man must 'must'," the Jew Nathan says to the Dervish, and this adage is
truer to a greater extent than one would perhaps be willing to allow.
The will is the genetic characteristic of man as species, and even reason
is only its eternal rule. All nature proceeds rationally; man's prerogative
is merely that he proceeds rationally with consciousness and intent. All
other things "must"; man is the being that wills.
For just this reason nothing is so unworthy of man than to suffer violence, for violence undoes him. who ever offers us violence calls into question nothing less than our humanity; whoever suffers this cravenly throws his humanity away. But this claim to absolute liberation from everything violent seems to presuppose a being possessing force enough to repel every other force from itself. If it is claimed by a being who does not occupy the highest rank in the realm of force, an unhappy contradiction arises thence between aspiration and capacity.
This is the position in which man finds himself. Surrounded by countless forces, all of which are superior to his own and held mastery over him, he lays claim by his nature to suffer violence from none of them. He is, indeed, enabled by his understanding artificially to enhance his natural powers, and up to a certain point he is actually successful in becoming the physical master of everything physical. There is a cure for everything, the proverb says, except for death. But this single exception, even if it is that in the strictest sense, would destroy the whole concept of humanity. Man can no longer be the being that wills if there is even a single case in which he simply must do what he does not will. This single terror, which he siinply must do and does not will, will haunt him like a specter and, as is the case in the majority of people, will deliver him up prey to the blind terrors of imagination; his vaunted freedom is absolutely nothing if he is bound in even a single point. Culture is to set man free and to help him to be equal to his concept. It should therefore enable him to assert his will, for man is the being that wills.
This would, then, be the end of his freedom, if he were capable only of physical science. But he is supposed to be a human being unconditionally, and should therefore under no circumstances suffer anything against his will. If he is no longer able to oppose physical force by his relatively weaker physical force, then the only thing that remains to him, if he is not to suffer violence, is to eliminate utterly and completely a relationship that is so disadvantageous to him, and to destroy the very concept of a force to which he must in fact succumb. To destroy the very concept of a force means simply to submit to it voluntarily. The science that enables us to do this is called moral science.
The morally cultivated man, and only he, is wholly free. Either he is superior to nature as a force, or he is at one with her. Nothing that she can do to him is violence because before it reaches him it has already become his own action, and dynamic nature never reaches him, because he has by his own free act separated himself from everything that she can reach. This frame of mind which morality teaches as the concept of resignation in the face of necessity, and which religion teaches as the concept of submission to the divine judgment requires, however, if it is to be an act of free choice and deliberation, much more in the way of clarity of thought and energy of volition than the individual is accustomed to exercise in practical life. Fortunately he possesses not only in his rational nature a moral tendency that can be developed by his understanding, but even in his sensuously reasonable (i.e., human) nature an aesthetic tendency that is aroused by certain sensible objects and which by the purification of his feelings can be cultivated toward this idealistic impulse of his spirit. I now propose to treat of this tendency; one which in its conception and being is indeed idealistic, but which the realist also displays clearly enough in his life, even though he does not acknowledge it in his system.*
Developed feelings for the beautiful can indeed succeed up to a certain degree in making us independent of nature as a force. A mind sufficiently refined as to be moved more by the form than the matter of things and, without any reference to possession, to experience disinterested pleasure in sheer reflection upon the mode of their appearance - such a mind contains within itself an inner irrepressible fullness of life, and since it does not need to appropriate to itself those objects in which it lives, neither is it in danger of being despoiled of them. But in the final analysis even semblance ~ needs a physical substance in which it can be manifested; therefore so long as a need is present, if only for beautiful semblance, then, too, there remains a need for the existence of objects, and thus our satisfaction is still dependent upon nature as a power, for she rules over all existences. But it makes a great difference whether we feel a need for beautiful and good objects, or whether we merely demand that those objects that are existent be beautiful and good. The latter is consonant with the highest freedom of the spirit, but the former is not; that the existent be beautiful and good we may demand that the beautiful and the good exist we may only wish for. That mental temperament which is indifferent whether the beautiful and the good and the perfect exist, is above all called great and sublime because it contains all the realities of the beautiful character without sharing any of its limitations.
