The Vocation of Man/Part 1< The Vocation of Man
I believe that I am now tolerably well acquainted with no inconsiderable part of the world that surrounds me, and I have certainly employed sufficient labour and care in the acquisition of this knowledge. I have put faith only in the concurrent testimony of my senses, only in repeated and unvarying experience;—what I have beheld, I have touched—what I have touched, I have analyzed;—I have repeated my observations again and again; I have compared the various phenomena with each other; and only when I could understand their mutual connexion, when I could explain and deduce the one from the other, and calculate the result beforehand, and the examination of the result had proved the accuracy of my calculations, have I been satisfied. Therefore I am now as well assured of the accuracy of this part of my knowledge, as of my own existence; I walk with a firm step in these understood spheres of my world, and do actually every moment venture welfare and life itself on the certainty of my convictions.
But—what am I myself, and what is my vocation?
Superfluous question! It is long since I have received complete instruction upon these points, and it would take much time to repeat all that I have heard, learned, and believed concerning them.
And in what way then have I attained this knowledge, which I have this dim remembrance of possessing? Have I, impelled by a burning desire of knowledge, toiled on through uncertainty, doubt, and contradiction?—have I, when anything credible presented itself before me, withheld my assent until I had examined and reëxamined, sifted and compared it,—until an inward voice proclaimed to me, irresistibly and without the possibility of mistake,—“So is it, as surely as thou livest and art!”—No! I remember no such state of mind. Those instructions were bestowed on me before I sought them, the answers were given before I had put the questions. I heard, for I could not avoid doing so, and what was taught me remained in my memory just as chance had disposed it;—without examination, and without interference, I allowed everything to take its place in my mind.
How then could I persuade myself that I really possessed any knowledge upon these matters? If I know that only of which I am convinced, which I have myself discovered, myself experienced, then I cannot truly say that I possess even the slightest knowledge of my vocation;—I know only what others assert they know about it, and all that I can really be assured of is, that I have heard this or that said upon the subject.
Thus, while I have inquired for myself with the most anxious care, into comparatively trivial matters, I have relied wholly on the care and fidelity of others in things of the weightiest importance. I have attributed to others an interest in the highest affairs of humanity, an earnestness and an exactitude which I have by no means discovered in myself. I have esteemed them as indescribably higher than myself.
Whatever truth they really possess, whence can they have obtained it but through their own reflection? And why may not I, by means of the same reflection, discover the same truth, since I too have a being as well as they? How much have I hitherto undervalued and slighted myself!
It shall be no longer thus. From this moment I will enter on my rights, and assume the dignity which belongs to me. Let all foreign aids be cast aside! I will examine for myself. If any secret wishes concerning the result of my inquiries, any partial leaning towards certain conclusions, should arise within me, I forget and renounce them, and I will accord them no influence over the direction of my thoughts. I will perform my task with firmness and integrity;—I will candidly admit all that I really discover. What I find to be truth, let it sound as it may, shall be welcome to me. I will know. With the same certainty with which I can calculate that this ground will support me when I tread on it, that this fire will burn me if I approach too near it, will I know what I am, and what I shall be. And should it prove impossible for me to know this, then I will know this much at least, that I cannot know it. Even to this conclusion of my inquiry will I submit, should it approve itself to me as the truth. I hasten to the fulfilment of my task.
I seize on Nature in her rapid and unresting flight, detain her for an instant, and holding the present moment steadily in view, I reflect upon this Nature by means of which my thinking powers have hitherto been developed and trained to those researches that belong to her domain.
I am surrounded by objects which I am compelled to regard as separate, independent, self-subsisting wholes. I behold plants, trees, animals. I ascribe to each individual certain properties and attributes by which I distinguish it from others; to this plant, such a form; to another, another; to this tree, leaves of such a shape; to another, others differing from them.
Every object has its appointed number of attributes, neither more nor less. To every question, whether it is this or that, there is, for any one who is thoroughly acquainted with it, a decisive Yes possible, or a decisive No,—so that there is an end of all doubt or hesitation on the subject. Everything that exists is something, or it is not this something;—is coloured, or is not coloured;—has a certain colour, or has it not;—may be tasted, or may not;—is tangible, or is not;—and so on, ad infinitum.
Every object possesses each of these attributes in a definite degree. Let a measure be given for any particular attribute which is capable of being applied to the object; then we may discover the exact extent of that attribute, which it neither exceeds nor falls short of. I measure the height of this tree; it is defined, and it is not a single line higher or lower than it is. I consider the green of its leaves; it is a definite green, not the smallest shade darker or lighter, fresher or more faded than it is; although I may have neither measure nor expression for these qualities. I turn my eye to this plant; it is at a definite stage of growth between its budding and its maturity, not in the smallest degree nearer or more remote from either than it is. Everything that exists is determined throughout; it is what it is, and nothing else.
Not that I am unable to conceive of an object as floating unattached between opposite determinations. I do certainly conceive of indefinite objects; for more than half of my thoughts consist of such conceptions. I think of a tree in general. Has this tree fruit or not, leaves or not; and if so, what is their number?—to what order of trees does it belong?—how large is it?—and so on. All these questions remain unanswered, and my thought is undetermined in these respects; for I did not propose to myself the thought of any particular tree, but of a tree generally. But I deny actual existence to such a tree in thus leaving it undefined. Everything that actually exists has its determinate number of all the possible attributes of actual existence, and each of these in a determinate measure, as surely as it actually exists, although I may admit my inability thoroughly to exhaust all the properties of any one object, or to apply to them any standard of measurement.
