Philosophy, p27-8
The great characteristic of German philosophy is that it is deliberately subjective and limits itself to the articulation of self-consciousness. The whole world appears there, but at a certain remove; it is viewed and accepted merely as an idea framed in consciousness, according to principles fetched from the most personal and subjective parts of the mind, such as duty, will, or the grammar of thought. The direction in which German philosophy is profound is the direction of inwardness. Whatever we may think of its competence in other matters, it probes the self – as unaided introspection may – with extraordinary intentness and sincerity. In inventing the transcendental method, the study of subjective projections and perspectives, it has added a new dimension to human speculation.
+++++The foreign religion and the foreign irreligion of Germany are both incompatible with German philosophy. This philosophy cannot accept any dogmas, for its fundamental conviction is that there are no existing things except imagined ones: God as much as matter is exhausted by the thought of him, and entirely resident in this thought. The notion that knowledge can discover anything, or that anything previously existing can be revealed, is discarded altogether : for there is nothing to discover, and even if there was, the mind could not reach it; it could only reach the idea it might call up from its own depths. This idea might be perhaps justified and necessary by virtue of its subjective roots in the will or in duty, but never justified by its supposed external object, an object with which nobody could ever compare it. German philosophy is no more able to believe in God than in matter, though it must talk continually of both.
+++++At the same time this subjectivism is not irreligious. It is mystical, faithful, enthusiastic: it has all the qualities that gave early Protestantism its religious force. It is rebellious to external authority, conscious of inward light and of absolute duties. It is full of faith, if by faith we understand not definite beliefs held on inadequate evidence, but a deep trust in instinct and destiny.
+++++Rather than religious, however, this philosophy is romantic. It accepts passionately the aims suggested to it by sentiment or impulse. It despises prudence and flouts the understanding. In Faust and in Pier Gynt we have a poetic echo of its fundamental inspiration, freed from theological accommodations or academic cant. It is the adventure of a wild, sensitive, boyish mind, that now plays the fairy prince and now the shabby and vicious egoist; a rebel and an enthusiast, yet often a sensualist to boot by way of experiment; a man eager for experience, but blind to its lessons, vague about nature, and blundering about duty, but confident that he can in some way play the magician and bring the world round to serve his will and spiritual necessities.
+++++Happiness and despair are alike impossible with such a temperament. Its empiricism is perennial. It cannot lose faith in the vital impulse it expresses; all its fancy, ingenuity, and daring philosophy are embroideries which it makes upon a dark experience. It cannot take outer facts very seriously; they are but symbols of its own unfathomable impulses. So pensive animals might reason. The just and humble side of German philosophy – if we can lend it virtues to which it is deeply indifferent – is that it accepts the total relativity of the human mind and luxuriates in it, much as we might expect spiders or porpoises to luxuriate in their special sensibility, making no vain effort to peep through the bars of their psychological prison.
+++++This sort of agnosticism in a minor key is conspicuous in the Critique of Pure Reason. In a major key it reappears in Nietzsche, when he proclaims a preference for illusion over truth. More mystically expressed it pervades the intervening thinkers. The more profound they are the more content and even delighted they are to consider nothing but their own creations. Their theory of knowledge proclaims that knowledge is impossible. You know only your so-called knowledge, which itself knows nothing; and you are limited to the autobiography of your illusions.
+++++The Germans express this limitation of their philosophy by calling it idealism. In several senses it fully deserves this name. It is idealistic psychologically in that it regards mental life as groundless and all-inclusive, and denies that a material world exists, except as an idea necessarily bred in the mind. It is idealistic, too, in that it puts behind experience a background of concepts, and not of matter; a ghostly framework of laws, categories, moral or logical principles to be the stiffening and skeleton of sensible experience, and to lend it some substance and meaning. It is idealistic in morals also, in that it approves of pursuing the direct objects of will, without looking over one’s shoulder or reckoning the consequences. These direct objects are ideals, whereas happiness, or any satisfaction based on renunciation and compromise, seems to these spirited philosophers the aim of a degraded, calculating mind. The word idealism, used in this sense, should not mislead us; it indicates sympathy with life and its passions, particularly the learned and political ones; it does not indicate any distaste for material goods or material agencies. The German moral imagination is in its first or dogmatic stage, not in the second or critical one. It is in love with life rather than with wisdom.
+++++There is accordingly one sense of the term idealism – the original one – in which this philosophy knows nothing of it, the Platonic and poetic sense in which the ideal is something better than the fact. The Platonic idealist is the man by nature so wedded to perfection that he sees in everything not the reality but the faultless ideal which the reality misses and suggests. Hegel, indeed, drew an outline portrait of things, according to what he thought their ideal essence; but it was uglier and more dreary than the things themselves. Platonic idealism requires a gift of impassioned contemplation, an incandescent fancy that leaps from the things of sense to the goals of beauty and desire. It spurns the earth and believes in heaven, a form of religion most odious to the Germans. They think this sort of idealism not only visionary but somewhat impious; for their own religion takes the form of piety and affection towards everything homely, imperfect, unstable, and progressive. They yearn to pursue the unattainable and encounter the unforeseen. This romantic craving hangs together with their taste for the picturesque and emphatic in the plastic arts, and for the upwelling evanescent emotions of music. Yet their idealism is a religion of the actual. It rejects nothing in the daily experience of life, and looks to nothing essentially different beyond. It looks only for more of the same thing, believing in perpetual growth, which is an ambiguous notion. Under the fashionable name of progress what these idealists sincerely cherish is the vital joy of transition; and usually the joy of this transition lies much more in shedding their present state than in attaining a better one. For they suffer and wrestle continually, and by a curious and deeply animal instinct, they hug and sanctify this endless struggle all the more when it rends and bewilders them, bravely declaring it to be absolute, infinite, and divine.
+++++Such in brief is German philosophy, at least, such it might be said to be if any clear account of it did not necessarily falsify it; but one of its chief characteristics, without which it would melt away, is ambiguity. You cannot maintain that the natural world is the product of the human mind without changing the meaning of the word mind and of the word human. You cannot deny that there is a substance without turning into a substance whatever you substitute for it. You cannot identify yourself with God without at once asserting and denying the existence of God and of yourself. When you speak of such a thing as the consciousness of society you must never decide whether you mean the consciousness individuals have of society or a fabled consciousness which society is to have of itself: the first meaning would spoil your eloquence, and the second would betray your mythology.
+++++What is involved in all these equivocations is not merely a change of vocabulary, that shifting use of language which time brings with it. No, the persistence of the old meanings alone gives point to the assertions that change them and identify them with their opposites. Everywhere, therefore, in these speculations, you must remain in suspense as to what precisely you are talking about. A vague, muffled, dubious thought must carry you along as on a current. Your scepticism must not derange your common sense; your conduct must not express your radical opinions; a certain afflatus must bear you nobly onward through a perpetual incoherence. You must always be thinking not of what you are thinking of but of yourself or of “something higher.” Otherwise you cannot live this philosophy or understand it from within. – Santayana, Egotism in German Philosophy, p12-8
Without art, vitality is painful and big with monsters. It is hurried easily into folly and crime; it ignores the external forces and interests which it touches. German philosophy does this theoretically, by dethroning the natural world and calling it an idea created by the ego for its own purposes; and it does this practically also by obeying the categorical imperative – no longer the fabled imperatives of Sinai or of Königsberg, but the inward and vital imperative which the bull obeys, when trusting absolutely in his own strength, rage, and courage, he follows a little red rag and his destiny this way and that way. – Santayana, Heathenism, Egotism in German Philosophy, p153
…in Germany speculative power and earnestness existed in a high degree, not, of course, in most people, but in the best and most representative; and it was this elite that made the Reformation, and carried it on into historical criticism and transcendental philosophy, until in the nineteenth century, in Schopenhauer, Wagner, and Nietzsche, the last remnants of Christian education were discarded and the spontaneous heathen morality of the race reasserted itself in its purity. That this assertion was not consistent, that it was thrown into the language and images of some alien system, is not to be wondered at; but the Christianity of Parsifal, like the Buddhism of the denial of the will, is a pure piece of romanticism, an exotic setting for those vacillations and sinkings which absolute Will may very well be subject to in its absolute chaos.