It is a touchstone of good and beautiful souls, which are nonetheless weak, always to insist impatiently upon the existence of their moral ideals, and to be painfully affected by the obstacles that balk their fulfillment. Such persons involve themselves in a sorry dependence upon coincidence, and one can always say with certainty in advance that they make too much provision for matter in moral and aesthetic things, and will not survive the highest tests of character and taste. The morally defective should not imbue us with suffering and pain, which always bespeak an unsatisfied need rather than an unfulfilled demand. The latter must be accompanied by a more vital emotion and should rather strengthen the mind and confirm it in its powers than render it depressed and unhappy.
Two genii are nature's gift to accompany us through life. The first, sociable and attractive, by its joyful play, shortens our tedious journey; it lightens the shackles of necessity and with gaiety and jocularity leads us up to the dangerous places where we must act as pure spirit and cast off everything physical-up to knowledge of the truth and the practice of duty. Here it leaves us, for its realm is the world of sense only and beyond this its earthly wings cannot bear us. But now the second approaches, tacit and solemn, and upon its powerful pinion we are borne across the vertiginous depths.
In the first of these genii can be seen our feeling for the beautiful; and in the second our feeling for the sublime. The beautiful is indeed an expression of freedom, but not that which elevates us above the power of nature and releases us from every physical influence; rather it is the expression which we enjoy as individuals within nature. We feel ourselves free in the presence of beauty because our sensuous impulses have no influence upon the legislation of reason, for here the mind acts as if it were bound by no other laws than its own.
The feeling of the sublime is a mixed feeling. It is a composition of melancholy which at its utmost is manifested in a shudder, and of joyousness which can mount to rapture and, even if it is not actually pleasure ~ is far preferred by refined so~s (269) to all pleasure. This combination of two contradictory perceptions in a single feeling demonstrates our moral independence in an irrefutable manner. For since it is absolutely impossible for the very same object to be related to us in two different ways, it therefore follows that we ourselves are related to the object in two different ways; furthermore, two opposed natures must be united in us, each of which is interested in diametrically opposed ways in the perception of the object. By means of the feeling for the sublime, therefore, we discover that the state of our minds is not necessarily determined by the state of our sensations, that the laws of nature are not necessarily our own, and that we possess a principle proper to ourselves that is independent of all sensuous affects.
The sublime object is of a dual sort. We refer it either to our power of apprehension and are defeated in the attempt to form an image of its concept; or we refer it to our vital power and view it as a power against which our own dwindles to nothing. But even if, in the first case or the second, it is the Occasion of a painful awareness of our limitations, still we do not run away from it, but rather are drawn to it by an irresistible force. Would this be even possible if the limits of our imagination were at the same time the limits of our power of apprehension? Would we so gladly accede to the reminder of the overwhelming power of natural forces if we did not possess something else in reserve which need not fall prey to those forces? We delight in the sensuously infinite because we are able to think what the senses can no longer apprehend and the understanding can no longer comprehend. We are ravished by the terrifying because we are able to will that which our sensuous impulses are appalled by, and can reject what they desire. We gladly permit the imagination to meet its master in the realm of appearances because ultimately it is only a sensuous faculty that triumphs over other sensuous faculties; but nature in her entire boundlessness cannot impinge upon the absolute greatness within ourselves. We gladly subordinate our well-being and our existence to physical necessity, for we are reminded thereby that it cannot command our principles. Man is in its hands, but man's will is in his own hands.
Thus Nature has even employed a sensuous means of teaching us that we are more than merely sensuous; she even succeeds in so applying our perceptions as to afford us a clue to the discovery that we are anything but slavishly subordinate to the force of perceptions. And this effect is quite other than that yielded by beauty ~ that is, by the beauty of actuality, for the sublime itself must disappear before ideal beauty. In the beautiful, reason and sensuousness are in unison, and only for the sake of this harmony does it possess any charm for us. Through beauty alone, then, we should never discover that we are destined and able to manifest ourselves as pure intelligences But in the sublime, however, reason and sensuousness do not accord, and precisely in this contradiction between the two lies the magic with which it captures our minds. The physical and the moral individual are here most sharply differentiated from one another; for it is precisely in the presence of objects that make the former aware only of his limitations that the latter is aware of his power and is infinitely exalted by the very same object that crushes the physical man to the ground.
