1907, 1913 The Limits of Science

Has science overstepped its bounds in America? If it has it hasn’t happened overnight. It’s been a long time coming. Rudolf Eucken wrote about it at the turn of the 20th century. What he said then is still relevent today.

Rudolf Eucken 1846-1926

The Limits of Science, by Rudolf Eucken

A deep-rooted opinion, which appears today as if it were quite self-evident, is that Science has to supply man with knowledge, and that he cannot expect knowledge from any other province of life.

There can, indeed, be no doubt that, when Knowledge is taken in the widest sense of the term as meaning a description and explanation of Reality, Science stands pre-eminent; but the matter appears in quite another light when I the conception of Reality is taken in the definite sense which occupies our attention in this volume. For it is easy to see that it is only an inexact conception of Science, is especially of Modern Science, that can view the task of Knowledge as Science’s entire monopoly.

Modern Science has attained its greatness and its value indeed, has only become a Science in a definite and exact sense because it has succeeded in viewing the customary projection of human ideas, feelings, and aims into the universe as an intolerable confusion; it has opposed such a view with the greatest persistency, and has learned to see things in their own nature, apart from their supposed human qualities.

This has happened most specifically with regard to the physical universe; but even in regard to History and the life of the soul man has attempted to conceive of things as real facts without any admixture of subjective interpretation and valuation. The subjective factor has generally been conceived and condemned as an illegitimate ingredient indeed, as a falsification of the facts and a purely objective consideration of things has been striven for.

It is in this way alone that Science can develop its own methods as well as connect its material into a kingdom of its own. The fact that man is able to place his own subjectivity in the background, and is able to present before himself something outside himself constitutes something of the greatest significance, something that testifies, even in the denial of the activity of the mind as really making anything known, to a distinctive greatness that has to be taken into account in any accurate and complete view of man. But such a fact marks also an insuperable limit to Science.

The results and value of Science depend upon the fact that any disparity between Object and Subject any opposition of external things to the mind that knows them is obliterated. The factual, striven after by Science, dare not suffer any intrusion through attempts at dovetailing it into something mental or interpreting it by means of some human analogy.

Thus Science, the more it progresses, divests itself more and more of all anthropomorphic trimmings and removes the facts further and further from being conceived as having their existence in the human mind. The experience of the present day indicates this with special clearness. Natural Science especially eliminates more and more clearly from its products all its relation to human reflection, and seeks all its conclusions and simplifications entirely within its own external domain.

Thus Physics at the present day is not conceived as at an earlier period in that the differences of our senses do not any longer suffice as a principle of division (Optics, Acoustics). When the effort is most diligently made to resolve the multiplicity of phenomena into the fewest possible elements, and, indeed, finally to one element, it is evident that the whole is not thus brought inwardly nearer to us. Such a tendency must on the contrary remove this final simplification further and further from our sensations and perceptions. In so far as such attempts of Science succeed, the results are bound to leave us inwardly alien to them; and consequently the meaning of the whole remains in darkness. We clarify the relations of things, but we do not know what lies beyond them.

Further, with regard to the view of History, modern investigation eliminates from all events the nearness of the soul and also the seeming transparency which events seemed to possess in earlier times. In the thought of antiquity, Past and Present flowed inseparably together, so that the Here and Now became a key to what had gone before, and so that anything of value which had arisen anywhere seemed to remain valid for all times, and capable of being furthered by all men.

But afterwards came exact investigation with its criticism, and broke ruthlessly down the connections of epochs. While the nature of epochs were more clearly depicted, this specific isolation of each epoch was shown at the same time; the interval between ourselves and each and every epoch has been indicated, and an easy transition from epoch to epoch has been made impossible. The subversive effect of this point of view has been experienced especially in religion. For it was essential for religion to interpret unique events as Standards, and to show their necessity for all times.

This could only happen on condition that religion did not insist entirely on the particular colouring of any special epoch, and on condition that it was equally intimate with all times and equally trusted and saw the meaning of them all. Scientific investigation, however, is unable to envisage such a view in any exact manner without discovering in it a coercion of the Past; so that such an investigation, notwithstanding all it gains in insight, removes us from the Past in a manner which cannot be tolerated. We are on this view unable any longer to unite our lives with the Past in an intimate manner; we are unable, as it seemed possible at an earlier period, to understand our own nature as connected with the whole of things. Thus Science separates us and the objects far from each other, while it teaches us to view the objects in their own connections.