+++++The rebellion of the heathen soul is unmistakable in the Reformation, but it is not recognised in this simple form, because those who feel that it was justified do not dream that it was heathen, and those who see that it was heathen will not admit that it was justified. Externally, of course, it was an effort to recover the original essence of Christianity; but why should a free and absolute being care for that original essence when he has discovered it, unless his own mind demanded that very thing? And if his mind demanded it, what need has he to read that demand into an ancient revelation which, as a matter of fact, turned on quite other matters? It was simply the inertia of established prejudice that made people use tradition to correct tradition; until the whole substance of tradition, worn away by that internal friction, should be dissolved, and impulse and native genius should assert themselves unimpeded.
+++++Judaism and Christianity, like Greek philosophy, were singly inspired by the pursuit of happiness, in whatever form it might be really attainable: now on earth if possible, or in the millennium, or in some abstracted and inward life, like that of the Stoics, or in the last resort, in a different life altogether beyond the grave. But heathenism ignores happiness, despises it, or thinks it impossible. The regimen and philosophy of Germany are inspired by this contempt for happiness, for one’s own happiness as well as for other people’s. Happiness seems to the German moralists something unheroic, an abdication before external things, a victory of the senses over the will. They think the pursuit of happiness low, materialistic, and selfish. They wish everybody to sacrifice or rather to forget happiness, and to do “deeds.”
+++++It is in the nature of things that those who are incapable of happiness should have no idea of it. Happiness is not for wild animals, who can only oscillate between apathy and passion. To be happy, even to conceive happiness, you must be reasonable or (if Nietzsche prefers the word) you must be tamed. You must have taken the measure of your powers, tasted the fruits of your passions and learned your place in the world and what things in it can really serve you. To be happy you must be wise. This happiness is sometimes found instinctively, and then the rudest fanatic can hardly fail to see how lovely it is; but sometimes it comes of having learned something by experience (which empirical people never do) and involves some chastening and renunciation; but it is not less sweet for having this touch of holiness about it, and the spirit of it is healthy and beneficent. The nature of happiness, therefore, dawns upon philosophers when their wisdom begins to report the lessons of experience: an a priori philosophy can have no inkling of it. – Santayana, Heathenism, Egotism in German Philosophy, p150-3
Kant is remarkable among sincere philosophers for the pathetic separation which existed between his personal beliefs and his official discoveries. His personal beliefs were mild and half orthodox and hardly differed from those of Leibniz; but officially he was entangled in the subjective criticism of knowledge, and found that the process of knowing was so complicated and so exquisitely contrived to make knowledge impossible, that while the facts of the universe were there, and we might have, like Leibniz, a shrewd and exact notion of what they were, officially we had no right to call them facts or to allege that we knew them. As there was much in Kant’s personal belief which this critical method of his could not sanction, so there were implications and consequences latent in his critical method which he never absorbed, being an old man when he adopted it. One of these latent implications was egotism.
+++++The fact that each spirit was confined to its own perceptions condemned it to an initial subjectivity and agnosticism. What things might exist besides his ideas he could never know. That such things existed was not doubted; Kant never accepted that amazing principle of dogmatic egotism that nothing is able to exist unless I am able to know it. On the contrary he assumed that human perceptions, with the moral postulates which he added to them, were symbols of a real world of forces or spirits existing beyond. This assumption reduced our initial idiotism to a constitutional taint of our animal minds, not unlike original sin, and excluded that romantic pride and self-sufficiency in which a full-fledged transcendentalism always abounds.
+++++To this contrite attitude of Kant’s agnosticism his personal character and ethics corresponded. A wizened little old bachelor, a sedentary provincial scribe, scrupulous and punctual, a courteous moralist who would have us treat humanity in the person of another as an end and never merely as a means, a pacifist and humanitarian who so revered the moral sense according to Shaftesbury and Adam Smith that, after having abolished earth and heaven, he was entirely comforted by the sublime truth that nevertheless it remained wrong to tell a lie – such a figure has nothing in it of the officious egotist or the superman. Yet his very love of exactitude and his scruples about knowledge, misled by the psychological fallacy that nothing can be an object of knowledge except some idea in the mind, led him in the end to subjectivism; while his rigid conscience, left standing in that unnatural void, led him to attribute absoluteness to what he called the categorical imperative. But this void outside and this absolute oracle within are germs of egotism, and germs of the most virulent species.
+++++The categorical imperative, or unmistakable voice of conscience, was originally something external enough – too external, indeed, to impose by itself a moral obligation. The thunders of Sinai and the voice from the whirlwind in Job fetched their authority from the suggestion of power; there spoke an overwhelming physical force of which we were the creatures and the playthings, a voice which far from interpreting our sense of justice, or our deepest hopes, threatened to crush and to flout them. If some of its commandments were moral, others were ritual or even barbarous; the only moral sanction common to them all came from our natural prudence and love of life; our wisdom imposed on us the fear of the Lord. The prophets and the gospel did much to identify this external divine authority with the human conscience; an identification which required a very elaborate theory of sin and punishment and of existence in other worlds, since the actual procedure of nature and history can never be squared with any ideal of right.
+++++In Kant, who in this matter followed Calvin, the independence between the movement of nature, both within and without the soul, and the ideal of right was exaggerated into an opposition. The categorical imperative was always authoritative, but perhaps never obeyed. The divine law was far from being like the absolute Will in Fichte, Hegel, and Schopenhauer, a name for a universal metaphysical force, or even for the flux of material substance. On the contrary the sublimity of the categorical imperative lay precisely in the fact that, while matter and life moved on in their own unregenerate way, a principle which they ought to follow, overarched and condemned them, and constrained them to condemn themselves. Human nature was totally depraved and incapable of the least merit, nor had it any power of itself to become righteous. Its amiable spontaneous virtues, having but a natural motive, were splendid vices. Moral worth began only when the will, transformed at the touch of unmerited grace, surrendered every impulse in overwhelming reverence for the divine law.
+++++This Calvinistic doctrine might seem to rebuke all actual inclinations, and far from making the will morally absolute, as egotism would, to raise over against it an alien authority, what ought to be willed. Such was, of course, Kant’s ostensible intention; but sublime as such a situation was declared to be, he felt rather dissatisfied in its presence. A categorical imperative crying in the wilderness, a duty which nobody need listen to, or suffer for disregarding, seemed rather a forlorn authority. To save the face of absolute right another world seemed to be required, as in orthodox Christianity, in which it might be duly vindicated and obeyed.
+++++Kant’s scepticism, by which all knowledge of reality was denied us, played conveniently into the hands of this pious requirement. If the whole natural world, which we can learn something about by experience, is merely an idea in our minds, nothing prevents any sort of real but unknown world from lying about us unawares. What could be more plausible and opportune than that the categorical imperative which the human mind, the builder of this visible world, had rejected, should in that other real world be the head stone of the corner?
+++++This happy thought, had it stood alone, might have seemed a little fantastic; but it was only a laboured means of re-establishing the theology of Leibniz, in which Kant privately believed, behind the transcendental idealism which he had put forward professorially. The dogmatic system from which he started seemed to him, as it stood, largely indefensible and a little oppressive. To purify it he adopted a fallacious principle of criticism, namely, that our ideas are all we can know, a principle which, if carried out, would undermine that whole system, and every other. He, therefore, hastened to adopt a corrective principle of reconstruction, no less fallacious, namely, that conscience bids us assume certain things to be realities which reason and experience know nothing of. This brought him round to a qualified and ambiguous form of his original dogmas, to the effect that although there was no reason to think that God, heaven, and free-will exist, we ought to act as if they existed, and might call that wilful action of ours faith in their existence.
+++++Thus in the philosophy of Kant there was a stimulating ambiguity in the issue. He taught rather less than he secretly believed, and his disciples, seizing the principle of his scepticism, but lacking his conservative instincts, believed rather less than he taught them. Doubtless in his private capacity Kant hoped, if he did not believe, that God, free-will, and another life subsisted in fact, as every believer had hitherto supposed; it was only the method of proving their reality that had been illegitimate. For no matter how strong the usual arguments might seem (and they did not seem very strong) they could convey no transcendent assurance; on the contrary, the more proofs you draw for anything from reason and experience, the better you prove that that thing is a mere idea in your mind. It was almost prudent, so to speak, that God, freedom, and immortality, if they had claims to reality, should remain without witness in the sphere of “knowledge,” as inadvertently or ironically it was still called; but to circumvent this compulsory lack of evidence God had at least implanted in us a veridical conscience, which if it took itself seriously (as it ought to do, being a conscience) would constrain us to postulate what, though we could never “know” it, happened to be the truth. Such was the way in which the good Kant thought to play hide-and-seek with reality.