A man should, I suppose, possess all the virtues that, in unison, make for a beautiful character. He should find delight in the practice of righteousness, beneficence, moderation, perseverance, and loyalty; all duties, obedience to which are indicated by circumstances, should be an easy play for him, and his happiness should render no action whatever difficult for him that his philanthropic heart prompts him to undertake. Who could fail to be enchanted by this fair accord of natural impulses with the prescriptions of reason; and who could restrain himself from loving such a man? Even if this man had set his mind only on pleasant sensations he still could not, without being a fool, act otherwise, and would be forced to slight his own advantage if he wanted to be sinful. It may be that the source of his actions is pure - but this he must settle within his own heart - we see nothing of this. We see him doing no more than the merely shrewd man must do who has made pleasure his god. The world of sense thus explains the whole phenomenon of his virtue and we do not find it necessary to go beyond that world to find a reason for his virtue.
But let us suppose this same man suddenly to suffer a great misfortune. Let him be robbed of his possessions, let his good reputation be destroyed. Sickness might reduce him to a bed of pain, death may tear from him all he loves, he may be abandoned in his distress by all he trusts. Under these circumstances let us seek him out and demand of the unhappy wretch that he practice the same virtues to which the happy man was formerly so inclined. If, under these circumstances, one should find him altogether the same, if poverty has not diminished his beneficence, ingratitude his readiness to be of service, pain his equanimity, his own misfortune his satisfaction in the happiness of others - if we notice the change in his fortune by his outward appearance but not in his behavior, in the substance but not in the form of his actions - then, indeed, no explanation can suffice that depends on a natural concept (in accordance with which it follows by simple necessity that the present as effect must be, based on something in the past as cause), for nothing can be more contradictory than that the effect should remain the same when the cause has changed to its opposite. We must then reject any natural explanation, we must abandon completely the derivation of behavior from circumstances and locate the reason for the behavior not in the physical world-order, but in quite another to which the ideas of reason can indeed soar, but which understanding cannot apprehend by its empirical concepts. This discovery of the absolute moral capacity which is not bound to any natural condition endows the melancholy feeling by which we are seized at the spectacle of such a man with the unique and ineffable charm which no pleasure of sense, however refined it might be, can offer in competition with the sublime.
Thus the sublime affords us an egress from the sensuous world in which the beautiful would gladly hold us forever captive. Not gradually (for there is no transition from dependence to freedom), but suddenly 6 and with a shock it tears the independent spirit out of the net in which a refined sensuousness has entoiled it, and which binds all the more tightly the more gossamer its weave. If by the imperceptible influence of a vitiated taste it has gained however strong a hold - even if in the seductive guise of the spiritually beautiful it has succeeded in penetrating the innermost seat of moral legislation, there to poison the holiness of its maxims at their source, often a single sublime emotion suffices to rip this web of deceit asunder, to restore in an instant all the vivacity of the bound spirit, to accord it a revelation of its true vocation, and, for the moment at least, to impose upon it a sense of its dignity. The beauty displayed by the figure of the goddess Calypso enchanted the brave son of Ulysses, and by the power of her charms she long held him captive on her island. For a long time he believed he was worshiping an immortal divinity, yet he lay only in the arms of lust-but suddenly a sublime impression overcame him in the guise of Mentor: he recollected his higher mission, cast himself into the waves, and was free.
The sublime, like the beautiful, is prodigally diffused throughout the whole of nature and the capacity to apprehend both is implanted in all men; but the potentiality to do so is unequally developed and must be aided by art. The very purpose of nature entails that we hasten toward beauty when we still only flee from the sublime; for beauty is our caretaker in the years of childhood and must lead us out of the crude state of nature into refinement. But even if beauty is our first love and our capacity of apprehending it develops first, yet nature has provided that it only slowly mature and await for its complete development the maturation of the understanding and the heart. For if taste should attain complete maturity before truth and morality are implanted in our hearts in a manner better than beauty can supply, then the world of sense would forever remain the limit of our aspirations. Neither in our concepts nor in our attitudes should we be able to go beyond that world, and what the faculty of imagination could not envisage would likewise possess no reality for us. But fortunately it is among the provisions of nature that although taste is the first to bloom it must wait for its ripening last among all the faculties of mind. In this interval sufficient time is gained for a treasure of concepts to be implanted in the head and a wealth of principles in the breast and thereafter to develop especially the capacity to apprehend the great and sublime by means of reason.