Different periods thus seem, on fuller investigation, to conflict with each other more than to bind themselves together in a friendly relation. And, further, the domain of historical development has extended beyond our range of comprehension, so that a total view of things, an insight into the meaning of the whole, and the connection of the individual with the whole have become impossible. The scientific research concerning History and the History of Philosophy differentiates the two provinces more and more sharply. All attempts at finding the final grounds of things are shattered upon the immeasurable fulness of the bare factual which surrounds us.

It is clear, as the particular sciences in their advancement remove ever further from Knowledge as related to man and his life, that the union of the sciences and the connection of their relations are unable to grant us Knowledge in the definite sense already referred to. Doubtless there originate valuable tasks and combinations of the particular sciences from the proofs of their resemblances and differences, because there is room by the side of the particular sciences for a Theory of Science.

But such a Theory of Science is by no means a Philosophy: mere notifications with regard to the provinces of the sciences can never bring to us anything essentially new, or enable us to attain any higher level for viewing things connectedly. The claim so often made to-day of the possibility of developing a theory of the universe from Science can only arise if a Theory of Science signifies in any manner an insight into reality from a false mode of thinking which becomes possible only by mixing Philosophy with Science and especially with Natural Science.

To-day it is Monism especially which believes itself able to construct a theory of the universe from Natural Science, The transformation of Natural Science into a theory of the universe is only possible through overlooking the Subject (man and his mind) as well as the mental process which carries on the work of Science, and also by overlooking what this mental and spiritual process has brought forth and ever brings forth in the form of contents and aims in the universal life of mankind outside the realm of Science as well as side by side with it. The theory of the universe obtained by leaving these values out of account is much too narrow in its thought- content; and the picture of the universe here presented is much too poor and shallow.

Thus the confusing of Philosophy and Science produces a shallowness and an alienation within our world of ideas. When the representative of a ” scientific theory of the universe ” does not allow of a contradictio in adjecto, and presents his impossible solution as the only possible one, this can mean nothing other than that the certitude which is reachable within Science, and especially within Natural Science, is unconsciously applied to the meaning of the whole universe. Evidently in this case one is not aware that in the recognition of the facts we have mentioned a transition has taken place which sets forth new demands.

Thus it is incorrect to think that the problem cannot be solved in another way or that the scientific method is the only valid method a method that leads us into difficulties of an inner kind. Hence we conclude that Science is unable to discover Knowledge in the sense in which we conceive of Knowledge, and that it is unable to unite from within man and the world. A view of the limits which Science in this respect certainly has shows that the nature of Science, and especially of Modern Science, is not perceived with sufficient clearness. To perceive the specific greatness of Science means at the same time to perceive its limitations.

Zeitgeist 1878

I thought this article from 1878 by R. A. Holland about the value of either the atom or the void between the atom would make interesting reading for someone so I put it here.

The Atom and the Void.—A Sphinx-Riddle

[We copy the following; passage from an address of Rev. Dr. R. A. Holland before the alumni of the St. Louis High School—June, 1878—the theme being “The Spirit of our Time,” or, as the Germans call it, the “Zeitgeist.”—Ed.]

Then came Oedipus himself, our own Zeit-Geist, and, seizing the Sphinx by the ear, jerked her proud head to one side and hallooed boldly, “No airs with me. I have read thy riddle. The universe is dust—nothing but dust. Dust gives to matter all the flexibility it needs. The smaller and more numerous the joints, the greater the capability of contortions; and, if its joints are almost points and numberless, Matter can writhe and wriggle into any shape of solid, liquid, or gas—can even take its tail into its mouth and prove itself to be without beginning or end. Besides, all bodies are resolvable into dust; feldspar, fungus, centipede, herring, snipe, bear-fat, and the brain of Goethe—all are resolvent into dust. Dust is as spry as Puck; dust is as familiar as the sight of a school-boy’s hand and face; and do not familiarity and serviceableness constitute the value of a theory?

Howbeit, I must admit that the dust of the universe is not common dust. To do its work it has to be too fine for vision. It must be imperceptible in order to explain perception. True imperceptibility in the abstract is mysterious; but the mystery in this case is too small for consideration—only an atom, nearly nothing.” Whereupon the Zeit-Geist crops the ear of the Sphinx and lets it go.