+++++The momentum of his transcendental method, however, led to a very different and quite egotistical conclusion. An adept in transcendentalism can hardly suppose that God, free-will, and heaven, even if he postulates them, need exist at all. Existence, for him, is an altogether inferior category. Even a specific moral law, thundering unalterable maxims, must seem to him a childish notion. What the ego postulates is nothing fixed and already existing, but only such ideal terms as, for the moment, express its attitude. If it is striving to remember, it posits a past; if it is planning, it posits a future; if it is consciously eloquent, it posits an audience. These things do. not and cannot exist otherwise than in their capacity of things posited by the ego. All, therefore, that the categorical imperative can mean for the complete transcendentalist is that he should live as if all things were real which are imaginatively requisite for him, if he is to live hard: this intensity of life in him being itself the only reality. At that stage of development at which Kant found himself, God, freedom, and immortality may have been necessary postulates of practical reason. But to suppose that these imagined objects, therefore, existed apart from the excellent philosopher whose conscience had not yet transcended them, would be not to have profited by his teaching. It would be merely to repeat it. A later and more advanced transcendentalist, instead of God, freedom, and immortality, might just as dutifully posit matter, empire, and the beauty of a warrior’s death. His conscience might no longer be an echo of Christianity, but the trumpet-blast of a new heathenism. It is for the ego who posits to judge what it should posit.
+++++The postulates of practical reason, by which Kant hoped to elude the subjectivity which he attributed to knowledge, are no less subjective than knowledge, and far more private and variable. The senses and the intellect, if they deceive us, seem to deceive us all in much the same way, and the dream they plunge us into in common seems to unite us; but what obscurity, diversity, hostility in the ideals of our hearts! The postulates that were intended to save the Kantian philosophy from egotism are the most egotistical part of it. In the categorical imperative we see something native and inward to the private soul, in some of its moods, quietly claiming to rule the invisible world, to set God on his throne and open eternity to the human spirit. The most subjective of feelings, the feeling of what ought to be, legislates for the universe. Egotism could hardly go further.
+++++But this is not all. The categorical imperative, not satisfied with proclaiming itself secretly omnipotent, proclaims itself openly ruthless. Kant expressly repudiated as unworthy of a virtuous will any consideration of happiness, or of consequences, either to oneself or to others. He was personally as mild and kindly as the Vicar of Wakefield (whose goodness he denied to be moral because it was natural), but his moral doctrine was in principle a perfect frame for fanaticism. Give back, as time was bound to give back, a little flesh to this skeleton of duty, make it the voice not of a remote Mosaic decalogue, but of a rich temperament and a young life, and you will have sanctified beforehand every stubborn passion and every romantic crime. In the guise of an infallible conscience, before which nothing has a right to stand, egotism is launched upon its irresponsible career. …
+++++Thus it is from Kant, directly or indirectly, that the German egotists draw the conviction which is their most tragic error. Their self-assertion and ambition are ancient follies of the human race; but they think these vulgar passions the creative spirit of the universe. Kant, or that soul within Kant which was still somewhat cramped in its expression, was the prophet and even the founder of the new German religion. – Santayana, Egotism in German Philosophy, p54-64
Kant was probably the worst writer ever heard of on earth before Karl Marx. Some of his ideas were really quite simple, but he always managed to make them seem unintelligible. I hope he is in Hell. – Mencken
NOUMENON, n. That which exists, as distinguished from that which merely seems to exist, the latter being a phenomenon. The noumenon is a bit difficult to locate; it can be apprehended only be a process of reasoning – which is a phenomenon. Nevertheless, the discovery and exposition of noumena offer a rich field for what Lewes calls “the endless variety and excitement of philosophic thought.” Hurrah (therefore) for the noumenon! – Ambrose Bierce, Devil’s Dictionary
It was no friendly act on the part of Herr Kant towards his readers to have written his works in such a fashion that they have to be studied like a work of nature. With works of nature the zeal and effort involved in their investigation is sustained by the conviction that the whole is worth investigating and that if one discovers anything it will be something worthy of the effort one has expended. In the case of the works of man, however, this is not to be expected, for it may be that their author has gone astray and all will in the end eventuate in a Jacob-Böhmism…The subjects Herr Kant treats of in his book are very interesting, to be sure, but not everyone is to know that. – Lichtenberg
I believe that, just as the adherents of Herr Kant always accuse their opponents of not understanding him, so there are many who believe Herr Kant is right because they do understand him. His mode of exposition is novel and differs greatly from the usual one, and once we have finally succeeded in understanding it there is a great temptation to regard it as true, especially as he has so many zealous adherents; we ought always to remember, however, that the fact that we understand it is in fact no reason for regarding it as true. I believe that delight at having understood a very abstract and obscure system leads most people to believe in the truth of what it demonstrates. – Lichtenberg
…in Hegel the pageant of nature and history appeared to be re-formed and to march round and round the stage of the ego under the strongest light to the loudest music. There was a sort of deafening optimism about it; and not only was a convenient school-book universe offered you, warranted complete, but all previous philosophies were succinctly described, refuted, and linked together, in a manner most convenient for tutorial purposes. Of course, the true character and eternal plausibility of each great system were falsified in such a survey; each was attached artificially to what happened to precede and to follow it in time, or in the knowledge of the historian; as if history were a single chain of events, and its march dialectical – a fiction which Hegel did not blush to maintain. An inner instability was thus attributed to each view which came only from the slippery mind of the critic touring amongst them, without the least intention of finding anywhere a home in which to rest. Hegel was not looking for the truth – why dream of truth when you possess learning? – he was writing an apology for opinion. He enjoyed understanding and imagining things plausibly, and had a great intelligence to pour into his constructions; but this very heat of thought fused everything into the mould of his method, and he gave out that he had understood every system much better than those who believed in it, and had been carried by its inner contradictions (which its adepts never saw) to the next convenient position in the development of human fancy, and of his own lectures. – Santayana, The British Hegelians, Soliloquies in England, p205-6
No doubt at the present stage of civilisation there is more to be gained than lost by co-operating loyally with the governments under which we happen to live, not because any state is divine, but because as yet no less cumbrous machinery is available for carrying on the economy of life with some approach to decency and security. For Hegel, however, the life of the state was the moral substance, and the souls of men but the accidents; and as to the judgment of God he asserted that it was none other than the course of history. This is a characteristic saying, in which he seems to proclaim the moral government of the world, when in truth he is sanctifying a brutal law of success and succession. The best government, of course, succumbs in time like the worst, and sooner; the dark ages followed upon the Roman Empire and lasted twice as long. But Hegel’s God was simply the world, or a formula supposed to describe the world. He despised every ideal not destined to be realised on earth, he respected legality more than justice, and extant institutions more than moral ideals; and he wished to flatter a government in whose policy war and even crime were recognised weapons.
+++++This reign of official passion is not, let me repeat, egotism in the natural man who is subject to it; it is the sacrifice of the natural man and of all men to an abstract obsession, called an ideal. The vice of absoluteness and egotism is transferred to that visionary agent. The man may be docile and gentle enough, but the demon he listens to is ruthless and deaf. It forbids him to ask, “At what price do I pursue this ideal? How much harm must I do to attain this good?” No; this imperative is categorical. The die is cast, the war against human nature and happiness is declared, and an idol that feeds on blood, the Absolute State, is set up in the heart and over the city. – Santayana, Egotism in German Philosophy, p96-8
All I know is, I am no Marxist. – Marx
…a point of view so extremely narrow and practical has, in any case, almost nothing to do with philosophy. And when this point of view is occupied exclusively and too long, it creates an atmosphere unbearably fetid, like that of dog-kennels, rabbit warrens, and other over-occupied homes of land mammals. A long course of reading in Marxism is enough to make anyone…sick of the smell of man. The best antidote is something odorless, like astronomy. – David Stove, Against the Idols of the Age, p198
The romantic poets, through pride, restlessness, and longing for vague impossible things, came to the same conclusion that the church had reached through censoriousness and hope. To be always dissatisfied seemed to that Faust-like age a mark of loftiness. To be dissatisfied is, indeed, a healthy and promising thing, when what troubles us can be set right; but the romantic mind despises such incidental improvements which far from freeing the wild egotistical soul would rather fatten and harness it. It is beneath the romantic pessimist to remember that people, in all ages, sometimes achieve what they have set their hearts on, and that if human will and conduct were better disciplined, this contentment would be more frequent and more massive. On the contrary, he asserts that willing is always and everywhere abortive.