So long as man was merely a slave of physical necessity, had not yet found an egress from the narrow sphere of his wants, and still did not suspect the lofty daemonic freedom in his breast, he was reminded by inscrutable nature only of the inadequacy of his conceptual faculties and by destructive nature only of his physical incapacity. The first he was obliged humbly to acknowledge and from the second he turned in revulsion. But no sooner has free contemplation set him at a distance from the blind assault of natural forces-no sooner does he discover in the flood of appearances something abiding in his own being - then the savage bulk of nature about him begins to speak quite another language to his heart; and the relative grandeur outside him is the mirror in which he perceives the absolute grandeur within himself. Fearlessly and with a terrible delight he now approaches these ghastly visions of his imagination and deliberately deploys the whole force of this faculty in order to represent the sensuously infinite, so that even if it should fail in this attempt he will experience all the more vividly the superiority of his ideas over the highest of which sensuousness is capable. The sight of unlimited distances, and heights lost to view, the vast ocean at his feet and the vaster ocean above him, pluck his spirit out of the narrow sphere of the actual and out of the oppressive bondage of physical life. A mightier measure of esteem is exemplified for him by the simple majesty of nature, and surrounded by her massive forms he can no longer tolerate pettiness in his mode of thought: who knows how many illumined thoughts or heroic decisions that could never have been born in a cell-like study or a society salon have been produced out of this bold struggle of the mind with the great spirit of nature while wandering abroad - who knows whether it is in part due to the rare commerce with this great genius that the character of the city dweller so gladly turns, lame and sere, to the jejune, while the mind of the nomad remains as open and free as the firmament beneath which he camps.
But it is not merely what is unattainable for imagination, the sublime of quantity, but what is incomprehensible for the understanding, confusion, that can likewise serve as a representation of the supersensuous and supply the mind with an upward impetus, provided it advances to greatness and announces itself as a work of nature (for otherwise it is contemptible). who does not prefer to tarry among the spiritual disorder of a natural landscape rather than in the spiritless regularity of a French garden? Who would not marvel at the wonderful battle between fecundity and destruction in Sicily's plains, or feast his eyes on Scotland's wild cataracts and mist-shrouded mountains, Ossian's Vast nature, rather than admire in straight-diked Holland the prim Victory of patience over the most defiant of the elements? Nobody will deny that better care is taken of physical man in the meadows of Batavia than beneath the treacherous crater of Vesuvius, and that an understanding that wishes to comprehend and classify will much more readily be satisfied in a planned commercial garden than in a savage natural landscape. But man has a need beyond living and securing his welfare, and quite another destiny than to comprehend the phenomena that surround him.
What makes the bizarre savagery in physical creation so attractive to the sensitive traveler likewise represents the source of a quite unique pleasure for a mind capable of delight even in the uncertain anarchy of the moral world. It is true that anyone who illuminates the vast economy of nature with the pale light of understanding, and whose only concern is to resolve its bold disorder into harmony, will not be satisfied in a world in which crass coincidence rather than a wise plan seems to rule, and in by far the majority of cases merit and reward stand in a contradictory relation. He demands that everything in the world he regulated as in a solid business and if he fails to find this obedience to rule (as can scarcely be otherwise) then nothing remains to him but to expect from a future existence and from another nature that satisfaction that he misses in present and past nature. If, however, he willingly abandons the attempt to assimilate this lawless chaos of appearances to a cognitive unity, he will abundantly regain in another direction what he has lost in this. It is precisely the entire absence of a purposive bond among this press of appearances by which they are rendered unencompassable and useless for the understanding (which is obliged to adhere to this kind of bond) that makes them an all the more striking image for pure reason, which finds in just this wild incoherence of nature the depiction of her own independence of natural conditions. For if the connection among a series of objects is abstracted) one is left with the concept of independence which coincides surprisingly with the pure rational concept of freedom. Thus reason combines in a single unity of thought within this idea of freedom, which she supplies from her own resources, what understanding can never combine in a unity of experience; by this idea she subordinates the infinite play of appearances to herself, and simultaneously asserts her power over the understanding as a sensuously limited faculty. If one now recalls how valuable it must be for a rational being to be aware of his independence of natural laws, one can grasp how it happens that individuals of a sublime temperamental disposition think themselves recompensed for every cognitive misjudgment by this idea of freedom which is offered them. To noble minds freedom, for all its moral contradictions and physical evils, is without freedom, when the sheep patiently follow the shepherd and the autonomous will reduces itself to an obedient cog in a machine. The latter makes of man a mere product of nature's ingenuity and her fortunate subject; but freedom makes him a citizen and co-regent of a higher system in which it is incomparably more honorable to occupy the lowest rank than to lead the procession of the physical order.
