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contrary. The history of philosophy is, strictly speaking, a history of
religion. And the attacks which are directed against religion from a
presumed scientific or philosophical point of view are merely attacks
from another but opposing religious point of view. "The opposition which
professedly exists between natural science and Christianity really
exists between an impulse derived from natural religion blended with the
scientific investigation of nature, and the validity of the Christian
view of the world, which assures to spirit its pre-eminence over the
entire world of nature," says Ritschl (_Rechtfertgung und Versöhnung_,
iii. chap. iv. § 28). Now this instinct is the instinct of rationality
itself. And the critical idealism of Kant is of religious origin, and it
is in order to save religion that Kant enlarged the limits of reason
after having in a certain sense dissolved it in scepticism. The system
of antitheses, contradictions, and antinomies, upon which Hegel
constructed his absolute idealism, has its root and germ in Kant
himself, and this root is an irrational root.

We shall see later on, when we come to deal with faith, that faith is in
its essence simply a matter of will, not of reason, that to believe is
to wish to believe, and to believe in God is, before all and above all,
to wish that there may be a God. In the same way, to believe in the
immortality of the soul is to wish that the soul may be immortal, but to
wish it with such force that this volition shall trample reason under
foot and pass beyond it. But reason has its revenge.

The instinct of knowing and the instinct of living, or rather of
surviving, come into conflict. In his work on the _Analysis of the
Sensations and the Relation of the Physical to the Psychical_,[32] Dr.
E. Mach tells us that not even the investigator, the savant, _der
Forscher_, is exempted from taking his part in the struggle for
existence, that even the roads of science lead mouth-wards, and that in
the actual conditions of the society in which we live the pure instinct
of knowing, _der reine Erkenntnisstrieb_, is still no more than an
ideal. And so it always will be. _Primum vivere, deinde philosophari_,
or perhaps better, _primum supervivere_ or _superesse_.

Every position of permanent agreement or harmony between reason and
life, between philosophy and religion, becomes impossible. And the
tragic history of human thought is simply the history of a struggle
between reason and life - reason bent on rationalizing life and forcing
it to submit to the inevitable, to mortality; life bent on vitalizing
reason and forcing it to serve as a support for its own vital desires.
And this is the history of philosophy, inseparable from the history of

Our sense of the world of objective reality is necessarily subjective,
human, anthropomorphic. And vitalism will always rise up against
rationalism; reason will always find itself confronted by will. Hence
the rhythm of the history of philosophy and the alternation of periods
in which life imposes itself, giving birth to spiritual forms, with
those in which reason imposes itself, giving birth to materialist forms,
although both of these classes of forms of belief may be disguised by
other names. Neither reason nor life ever acknowledges itself
vanquished. But we will return to this in the next chapter.

The vital consequence of rationalism would be suicide. Kierkegaard puts
it very well: "The consequence for existence[33] of pure thought is
suicide.... We do not praise suicide but passion. The thinker, on the
contrary, is a curious animal - for a few spells during the day he is
very intelligent, but, for the rest, he has nothing in common with man"
(_Afsluttende uvidenskabelig Efterskrift_, chap iii., § 1).

As the thinker, in spite of all, does not cease to be a man, he employs
reason in the interests of life, whether he knows it or not. Life cheats
reason and reason cheats life. Scholastic-Aristotelian philosophy
fabricated in the interest of life a teleologic-evolutionist system,
rational in appearance, which might serve as a support for our vital
longing. This philosophy, the basis of the orthodox Christian
supernaturalism, whether Catholic or Protestant, was, in its essence,
merely a trick on the part of life to force reason to lend it its
support. But reason supported it with such pressure that it ended by
pulverizing it.

I have read that the ex-Carmelite, Hyacinthe Loyson, declared that he
could present himself before God with tranquillity, for he was at peace
with his conscience and with his reason. With what conscience? If with
his religious conscience, then I do not understand. For it is a truth
that no man can serve two masters, and least of all when, though they
may sign truces and armistices and compromises, these two are enemies
because of their conflicting interests.