But the Zeit-Geist has forgotten that his little mysteries, his nearly nothings, added together make up the big mystery, or the universe. Though he has ground the worlds to powder, the powder remains in his mortar without the loss of a grain. The weight of the problem is exactly the same. This very fine dust—what is it? What moulds it into the wondrous form of earth and sea and air? Does it originate its own motion? How? By simple attraction?

Attraction alone would draw the universe into a solid impenetrable mass without possibility of motion. By simple repulsion? Repulsion alone would scatter the universe out of all possibility of form. Form implies bounds, and bounds imply a binding force. The diffusest gas must have some continuity to distinguish it as a gas. But simple repulsion would destroy all continuity, leaving not closeness enough for the encounters of a chaos. Naught could exist but independent and alien atoms. Nay, the atoms themselves could not exist, for they must exist in space and have their limit or bound which absolute repulsion would explode at once, hurling their contents to uttermost nowhere.

Moreover, if these two contradictory forces should inhere in the atom and yet remain equal and constant, the universe would have the same density throughout and forever—be everywhere solid, everywhere liquid, or everywhere gaseous, and not multiform and mobile as it now is. Hence every atom must have power to attract, power to repel, and a choice which of these powers to use, and in what degree to use it, so as to make now the granite crag, now the mosses that grow on its clefts, and now the cascade that breaks against its midway ledges to a downward breeze of mist.

Cunning atoms! they explain the mystery of the universe by easy condensation. They resemble the Norse ship Skidbladner, which could be folded to fit in a side-pocket or spread large enough to carry all the gods at once, raising whatever wind it needed by the mere set of its sails.

“Out and open, little atom,” says the Zeit-Geist, with a pat of his hand and a puff. “Out and open, big, bigger, biggest; a sail for heat, a sail for light, a sail for electricity; three sails for life, and now the jib, fore, main, mizzen, and spanker all a-flying, with the gods themselves at the ropes for a Shakespeare’s ‘Tempest’ or the rhyme of the ‘Ancient Mariner.'”

And yet the ship does not go, because it has no sea. Were the atoms in contact, they would, as we have seen, no longer be atoms, but a solid mass incapable of motion—dry ground everywhere. But if they are apart they have spaces between them, and these spaces are voids, and voids are nothings. Now, nothings cannot transmit, cannot undulate, have points of the compass or degrees of distance. It was to fill up such an abyss of nothing between the sun and the earth that the Zeit-Geist poured into it a sea of billowing ether, for heat and light to drift across. But the ether turns out to be no sea, for it, too, is composed of atoms, separated by voids.

And these voids need each to be filled with ether as much as did the great void between the earth and the sun; and should other seas of ether be poured into them, this ether would likewise prove to be atoms separated by voids, or nothings. Since, then, the least separative nothing is as large as the largest—nothing divided by ninety-five million miles being no less than nothing multiplied by the same amount —the nearest atoms are as wide apart as worlds, and the magic ship, with canvas and crew to circumnavigate the universe, lies high and dry aground in its own atomic insulation, unable to budge. Oh, befuddled Zeit-Geist, to rig a ship to sail without a sea!

“Not so quick,” replies the Zeit-Geist with some thickness of tongue.

“The fault is not in the atom, but in the void; atoms are facts, but voids are metaphysical. I hate metaphysics. Give me facts—facts like atoms which a man can take hold of and verify. Independent of the problem of creation, facts or things are the only truths. What one sees, hears, tastes, smells, handles—that alone is credible. Ideas are abstractions, spooks of a mental dark seance whose tin horns cannot impose on inductive philosophers like myself and Comte and Mill and Macaulay and Buckle and Thomas Gradgrind. Gradgrind—you remember him? A man of cosmic intellect and my most intimate friend. I shall never forget with what oratorical force he used to declare, ‘Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon facts. Nothing else will ever be of any service to them. . . . Stick to facts, sir.'”

But, if a man stick to facts, how shall he advance in knowledge? Immediate observation is the only sort of knowing that sticks to facts. Reflection leaves them at once and strays off into ideas. The less the thought, the tighter the adhesion, and hence it were stickiest not to think at all. The child knows the flower in this way better than the botanist; the coon-hunting negro feels the sweet influences of the Pleiades more distinctly than the Smithsonian astronomer; and a fool, who can only see and remember, has the absolute genius of tar and feathers. For these simple minds are unbewitched by Science, who makes her living by dissolving facts into vaporous abstractions. Moreover, the mind that would stick to facts must never talk. As soon as its tongue begins to wag, that mind breaks loose and runs away. Language will lie.