+++++How can he persuade himself of something so evidently false? By that mystical misinterpretation of human nature which is perhaps the core of romanticism. He imagines that what is desired is not this or that – food, children, victory, knowledge, or some other specific goal of a human instinct – but an abstract and perpetual happiness behind all these alternating interests. Of course an abstract and perpetual happiness is impossible, not merely because events are sure to disturb any equilibrium we may think we have established in our lives, but for the far more fundamental reason that we have no abstract and perpetual instinct to satisfy. The desire for self-preservation or power or union with God is no more perpetual or comprehensive than any other: it is commonly when we are in straits that we become aware of such objects, and to achieve them, or imagine we achieve them, will give us only a momentary satisfaction, like any other success. A highest good to be obtained apart from each and every specific interest is more than unattainable; it is unthinkable. The romanticist, chasing wilfully that ignis fatuus, naturally finds his life arduous and disappointing. But he might have learned from Plato or any sound moralist, if his genius could allow him to learn anything, that the highest good of man is the sum and harmony of those specific goods upon which his nature is directed. But because the romantic will was unteachable, all will was declared to be foolish.
+++++Schopenhauer was led into his pessimism also by the spirit of opposition; his righteous wrath was aroused by the sardonic and inhuman optimism of Hegel, the arguments for which were so cogent, so Calvinistic, and so irrelevant that they would have lost none of their force if they had been proposed in hell. The best possible world and the worst possible world are, indeed, identical for that philosophy. Schopenhauer needed to change nothing in the description of life, as the other idealists conceived it, in order to prove that life was a tragedy; for they were as romantic as himself and as far from feeling the intrinsic value of happiness, and the possibility of real progress. Real progress has little to do with perpetual evolution. It occurs only in certain places and times, when nature or art comes to the assistance of some definite interest already embodied, as the interest in security and mutual confidence, knowledge, or the fine arts is already embodied in mankind. Schopenhauer was not insensible to these achievements; he felt by instinct the infinity and luxuriance of the moral world. It was in part this secret sympathy with nature that alienated him from Christianity and from transcendental metaphysics. But because natural goods cannot be desired or possessed for ever, he thought their value was cancelled, even for those who desired and possessed them. The leaven of romanticism was still at work, forbidding him to recognise a natural order, with which a vital harmony might be established. The ground of life, the Will in all things, was something lurid and tempestuous, itself a psychological chaos. The alternative to theism in the mind of Schopenhauer was not naturalism but anarchy.
+++++This romantic travesty of life and this conception of metaphysical anarchy were inherited by Nietzsche and regarded by him as the last word of philosophy. – Santayana, Egotism in German Philosophy, p110-3
The change from pessimism to optimism, verbally so complete, did not imply any divergence between Nietzsche and Schopenhauer in their description of the facts; it was all a matter of a little more spirit in the younger thinker and a little more conscience in the elder. Romantic poets and their heroes are well known to oscillate between passionate despair and passionate enterprise. Schopenhauer affected passionate despair, Nietzsche recommended passionate enterprise, each being wedded exclusively to one of those moods which Faust or Byron could feel alternately and reduce to act with all the dashing tumult of anarchy. The value which the world has in the eyes of its inhabitants is necessarily mixed, so that a sweeping optimism or pessimism can be only a theoretic pose, false to the natural sentiment even of those who assume it. Both are impressionistic judgments passed on the world at large, not perhaps without some impertinence.
+++++Yet it is these poses or attitudes, or, if you like, these impertinences, that give importance to transcendental philosophers; it is their representative and contagious side; their views of things would concern us little, if it was the things themselves that we wished to understand, but our whole study is a study in romanticism. The temper of the age ignored that man is a teachable animal living in a natural world. All that was a vulgar convention; in truth a disembodied Will was directed on any and every ideal at random, and when any of these fantastic objects seemed to be attained nothing was really accomplished, nothing was accumulated or learned. The wish for some other will-o’-the-wisp immediately succeeded, always equally passionate and equally foolish.
+++++It is amazing that such a picture of human experience should have met with anything but general derision; but when people read books they compare them with other books, and when they turn to things they forget books altogether. Hence the most palpable falsehoods are held by general consent at certain moments, because they follow logically from what the books of the previous generation had maintained. This absurdity of Schopenhauer’s is a plausible variation of idealism; to see how absurd it is you must remember the facts of life, the existence of any degree of civilisation or progress. In these the travail of human nature appears; for human nature is not merely a name for a certain set of passions known to literature; in that sense Schopenhauer fully acknowledged it, and even thought it immutable; it is rather the constitution of an animal capable of training and development. What is more patent than that a man may learn something by experience and may be trained? But if he can be trained he is capable of adaptation and, therefore, of happiness, and the preposterous assertion that all desires are equally arbitrary and equally fruitless is blown to the winds.
+++++The belief in a romantic chaos lends itself to pessimism, but it also lends itself to absolute self-assertion. Kant had boasted that he had removed knowledge in order to make room for faith; in other words, he had returned to chaos in order to find freedom. The great egotists, who detested the pressure of a world they had not posited or created, followed gladly in that path; but Schopenhauer was not an egotist. Like Goethe he was probably more selfish personally than those other philosophers whom their very egotism had made zealous and single-minded; but in imagination and feeling he was, like Goethe, genial and humane: the freedom and exuberance of nature impressed him more than his own. Had he been an egotist, as Fichte, Hegel, and Nietzsche were, he might have been an optimist like them. He was rather a happy man, hugely enjoying a great many things, among them food and music; and he taught that music was a direct transcript of the tormented will to live. How simple it would have been for him, if he had been an egotist, to enjoy the spectacle of that tormented will as much as the music which was its faithful image! But no; such aesthetic cruelty, which was Nietzsche’s delight, would have revolted Schopenhauer. He thought tragedy beautiful because it detached us from a troubled world and did not think a troubled world good, as those unspeakable optimists did, because it made such a fine tragedy. It is pleasant to find that among all these philosophers one at least was a gentleman. – Santayana, Egotism in German Philosophy, p116-9
His [Schopenhauer’s] great intuition, the corner-stone of his philosophy, was precisely the priority of automatism and instinct over the intellect. His only error came from having given to these underlying processes the name of Will, when properly the will is one expression of them only, as the intellect is.
+++++Nietzsche, who adopted the same metaphor, was led by it into the very confusion which he criticised in Schopenhauer. Nietzsche had no great technical competence: he saw the inconsistency only when he disliked the result; when the result fell in with his first impressions he repeated the inconsistency. He often condemned other moralists for being enemies to life: he reproached the greater part of mankind for loving inglorious ease and resenting the sufferings inseparable from the will to be mighty and to perish. But this churlish attitude of the vulgar would be quite impossible if the heroic will to be powerful were the essence of everybody and even of material things. If I am nothing but the will to grow, how can I ever will to shrink?
+++++But this inconsistency in Nietzsche, like that in Schopenhauer, was an honourable one that came of forgetting a false generalisation in the presence of a clear fact. That the will to be powerful is everywhere was a false generalisation; but it was a clear fact that some people are pious Christians or Epicurean philosophers, who do not care at all about conquering the world. They want to be let alone, and perhaps have a shrewd suspicion that no one lives under such dire compulsions as he who undertakes to tyrannise over others. This slave-morality of theirs might be called Will, though it is rather instinct and, habit; but it is certainly not a will to be powerful : it is the opposite of that passion. Thus Nietzsche, by an honest self-contradiction, pointed to people who denied the will to be powerful, in order to abuse them, just as Schopenhauer had pointed to people who denied or suspended the will to live, in order to praise them. – Santayana, Egotism in German Philosophy, p120-2
Few persons have ever given such fierce importance to their personal taste. What he disliked to think of, say democracy, he condemned with the fulminations of a god; what he liked to think of, power, he seriously commanded man and nature to pursue for their single object.