To all this someone is sure to object that life ought to subject itself
to reason, to which we will reply that nobody ought to do what he is
unable to do, and life cannot subject itself to reason. "Ought,
therefore can," some Kantian will retort. To which we shall demur:
"Cannot, therefore ought not." And life cannot submit itself to reason,
because the end of life is living and not understanding.

Again, there are those who talk of the religious duty of resignation to
mortality. This is indeed the very summit of aberration and insincerity.
But someone is sure to oppose the idea of veracity to that of sincerity.
Granted, and yet the two may very well be reconciled. Veracity, the
homage I owe to what I believe to be rational, to what logically we
call truth, moves me to affirm, in this case, that the immortality of
the individual soul is a contradiction in terms, that it is something,
not only irrational, but contra-rational; but sincerity leads me to
affirm also my refusal to resign myself to this previous affirmation and
my protest against its validity. What I feel is a truth, at any rate as
much a truth as what I see, touch, hear, or what is demonstrated to
me - nay, I believe it is more of a truth - and sincerity obliges me not
to hide what I feel.

And life, quick to defend itself, searches for the weak point in reason
and finds it in scepticism, which it straightway fastens upon, seeking
to save itself by means of this stranglehold. It needs the weakness of
its adversary.

Nothing is sure. Everything is elusive and in the air. In an outburst of
passion Lamennais exclaims: "But what! Shall we, losing all hope, shut
our eyes and plunge into the voiceless depths of a universal scepticism?
Shall we doubt that we think, that we feel, that we are? Nature does not
allow it; she forces us to believe even when our reason is not
convinced. Absolute certainty and absolute doubt are both alike
forbidden to us. We hover in a vague mean between these two extremes, as
between being and nothingness; for complete scepticism would be the
extinction of the intelligence and the total death of man. But it is not
given to man to annihilate himself; there is in him something which
invincibly resists destruction, I know not what vital faith, indomitable
even by his will. Whether he likes it or not, he must believe, because
he must act, because he must preserve himself. His reason, if he
listened only to that, teaching him to doubt everything, itself
included, would reduce him to a state of absolute inaction; he would
perish before even he had been able to prove to himself that he existed"
(_Essai sur l'indifférence en matière de religion_, iii^e partie, chap.

Reason, however, does not actually lead us to absolute scepticism. No!
Reason does not lead me and cannot lead me to doubt that I exist.
Whither reason does lead me is to vital scepticism, or more properly, to
vital negation - not merely to doubt, but to deny, that my consciousness
survives my death. Scepticism is produced by the clash between reason
and desire. And from this clash, from this embrace between despair and
scepticism, is born that holy, that sweet, that saving incertitude,
which is our supreme consolation.

The absolute and complete certainty, on the one hand, that death is a
complete, definite, irrevocable annihilation of personal consciousness,
a certainty of the same order as the certainty that the three angles of
a triangle are equal to two right angles, or, on the other hand, the
absolute and complete certainty that our personal consciousness is
prolonged beyond death in these present or in other conditions, and
above all including in itself that strange and adventitious addition of
eternal rewards and punishments - both of these certainties alike would
make life impossible for us. In the most secret chamber of the spirit of
him who believes himself convinced that death puts an end to his
personal consciousness, his memory, for ever, and all unknown to him
perhaps, there lurks a shadow, a vague shadow, a shadow of shadow, of
uncertainty, and while he says within himself, "Well, let us live this
life that passes away, for there is no other!" the silence of this
secret chamber speaks to him and murmurs, "Who knows!..." He may not
think he hears it, but he hears it nevertheless. And likewise in some
secret place of the soul of the believer who most firmly holds the
belief in a future life, there is a muffled voice, a voice of
uncertainty, which whispers in the ear of his spirit, "Who knows!..."
These voices are like the humming of a mosquito when the south-west wind
roars through the trees in the wood; we cannot distinguish this faint
humming, yet nevertheless, merged in the clamour of the storm, it
reaches the ear. Otherwise, without this uncertainty, how could we live?