But Nature pursues her course of ceaseless change, and while I yet speak of the moment which I sought to detain before me, it is gone, and all is changed; and in like manner, before I had fixed my observation upon it, all was otherwise. It had not always been as it was when I observed it:—it had become so.
Why then, and from what cause, had it become precisely this which I beheld? Why had Nature, amid the infinite variety of possible forms, assumed in this moment precisely these and no others?
For this reason, that they were preceded by those precisely which did precede them, and by no others; and because the present could arise out of those and out of no other possible conditions. Had anything in the preceding moment been in the smallest degree different from what it was, then in the present moment something would have been different from what it is. And from what cause were all things in that preceding moment precisely such as they were? For this reason, that in the moment preceding that, they were such as they were. And this moment again was dependent on its predecessor, and that on another, and so on without limit. In like manner will Nature, in the succeeding moment, be necessarily determined to the particular forms which it will then assume—for this reason, that in the present moment it is determined exactly as it is; and were anything in the present moment in the smallest degree different from what it is, then in the succeeding moment something would necessarily be different from what it will be. And in the moment following that, all things will be precisely as they will be, because in the immediately previous moment they will be as they will be; and so will its successor proceed forth from it, and another from that, and so on for ever.
Nature proceeds throughout the whole infinite series of her possible determinations without outward incentive; and the succession of these changes is not arbitrary, but follows strict and unalterable laws. Whatever exists in Nature, necessarily exists as it does exist, and it is absolutely impossible that it could be otherwise. I enter within an unbroken chain of phenomena, in which every link is determined by that which has preceded it, and in its turn determines the next; so that, were I able to trace backward the causes through which alone any given moment could have come into actual existence, and to follow out the consequences which must necessarily flow from it, I should then be able, at that moment, and by means of thought alone, to discover all possible conditions of the universe, both past and future;—past, by interpreting the given moment; future, by foreseeing its results. Every part contains the whole, for only through the whole is each part what it is, but through the whole it is necessarily what it is.
What is it then which I have thus discovered? If I review my acquisitions as a whole, I find their substance to be this:—that in every stage of progress an antecedent is necessarily supposed, from which and through which alone the present has arisen; in every condition a previous condition, in every existence another existence; and that from nothing, nothing whatever can proceed.
Let me pause here a little, and develope whatever is contained in this principle, until it become perfectly clear to me! For it may be that on my clear insight into this point may depend the whole success of my future inquiry.
Why, and from what cause, I had asked, are the determinate forms of objects precisely such as they are at this moment. I assumed without farther proof, and without the slightest inquiry, as an absolute, immediate, certain and unalterable truth, that they had a cause;—that not through themselves, but through something which lay beyond them, they had attained existence and reality. I found their existence insufficient to account for itself, and I was compelled to assume another existence beyond them, as a necessary condition of theirs. But why did I find the existence of these qualities and determinations insufficient for itself? why did I find it to be an incomplete existence? What was there in it which betrayed to me its insufficiency? This, without doubt:—that, in the first place, these qualities do not exist in and for themselves,—they are qualities of something else, attributes of a substance, forms of something formed; and the supposition of such a substance, of a something which shall support these attributes,—of a substratum for them, to use the phraseology of the Schools,—is a necessary condition of the conceivableness of such qualities. Further, before I can attribute a definite quality to such a substratum, I must suppose for it a condition of repose, and of cessation from change,—a pause in its existence. Were I to admit it to be in a state of transition, then there could be no definite determination, but merely an endless series of changes from one state to another. The state of determination in a thing is thus a state and expression of mere passivity; and a state of mere passivity is in itself an incomplete existence. Such passivity itself demands an activity to which it may be referred, by which it can be explained, and through which it first becomes conceivable;—or, as it is usually expressed,—which contains within it the ground of this passivity.
What I found myself compelled to suppose was thus by no means that the various and successive determinations of Nature themselves produce each other,—that the present determination annihilates itself, and, in the next moment, when it no longer exists, produces another, which is different from itself and not contained in it, to fill its place:—this is wholly inconceivable. The determination produces neither itself nor anything else.
What I found myself compelled to assume in order to account for the gradual origin and the changes of those determinations, was an active power, peculiar to the object, and constituting its essential nature.
And how, then, do I conceive of this power?—what is its nature, and the modes of its manifestation? This only,—that under these definite conditions it produces by its own energy, certainly and infallibly, this definite effect, and no other.
This principle of activity, of independent arising and becoming, dwells in itself alone, and in nothing beyond itself, as surely as it is a power;—a power is not impelled or set in motion; it sets itself in motion. The cause of its having developed itself precisely in this manner and no other, lies partly in itself, because it is this particular power and no other; and partly in the circumstances under which it developes itself. Both these,—the inward determination of a power by itself, and its outward determination by circumstances,—must be united in order to produce a change. The latter,—the circumstances, the passive condition of things,—can of itself produce no change, for it contains within it the opposite of all change,—inert existence. The former,—the power,—is wholly determined, for only on this condition is it conceivable; but its determination is completed only through the circumstances under which it is developed. I can conceive of a power, it can have an existence for me, only in so far as I can perceive an effect proceeding from it; an inactive power,—which should yet be a power and not an inert thing,—is wholly inconceivable. Every affect, however, is determined,—and since the effect is but the expression, but another mode of the activity itself,—the active power is determined in its activity, and the ground of this determination lies partly in itself, because it can only be conceived of as a particular and definite power; partly out of itself, because its own determination can only be conceived of as conditioned by something else.