What Nietzsche disparaged, then, under the name of morality was not all morality, for he had an enthusiastic master-morality of his own to impose. He was thinking only of the Christian virtues and especially of a certain Protestant and Kantian moralism with which perhaps he had been surfeited. This moralism conceived that duty was something absolute and not a method of securing whatever goods of all sorts are attainable by action. The latter is the common and the sound opinion, maintained, for instance, by Aristotle; but Nietzsche, who was not humble enough to learn very much by study, thought he was propounding a revolutionary doctrine when he put goods and evils beyond and above right and wrong: for this is all that his Jenseits von Gut und Böse amounts to. Whatever seemed to him admirable, beautiful, eligible, whatever was good in the sense opposed not to böse but to schlecht, Nietzsche loved with jealous affection. Hence his ire against Christianity, which he thought renounced too much. Hence his hatred of moralism, which in raising duty to the irresponsible throne of the absolute had superstitiously sacrificed half the goods of life. Nietzsche, then, far from transcending ethics, re-established it on its true foundations, which is not to say that the sketchy edifice which he planned to raise on these foundations was in a beautiful style of architecture or could stand at all.
+++++The first principle of his ethics was that the good is power. But this word power seems to have had a great range of meanings in his mind. Sometimes it suggests animal strength and size, as in the big blonde beast; sometimes vitality, sometimes fortitude, sometimes contempt for the will of others, sometimes (and this is perhaps the meaning he chiefly intended) dominion over natural forces and over the people, that is to say, wealth and military power. It is characteristic of this whole school that it confuses the laws which are supposed to preside over the movement of things with the good results which they may involve; so Nietzsche confuses his biological insight, that all life is the assertion of some sort of power – the power to breathe, for instance – with the admiration he felt for a masterful egotism. But even if we identify life or any kind of existence with the exertion of strength, the kinds of strength exerted will be heterogeneous and not always compatible. The strength of Lucifer does not insure victory in war; it points rather to failure in a world peopled by millions of timid, pious, and democratic persons. Hence we find Nietzsche asking himself plaintively, “Why are the feeble victorious?” The fact rankled in his bosom that in the ancient world martial aristocracies had succumbed before Christianity, and in the modern world before democracy. By strength, then, he could not mean the power to survive, by being as flexible as circumstances may require. He did not refer to the strength of majorities, nor to the strength of vermin. At the same time he did not refer to moral strength, for of moral strength he had no idea. – Santayana, Egotism in German Philosophy, p124-6, The Ethics of Nietzsche
Nietzsche was personally more philosophical than his philosophy. His talk about power, harshness, and superb immorality was the hobby of a harmless young scholar and constitutional invalid. He did not crave in the least either wealth or empire. What he loved was solitude, nature, music, books. But his imagination, like his judgment, was captious; it could not dwell on reality, but reacted furiously against it. …
+++++…he knew no sort of good except the beautiful, and no sort of beauty except romantic stress. He was a belated prophet of romanticism. He wrote its epitaph, in which he praised it more extravagantly than anybody, when it was alive, had had the courage to do. – Santayana, Egotism in German Philosophy, p127-8, The Ethics of Nietzsche
It is hard to know if we should be more deceived in taking these sallies seriously or in not taking them so. On the one hand it all seems the swagger of an immature, half-playful mind, like a child that tells you he will cut your head off. The dreamy impulse, in its inception, is sincere enough, but there is no vestige of any understanding of what it proposes, of its conditions, or of its results. On the other hand these explosions are symptomatic; there stirs behind them unmistakably an elemental force. That an attitude is foolish, incoherent, disastrous, proves nothing against the depth of the instinct that inspires it. Who could be more intensely unintelligent than Luther or Rousseau? Yet the world followed them, not to turn back. The molecular forces of society, so to speak, had already undermined the systems which these men denounced. If the systems have survived it is only because the reformers, in their intellectual helplessness, could supply nothing to take their place. So Nietzsche, in his genial imbecility, betrays the shifting of great subterranean forces. What he said may be nothing, but the fact that he said it is all-important. Out of such wild intuitions, because the heart of the child was in them, the man of the future may have to build his philosophy. We should forgive Nietzsche his boyish blasphemies. He hated with clearness, if he did not know what to love. – Santayana, Egotism in German Philosophy, p134-5, The Ethics of Nietzsche
Dissatisfaction with the actual is what usually leads people to frame ideals at all, or at least to hold them fast; but such a negative motive leaves the ideal vague and without consistency. If we could suddenly have our will, we should very likely find the result trivial or horrible. So the superman of Nietzsche might prove, if by magic he could be realised. To frame solid ideals, which would, in fact, be better than actual things, is not granted to the merely irritable poet; it is granted only to the master-workman, to the modeller of some given substance to some given use – things which define his aspiration, and separate what is relevant and glorious in his dreams from that large part of them which is merely ignorant and peevish. It was not for Nietzsche to be an artist in morals and to institute anything coherent, even in idea. – Santayana, Egotism in German Philosophy, p136-7
How life can be fulfilled and made beautiful by reason was never better shown than by the Greeks, both by precept and example. Nietzsche in his youth was a professor of Greek literature: one would have expected his superman to be a sort of Greek hero. Something of the Dorian harshness in beauty, something of the Pindaric high-born and silent victor may have been fused into Nietzsche’s ideal; certainly Bacchic freedom and ardour were to enter in. But on the whole it is remarkable how little he learned from the Greeks, no modesty or reverence, no joy in order and in loveliness, no sense for friendship, none for the sanctity of places and institutions. He repeated the paradoxes of some of their sophists, without remembering how their wise men had refuted them. …He thinks he alone has discovered the divinity of Dionysus and of the Muses, which Plato took as a matter of course but would not venerate superstitiously. Inspiration, like will, is a force without which reason can do nothing. Inspiration must be presupposed; but in itself it can do nothing good unless it is in harmony with reason, or is brought into harmony with it. This two-edged wisdom that makes impulse the stuff of life and reason its criterion, is, of course, lost on Nietzsche, and with it the whole marvel of Greek genius. There is nothing exceptional in being alive and impulsive; any savage can run wild and be frenzied and enact histrionic passions : the virtue of the Greeks lay in the exquisite firmness with which they banked their fires without extinguishing them, so that their life remained human (indeed, remained infra-human, like that of Nietzsche’s superman) and yet became beautiful: they were severe and fond of maxims, on a basis of universal tolerance; they governed themselves rationally, with a careful freedom, while well aware that nature and their own bosoms were full of gods, all of whom must be reverenced.
+++++After all, this defect in appreciation is inseparable from the transcendental pose. The ancients, like everything else, never seem to the egotist a reality co-ordinate with himself, from which he might still have something to learn. They are only so much “content” for his self-consciousness, so much matter for his thought to transcend. They can contain nothing for him but the part of his outgrown self which he deigns to identify with them. His mind must always envelop them and be the larger thing. No wonder that in this school learning is wasted for the purposes of moral education. Whoever has seen the learned egotist flies at his approach. History in his hands is a demonstration of his philosophy. Science is a quarry of proofs for his hobbies. If we do not agree with him we are not merely mistaken (every philosopher tells us that), but we are false to ourselves and ignorant of our ideal significance. His ego gives us our place in the world. He informs us of what we mean, whatever we may say; and he raises our opinions, as he might his food, to a higher unity in his own person. He is priest in every temple. He approaches a picture-gallery or a foreign religion in a dictatorial spirit, with his a priori categories ready on his lips; pedantry and vanity speak in his every gesture, and the lesson of nothing can reach his heart.