_"Is there?" "Is there not?"_ - these are the bases of our inner life.
There may be a rationalist who has never wavered in his conviction of
the mortality of the soul, and there may be a vitalist who has never
wavered in his faith in immortality; but at the most this would only
prove that just as there are natural monstrosities, so there are those
who are stupid as regards heart and feeling, however great their
intelligence, and those who are stupid intellectually, however great
their virtue. But, in normal cases, I cannot believe those who assure me
that never, not in a fleeting moment, not in the hours of direst
loneliness and grief, has this murmur of uncertainty breathed upon their
consciousness. I do not understand those men who tell me that the
prospect of the yonder side of death has never tormented them, that the
thought of their own annihilation never disquiets them. For my part I do
not wish to make peace between my heart and my head, between my faith
and my reason - I wish rather that there should be war between them!

In the ninth chapter of the Gospel according to Mark it is related how a
man brought unto Jesus his son who was possessed by a dumb spirit, and
wheresoever the spirit took him it tore him, causing him to foam and
gnash his teeth and pine away, wherefore he sought to bring him to Jesus
that he might cure him. And the Master, impatient of those who sought
only for signs and wonders, exclaimed: "O faithless generation, how long
shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him unto me"
(ver. 19), and they brought him unto him. And when the Master saw him
wallowing on the ground, he asked his father how long it was ago since
this had come unto him and the father replied that it was since he was &
child. And Jesus said unto him: "If thou canst believe, all things are
possible to him that believeth" (ver. 23). And then the father of the
epileptic or demoniac uttered these pregnant and immortal words: "Lord,
I believe; help thou mine unbelief!" - _Pisteyô, kyrie, boêthei tê
hapistia mou_ (ver. 24).

"Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief!" A contradiction seemingly,
for if he believes, if he trusts, how is it that he beseeches the Lord
to help his lack of trust? Nevertheless, it is this contradiction that
gives to the heart's cry of the father of the demoniac its most profound
human value. His faith is a faith that is based upon incertitude.
Because he believes - that is to say, because he wishes to believe,
because he has need that his son should be cured - he beseeches the Lord
to help his unbelief, his doubt that such a cure could be effected. Of
such kind is human faith; of such kind was the heroic faith that Sancho
Panza had in his master, the knight Don Quijote de la Mancha, as I think
I have shown in my _Vida de Don Quijote y Sancho_; a faith based upon
incertitude, upon doubt. Sancho Panza was indeed a man, a whole and a
true man, and he was not stupid, for only if he had been stupid would he
have believed, without a shadow of doubt, in the follies of his master.
And his master himself did not believe in them without a shadow of
doubt, for neither was Don Quixote, though mad, stupid. He was at heart
a man of despair, as I think I have shown in my above-mentioned book.
And because he was a man of an heroical despair, the hero of that inward
and resigned despair, he stands as the eternal exemplar of every man
whose soul is the battle-ground of reason and immortal desire. Our Lord
Don Quixote is the prototype of the vitalist whose faith is based upon
uncertainty, and Sancho is the prototype of the rationalist who doubts
his own reason.

Tormented by torturing doubts, August Hermann Francke resolved to call
upon God, a God in whom he did not believe, or rather in whom he
believed that he did not believe, imploring Him to take pity upon him,
upon the poor pietist Francke, if perchance He really existed.[34] And
from a similar state of mind came the inspiration of the sonnet entitled
"The Atheist's Prayer," which is included in my _Rosario de Sonetos
Líricos_, and closes with these lines:

_Sufro yo a tu costa,
Dios no existiente, pues si tú existieras
existiería yo también de veras._[35]

Yes, if God the guarantor of our personal immortality existed, then
should we ourselves really exist. And if He exists not, neither do we

That terrible secret, that hidden will of God which, translated into the
language of theology, is known as predestination, that idea which
dictated to Luther his _servum arbitrium_, and which gives to Calvinism
its tragic sense, that doubt of our own salvation, is in its essence
nothing but uncertainty, and this uncertainty, allied with despair,
forms the basis of faith. Faith, some say, consists in not thinking
about it, in surrendering ourselves trustingly to the arms of God, the
secrets of whose providence are inscrutable. Yes, but infidelity also
consists in not thinking about it. This absurd faith, this faith that
knows no shadow of uncertainty, this faith of the stupid coalheaver,
joins hands with an absurd incredulity, the incredulity that knows no
shadow of uncertainty, the incredulity of the intellectuals who are
afflicted with affective stupidity in order that they may not think
about it.

