On the Nature of the Scholar/Lecture 4

On the Nature of the Scholar by Johann Gottlieb Fichte
Lecture IV.. Of Integrity in Study

He who is to become a True Scholar, so that in him the Divine Idea of the world may attain to such a measure of clearness and influence over the surrounding world as is possible in his circumstances, must be laid hold of by the Idea itself through its own inherent power, and by it be urged forward unceasingly towards the desired end.

In our portraiture of the Nature of the True Scholar, we are now engaged with the Progressive Scholar, or the Student.

If the Student is really inspired by the Idea,—or, what is the same thing, if he possesses Genius and true talent, he is already far above all our counsels; Genius will fulfil its vocation in him without our aid, and even without his own concurrence:—of this we have spoken sufficiently in our last lecture.

But, as we have likewise seen in the same lecture, the Progressive Scholar can never determine for himself whether or not he possesses Genius in our sense of the term, nor can any one else determine this for him: hence there is nothing left for him but with sincere and perfect Integrity so to act as if there lay within him Genius which must ultimately come to light. True Genius, when present, manifests itself precisely in the same way as does this Integrity in Study; in appearance, both assume the same form, and cannot be distinguished the one from the other.

Turning from the tests of Genius which, in the Progressive Scholar at least, are inscrutable, we have now only to exhaust the indications of Integrity in Study, and we shall then have completed the portraiture of the true follower of learning. The honest Student is to us the only True Student; the two ideas flow into each other.

Integrity in the abstract, as we have also remarked before, is itself a Divine Idea; it is the Divine Idea in its most common form, embracing all men. Hence, like the Idea itself, it acts by its own inherent power;—it makes itself, as we said before of Genius, without aid from personal feeling,—nay, even annihilating self-love as far as possible,—into an independent life in man, irresistibly urging him forward and pervading all his thoughts and actions. His actions, I say; for the idea of Integrity is an immediately practical idea, determining the outward, visible, free doings of man;—whereas the influence of Genius is, in the first place, internal, affecting spiritual insight. He who truly possesses Genius must be successful in his studies: to him light and knowledge will spring up on all sides from the objects of his contemplation. He who possesses Integrity in Study, of him this success cannot be so surely predicted: but should it not follow, he will be blameless, for he will neglect nothing within his power which may enable him to attain it; and even if he be not at last a sharer in the triumph, he shall at least have deserved to be so.

Integrity, as a living and governing principle, rises above the person of him who is animated by it, and regards this person as standing under a definite law,—as existing only for a certain purpose, and as means to a higher end. Man shall be and do something; his temporal life shall leave behind it in the spiritual world an imperishable and eternal result,—a particular result arising from the life of each individual, belonging to him alone and demanded of him alone. It is thus that the trueminded man looks upon all personal Life in Time, and particularly on that life which lies nearest to him,—namely, his own. He in whom this Integrity has become a living idea cannot conceive of human life in any other way than this; from this principle he sets forth, to it he constantly returns, and by it he regulates all his other modes of thought. Only in so far as he obeys this law and fulfils this purpose, which he recognises as his being's end and aim, is he satisfied with himself: everything in him which is not directed to this high end, which is not evidently a means to its attainment, he despises, hates, desires to have swept away. He looks upon his individual person as a thought of the Deity; and thus his vocation—the design of his being—is to him as a purpose of God himself. This, and nothing else, is the idea of Integrity, whether he who is ruled by it calls it by this name or by another.

Success cannot indeed be certainly predicted of mere Integrity as such, either in study or in any other purpose it may propose to itself; but in all its pursuits it will surely display the independent power of the Idea pressing steadily forward to its mark; and of the true-minded man it may confidently be said, that in Integrity itself, his defence and support, he will find a noble reward. In advancing on the path of rectitude, it will become continually less needful for him to admonish, to arouse himself to the struggle against recurring evil desires; for the true feeling, the legitimate mode of thought, will spontaneously reveal itself to him, and become his ruling principle, his second nature. Whatever thou doest, do it with Integrity: if thou studiest, let it guide thy studies; and then, as to whether thou shalt prosper in what thou doest, leave that to God; thou hast most surely left it to him, when thou goest to work with true and honest purpose: with the attainment of that Integrity thou shalt also attain unbroken peace, inward cheerfulness, and an unstained conscience;—and in so far thou shalt assuredly prosper.