A flower has sprung out of the earth, and I infer from thence a formative power in Nature. Such a formative power exists for me only so far as this flower and others, plants, and animals exist for me:—I can describe this power only through its effects, and it is to me no more than the producing cause of such effects,—the generative principle of flowers, plants, animals, and organic forms in general. I will go further, and maintain that a flower, and this particular flower, could arise in this place only in so far as all other circumstances united to make it possible. But by the union of all these circumstances for its possibility, the actual existence of the flower is in no measure explained to me; and for this I am still compelled to assume a particular, spontaneous, and original power in Nature, and indeed a flower-producing power; for another power of Nature might, under the same circumstances, have produced something entirely different.—I have thus attained to the following view of the Universe.
When I contemplate all things as one whole, one Nature, there is but one power,—when I regard them as separate existences, there are many powers—which develope themselves according to their inward laws, and pass through all the possible forms of which they are capable; and all objects in Nature are but those powers under certain determinate forms. The manifestations of every individual power of Nature are determined, become what they are, partly by its own essential character, and partly through the manifestations of all the other powers of Nature with which it is connected; but it is connected with them all—for Nature is one connected whole. They are, therefore, unalterably determined,—while its essential character remains what it is, and while it continues to manifest itself under these particular circumstances, its manifestations must necessarily be what they are,—and it is absolutely impossible that they should be in the smallest degree different from what they are.
In every moment of her duration Nature is one connected whole; in every moment each individual part must be what it is, because all the others are what they are; and you could not remove a single grain of sand from its place, without thereby, although perhaps imperceptibly to you, altering something throughout all parts of the immeasurable whole. But every moment of this duration is determined by all past moments, and will determine all future moments; and you cannot conceive even the position of a grain of sand other than it is in the Present, without being compelled to conceive the whole indefinite Past to have been other than what it has been, and the whole indefinite Future other than what it will be. Make the experiment, for instance, with this grain of quick-sand. Suppose it to lie some few paces further inland than it does:—then must the storm-wind that drove it in from the sea have been stronger than it actually was;—then must the preceding state of the weather, by which this wind was occasioned, and its degree of strength determined, have been different from what it actually was; and the previous state by which this particular weather was determined,—and so on; and thus you have, without stay or limit, a wholly different temperature of the air from that which really existed, and a different constitution of the bodies which possess an influence over this temperature, and over which, on the other hand, it exercises such an influence. On the fruitfulness or unfruitfulness of countries, and through that, or even directly, on the duration of human life,—this temperature exercises a most decided influence. How can you know,—since it is not permitted us to penetrate the arcana of Nature, and it is therefore allowable to speak of possibilities,—how can you know, that in such a state of weather as may have been necessary to carry this grain of sand a few paces further inland, some one of your forefathers might not have perished from hunger, or cold, or heat, before begetting that son from whom you are descended; and that thus you might never have been at all, and all that you have ever done, and all that you ever hope to do in this world, must have been obstructed, in order that a grain of sand might lie in a different place?
I myself, with all that I call mine, am a link in this chain of the rigid necessity of Nature. There was a time—so others tell me who were then alive, and I am compelled by reasoning to admit such a time of which I have no immediate consciousness,—there was a time in which I was not, and a moment in which I began to be. I then only existed for others,—not yet for myself. Since then, my self, my self-consciousness, has gradually unfolded itself, and I have discovered in myself certain capacities and faculties, wants and natural desires. I am a definite creature, which came into being at a certain time.
I have not come into being by my own power. It would be the highest absurdity to suppose that I was before I came into existence, in order to bring myself into existence. I have, then, been called into being by another power beyond myself. And by what power but the universal power of Nature, since I too am a part of Nature? The time at which my existence commenced, and the attributes with which I came into being, were determined by this universal power of Nature; and all the forms under which these inborn attributes have since manifested themselves, and will manifest themselves as long as I have a being, are determined by the same power. It was impossible that, instead of me, another should have come into existence;—it is impossible that this being, once here, should at any moment of its existence be other than what it is and will be.
That my successive states of being have been accompanied by consciousness, and that some of them, such as thoughts, resolutions, and the like, appear to be nothing but varied modes of consciousness, need not perplex my reasonings. It is the natural constitution of the plant to develope itself, of the animal to move, of man to think,—all after fixed laws. Why should I hesitate to acknowledge the last as an original power of Nature, as well as the first and second? Nothing could hinder me from doing so, but surprise; thought being assuredly a far higher and more subtle operation of Nature, than the formation of a plant or the proper motion of an animal. But how can I accord to such a feeling any influence whatever upon the calm conclusions of reason? I cannot indeed explain how the power of Nature can produce thought; but can I better explain its operation in the formation of a plant, or in the motion of an animal? To attempt to deduce thought from any mere combination of matter, is an extravagance into which I shall not fall; but can I explain from it even the formation of the simplest moss? Those original powers of Nature cannot be explained, for it is only by them that we can explain everything which is susceptible of explanation. Thought exists,—its existence is absolute and independent; just as the formative power of Nature exists absolutely and independently. It is in Nature; for the thinking being arises and developes himself according to the laws of Nature; therefore thought exists through Nature. There is in Nature an original thinking-power, as there is an original formative-power.