+++++No, neither the philosophy inherited by Nietzsche nor his wayward imagination was fit to suggest to him a nobler race of men. On the contrary, they shut him off from comprehension of the best men that have existed. Like the Utopias or ideals of many other satirists and minor philosophers, the superman is not a possibility, it is only a protest. Our society is outworn, but hard to renew; the emancipated individual needs to master himself. In what spirit or to what end he will do so, we do not know, and Nietzsche cannot tell us. He is the jester, to whom all incoherences are forgiven, because all indiscretions are allowed. His mind is undisciplined, and his tongue outrageous, but he is at bottom the friend of our conscience, and full of shrewd wit and tender wisps of intuition. Behind his “gay wisdom” and trivial rhymes lies a great anguish. His intellect is lost in a chaos. His heart denies itself the relief of tears and can vent itself only in forced laughter and mock hopes that gladden nobody, least of all himself. – Santayana, Egotism in German Philosophy, p139-43
…the technical side of a great philosophy, interesting as it may be in itself, hardly ever determines its essential views. These essential views are derived rather from instincts or traditions which the technique of the system is designed to defend; or, at least, they decide how that technique shall be applied and interpreted. – Santayana, Egotism in German Philosophy, p21
Every sort of philosophy has been systematised, and yet as these philosophies utterly contradict one another, most of them cannot be true. Unproved abstract principles without number have been eagerly caught up by sanguine men, and then carefully spun out into books and theories, which were to explain the whole world. But the world goes clear against these abstractions, and it must do so, as they require it to go in antagonistic directions. The mass of a system attracts the young and impresses the unwary; but cultivated people are very dubious about it. They are ready to receive hints and suggestions, and the smallest real truth is ever welcome. But a large book of deductive philosophy is much to be suspected. No doubt the deductions may be right; in most writers they are so; but where did the premises come from? Who is sure that they are the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, of the matter in hand? Who is not almost sure beforehand that they will contain a strange mixture of truth and error, and therefore that it will not be worth while to spend life in reasoning over their consequences? In a word, the superfluous energy of mankind has flowed over into philosophy, and has worked into big systems what should have been left as little suggestions. – Bagehot, Physics and Politics, V
Nothing is more common than for people to consider themselves convinced of the truth of a thing once they have understood the view of it a great man has harboured…I believe that many a man, once he has worked his way through the difficulties of the Tychonian system and all its epicycles, has thought: “praise be to God, now I have finally got it all clear.” – Lichtenberg
…a philosopher might be asked to give some account of the state of philosophy in his own time; and it would be highly unphilosophical in him to reply that in his time there was no such thing as a state of philosophy, but only a chaos or babel of different philosophies; for this would show that he was either unwilling or unable to sort these philosophies into their kinds, to analyse their affinities, and to assess their merits. To a philosophical eye these various relations are not given to their terms from without, by the arbitrary act of a systematizing intellect; they really subsist in and between the terms, and to apprehend the terms without apprehending these relations is to misapprehend them. But if these relations are grasped, I do not say completely, for completion is here as in all philosophical enterprises unattainable, but to any considerable degree, the philosophical views between which they subsist will reveal themselves as nodal points in a system of thought which, as a whole, may be called the philosophy of the present day.
+++++This system cannot be conceived except as a scale of forms; for the various philosophies which go to compose it vary in the degree to which they deserve the title philosophy of the present day; some are too unphilosophical to claim that title without qualification, some too antiquated, some too fragmentary, some too negative; each presents a double aspect, partly as an attempt, never quite successful, at a complete philosophy, partly as a contribution to something wider than itself; but ideally a place can be found even for the crudest and least philosophical of them in a scale which, travelling downward towards zero but never reaching it, is long enough to accommodate all those dim and fluctuating half-philosophical and quarter-philosophical opinions out of which, partly by consolidation and partly by criticism, there emerges the comparatively definite and organized group of theories collectively called the philosophy of to-day. With that emergence the second main phase of the scale is reached. The third is reached when these organized and ostensibly conflicting theories are shown to participate according to their degrees and kinds in a single common spirit which, not in a collective but in an eminent sense, is the philosophy of the present.
+++++Such a system is only an ideal, in the sense that it regulates the procedure of a philosopher trying to answer the question at issue, and cannot be expected to present itself fully formed in his answer; but it is not an ideal imposed on his subject-matter by his thought; it is the way in which he must apprehend his subject-matter if he is to apprehend it correctly.
+++++…he undertakes a task not very different from this when he tries to think out his own philosophy. He begins by finding in himself a welter of half-philosophical and quarter-philosophical opinions not at bottom, if he will consider them candidly, more harmonious with each other than those of different contemporary persons; out of these, which already vary in his estimate of their importance and profundity, there emerge once more by consolidation and criticism certain more or less definitely philosophical positions; these again vary in the conviction with which they are held, some merely played with, some maintained with diffidence, some judged fundamental, but each liable on examination to prove contradictory with some of the rest. The process now begins again at a higher level, and he tries to see these various positions as parts of a connected whole, or, failing that, to correct the recalcitrant elements until they fall into place; this implies not only adjusting the parts to the idea of the whole but adjusting the idea of the whole to meet the demands of the parts, so that the idea of the whole is itself undergoing transformation as the scale is traversed upwards.
+++++These are only examples of innumerable ways in which philosophical thought tends to organize itself into a system having the general character of a scale of forms. What is permanent and essential is not this or that system, for every particular system is nothing but an interim report on the progress of thought down to the time of making it, but the necessity of thinking systematically; and although this necessity may be overlooked or denied with no great harm done so long as philosophy aims only at being negative or critical, or attempts no more than desultory and short-winded constructive flights, in order to do its proper work properly it must understand what that work is: in other words, philosophy must think of itself as systematic. – Collingwood, Essay on Philosophical Method, p195-8
Since a man can go mad I do not see why a universal system cannot do so too… – Lichtenberg
He had constructed for himself a certain system which thereafter exercised such an influence on his way of thinking that those who observed him always saw his judgement walking a few steps in front of his feeling, though he himself believed it was keeping to the rear. – Lichtenberg
PHILOSOPHY and POETRY
…philosophy resembles poetry; for in poetry also the writer confesses himself to the reader, and admits him to the extremest intimacy. Hence the two things are sometimes confused, especially by persons who look upon each with suspicion as an outrage on the privacy of the individual mind; and because the resemblance becomes increasingly evident as philosophy becomes increasingly philosophical, this hostility singles out the greatest philosophers for peculiar obloquy, and finds in their writing a mere expression of emotion, or poem.
Even granting the justice of that description, it is incomplete. A philosophical work, if it must be called a poem, is not a mere poem, but a poem of the intellect. What is expressed in it is not emotions, desires, feelings, as such, but those which a thinking mind experiences in its search for knowledge; and it expresses these only because the experience of them is an integral part of the search, and that search is thought itself. When this qualification is added, it becomes plain that philosophical literature is in fact prose; it is poetry only in the sense in which all prose is poetry – poetry modified by the presence of a content, something which the writer is trying to say.
14. What explains the confusion is that philosophy represents the point at which prose comes nearest to being poetry. Owing to the unique intimacy of the relation between the philosophical writer among prose writers and his reader, a relation which elsewhere exists only in fine art or in the wide sense of that word poetry, there is a constant tendency for philosophy as a literary genre to overlap with poetry along their common frontier. Many of the greatest philosophers, and notably those among them who have been the best writers and therefore ought to know in what style to write philosophy, have adopted an imaginative and somewhat poetic style which would have been perverse in science and ridiculous in history but in philosophy is often highly successful. – Collingwood, Essay on Philosophical Method, p212-3
Quite otherwise than the scientist, and far more than the historian, the philosopher must go to school with the poets in order to learn the use of language, and must use it in their way: as a means of exploring one’s own mind, and bringing to light what is obscure and doubtful in it. This, as the poets know, implies skill in metaphor and simile, readiness to find new meanings in old words, ability in case of need to invent new words and phrases which shall be understood as soon as they are heard, and briefly a disposition to improvise and create, to treat language as something not fixed and rigid but infinitely flexible and full of life.