Viewed from this aspect and only from this, world history appears to me a sublime object. The world, as an historical subject matter, is basically nothing but the conflict of natural forces among themselves and with man's freedom; history reports to us the outcome of this battle. As history has thus far developed, it has much greater deeds to recount about nature (in which all human emotions must be included) than about independent reason which has asserted its power only in a few exceptions to the natural law, such as Cato, Aristides, Phocian, and similar men. Should one approach history with great expectations of illumination and knowledge - how very disappointed one is! All the well-intentioned attempts of philosophy to reconcile what the moral world demands with what it actually performs are contradicted by the testimony of experience, and, as amiably as nature in her organic realm is guided, or appears to be guided, by the regulative principles of judgment, in the realm of freedom she as impetuously tears off the reins by which the speculative spirit would gladly lead her.
How different it is if one abandons the possibility of explaining Nature and takes this incomprehensibility itself as a principle of judgment. The very circumstance that nature, viewed as a whole, mocks all the rules that we prescribe for her by our understanding - that in her obdurately free advance she treads into the dust the creations of wisdom and of chance with equal indifference; that she drags down with her in a single collapse both the important and the trivial; that here she preserves a community of ants, while there she enfolds in her arms and crushes her most splendid creature, man; that she often wastes in a wanton hour the most tediously won achievements, while often working for centuries on some inane labor - in a word, this disregard by nature as a whole of the laws of science (which she obeys in individual cases) renders obvious the absolute impossibility of explaining nature herself by means of natural law - and of imputing to her domain what holds in her domain, and thus the mind is irresistibly driven out of the world of phenomena into the world of ideas, Out of the conditioned into the unconditioned.
We are led much further by nature viewed as terrible and destructive than as sensuously infinite, provided we remain merely free observers of her. The sensuous man certainly, and the sensuousness in the rational man fear nothing so much as to be destroyed by that power that rules over prosperity and existence.
The highest ideal to which we aspire is to remain on good terms with the physical world as the executrix of our happiness, without thereby being obliged to fall out with the moral world that determines our dignity. Now it is well known how rarely one can succeed in serving two masters, and even if (an almost impossible case) duty should never conflict with physical need, still natural necessity has entered into no compact with man, and neither his strength nor his skill can protect him against the treachery of fate. Let him be happy if he has learned to bear what he cannot alter, and to surrender with dignity what he cannot save! Cases can occur in which fate surmounts all the ramparts upon which man founds his security and nothing else remains but for him to flee into the sacred freedom of the spirit - cases in which there is no other recourse in order to placate the lust for life than to will that fate - and no other means of withstanding the power of nature than to anticipate her, and by a free renunciation of all sensuous interest to kill himself morally before some physical force does it.
He is strengthened in this by sublime emotions and by frequent acquaintance with destructive nature, both where she shows him her ruinous strength only from afar and when she actually employs it against his fellow man. The pathetic is an artificial misfortune, and like real misfortune it sets us in direct concourse with the spiritual law that rules within our breast. But true misfortune does not always choose its man nor its time well it frequently surprises us unarmed. The artificial misfortune of the pathetic on the other hand finds us fully armed and, since it is only imagined, the autonomous principle in our minds gains space in which to assert its absolute independence. The more frequently the mind repeats this act of independence the more skilled it becomes, the greater the advance won over the sensuous impulse, so that finally, should an imaginary and artificial misfortune turn into a real one, the mind is able to treat it as an artificial one, and - most exalted inspiration of human nature! - to transform actual suffering into sublime emotion. Thus one can call the pathetic an inoculation against ineluctable destiny by which it is deprived of its malevolence, and its attack diverted to the stronger side of man.