And what but uncertainty, doubt, the voice of reason, was that abyss,
that terrible _gouffre_, before which Pascal trembled? And it was that
which led him to pronounce his terrible sentence, _il faut
s'abêtir_ - need is that we become fools!

All Jansenism, the Catholic adaptation of Calvinism, bears the same
impress. Port-Royal, which owed its existence to a Basque, the Abbé de
Saint-Cyran, a man of the same race as Iñigo de Loyola and as he who
writes these lines, always preserved deep down a sediment of religious
despair, of the suicide of reason. Loyola also slew his reason in

Our affirmation is despair, our negation is despair, and from despair we
abstain from affirming and denying. Note the greater part of our
atheists and you will see that they are atheists from a kind of rage,
rage at not being able to believe that there is a God. They are the
personal enemies of God. They have invested Nothingness with substance
and personality, and their No-God is an Anti-God.

And concerning that abject and ignoble saying, "If there were not a God
it would be necessary to invent Him," we shall say nothing. It is the
expression of the unclean scepticism of those conservatives who look
upon religion merely as a means of government and whose interest it is
that in the other life there shall be a hell for those who oppose their
worldly interests in this life. This repugnant and Sadducean phrase is
worthy of the time-serving sceptic to whom it is attributed.

No, with all this the deep vital sense has nothing to do. It has nothing
to do with a transcendental police regimen, or with securing order - and
what an order! - upon earth by means of promises and threats of eternal
rewards and punishments after death. All this belongs to a lower
plane - that is to say, it is merely politics, or if you like, ethics.
The vital sense has to do with living.

But it is in our endeavour to represent to ourselves what the life of
the soul after death really means that uncertainty finds its surest
foundation. This it is that most shakes our vital desire and most
intensifies the dissolvent efficacy of reason. For even if by a mighty
effort of faith we overcome that reason which tells and teaches us that
the soul is only a function of the physical organism, it yet remains
for our imagination to conceive an image of the immortal and eternal
life of the soul. This conception involves us in contradictions and
absurdities, and it may be that we shall arrive with Kierkegaard at the
conclusion that if the mortality of the soul is terrible, not less
terrible is its immortality.

But when we have overcome the first, the only real difficulty, when we
have overcome the impediment of reason, when we have achieved the faith,
however painful and involved in uncertainty it may be, that our personal
consciousness shall continue after death, what difficulty, what
impediment, lies in the way of our imagining to ourselves this
persistence of self in harmony with our desire? Yes, we can imagine it
as an eternal rejuvenescence, as an eternal growth of ourselves, and as
a journeying towards God, towards the Universal Consciousness, without
ever an arrival, we can imagine it as ... But who shall put fetters upon
the imagination, once it has broken the chain of the rational?

I know that all this is dull reading, tiresome, perhaps tedious, but it
is all necessary. And I must repeat once again that we have nothing to
do with a transcendental police system or with the conversion of God
into a great Judge or Policeman - that is to say, we are not concerned
with heaven or hell considered as buttresses to shore up our poor
earthly morality, nor are we concerned with anything egoistic or
personal. It is not I myself alone, it is the whole human race that is
involved, it is the ultimate finality of all our civilization. I am but
one, but all men are I's.

Do you remember the end of that _Song of the Wild Cock_ which Leopardi
wrote in prose? - the despairing Leopardi, the victim of reason, who
never succeeded in achieving belief. "A time will come," he says, "when
this Universe and Nature itself will be extinguished. And just as of the
grandest kingdoms and empires of mankind and the marvellous things
achieved therein, very famous in their own time, no vestige or memory
remains to-day, so, in like manner, of the entire world and of the
vicissitudes and calamities of all created things there will remain not
a single trace, but a naked silence and a most profound stillness will
fill the immensity of space. And so before ever it has been uttered or
understood, this admirable and fearful secret of universal existence
will be obliterated and lost." And this they now describe by a
scientific and very rationalistic term - namely, _entropia_. Very pretty,
is it not? Spencer invented the notion of a primordial homogeneity, from
which it is impossible to conceive how any heterogeneity could
originate. Well now, this _entropia_ is a kind of ultimate homogeneity,
a state of perfect equilibrium. For a soul avid of life, it is the most
like nothingness that the mind can conceive.