+++++The principles on which the philosopher uses language are those of poetry; but what he writes is not poetry but prose. From the point of view of literary form, this means that whereas the poet yields himself to every suggestion that his language makes, and so produces word-patterns whose beauty is a sufficient reason for their existence, the philosopher’s word-patterns are constructed only to reveal the thought which they express, and are valuable not in themselves but as means to that end. The prosewriter’s art is an art that must conceal itself, and produce not a jewel that is looked at for its own beauty but a crystal in whose depths the thought can be seen without distortion or confusion; and the philosophical writer in especial follows the trade not of a jeweller but of a lens-grinder. He must never use metaphors or imagery in such a way that they attract to themselves the attention due to his thought; if he does that he is writing not prose, but, whether well or ill, poetry; but he must avoid this not by rejecting all use of metaphors and imagery, but by using them, poetic things themselves, in the domestication of prose: using them just so far as to reveal thought, and no farther. – Collingwood, Essay on Philosophical Method, p213-5
16. The reader, on his side, must approach his philosophical author precisely as if he were a poet, in the sense that he must seek in his work the expression of an individual experience, something which the writer has actually lived through, and something which the reader must live through in his turn by entering into the writer’s mind with his own. To this basic and ultimate task of following or understanding his author, coming to see what he means by sharing his experience, the task of criticizing his doctrine, or determining how far it is true and how far false, is altogether secondary. A good reader, like a good listener, must be quiet in order to be attentive; able to refrain from obtruding his own thoughts, the better to apprehend those of the writer; not passive, but using his activity to follow where he is led, not to find a path of his own. A writer who does not deserve this silent, uninterrupting attention does not deserve to be read at all.
17. In reading poetry this is all we have to do; but in reading philosophy there is something else. Since the philosopher’s experience consisted in, or at least arose out of, the search for truth, we must ourselves be engaged in that search if we are to share the experience; and therefore, although our attitude to philosophy and poetry, simply as expressions, is the same, our attitude towards them differs in that philosophy expresses thought, and in order to share that experience we must ourselves think.
+++++It is not enough that we should in a general way be thoughtful or intelligent; not enough even that we should be interested and skilled in philosophy. We must be equipped, not for any and every philosophical enterprise, but for the one which we are undertaking. What we can get by reading any book is conditioned by what we bring to it; and in philosophy no one can get much good by reading the works of a writer whose problems have not already arisen spontaneously in the reader’s mind. – Collingwood, Essay on Philosophical Method, p215-6
…the progress of philosophy has not been of such a sort that the latest philosophers are the best : it is quite the other way. Philosophy in this respect is like poetry. There is progress in that new poets arise with new gifts, and the fund of transmitted poetry is enriched; but Homer, the first poet amongst the Greeks, was also the best, and so Dante in Italy, and Shakespeare in England. When a civilization and a language take shape they have a wonderful vitality, and their first-fruits are some love-child, some incomparable creature in whom the whole genius of the young race bursts forth uncontaminated and untrammelled. What follows is more valuable in this respect or in that; it renders fitly the partial feelings and varying fashions of a long decadence; but nothing, so long as that language and that tradition last, can ever equal their first exuberance. Philosophy is not so tightly bound as poetry is to language and to local inspiration, but it has largely shared the same vicissitudes; and in each school of philosophy only the inventors and founders are of any consequence; the rest are hacks. Moreover, if we take each school as a whole, and compare it with the others, I think we may repeat the same observation : the first are the best. Those following have made very real improvements; they have discovered truths and methods before unknown; but instead of adding these (as they might have done) to the essential wisdom of their predecessors, they have proceeded like poets, each a new-born child in a magic world, abandoned to his fancy and his personal experience. Bent on some specific reform or wrapped up in some favourite notion, they have denied the obvious because other people had pointed it out; and the later we come down in the history of philosophy the less important philosophy becomes, and the less true in fundamental matters. – Santayana, The Progress of Philosophy, Soliloquies in England, p208-9
PHILOSOPHY and SCIENCE
Technical terms are needed in science because in the course of scientific thought we encounter concepts which are wholly new to us, and for which therefore we must have wholly new names. Such words as chiliagon and pterodactyl are additions to our vocabulary because the things for which they stand are additions to our experience. This is possible because the concepts of science are divided into mutually exclusive species, and consequently there can be specifications of a familiar genus which are altogether new to us.
In philosophy, where the species of a genus are not mutually exclusive, no concept can ever come to us as an absolute novelty; we can only come to know better what to some extent we knew already. We therefore never need an absolutely new word for an absolutely new thing. But we do constantly need relatively new words for relatively new things: words with which to indicate the new aspects, new distinctions, new connexions which thought brings to light in a familiar subject-matter; and even these are not so much new to us as hitherto imperfectly apprehended.
+++++This demand cannot be satisfied by technical terms. On the contrary, technical terms, owing to their rigidity and artificiality, are a positive impediment to its satisfaction. In order to satisfy it, a vocabulary needs two things: groups of words nearly but not quite synonymous, differentiated by shades of meaning which for some purposes can be ignored and for others become important; and single words which, without being definitely equivocal, have various senses distinguished according to the ways in which they are used.
9. These two characteristics are precisely those which ordinary language, as distinct from a technical vocabulary, possesses. – Collingwood, Essay on Philosophical Method, p205-6
OBJECTION 1. Whereas the sciences make steady progress and yield applications of matchless utility, philosophy makes no progress and has no practical applications.
REPLY 1. The opposition is unjustly founded, for the sciences are themselves branches of the tree of philosophy. As fast as questions got accurately answered, the answers were called ‘scientific,’ and what men call ‘philosophy’ today is but the residuum of questions still unanswered.
+++++It will be instructive to trace very briefly the origins of our present habits of thought.
+++++Auguste Comte, the founder of a philosophy which he called ‘positive,’ said that human theory on any subject always took three forms in succession. In the theological stage of theorizing, phenomena are explained by spirits producing them; in the metaphysical stage, their essential feature is made into an abstract idea, and this is placed behind them as if it were an explanation; in the positive stage, phenomena are simply described as to their coexistences and successions. Their ‘laws’ are formulated, but no explanation of their natures or existence is sought after. Thus a ‘spiritus rector’ would be a metaphysical, – a ‘principle of attraction’ a theological, – and a ‘law of the squares’ would be a positive theory of the planetary movements.
+++++Comte’s account is too sharp and definite. Anthropology shows that the earliest attempts at human theorizing mixed the theological and metaphysical together. Common things needed no special explanation, remarkable things alone, odd things, especially deaths, calamities, diseases, called for it. What made things act was the mysterious energy in them, and the more awful they were, the more of this mana they possessed. The great thing was to acquire mana oneself. ‘Sympathetic magic’ is the collective name for what seems to have been the primitive philosophy here. You could act on anything by controlling anything else that either was associated with it or resembled it.
+++++‘Sympathetic’ theorizing persists to the present day. ‘Thoughts are things,’ for a contemporary school – of practical philosophy. Cultivate the thought of what you desire, affirm it, and it will bring all similar thoughts from elsewhere to reinforce it, so that your wish may be fulfilled.
+++++Modern science began only after 1600, with Kepler, Galileo, Descartes, Torricelli, Pascal, Harvey, Newton, Huygens, and Boyle. Five men telling one another in succession the discoveries which their lives had witnessed, could deliver the whole of it into our hands: Harvey might have told Newton, who might have told Voltaire; Voltaire might have told Dalton, who might have told Huxley, who might have told the readers of this book.
The men who began this work of emancipation were philosophers in the original sense of the word, universal sages. Galileo said that he had spent more years on philosophy than months on mathematics. Descartes was a universal philosopher in the fullest sense of the term. But the fertility of the newer conceptions made special departments of truth grow at such a rate that they became too unwieldy with details for the more universal minds to carry them, so the special sciences of mechanics, astronomy, and physics began to drop off from the parent stem.
Re: Descartes’ and Galileo’s fruits of their labor, “There was no question of agencies, nothing animistic or sympathetic in this new way of taking nature. It was description only, of concomitant variations, after the particular quantities that varied had been successfully abstracted out. The result soon showed itself in a differentiation of human knowledge into two spheres, one called ‘Science,’ within which the more definite laws apply, the other ‘General Philosophy,’ in which they do not. The state of mind called positivistic is the result. ‘Down with philosophy!’ is the cry of innumerable scientific minds. ‘Give us measurable facts only, phenomena, without the mind’s additions, without entities or principles that pretend to explain.’ It is largely from this kind of mind that the objection that philosophy has made no progress proceeds.