This original thinking-power of the Universe proceeds and developes itself in all possible modes of which it is capable, as the other original forces of Nature go forth and assume all possible forms. I, like the plant, am a particular mode or manifestation of the formative-power; like the animal, a particular mode or manifestation of the power of motion; and besides these I am also a particular mode or manifestation of the thinking-power; and the union of these three original powers into one,—into one harmonious development,—is the distinguishing characteristic of my species, as it is the distinguishing characteristic of the plant species to be merely a mode or manifestation of the plant-forming power.
Figure, motion, thought, in me, are not dependent on each other, and consequent on each other;—so that I think, and thereby conceive of the forms and motions of surrounding objects in such or such a manner, because they are so; or on the other hand, that they are so, because I so conceive of them;—but they are all simultaneous and harmonious developments of one and the same power, the manifestation of which necessarily assumes the form of a complete creature of my species, and which may thus be called the man-forming power. A thought arises within me absolutely, without dependence on anything else; the corresponding form likewise appears absolutely, and also the motion which corresponds to both. I am not what I am, because I think so, or will so; nor do I think and will it, because I am so; but I am, and I think, both absolutely;—both harmonize with each other by virtue of a higher cause.
As surely as those original powers of Nature exist for themselves, and have their own internal laws and purposes, so surely must their outward manifestations, if they are left to themselves and not suppressed by any foreign force, endure for a certain period of time, and describe a certain circle of change. That which disappears even at the moment of its production is assuredly not the manifestation of one primordial power, but only a consequence of the combined operation of various powers. The plant, a particular mode or manifestation of the formative-power of Nature, when left to itself, proceeds from the first germination to the ripening of the seed. Man, a particular mode or manifestation of all the powers of Nature in their union, when left to himself, proceeds from birth to death in old age. Hence, the duration of the life of plants and of men, and the varied modes of this life.
This form, this proper motion, this thought, in harmony with each other,—this duration of all these essential qualities, amidst many non-essential changes, belong to me in so far as I am a being of my species. But the man-forming power of Nature had already displayed itself before I existed under a multitude of outward conditions and circumstances. These outward circumstances have determined the particular manner of its present activity, which has resulted in the production of precisely such an individual of my species as I am. The same circumstances can never return; unless the whole system of Nature should retrograde, and two Natures arise instead of one; hence the same individuals, who have once existed, can never again come into actual being. Further, the man-forming power of Nature manifests itself, during the same time in which I exist, under all the conditions and circumstances possible in that time. But no combination of such circumstances can perfectly resemble those through which I came into existence, unless the universe could divide itself into two perfectly similar but independent worlds. It is impossible that two perfectly similar individuals can come into actual existence at the same time. I am that which the man-forming power of Nature—having been what it was, being what it is, and standing in this particular relation to the other opposing powers of Nature—could become; and,—there being no ground of limitation within itself,—since it could become, necessarily must become. It is thus determined what I, this definite person, must be; and the general law by which I am what I am is discovered. I am that which I am, because in this particular condition of the great system of Nature, only such an one, and absolutely no other, was possible; and a spirit who could look through the innermost secrets of Nature, would, from knowing one single man, be able distinctly to declare what men had formerly existed, and what men would exist at any future moment;—in one individual he would discern all actual and possible individuals. This, my inter-connexion with the whole system of Nature, it is, then, which determines what I have been, what I am, and what I shall be; and the same spirit would be able, from any possible moment of my existence, to discover infallibly what I had previously been, and what I was afterwards to become. All that, at any time, I am and shall be, I am and shall be of absolute necessity; and it is impossible that I should be anything else.
I am, indeed, conscious of myself as an independent, and, in many occurrences of my life, a free being; but this consciousness may easily be explained on the principles already laid down, and may be thoroughly reconciled with the conclusions which have been drawn. My immediate consciousness, my proper perception, cannot go beyond myself and the modes of my own being;—I have immediate knowledge of myself alone: whatever I may know more than this, I know only by inference, in the same way in which I have inferred the existence of original powers of Nature, which yet do not lie within the circle of my perceptions. I myself, however,—that which I call me—my personality,—am not the man-forming power of Nature, but only one of its manifestations; and it is only of this manifestation that I am conscious, as myself, not of that power whose existence I only infer from the necessity of explaining my own. This manifestation, however, in its true nature, is really the product of an original and independent power, and must appear as such in consciousness. On this account I recognise myself generally as an independent being. For this reason I appear to myself as free in certain occurrences of my life, when these occurrences are the manifestations of the independent power which falls to my share as an individual; as restrained and limited, when, by any combination of outward circumstances, which may arise in time, but do not lie within the original limitations of my personality, I cannot do what my individual power would naturally, if unobstructed, be capable of doing; as compelled, when this individual power, by the superiority of antagonist powers, is compelled to manifest itself even in opposition to its own laws.
Bestow consciousness on a tree, and let it grow, spread out its branches, and bring forth leaves and buds, blossoms and fruits, after its kind, without hindrance or obstruction:—it will perceive no limitation to its existence in being only a tree, and a tree of this particular species, and this particular individual of the species; it will feel itself perfectly free, because, in all those manifestations, it will do nothing but what its nature requires; and it will desire to do nothing else, because it can only desire what that nature requires. But let its growth be hindered by unfavourable weather, want of nourishment, or other causes, and it will feel itself limited and restrained, because an impulse which actually belongs to its nature is not satisfied. Bind its free waving boughs to a wall, force foreign branches on it by ingrafting, and it will feel itself compelled to one course of action; its branches will grow, but not in the direction they would have taken if left to themselves; it will produce fruits, but not those which its own nature demands. In immediate consciousness, I appear to myself as free; by reflection on the whole of Nature, I discover that freedom is absolutely impossible; the former must be subordinate to the latter, for it can only be explained by means of it.
