declaring; "I can renounce the sense world, therefore, I am
However, it is not enough to merely renounce even if such
an act provides the consciousness of inner integrity and dig-
nity. The world of sense can not be so handled. That it
has something of value is the testimony of all culture and
civilization. It is only on the basis that this sense-world
lies on a lower plain and when it is renounced it is in favor
of something higher, that renunciation becomes a valid and
i. Peer Gynt, Act v, sc. ix.
52 The Ethical Ideal of Renunciation
worthy ideal. It was such a conception of the idea which
appealed to Goethe and enabled renunciation to secure his
favor. He turned away from Christianity largely because
of its negative attitude toward the world, but he believed in
renunciation in the sense that man must renew his life by
"Renouncing particular things at each moment, if he can
grasp something new in the next." 1
Under the influence of Spinoza, Goethe said: "Renuncia-
tion once for all in view of the eternal" and in this conception
he found an "Atmosphere of peace breathe upon him." 2 It
is in some such positive fashion that renunciation renders its
service. Nature can not be dismissed as thoroughly bad.
That there is good in it the mass of mankind insists on believ-
ing. Pessimism exists but it does not flourish long nor well.
"No matter how convincing the arguments for renunciation
may appear to be, no matter how complete the reasoning of
pessimism, life must be a benefit, and he who concludes
against it and seeks to negate it must admit that it possesses
value if only as an opportunity for the denial on the part
of man." 3 It is only when renunciation is viewed as a path-
way to spiritual life and as an act of self-affirmation in the
process of self-realization, that it finds its true place and be-
comes a valid ideal for life. Humanity, in the long run,
turns from absolute renunciation of all life as advocated by
the Buddhists and Schopenhauer. Man is too much a part
of nature to believe that it is in no sense his home. While
Geulincx will admit that man has a home in the world but
denies a work for him, he is unable to escape the snares of
Occasionalism and the individual is lost in the pantheism of
Spinoza who follows Occasionalism to its logical conclusions.
Neither the Metaphysical position of Schopenhauer which
makes man all will, nor that of Geulincx which destroys all
will, can be a satisfactory basis for the renunciatory ideal.
That it must have such a basis is true, but that of Schopen-
1. Dichtung und Wahrheit, quoted by Edward Caird, Literature and
Philosophy, Vol. I, pg. 81.
2. Caird, Essays on Literature and Philosophy, Vol. I, pg. 81.
3. Shaw, Value and Dignity of Human Life, pt. II, sec. 6.
Critical Estimate of Renunciation 53
hauer is too abstract and subjective, while that of Geulincx
tends to pantheism and the loss of human freedom. Rather
must renunciation be grounded in the spiritual dignity of
man as a necessity for the subduing of the sense-world in
favor of the spiritual life. The world of sense need not lose
its value nor be repudiated, as such, but it must bow in sub-
mission to the real and higher order which can provide for
humanity its own sense of immediacy and a genuine world-
hood. Such a grounding of renunciation is best seen in Rus-
sian thought and Christianity. Tolstoi, who shares the Rus-
sian Sympathism with its consciousness of suffering, makes
renunciation fundamental in his ideal of resignation, by
which he seeks to build a spiritual life around the center of
love to God and an active sympathy for humanity but upon
the ruins of self-love and self-seeking. Dostoieffsky uses
renunciation to prepare the way for redemption in the Chris-
tian sense. The idea of regeneration is paramount in Rus-
sian thinking. The sense-world does not offer either home
or work sufficient for such a being as man for he never gets
so low in the meshes of the world that he is hopeless. Even
Gorky, who is very doubtful of man's work in the world,
believes that even for his most miserable characters there is
hope through regeneration. Here is a pessimism with a
Christianity has the distinguishing marks of the "Con-
temtus mundi" and the "Amor Christi" but the contempt of
the world is not Christianity without the "Amor Christi" for
without the latter it would be no improvement over the
hopeless pessimism of Schopenhauer. 1 Its recognition of
the evil, sin, misery and death in the world is as thorough-
going as Buddhism. However, it possesses the pessimism of
strength in that its "Comtemtus mundi" is in order that its
"Amor Christi" may prevail. Furthermore Christianity in
positing a spiritual world-order, as the true home and work-
field for humanity, meets the demands of man's spiritual ego
as we acknowledge it. "For the spiritual life within us al-
i. Paulsen, System of Ethics, bk. I, ch. 2.
54 The Ethical Ideal of Renunciation
ways presents itself as something transcendent and is not
coincident with our life." 1 Again Christianity in its idea of
redemption, considers the evil in the world not as a mere
appearance like the Hindoos, but as a moral guilt, some-
thing which has no fundamental relation to the world of
nature but rather the warping and misuse of it. Therefore,
there remains the hope of a positive life in the midst of na-
ture. This view of the world wins the assent of Eucken
who believes that it makes it impossible to affirm or negate
the world but rather to take a position where both affirma-
tion and negation are present. 2
It is such a view of renunciation as Christianity takes
which best satisfies this thesis. The universality and per-
sistence of the ideal finds explanation in the inherent struggle
between the sense and spirit always waged, but not always
understood, in humanity. The mixture of sense and spirit
is such that no clear lines are drawn in the conflict and for
this reason renunciation has not always been wisely or
properly used. When, however, the ego has realized its own
spiritual self-hood and world-hood as posited by religion
and especially by Christianity, it has found renunciation an
absolute necessity for its own self-affirmation and true activ-
ity. The metaphysical basis is thus secure in the spiritual
nature of the world and humanity. The moral grounds for
our ideal are to be found in the moral guilt of the world.
This relieves us of the more inimical character of our ethical
ideal but at the same time it reminds us of its necessity and
validity. Renunciation refuses to be dismissed from the field
of the human problem. There is nothing left but to regard it
in its real character and proceed to renounce all that stands
in the way of the spiritual order and God, and thus rest
in religion; and also to renounce all that stands in the way
of the welfare of humanity and rest in ethics. Such a
use of renunciation leads to the completeness of life as set
before us in Christianity for having attained by the renun-
1. Eucken, Life's Basis and Life's Ideals, pt. Ill, sec.
2. Ib., pg. 332.
Critical Estimate of Renunciation 55
ciatory pathway the immediacy of the spirit and the world-
hood of the self, man has found his home and his work.
For this home he surrenders all else and for his work he
gives himself, for as Goethe saw, it is cosmic toil. Such a
view of renunciation justifies its place in human thinking and
only by its employment can man achieve self-hood in a world
of sense and enter into that spiritual World-order where
the ego is at home and where its work-field lies.
56 The Ethical Ideal of Renunciation
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