On the Will in Nature/Reference to Ethics


For reasons I have stated in the beginning, confirmations of the rest of my doctrine are excluded from my present task. Still, in concluding, I may perhaps be allowed to make a general reference to Ethics.

From time immemorial, all nations have acknowledged that the world has a moral, as well as a physical, import. Everywhere nevertheless the matter was only brought to an indistinct consciousness, which, in seeking for its ade quate expression, has clothed itself in various images and myths. These are the different Religions. Philosophers, on their side, have at all times endeavoured to attain clear comprehension of the thing and, notwithstanding their differences in other respects, all, excepting the strictly materialistic, philosophical systems, agree in this one point: that what is most important, nay, alone essential, in our whole existence, that on which everything depends, the real meaning, pivot or point (sit venia verbo) of it, lies in the morality of human actions. But as to the sense of this, as to the ways and means, as to the possibility of the thing, they all again quite disagree, and find themselves before an abyss of obscurity. Thus it follows, that it is easy to preach, but difficult to found, morality. It is just because that point is determined by our conscience, that it becomes the touchstone of all systems; since we demand, and rightly demand, that Metaphysic should give support to Ethics: and now arises the difficult problem to show that, contrary to all experience, the physical order of things depends upon a moral one, and to find out a connection between the force which, by acting according to eternal laws of Nature, gives the world stability, and the morality which has its seat in the human breast. This is therefore the rock on which the best thinkers have foundered. Spinoza occasionally tacks a moral theory on to his Pantheistic Fatalism by means of sophisms, but more often leaves morality terribly in the lurch. Kant, when theoretical Reason is exhausted, sends his Categorical Imperative, laboriously worked out of mere conceptions,[1] on the stage, as deus ex machina, with an absolute ought. But the mistake he made by it only became quite clear when Fichte, who always took outbidding for outdoing, had spun it out with Christian Wolfian prolixity and wearisomeness to a complete system of moral fatalism in his "System of Moral Doctrine," and subsequently presented it more briefly in his last pamphlet.[2]

Now, from this point of view, a system which places the reality of all existence and the root of the whole of Nature in the Will, and in this will places the root of the world, must undeniably carry with it, to say the least, a strong prejudice in its favour. For, by a direct and simple way, it reaches, nay, already holds in its hand before coming to Ethics, what other systems try to reach by roundabout, ever dubious by-paths. Nor indeed can any other road ever lead to this but the insight, that the active and impulsive force in Nature which presents this perceptible world to our intellect, is identical with the will within us. The only Metaphysic which really and immediately supports Ethics, is that one which is itself primarily ethical and constituted out of the material of Ethics. Therefore I had a far greater right to call my Metaphysic "Ethics", than Spinoza, with whom the word sounds almost like irony, and whose "Ethics" might be said to bear the name like lucus a non lucendo; since it is only by means of sophistry that he has been able to tack his morality on to a system, from which it would never logically proceed. In general, moreover, he disavows it downright with revolting assurance.[3] On the whole, I can confidently assert, that there has never yet been a philosophical system so entirely cut out of one piece, so completely without any joins or patches, as mine. As I have said in my preface, it is the unfolding of a single thought, by which the ancient άπλούς ὸ μύθος τἢς άληθείας ἔφυ[4] is again confirmed. Then we must still take into consideration here, that freedom and responsibility—those pillars on which all morality rests—can certainly be asserted in words without the assumption of the aseity[5] of the will; but that it is absolutely impossible to think them without it. Whoever wishes to dispute this, must first invalidate the axiom, stated long ago by the Schoolmen: operari sequitur esse (i. e. the acts of each being follow from the nature of that being),[6] or we must demonstrate the fallacy of the inference to be drawn from it: unde esse, inde operari.[7] Responsibility has for its condition freedom; but freedom has for its condition primariness. For I will according to what I am; therefore I must be according to what I will. Aseity of the will is therefore the first condition of any Ethics based on serious thought, and Spinoza is right when he says: Ea res libera dicetur, quae ex sola suae naturae necessitate existit, et a se sola ad agendum determinatur.[8] Dependence, as to existence and nature, united with freedom as to action, is a contradiction. Were Prometheus to call the creatures of his making to account for their actions, they would be quite justified in answering: "We could only act according to our being: for actions arise from nature. If our actions were bad, the fault lay in our nature: this is thine own work; punish thyself."[9] And it is just the same with the imperishableness of our true being in death; for this cannot be seriously thought without the aseity of that being, and can even hardly be conceived without a fundamental separation of the will from the intellect. This last point is peculiar to my philosophy; but Aristotle had already proved the first thoroughly, by showing at length how that alone can be imperishable which has not arisen, and that the two conceptions condition each other:[10]Ταύτα άλλἡλοις άκολουθεί και τό τε άλένητον άφθαρτον καί τὸ άφθαρτον άγένητον. . . . Τὸ γάρ γενητὸν καί τὸ φθαρτὸν άκολουθούσιν άλλἡλοις.—Εί γενητὀν τι, φθαρτὸν άνἁγκη[11](haec mutuo se sequuntur atque ingenerabile est incorruptibile et incorruptibile ingenerabile. . . . generabile enim et corruptibile mutuo se sequuntur.—si generabile est, et corruptibile esse necesse est). All those among the ancient philosophers who taught an immortality of the soul, understood it in this way; nor did it enter into the head of any of them to assign infinite permanence to a being having arisen in any way. We have evidence of the embarrassment to which the contrary assumption leads, in the ecclesiastical controversy between the advocates of Pre-existence, Creation and Traduction.