What high satisfaction do I enjoy through the system which my understanding has thus completed! What order, what firm connexion, what comprehensive supervision does it introduce into the whole fabric of my knowledge! Consciousness is here no longer that stranger in Nature, whose connexion with existence is so incomprehensible; it is native to it, and indeed one of its necessary manifestations. Nature rises gradually in the fixed series of her productions. In rude matter she is a simple existence; in organized matter she returns within herself to internal activity; in the plant, to produce form; in the animal, motion;—in man, as her highest masterpiece, she turns inwards that she may perceive and contemplate herself; in him she, as it were, doubles herself, and, from being mere existence, becomes existence and consciousness in one.
How I am and must be conscious of my own being and of its determinations, is, in this connexion, easily perceived. My being and my knowledge have one common foundation,—my own nature. The Living being within me, even because it is mine, is conscious of itself. Quite as conceivable is my consciousness of corporeal objects existing beyond myself. The powers in whose manifestation my personality consists,—the formative—the self-moving—the thinking powers,—are not these same powers as they exist in Nature at large, but only a certain definite portion of them; and that they are but such a portion, is because there are so many other existences beyond me. From the former, I can infer the latter; from the limitation, the power which limits. Because I myself am not this or that, which yet belongs to the connected system of existence, it must exist beyond me;—thus reasons the thinking principle within me. Of my own limitation, I am immediately conscious, because it is a part of myself, and only by reason of it do I possess an actual existence; my consciousness of the source of this limitation,—of that which I myself am not,—is produced by the former, and arises out of it.
Away, then, with those pretended influences and operations of outward things upon me, by means of which they are supposed to pour in upon me a know ledge which is not in themselves and cannot flow forth from them. The ground upon which I assume the existence of something beyond myself, does not he out of myself, but within me, in the limitation of my own personality. By means of this limitation, the thinking principle of Mature within me proceeds out of itself, and is able to survey itself as a whole, although, in each individual, from a different point of view.
In the same way there arises within me the idea of other thinking beings like myself. I, or the thinking power of Nature within me, possess some thoughts which seem to have developed themselves within myself as a particular form of Nature; and others, which seem not to have so developed themselves. And so it is in reality. The former are my own, peculiar, individual contribution to the general circle of thought in Nature; the latter are deduced from them, as what must surely have a place in that circle; but, being only inferences so far as I am concerned, must find that place, not in me, but in other thinking beings:—hence I conclude that there are other thinking beings besides myself. In short, Nature, in me, becomes conscious of herself as a whole, but only by beginning with my own individual consciousness, and proceeding from thence to the consciousness of universal being by inference founded on the principle of causality;—that is, she is conscious of the conditions under which alone such a form, such a motion, such a thought as that in which my personality consists, is possible. The principle of causality is the point of transition, from the particular within my self, to the universal which lies beyond myself; and the distinguishing characteristic of these two kinds of knowledge is this, that the one is immediate perception, while the other is inference.
In each individual, Nature beholds herself from a particular point of view. I call myself—I, and thee—thou; thou callest thyself—I, and me—thou; I lie beyond thee, as thou beyond me. Of what is without me, I comprehend first those things which touch me most nearly; thou, those which touch thee most nearly;—from these points we each proceed onwards to the next proximate; but we describe very different paths, which may here and there intersect each other, but never run parallel. There is an infinite variety of possible individuals, and hence also an infinite variety of possible starting points of consciousness. This consciousness of all individuals taken together, constitutes the complete consciousness of the universe; and there is no other, for only in the individual is there perfect precision and reality.
The testimony of consciousness in every individual is altogether sure and trustworthy, if it be indeed the consciousness here described; for this consciousness developes itself out of the whole prescribed course of Nature. Nature, however, cannot contradict herself; wherever there is a conception, there must be a corresponding existence, for conceptions are only produced simultaneously with the production of the corresponding realities. To each individual his own particular consciousness is wholly determined, for it proceeds from his own nature:—no one can have other conceptions, or a greater or less degree of vitality in these conceptions, than he actually has. The substance of his conceptions is determined by the position which he assumes in the universe; their clearness and vitality, by the higher or lower degree of efficiency manifested by the power of humanity in his person. Give to Nature the determination of one single element of a person, let it seem to be ever so trivial,—the course of a muscle, the turn of a hair,—and she could tell thee, had she a universal consciousness, and were able to reply to thee, all the thoughts which could belong to this person during the whole period of his conscious existence.
In this system also, the phenomenon of our consciousness which we call Will, becomes thoroughly intelligible. A volition is the immediate consciousness of the activity of any of the powers of Nature within us. The immediate consciousness of an effort,—an aspiration of these powers which has not yet become a reality because it is hemmed in by opposing powers,—is, in consciousness, inclination or desire; the struggle of contending powers is irresolution; the victory of one is the determination of the Will. If the power which strives after activity be only that which we have in common with the plant or the animal, there arises a division and degradation of our inward being; the desire is unworthy of our rank in the order of things, and, according to a common use of language, may be called a low one. If this striving power be the whole undivided force of humanity, then is the desire worthy of our nature, and it may be called a higher one. The latter effort, considered absolutely, may be called a moral law. The activity of this latter is a virtuous Will, and the course of action resulting from it is virtue. The triumph of the former unassociated with the latter is vice; such a triumph over the latter, and despite its opposition, is crime.
