Suppose truth is a woman, what then? Wouldn’t we have good reason to suspect that all philosophers, insofar as they were dogmatists, had a poor understanding of women, that the dreadful seriousness and the awkward pushiness with which they so far have habitually approached truth were clumsy and inappropriate ways to win over a woman? It’s clear that truth did not allow herself to be won over. And every form of dogmatism nowadays is standing there dismayed and disheartened — if it’s still standing at all! For there are mockers who assert that they’ve collapsed, that all dogmatisms are lying on the floor, even worse, that they’re at death’s door. Speaking seriously, there are good reasons to hope that every dogmatism in philosophy — no matter how solemnly, conclusively, and decisively it has conducted itself — may have been merely a noble and rudimentary childish game, and the time is perhaps very close at hand, when people will again and again understand just how little has sufficed to provide the foundation stones for such lofty and unconditional philosophical constructions of the sort dogmatists have erected up to now — any popular superstition from unimaginably long ago (like the superstition of the soul, which today, in the form of the superstition about the subject and the ego, has still not stopped stirring up mischief), perhaps some game with words, a seduction by some grammatical construction, or a daring generalization from very narrow, very personal, very human, all-too-human facts. The philosophies of the dogmatists were, one hopes, only a promise which lasted for thousands of years, as the astrologers were in even earlier times. In their service, people perhaps expended more work, gold, and astute thinking than for any true scientific knowledge up to that point. We owe to them and their “super-terrestrial” claims the grand style of architecture in Asia and Egypt. It seems that in order for all great things to register their eternal demands on the human heart, they first have to wander over the earth as monstrously and frighteningly distorted faces. Dogmatic philosophy has been such a grimace, for example, the Vedanta doctrine in Asia and Platonism in Europe. We should not be ungrateful for it, even though we must also certainly concede that the worst, most protracted, and most dangerous of all errors up to now has been the error of a dogmatist, namely, Plato’s invention of the purely spiritual and of the good as such. But now that has been overcome, and, as Europe breathes a sigh of relief after this nightmare and at least can enjoy a more healthy sleep, those of us whose task it is to stay awake are the inheritors of all the forces which the fight against this error has fostered. To speak of the spirit and the good in this way, as Plato did, was, of course, a matter of standing truth on its head and even of denying the fundamental condition of all life, perspective. Indeed, one could, as a doctor, ask, “How did such a disease get to Plato, the most beautiful plant of antiquity? Did the evil Socrates really corrupt him? Could Socrates have been a corruptor of youth, after all? Did he deserve his hemlock?” But the fight against Plato, or, to put the matter in a way more intelligible to “the people,” the fight against the thousands of years of pressure from the Christian church — for Christianity is Platonism for “the people”— created in Europe a splendid tension in the spirit, something unlike anything existing before on earth before. With such a tensely arched bow, from now on we can shoot for the most distant targets. Naturally, European man experiences this tension as a state of emergency. Already there have been two attempts in the grand style to ease the tension in the bow — the first time with Jesuitism, the second time with the democratic Enlightenment, through which, with the help of the freedom of the press and reading newspapers, a state might, in fact, be attained in which the spirit itself is not so easily experienced as “need”! (Germans invented gunpowder — all honour to them! — but they made up for that when they invented the printing press). But those of us who are neither Jesuits, nor Democrats, nor even German enough, we good Europeans and free, very free spirits — we still have the need, the entire spiritual need and the total tension of its bow! And perhaps we also have the arrow, the work to do, and — who knows? — the target . . .
Oberengadin, June 1885.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:53