We have said that the honest man in general looks upon his free personal life as unalterably determined by the eternal thought of God;—the honest Student in particular looks upon himself as designed by the thought of God to the end that the Divine Idea of the constitution of this universe may enter his soul, shine in him with steady lustre, and through him maintain a certain influence on the surrounding world. Thus does he conceive of his vocation; for in this lies the essential Nature of the Scholar: so surely as he has entered upon his studies with Integrity, i.e. with the persuasion that God has given a purpose to his life, and that he must direct all his free actions towards the fulfilment of that purpose, so surely has he made the supposition that it is the Divine Will that he should become a Scholar. It matters not whether we have chosen this condition for ourselves with freedom and foresight, or others have chosen it for us, placed us in the way of preparation for it, and closed every other condition of life against us. How could any one, at the early age at which this choice of a condition usually occurs, and in most cases must occur, have attained the mature wisdom by which to decide for himself whether or not he is possessed of the as yet untried and undeveloped capacity for knowledge? When we come to exercise our own understanding, the choice of a condition is already made,—it has been made without our aid, because we were incapable at the time of rendering any aid in the matter; and now we cannot turn back,—a necessity precisely similar to the unalterable conditions under which our freedom is placed by the Divine Will. If an error should occur in the choice thus made for us by others, the fault is not ours: we could not decide whether or not an error had been committed, and could not venture to presuppose one; if it has occurred, then it is our business, so far as in us lies, to correct it. In any case, it is the Divine Will that every one, in the station where he has been placed by necessity, should do all things which properly belong to that station. We have met together to study; hence it is assuredly the Divine Will that we consider ourselves as Students, and apply to ourselves all that is comprehended in that idea.

This thought, with its indestructible certainty, enters and fills the soul of every honest Student:—this, namely—"I, this sent, this expressly commissioned individual, as I may now call myself, am actually here, have entered into existence for this cause and no other, that the eternal counsel of God in this universe may through me be seen of men in another, hitherto unknown light, may be made clearly manifest in the world so as not again to be extinguished; and this phase of the Divine Thought, thus bound up with my personality, is the only true living being within me; all else, though looked upon even by myself as belonging to my being, is dream, shadow, nothing; this alone is imperishable and eternal within me; all else shall again disappear in the void from which it has seemingly, but never really, come forth." This thought fills his whole soul; whether it is itself clearly conceived and expressed or not, everything else which is there clearly conceived, expressed, wished, or willed, is referred back to it as to its first condition, can only be explained by it, and only considered possible on the supposition of its truth.

Through this fundamental principle of all his thoughts, he himself, and Knowledge, the object of his activity, become to him, before all other things, honourable and holy. He himself becomes honourable and holy. Not, by any means, that he dwells with self-complacent pride on the superiority of his vocation to share in some degree the counsel of God and reveal it to the world—over other less distinguished callings, invidiously weighing them against each other, and thus esteeming himself as of more value than other men. If one form of human destiny appears to him superior to another, it is not because it offers a better field for personal distinction, but because in it the Divine Idea reveals itself with greater clearness. Man has no peculiar value beyond that of faithfully fulfilling his vocation, whatever that may be; and in this all are alike, irrespective of the different natures of their callings. Moreover, the Progressive Scholar does not even know whether he shall ultimately attain the proper end of his studies, the possession of the Idea; nor, therefore, if that noble vocation be really his;—he is only bound to suppose the possibility of this. The perfect Scholar—of whom we do not now speak—when he has the completed result in his possession, can then indeed with certainty recognise his vocation; but even in him the cravings of the Idea for more extended manifestation still continue, and shall continue while life endures, so that he can never have time to muse over the superiority of his vocation, even were such musings not utterly vain in themselves. All pride is founded on what we think we are,—are in attained and perfect being; and thus pride is in itself vain and contradictory,—for that which is our true being,—that to which endless growth belongs,—is precisely that to which we have not yet attained. Our true and underived being in the Divine Idea always manifests itself as a desire for progress, and hence as dissatisfaction with our present state; and thus the Idea makes us truly modest, and bows us down to the dust before its majesty. By his pride itself, the proud man shows that, more than any one else, he has need of humility; for while he thinks of himself that he is something, he shows by his pride that he is really nothing.