The power which, on each individual occasion, proves triumphant, triumphs of necessity; its superiority is determined by the whole connexion of the universe; and hence by the same connexion is the vice or crime of each individual irrevocably determined. Give to Nature, once more, the course of a muscle, the turn of a hair, in any particular individual, and had she the power of universal thought, and could answer thee, she would be able to declare all the good and evil deeds of his life from the beginning to the end of it. But still virtue does not cease to be virtue, nor vice to be vice. The virtuous man is a noble product of nature; the vicious, an ignoble and contemptible one:—although both are necessary results of the connected system of the universe.
Repentance is the consciousness of the continued effort of humanity within me, even after it has been overcome, associated with the disagreeable sense of having been subdued; a disquieting but still precious pledge of our nobler nature. From this consciousness of the fundamental impulse of our nature, arises the sense which has been called ‘conscience,’ and its greater or less strictness and susceptibility, down to the absolute want of it, in many individuals. The ignoble man is incapable of repentance, for in him humanity has at no time sufficient strength to contend with lower impulses. Reward and punishment are the natural consequences of virtue and vice for the production of new virtue and new vice. By frequent and important victories, our peculiar power is extended and strengthened; by inaction or frequent defeat, it becomes ever weaker and weaker. The ideas of guilt and accountability have no meaning but in external legislation. He only has incurred guilt, and must render an account of his crime, who compels society to employ artificial external force in order to restrain in him the activity of those impulses which are injurious to the general welfare.
My inquiry is closed, and my desire of knowledge satisfied. I know what I am, and wherein the nature of my species consists. I am a manifestation, determined by the whole system of the universe, of a power of Nature which is determined by itself. To understand thoroughly my particular personal being in its deepest sources is impossible, for I cannot penetrate into the innermost recesses of Nature. But I am immediately conscious of this my personal existence. I know right well what I am at the present moment; I can for the most part remember what I have been formerly; and I shall learn what I shall be, when what is now future shall become present experience.
I cannot indeed make use of this discovery in the regulation of my actions, for I do not truly act at all, but Nature acts in me; and to make myself something else than that for which Nature has intended me, is what I cannot even propose to myself, for I am not the author of my own being, but Nature has made me myself, and all that I am. I may repent, and rejoice, and form good resolutions;—although, strictly speaking, I cannot even do this, for all these things come to me of themselves, when it is appointed for them to do so;—but most certainly I cannot, by all my repentance, and by all my resolutions, produce the smallest change in that which I must once for all inevitably become. I stand under the inexorable power of rigid Necessity:—should she have destined me to become a fool and a profligate, a fool and a profligate without doubt I shall become; should she have destined me to be wise and good, wise and good I shall doubtless be. There is neither blame nor merit to her nor to me. She stands under her own laws, I under hers. I see this, and feel that my tranquillity would be best ensured by subjecting my wishes also to that Necessity to which my being is wholly subject.
Oh these opposing wishes! For why should I any longer hide from myself the sadness, the horror, the amazement with which I was penetrated when I saw how my inquiry must end? I had solemnly promised myself that my inclinations should have no influence in the direction of my thoughts; and I have not knowingly allowed them any such influence. But may I not at last confess that this result contradicts the profoundest aspirations, wishes, and wants of my being? And, despite of the accuracy and the decisive strictness of the proofs by which it seems to be supported, how can I truly believe in a theory of my being which strikes at the very root of that being, which so distinctly contradicts all the purposes for which alone I live and without which I should loathe my existence?
Why must my heart mourn at, and be lacerated by, that which so perfectly satisfies my understanding? While nothing in Nature contradicts itself, is man alone a contradiction? Or perhaps not man in general, but only me and those who resemble me? Had I but been contented to remain amid the pleasant delusions that surrounded me, satisfied with the immediate consciousness of my existence, and never raised those questions concerning its foundation, the answer to which has caused me this misery! But if this answer be true, then I must of necessity have raised these questions:—I indeed raised them not, but the thinking nature within me raised them. I was destined to this misery, and I weep in vain the lost innocence of soul which can never return to me again.
But courage! Let all else be lost, so that this at least remains! Merely for the sake of my wishes, did they lie ever so deep or seem ever so sacred, I cannot renounce what rests on incontrovertible evidence. But perhaps I may have erred in my investigation;—perhaps I may have only partially comprehended and understood the grounds upon which I had to proceed. I ought to repeat the inquiry again from the opposite side, in order that I may at least possess a correct starting point. What is it, then, that I find so repugnant, so painful, in the decision to which I have come? What is it, which I desired to find in its place? Let me before all things make clear to myself what are these inclinations to which I appeal.