Describe, O Zeit-Geist! in glutinous words, if possible, the “three black crows which sat on a tree,” as thou art wont to sing. They were “three”; but three is not a fact; nobody ever saw three; three applies to any other crows as well as to those that sat on a tree; three is an abstraction. They were “black”; but black is not a fact; no such thing exists; it is a metaphysical cheat which identifies my lady’s moire-antique with yon charcoal vender’s cheek.

They were “crows”; but many crows are dead and many yet unborn; among such as live, some are jackdaws, some are rooks, and some are known by their love of carrion, yet all are crows. Which were the three that sat on a tree? Certainly they were not all—the dead, the unborn, the living—jackdaws, rooks, and lovers of carrion. What is crow—pure crow? Nobody knows but a repentant politician, and he only by eating the words he has spoken. In the effort to describe his three black crows, the Zeit-Geist gets utterly bewildered. They vanish into birds, the birds into animals, the animals into organisms, the organisms into things, the things into blank being, which, without some other characteristic, is indistinguishable from nothing. If he tries to specialize them with properties, the properties lead him the same wild chase after phantoms that melt at last into nothing. Beaks, claws, feathers, are no more real than three and black and crow. The beaks, for example, are horn; horn is a compound of phosphate of lime and albumen; phosphate of lime is the combination of a certain acid with a certain base; acid is a substance that, under certain conditions, combines with bases, and bases are elements that, under conditions, combine with acids; but elements, substances, conditions, are metaphysics—the worst kind—what the Zeit-Geist calls “shadows of nonentity.”

Still our great sticker to facts does not despair. His crows may be torn to pieces by words which divide them into parts, elements, classes, but he insists that they do not exist as divisible compounds or anatomies. They are a relation of things rather than the things themselves. What, then, are these things of which they are relations but themselves the relations of other things which are also relations?

And what at last do all these relations relate to? To nothing? But a relation that relates to nothing were no relation. And is thy fact, O giddy Zeit-Geist! this one mesh of a net which unweaves the universe and yet has not a single strand?

Thinkest thou to catch crows and hold them in so loose a snare I Lift up its pouch and look. No crows are there. Instead of the jet gloss of plumage, with purple-blue reflections, thou seest transient hidings of the sun; what seemed the crooked feet are hills and valleys with their strength of forests and fruitful fields; and that semblance of wings was but a mock of the wind whose rush thou feelest between thy fingers in grasping where the phantoms last appeared.

When old Trior strove in Yotun-land to lift a cat which proved to be the Midgard serpent that coils around the world, and to drain at one swill a horn whose end lay open in the sea, the gods who heard of it laughed a laugh of thunder, and swore he was drunk. What, then, shall we think of thee and the three black crows flown through the meshes of thy strandless net of unrelenting relativities? O too confident Zeit-Geist!

Would not a swallow more of Pierian settle thy stomach and unkink thy brain? Might not one deep-drawn thought disclose to thee that a totality of relations which relates to nothing else must relate to itself; that self-relation differs from the relation of one thing to another by its independence amid dependencies, and its permanence under changes; that such a relation, at once both active and passive, both means and ends, both subject and object, exists only in mind which knows itself, in will which determines itself, in personality which throughout the passing phases of knowledge and volition abides, yesterday, to-day, and forever, the same; and that this all enfolding, all-upholding personality explains the universe in whole and every part infinitely better than thy very fine dust?

The Journal of speculative philosophy. v.19 (1885).

Ryan Reeves on Christianity

Ryan Reeves made videos for youtube. He is Associate Professor of Historical Theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and Dean of the Jacksonville campus. My PhD was in Historical Theology from Cambridge University, and my goals here are to provide free, quality explorations of the life of the church and the history of doctrine.   You can see all his videos here.



1744, 1856, 1872, 1912 Schizophrenia and Autism

The Werther Effect was an idea introduced by sociologist David P. Philips in The American Sociological Reivew of 1974 vol. 39 June 15 pages. Two hundred years earlier Johann Goethe had published The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774).  It’s been said that many men copied the behavior Goethe described in the ill-fated love affair between Werther and Charlotte.

Charlotte (A) is married to Albert (B) and Werther (C) is his friend and is in love with her.