+++++Philosophy has become a collective name for questions that have not yet been answered to the satisfaction of all by whom they have been asked. … But to assume therefore, that the only possible philosophy must be mechanical and mathematical, and to disparage all enquiry into the other sorts of question, is to forget the extreme diversity of aspects under which reality undoubtedly exists.
In some respects, indeed, ‘science’ has made less progress than ‘philosophy’ – its most general conceptions would astonish neither Aristotle nor Descartes, could they revisit our earth. …
OBJECTION 3. Philosophy is out of touch with real life, for which it substitutes abstractions. The real world is various, tangled, painful. Philosophers have, almost without exception, treated it as noble, simple, and perfect, ignoring the complexity of fact, and indulging in a sort of optimism that exposes their systems to the contempt of common men, and to the satire of such writers as Voltaire and Schopenhauer. The great popular success of Schopenhauer is due to the fact that, first among philosophers, he spoke the concrete truth about the ills of life.
REPLY 3. This objection also is historically valid, but no reason appears why philosophy should keep aloof from reality permanently. Her manners may change as she successfully develops. The thin and noble abstractions may give way to more solid and real constructions, when the materials and methods for making such constructions shall be more and more securely ascertained. In the end philosophers may get into as close contact as realistic novelists with the facts of life.
IN CONCLUSION. In its original acceptation, meaning the completest knowledge of the universe, philosophy must include the results of all the sciences, and cannot be contrasted with the latter. It simply aims at making of science what Herbert Spencer calls a ‘system of completely unified knowledge.’ In the more modern sense, of something contrasted with the sciences, philosophy means ‘metaphysics.’ The older sense is the more worthy sense, and as the results of the sciences get more available for co-ordination, and the conditions for finding truth in different kinds of question get more methodically defined, we may hope that the term will revert to its original meaning. Science, metaphysics, and religion may then again form a single body of wisdom, and lend each other mutual support. – W James, Philosophy and its Critics
PHILOSOPHY and HISTORY
Historical writing is an attempt to communicate to the reader something which the writer selects for communication out of his store of knowledge. He never tries to write down all he knows about his subject, but only a part of it. Indeed, this is all he can do. Events in time fall outside one another; but they are connected by chains of consequence; and therefore, since those we know are linked in this way with others which we do not know, there is always a certain element of incomprehensibility even in those we know best. Therefore our knowledge of any given fact is incomplete; because it is incomplete, we cannot say how incomplete it is; and all we can be sure of is some central nucleus of knowledge, beyond which there extends in every direction a penumbra of uncertainty. In historical writing, what we aim at doing is to express this nucleus of knowledge, ignoring the uncertainties that lie outside it. We try to steer clear of doubts and problems, and stick to what is certain. This division of what we know into what we know for certain and what we know in a doubtful or problematic way, the first being narrated and the second suppressed, gives every historical writer an air of knowing more than he says, and addressing himself to a reader who knows less than he. All historical writing is thus primarily addressed to a reader, and a relatively uninformed reader; it is therefore instructive or didactic in style. The reader is kept at arm’s length, and is never admitted into the intimacy of the writer’s mind; the writer, however conscientiously he cites authorities, never lays bare the processes of thought which have led him to his conclusions, because that would defer the completion of his narrative to the Greek calends, while he discussed his own states of consciousness, in which the reader is not interested.
11. Philosophy is in this respect the opposite of history. Every piece of philosophical writing is primarily addressed by the author to himself. Its purpose is not to select from among his thoughts those of which he is certain and to express those, but the very opposite: to fasten upon the difficulties and obscurities in which he finds himself involved, and try, if not to solve or remove them, at least to understand them better. The philosopher is forced to work in this way by the inextricable unity of the object which he studies; it is not dispersed over space, as in physics, or over time, as in history; it is not a genus cut up into mutually exclusive species, or a whole whose parts can be understood separately; in thinking of it, therefore, he must always be probing into the darkest parts, as a guide trying to keep his party together must always be hastening the hindmost. The philosopher therefore, in the course of his business, must always be confessing his difficulties, whereas the historian is always to some extent concealing them. Consequently the difference between the writer’s position and the reader’s, which is so clear in historical literature, and is the cause of its didactic manner, does not exist in the literature of philosophy. The philosophers who have had the deepest instinct for style have repeatedly shrunk from adopting the form of a lecture or instructive address, and chosen instead that of a dialogue in which the work of self-criticism is parcelled out among the dramatis personae, or a meditation in which the mind communes with itself, or a dialectical process where the initial position is modified again and again as difficulties in it come to light.
+++++Common to all these literary forms is the notion of philosophical writing as essentially a confession, a search by the mind for its own failings and an attempt to remedy them by recognizing them. Historians may be pardoned, even praised, for a slightly dogmatic and hectoring tone, a style calculated to deepen the sense of division between themselves and their readers, an attempt to impress and convince. Philosophers are debarred from these methods. Their only excuse for writing is that they mean to make a clean breast, first to themselves, and then to their readers, if they have any. Their style must be the plain and modest style proper to confession, a style not devoid of feeling, yet devoid of the element of bombast which sits not ungracefully upon the historian. They must sedulously avoid the temptation to impress their readers with a sense of inferiority in learning or ingenuity to their authors. They must never instruct or admonish; or at least, they must never instruct or admonish their readers, but only themselves.
12. There is accordingly a difference in attitude towards what he reads between the reader of historical literature and the reader of philosophical. In reading the historians, we ‘consult’ them. We apply to the store of learning in their minds for a grant of knowledge to make good the lack in our own. We do not seek to follow the processes of thought by which they came to know these things; we can only do that by becoming equally accomplished historians ourselves, and this we cannot do by reading their books, but only by working as they have worked at the original sources. In reading the philosophers, we ‘follow’ them: that is, we understand what they think, and reconstruct in ourselves, so far as we can, the processes by which they have come to think it. There is an intimacy in the latter relation which can never exist in the former. What we demand of the historian is a product of his thought; what we demand of the philosopher is his thought itself. The reader of a philosophical work is committing himself to the enterprise of living through the same experience that his author lived through; if for lack of sympathy, patience, or any other quality he cannot do this, his reading is worthless. – Collingwood, Essay on Philosophical Method, p208-12
…the analysis of the internal strains to which a given constellation of historical facts is subjected, and of the means by which it ‘takes up’ these strains, or prevents them from breaking it in pieces, is not the least part of an historian’s work.
+++++Thus if Gibbon seems out of date to a modern student of the Roman Empire it is not because Gibbon knew fewer facts than the modern student knows; it is because Gibbon was not sensitive enough to the internal strains of what he wrote about. He begins by depicting the Antonine period as a Golden Age, that is, an age containing no internal strains whatever; and from the non-historical or anti-historical tone of its opening his narrative never quite recovers. If Hegel’s influence on nineteenth-century historiography was on the whole an influence for good, it was because historical study for him was first and foremost a study of internal strains, and this is why he opened the way to such brilliant feats as that analysis of internal strains in nineteenth-century economic society which entitles Karl Marx to the name of a great historian. If Oswald Spengler, who was so much talked about a few years ago, is to-day deservedly forgotten, it is because whenever he set himself to describe a constellation of historical facts (what he called a ‘culture’) he deliberately ironed all the strains out of it and presented a picture in which every detail fitted into every other as placidly as the pieces of a jig-saw puzzle lying at rest on a table.
+++++Where there is no strain there is no history. …The historian in his study can perhaps afford to neglect these strains, because he does not really care about being a good historian; but the man of action cannot afford to neglect them. His life may depend on his ability to see where they are and to judge their strength. It was not by gunpowder alone that Cortez destroyed Montezuma; it was by using gunpowder to reinforce the strains which already tended to break up Montezuma’s power.
+++++The same characteristic will certainly be found in any constellation of absolute presuppositions; and a metaphysician who comes to his subject from a general grounding in history will know that he must look for it. He will expect the various presuppositions he is studying to be consupponible only under pressure, the constellation being subject to certain strains and kept together by dint of a certain compromise or mutual toleration having behind it a motive like that which causes parties to unite in the face of an enemy. – Collingwood, Essay on Metaphysics, p74-6