That I should be destined to be wise and good, or foolish and profligate, without power to change this destiny in aught,—in the former case having no merit, and in the latter incurring no guilt,—this it was that filled me with amazement and horror. The reference of my being, and of all the determinations of my being, to a cause out of myself,—the manifestations of which were again determined by other causes external to itself,—this it was from which I so violently recoiled. The freedom which was not mine, but that of a foreign power without me, and even in that, only a limited, half freedom,—this it was which did not satisfy me. I myself,—that of which I am conscious as my own being and person, but which in this system appears only as the manifestation of a higher existence,—this “I” would be independent,—would be something, not by another or through another, but of myself,—and, as such, would be the final root of all my own determinations. The rank which in this system is assumed by an original power of Nature I would myself assume, with this difference, that the modes of my manifestations shall not be determined by any foreign power. I desire to possess an inward and peculiar power of manifold, infinite modes of manifestation, like those powers of Nature, and this power shall manifest itself in the particular way in which it does manifest itself, for no other reason than because it does so manifest itself; not, like these powers of Nature, because it is placed under such or such outward conditions.
What then, according to my wish, shall be the especial seat and centre of this peculiar inward power? Evidently not my body, for that I willingly allow to pass for a manifestation of the powers of Nature,—at least so far as its constitution is concerned, if not with regard to its farther determinations; not my sensual inclinations, for these I regard as a relation of those powers to my consciousness. Hence it must be my thought and will. I would exercise my voluntary power freely, for the accomplishment of aims which I shall have freely adopted; and this will, as its own ultimate ground which can be determined by no higher, shall move and mould, first my own body, and through it the surrounding world. My active powers shall be under the control of my will alone, and shall be set in motion by nothing else than by it. Thus it shall be. There shall be a Supreme Good in the spiritual world; I shall have the power to seek this with freedom until I find it, to acknowledge it as such when found, and it shall be my fault if I do not find it. This Supreme Good I shall will to know, merely because I will it; and if I will anything else instead of it, the fault shall be mine. My actions shall be the result of this will, and without it there shall absolutely no action of mine ensue, since there shall be no other power over my actions but this will. Then shall my powers, determined by, and subject to the dominion of, my will, invade the external world. I will be the lord of Nature, and she shall be my servant. I will influence her according to the measure of my capacity, but she shall have no influence on me.
This, then, is the substance of my wishes and aspirations. But the system, which has satisfied my understanding, has wholly repudiated these. According to the one, I am wholly independent of Nature and of any law which I do not impose upon myself; according to the other, I am but a strictly determined link in the chain of Nature. Whether such a freedom as I have desired be at all conceivable, and, if so, whether there be not grounds which, on complete and thorough investigation, may compel me to accept it as a reality, and to ascribe it to myself, and whereby the result of my former conclusions might thus be refuted;—this is now the question.
To be free, in the sense stated, means that I myself will make myself whatever I am to be. I must then,—and this is what is most surprising, and, at first sight, absurd in the idea,—I must already be, in a certain sense, that which I shall become, in order to be able to become so; I must possess a two-fold being, of which the first shall contain the fundamental determining principle of the second. If I interrogate my immediate self-consciousness on this matter, I find the following. I have the knowledge of various possible courses of action, from amongst which, as it appears to me, I can choose which I please. I run through the whole circle, enlarge it, examine the various courses, compare one with another, and consider. I at length decide upon one, determine my will in accordance with it, and this resolution of my will is followed by a corresponding action. Here then, certainly, I am beforehand, in the mere conception of my purpose, what subsequently, by means of this conception, I am in will and in action. I am as a thinking, what I afterwards am as an active, being. I create myself:—my being by my thought, my thought by previous thought. One can conceive the determinate state of a manifestation of the mere powers of Nature, of a plant for instance, as preceded by an indeterminate state, in which, if left to itself, it might have assumed any one of an infinite variety of possible determinations. These manifold possibilities are certainly possibilities within it, founded in its own peculiar character, but they are not possibilities for it, because it is incapable of such an idea, and cannot choose or of itself put an end to this state of indecision: there must be external grounds by which it may be determined to some one of those various possibilities to which it is unable to determine itself. This determination can have no previous existence within it, for it is capable of but one mode of determination, that of real existence. Hence it was, that I formerly felt myself compelled to maintain that the manifestation of every power must receive its final determination from without. I, doubtless, only took cognizance of such powers as are incapable of consciousness, and manifest themselves merely in the outward world. To them the above assertion may be applied without the slightest limitation; with respect to intelligences, the grounds of this assertion are not admissible, and it appears, therefore, rash to extend it to them.
Freedom, such as I have laid claim to, is conceivable only of intelligences; but to them, undoubtedly, it belongs. Under this supposition, man, as well as nature, is perfectly comprehensible. My body, and my capacity of operating in the world of sense, are, as in the former system, manifestations of certain limited powers of Nature; and my natural inclinations are the relations of these manifestations to my consciousness. The mere knowledge of what exists independently of me arises under this supposition of freedom, precisely as in the former system; and up to this point, both agree. But according to the former,—and here begins the opposition between these systems,—according to the former, my capacity of physical activity remains under the dominion of Nature, and is constantly set in motion by the same power which produced it, and thought has here nothing whatever to do but to look on; according to the latter, this capacity, once brought into existence, falls under the dominion of a power superior to Nature, and wholly independent of her laws,—the power of design and of will. Thought is no longer the mere faculty of observation;—it is the source of action itself. In the one case, it is forces, external and invisible to me, that put an end to my state of indecision, and limit my activity as well as my immediate consciousness of it—that is, my will—to one point, just as the indeterminate activity of the plant is limited;—in the other, it is I myself, independent, and free from the influence of all outward forces, who put an end to my state of indecision, and determine my own course, according to the knowledge I have freely attained of what is best.