Then away with falsely construed forebearance and vapidly effeminate taste which cast a veil over the solemn face of necessity and, in order to curry favor with the senses, counterfeit a harmony between good fortune and good behavior of which not a trace is to be found in the actual world. Let us stand face to face with the evil fatality. Not in ignorance of the dangers which lurk about us - for finally there must be an end to ignorance - only in acquaintance with them lies our salvation. We are aided in this acquaintance by the terrifying and magnificent spectacle of change which destroys everything and creates it anew, and destroys again - of ruin sometimes accomplished by slow undermining, sometimes by swift incursion. We are aided by the pathetic spectacle of mankind wrestling with fate, the irresistible elusiveness of happiness, confidence betrayed, unrighteousness triumphant and innocence laid low; of these history supplies ample instances, and tragic art imitates them before our eyes. For where is the man whose moral disposition is not wholly degenerate who can read about the determined yet vain struggle of Mithridates, of the collapse of Syracuse and Carthage, or in the presence of like events can refrain from paying homage with a shudder to the grim law of necessity, or from instantly curbing his desires and, shaken by the perpetual infidelity of all sensuous objects, can avoid fastening upon the eternal in his breast? The capability of perceiving the sublime is thus one of the most splendid propensities of human nature, which because of its origin in the independent faculties of thought and volition is worthy both of our respect and of the most perfect development because of its influence on man as moral. The beautiful is valuable only with reference to the human being, but the sublime with reference to the pure daeman in him; and since it is certainly our vocation, despite all sensuous limitations, to be guided by the statutes of pure spirit, the sublime must complement the beautiful in order to make aesthetic education into a complete whole and to enlarge the perceptive capacity of the human heart to the full extent of our vocation; beyond the world of sense in any case.
Without the beautiful there would be a ceaseless quarrel between our natural and rational vocations. In the attempt to be equal to our spiritual mission~ion we should be false to our humanity, and, prepared at every moment for departure out of the world of sense, we should always remain strangers in the sphere of action to which we are after all committed. Without the sublime, beauty would make us forget our dignity. The enervation of uninterrupted enjoyment would cost us all vitality of character and, irremediably shackled to this contingent form of existence, we should lose sight of our immutable vocation and our true patrimony. Only if the sublime is wedded to the beautiful and our sensitivity for both has been cultivated in equal measure are we perfect citizens of nature without thereby becoming her slaves and without squandering our citizenship in the intelligible world.
Now it is true that nature herself supplies objects in abundance on which the perceptive faculty for the beautiful and sublime can be exercised; but man is here, as in other cases, better served at one remove than directly, and prefers to receive a subject matter prepared and selected by art rather than to drink scantily and with difficulty from the impure well of nature. The mimetic creative impulse, which can experience no impression without at once striving for a living expression, and which sees in every beautiful or vast form of nature a challenge to contend with it, possesses the great advantage over nature of being able to treat as a major purpose and a totality in itself what nature - if she does not heedlessly reject it - in passing sweeps along with her in pursuit of some more immediate purpose of her own. Nature in her beautiful organic forms either offers suffers violence because of the imperfect individuality of matter or by the effects of heterogeneous forces, or she exercises violence in her great and pathetic scenes and affects men as a force. Since nature can be aesthetic only as an object of free contemplation her imitator, creative art, is completely free, because it can separate from its subject matter all contingent limitations, and also leaves the mind of the observer free because it imitates only the semblance, and not the actuality. But because the whole magic of the sublime and the beautiful subsists only in semblance, art thus possesses all the advantages of nature without sharing her shackles.
* Indeed, nothing at all can he truly called idealistic if it is not in actuality unconsciously employed by the thorough going realist, and denied by him only by a misunderstanding.