Hence, in the thought to which we gave utterance, the Student is holy and honourable to himself above everything else,—not in respect of what he is, but of what he ought to be, and what he evermore must strive to become. The peculiar self-abasement of a man consists in this,—when he makes himself an instrument of a temporary and perishable purpose, and deigns to spend care and labour on something else than the Imperishable and Eternal. In this view, every man should be honourable and holy to himself,—and so, too, should the Scholar.

To what end, then, O Student, dost thou give to Knowledge this attention, which, be it great or small, still costs thee some effort, wherefore concentrate thy thoughts here, when thou wouldst rather let them rove abroad, wherefore deny thyself so many enjoyments, for which, nevertheless, the appetite is not wanting in thee? Dost thou answer,—"That I may not some day come to want;—that I may acquire a sufficient maintenance, a respectable competency, whereby I may satisfy myself with good things; that my fellow-citizens may respect me, and that I may more easily move them to the fulfilment of my purposes"? I ask,—Who then is this thou, in whose future nursing and comfort thou art so keenly interested, and for whom thou dost now toil so hard and sacrifice so much? It is as yet quite uncertain whether it ever reach this hoped-for land of self-gratification: but suppose it should do so, and even enjoy for many years the pampering thou hast provided for it, what will be the end of it all at last? All this nursing will have an end; the pampered body will sink and crumble into a heap of ashes; and for this wilt thou begin the monotonous, mechanical, often irksome business of life, and even add to its inherent bitterness by deliberating beforehand on the burden which it lays on thee? In such circumstances, I at least would rather begin at the end of the romance, and go down this day to the grave, into which sooner or later I must descend. Or dost thou answer thus, more praiseworthily in appearance at least, but not more profoundly,—"I will thereby become useful to my fellow-men and promote their welfare?"—then I ask, What end will thy usefulness serve? In a few years, of all whom thou desirest to serve, and whom I freely grant thou mayest serve, not one shall remain,—not one shall have the least need of thy services any more: thou hast spent thy labour on perishable things;—they disappear, and thou disappearest with them, and a time comes when every trace of thy existence shall be utterly effaced. Not so the true Student, who has brought Integrity with him to his task. "I am," he may say; "but as surely as I am, is my existence a thought of God; for He alone is the fountain of all being, and besides Him there is no being. Whatever I am, in and by this thought, I am before all Time, and do so remain independent of all time and change. This thought will I strive to know,—to its fulfilment I will apply all my powers;—then shall they be employed on what is eternal, and their result shall endure for ever. I am Eternal, and it is below the dignity of the Eternal to waste itself on things that perish."

By the same principle does Knowledge, the object of his activity, become honourable to the Student. At his entrance into the world of science, he meets with many things which seem to him strange and unaccountable, insignificant or unattractive; he cannot comprehend the grounds of their necessity, nor their influence on the great whole of Knowledge, which he is as yet unable to embrace in one view. How shall the beginner, who must first gather together the different parts, how shall he see and understand them in the light of the whole, to which he has not yet attained? Whilst one man thoughtlessly neglects and despises whatever is unintelligible to him, and so remains ignorant; whilst another learns it mechanically, with blind faith, or in the hope that it may one day prove useful to him in some business of life; the True Scholar worthily and nobly welcomes it into the general idea of Knowledge which he already possesses. All which comes before him belongs in every case to the circle of things out of which the Divine Idea is to appear to him, and to the material in which the Eternal Life within him shall reveal itself and assume a definite form. If Knowledge appears to those who are without both Genius and Integrity only as a means to the attainment of certain worldly ends, she reveals herself to him who with honest heart consecrates himself to her service, not only in her highest branches which touch closely upon things divine, but down even to her meanest elements, as something originating in, and determined by, the Eternal Thought of God himself,—originated there expressly for, and in relation to, him,—destined to be perfected by its action upon him, and, through him, upon the whole Eternal Universe.

And so does his own person ever become holier to him through the holiness of Knowledge, and Knowledge again holier through the holiness of his person. His whole life, however unimportant it may outwardly seem, has acquired an inward meaning,—a new significance. Whatever may or may not flow from it, it is still a god-like life. And in order to become a partaker in this life, neither the Student, nor the follower of any human pursuit, needs peculiar talents, but only a living and active Integrity of Purpose, to which the thought of our high vocation and of our allegiance to an Eternal Law, with all that flows from these, will be spontaneously revealed.