Which of these two opinions shall I adopt? Am I free and independent?—or am I nothing in myself, and merely the manifestation of a foreign power? It is clear to me that neither of the two doctrines is sufficiently supported. For the first, there is no other recommendation than its mere conceivableness; for the latter, I extend a proposition which is perfectly true in its own place, beyond its proper and natural boundary. If intelligence be merely the manifestation of a power of Nature, then I do quite right to extend this principle to it: but, whether it be so or not, is the very question at issue; and this question I must solve by deduction from other premises, not by a one-sided answer assumed at the very commencement of the inquiry, from which I again deduce that only which I myself have previously placed in it. In short, neither of the two opinions seems to be proved.
As little can this matter be determined by immediate consciousness. I can never become conscious either of the external powers, by which, in the system of universal necessity, I am determined; nor of my own power, by which, in the system of freedom, I determine myself. Thus, whichever of the two opinions I may accept, I still accept it without sufficient evidence, and simply on its own account.
The system of freedom satisfies my heart; the opposite system destroys and annihilates it. To stand, cold and unmoved, amid the current of events, a passive mirror of fugitive and passing forms,—this existence is insupportable to me; I scorn and detest it. I will love;—I will lose myself in sympathy;—I will know the joy and the grief of life. I myself am the highest object of this sympathy; and the only mode in which I can satisfy its requirements is by my actions. I will do all for the best;—I will rejoice when I have done right, I will grieve when I have done wrong; and even this sorrow shall be sweet to me, for it is a mark of sympathy,—a pledge of future amendment. In love only is life;—without it is death and annihilation.
But coldly and insolently does the opposite system advance, and turn this love into a mockery. If I listen to it, I am not, and I cannot act. The object of my deepest attachment is a phantom of the brain,—a palpable and gross delusion. Not I, but a foreign and to me wholly unknown power, acts in me; and it is a matter of indifference to me how this power unfolds itself. I stand abashed with my warm affections, and my virtuous will, and blush for what I know to be best and purest in my nature, for the sake of which alone I would exist, as for a ridiculous folly. What is holiest in me is given as a prey to scorn.
Doubtless it was the love of this love, an interest in this interest, that impelled me, unconsciously, before I entered upon this inquiry which has now perplexed and distracted me, to regard myself, without farther question, as free and independent; doubtless it was this interest which has led me to carry out, even to conviction, an opinion which has nothing in its favour but its intelligibility, and the impossibility of proving its opposite; it was this interest which has hitherto restrained me from undertaking to explain any further, myself and my capacities.
The opposite system, barren and heartless indeed, but exhaustless in its explanations, will explain even this desire for freedom, and this aversion to the contrary doctrine. It explains everything which I can cite from my own consciousness against it, and as often as I say ‘thus and thus is the case,’ it replies with the same cool indifference, “I say so too; and I tell you besides why it must necessarily be so.” “Thou standest,” thus will it answer my complaints, “when thou speakest of thy heart, thy love, thy interest in this and that, at the point of immediate consciousness of thine own being, and thou hast confessed this already in asserting that thou thyself art the object of thy highest interest. Now it is already well known, and we have proved it above, that this thou for whom thou art so deeply interested, in so far as it is not an active power, is at least an impulse of thy individual inward nature; it is well known that every impulse, as surely as it exists, returns on itself, and impels itself to activity, and it is therefore conceivable how this impulse must manifest itself in consciousness, as love, as interest in free individual activity. Couldst thou exchange this narrow point of view in self-consciousness for the higher position in which thou mayest grasp the universe, which indeed thou hast promised thyself to take, then it would become clear to thee that what thou hast named thy love is not thy love, but a foreign love,—the interest which the original power of Nature manifesting itself in thee takes in maintaining its own peculiar existence. Do not then appeal again to thy love; for even if that could prove anything besides, its supposition here is wholly irregular and unjustifiable. Thou lovest not thyself, for, strictly speaking, thou art not; it is Nature in thee which concerns herself for her own preservation. Thou hast admitted without dispute, that although in the plant there exists a peculiar impulse to grow and develope itself, the specific activity of this impulse yet depends upon forces lying beyond itself. Bestow for a moment consciousness upon the plant,—and it will regard this instinct of growth with interest and love. Convince it by reasoning that this instinct is unable of itself to accomplish anything whatever, but that the measure of its manifestation is always determined by something out of itself,—and it will speak precisely as thou hast spoken; it will behave in a manner that may be pardoned in a plant, but which by no means beseems thee, who art a higher product of Nature, and capable of comprehending the universe.”
What can I answer to this representation? Should I venture to place myself at its point of view, upon this boasted position from whence I may embrace the universe in my comprehension, doubtless I must blush and be silent. This, therefore, is the question,—whether I shall at once assume this position, or confine myself to the range of immediate self-consciousness; whether love shall be made subject to knowledge, or knowledge to love. The latter stands in bad esteem among intelligent people;—the former renders me indescribably miserable, by extinguishing my own personal being within me. I cannot do the latter without appearing inconsiderate and foolish in my own estimation;—I cannot do the former without deliberately annihilating my own existence.
I cannot remain in this state of indecision; on the solution of this question depends my whole peace and dignity. As impossible is it for me to decide; I have absolutely no ground of decision in favour of the one opinion or the other.
Intolerable state of uncertainty and irresolution! Through the best and most courageous resolution of my life, I have been reduced to this! What power can deliver me from it?—what power can deliver me from myself?