The Optimism moreover of all philosophical systems is a point closely allied to Ethics which must never fail in any of them, as in duty bound: for the world likes to hear that it is commendable and excellent, and philosophers like to please the world. With me it is different: I have seen what pleases the world, and therefore shall not swerve a step from the path of truth in order to please it. Thus in this point also my system varies from all the others and stands by itself. But when all the others have completed their demonstrations to the song of the best of worlds, quite at the last, at the background of the system, like a tardy avenger of the monster, like a spirit from the tomb, like the statue in Don Juan, there comes the question as to the origin of evil, of the monstrous, nameless evil, of the awful, heartrending misery in the world:—and here they are speechless, or can only find words, empty, sonorous words, with which to settle this heavy reckoning. On the other hand, a system, in whose basis already the existence of evil is interwoven with the existence of the world, need not fear that apparition any more than a vaccinated child need fear the smallpox. Now this is the case when freedom is placed in the esse instead of in the operari and sin, evil and the world then proceed from that esse.—Moreover it is fair to let me, as a serious man, only speak of things which I really know and only make use of words to which I attach a quite definite meaning; since this alone can be communicated with security to others, and Vauvenargues is quite right in saying: "la clarté est la bonne foi des philosophes." Therefore if I use the words 'Will, Will to live,' this is no mere ens rationis, no hypostasis set up by me, nor is it a term of vague, uncertain meaning; on the contrary, I refer him, who asks what it is, to his own inner self, where he will find it entire, nay, in colossal dimensions, as a true ens realissimum. I have accordingly not explained the world out of the unknown, but rather out of that which is better known than anything, and known to us moreover in quite a different way from all the rest. As to the paradoxical character finally, with which the ascetic results of my Ethics have been reproached, these results had given umbrage even to Jean Paul, otherwise so favourably disposed towards me, and had induced Herr Rätze also (not knowing that the only course to be adopted against me was silence) to write a book against me in 1820, with the best intentions. They have since become the standing rock of offence in my philosophy; but I beg my readers to take into consideration, that it is only in this north-western portion of the ancient continent, and even here only in Protestant countries, that the term paradoxical can be applied to such things; whereas throughout the whole of vast Asia—everywhere indeed, where the detestable doctrine of Islam has not prevailed over the ancient and profound Religions of mankind by dint of fire and sword—they would rather have to fear the reproach of being commonplace. I console myself therefore with the thought that, when referred to the Upanishads of the Sacred Vedas, my Ethics are quite orthodox,[12] and that even with primitive, genuine Christianity they stand in no contradiction. As to all other accusations of heresy, I am well armoured and my breast is fortified with triple steel.

  1. See my prize-essay "On the Fundament of Morality", § 6.
  2. "Die Wissenschaftslehre im allgemeinen Umrisse" (The Doctrine of Science in a general outline), 1810.
  3. For instance, "Eth." iv. prop. 37, Schol. 2.
  4. The language of truth is simple. [Tr.'s add.]
    "Whoever has to speak the truth expresses himself simply," from Euripides's Phoenician Women, V, 469. (Wikisource contributor note)
  5. Self-existence; self-dependence.
    It will be possible to call free that which exists from the mere necessity of its nature and is induced to act merely through itself. (Wikisource contributor note)
  6. Pomponatius, "On the Immortality of the Soul," p. 76 (Wikisource contributor note)
  7. "As the essence is, so is its action." (Wikisource contributor note)
  8. "Eth." i. def. 7. [Tr.]
  9. Compare "Parerga," i. p. 115, et seqq. (p. 133 of 2nd ed.).
  10. Aristotle "De Caelo," i. 12.
  11. "These two go together, the uncreated is imperishable, and the imperishable is uncreated. . . . For the created and the perishable go together. . . . If a thing is created it is necessarily perishable." [Tr.]
  12. I refer those who may wish to be briefly, yet thoroughly, informed on this point, to the late Pastor Bochinger's work: "La vie contemplative, ascétique et monastique chez les peuples Bouddhistes," Strasbourg, 1831.