* * * * *

To this point, through a series of dolorous reflections, I have brought
the reader who has had the patience to follow me, endeavouring always to
do equal justice to the claims of reason and of feeling. I have not
wished to keep silence on matters about which others are silent; I have
sought to strip naked, not only my own soul, but the human soul, be its
nature what it may, its destiny to disappear or not to disappear. And we
have arrived at the bottom of the abyss, at the irreconcilable conflict
between reason and vital feeling. And having arrived here, I have told
you that it is necessary to accept the conflict as such and to live by
it. Now it remains for me to explain to you how, according to my way of
feeling, and even according to my way of thinking, this despair may be
the basis of a vigorous life, of an efficacious activity, of an ethic,
of an esthetic, of a religion and even of a logic. But in what follows
there will be as much of imagination as of ratiocination, or rather,
much more.

I do not wish to deceive anyone, or to offer as philosophy what it may
be is only poetry or phantasmagoria, in any case a kind of mythology.
The divine Plato, after having discussed the immortality of the soul in
his dialogue _Phædo_ (an ideal - that is to say, a lying - immortality),
embarked upon an interpretation of the myths which treat of the other
life, remarking that it was also necessary to mythologize. Let us, then,

He who looks for reasons, strictly so called, scientific arguments,
technically logical reflections, may refuse to follow me further.
Throughout the remainder of these reflections upon the tragic sense, I
am going to fish for the attention of the reader with the naked,
unbaited hook; whoever wishes to bite, let him bite, but I deceive no
one. Only in the conclusion I hope to gather everything together and to
show that this religious despair which I have been talking about, and
which is nothing other than the tragic sense of life itself, is, though
more or less hidden, the very foundation of the consciousness of
civilized individuals and peoples to-day - that is to say, of those
individuals and those peoples who do not suffer from stupidity of
intellect or stupidity of feeling.

And this tragic sense is the spring of heroic achievements.

If in that which follows you shall meet with arbitrary apothegms,
brusque transitions, inconsecutive statements, veritable somersaults of
thought, do not cry out that you have been deceived. We are about to
enter - if it be that you wish to accompany me - upon a field of
contradictions between feeling and reasoning, and we shall have to avail
ourselves of the one as well as of the other.

That which follows is not the outcome of reason but of life, although in
order that I may transmit it to you I shall have to rationalize it after
a fashion. The greater part of it can be reduced to no logical theory or
system; but like that tremendous Yankee poet, Walt Whitman, "I charge
that there be no theory or school founded out of me" (_Myself and

Neither am I the only begetter of the fancies I am about to set forth.
By no means. They have also been conceived by other men, if not
precisely by other thinkers, who have preceded me in this vale of tears,
and who have exhibited their life and given expression to it. Their
life, I repeat, not their thought, save in so far as it was thought
inspired by life, thought with a basis of irrationality.

Does this mean that in all that follows, in the efforts of the
irrational to express itself, there is a total lack of rationality, of
all objective value? No; the absolutely, the irrevocably irrational, is
inexpressible, is intransmissible. But not the contra-rational. Perhaps
there is no way of rationalizing the irrational; but there is a way of
rationalizing the contra-rational, and that is by trying to explain it.
Since only the rational is intelligible, really intelligible, and since
the absurd, being devoid of sense, is condemned to be incommunicable,
you will find that whenever we succeed in giving expression and
intelligibility to anything apparently irrational or absurd we
invariably resolve it into something rational, even though it be into
the negation of that which we affirm.

The maddest dreams of the fancy have some ground of reason, and who
knows if everything that the imagination of man can conceive either has
not already happened, or is not now happening or will not happen some
time, in some world or another? The possible combinations are perhaps

Online LibraryMiguel de UnamunoTragic Sense Of Life → online text (page 12 of 29)