When you meet a girl
That you like a lot
And you fall in love
But he loves you not
If a flame should start
As you hold her near
Better keep your heart
Out of danger, dear
For the way of love
Is a way of woe
And the day may come
When you’ll see him go
Then what will ya do
When she sets you free
(The Way of Love by Cher – sexes changed)

The Sorrows of Young Werther

“I knew that I was dear to you; I saw it in your first entrancing look, knew it by the first pressure of your hand; but when I was absent from you, when I saw Albert at your side, my doubts and fears returned.

“Do you remember the flowers you sent me, when, at that crowded assembly, you could neither speak nor extend your hand to me? Half the night I was on my knees before those flowers, and I regarded them as the pledges of your love; but those impressions grew fainter, and were at length effaced.

“Everything passes away; but a whole eternity could not extinguish the living flame which was yesterday kindled by your lips, and which now burns within me. She loves me! These arms have encircled her waist, these lips have trembled upon hers. She is mine! Yes, Charlotte, you are mine for ever!

Sorrows_Young_Werther_1212“And what do they mean by saying Albert is your husband? He may be so for this world; and in this world it is a sin to love you, to wish to tear you from his embrace. Yes, it is a crime; and I suffer the punishment, but I have enjoyed the full delight of my sin. I have inhaled a balm that has revived my soul. From this hour you are mine; yes, Charlotte, you are mine! I go before you. I go to my Father and to your Father. I will pour out my sorrows before him, and he will give me comfort till you arrive. Then will I fly to meet you. I will claim you, and remain your eternal embrace, in the presence of the Almighty.

“I do not dream, I do not rave. Drawing nearer to the grave my perceptions become clearer. We shall exist; we shall see each other again; we shall behold your mother; I shall behold her, and expose to her my inmost heart. Your mother—your image!”

About eleven o’clock Werther asked his servant if Albert had returned. He answered, “Yes;” for he had seen him pass on horseback: upon which Werther sent him the following note, unsealed:

“Be so good as to lend me your pistols for a journey. Adieu.”

Charlotte had slept little during the past night. All her apprehensions were realised in a way that she could neither foresee nor avoid. Her blood was boiling in her veins, and a thousand painful sensations rent her pure heart. Was it the ardour of Werther’s passionate embraces that she felt within her bosom? Was it anger at his daring? Was it the sad comparison of her present condition with former days of innocence, tranquillity, and self-confidence? How could she approach her husband, and confess a scene which she had no reason to conceal, and which she yet felt, nevertheless, unwilling to avow?

“They are loaded—the clock strikes twelve. I say amen. Charlotte, Charlotte! farewell, farewell!”

A neighbour saw the flash, and heard the report of the pistol; but, as everything remained quiet, he thought no more of it.

In the morning, at six o’clock, the servant went into Werther’s room with a candle. He found his master stretched upon the floor, weltering in his blood, and the pistols at his side. He called, he took him in his arms, but received no answer. Life was not yet quite extinct. The servant ran for a surgeon, and then went to fetch Albert. Charlotte heard the ringing of the bell: a cold shudder seized her. She wakened her husband, and they both rose. The servant, bathed in tears faltered forth the dreadful news. Charlotte fell senseless at Albert’s feet.

Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall-Street by Herman Melville 1856.

Bartleby_the_Scrivener_1002In this very attitude did I sit when I called to him, rapidly stating what it was I wanted him to do—namely, to examine a small paper with me. Imagine my surprise, nay, my consternation, when without moving from his privacy, Bartleby in a singularly mild, firm voice, replied, “I would prefer not to.”

I sat awhile in perfect silence, rallying my stunned faculties. Immediately it occurred to me that my ears had deceived me, or Bartleby had entirely misunderstood my meaning. I repeated my request in the clearest tone I could assume. But in quite as clear a one came the previous reply, “I would prefer not to.”

“Prefer not to,” echoed I, rising in high excitement, and crossing the room with a stride. “What do you mean? Are you moon-struck? I want you to help me compare this sheet here—take it,” and I thrust it towards him.

“I would prefer not to,” said he.

“Bartleby! quick, I am waiting.”

I heard a slow scrape of his chair legs on the uncarpeted floor, and soon he appeared standing at the entrance of his hermitage.

“What is wanted?” said he mildly.

“The copies, the copies,” said I hurriedly. “We are going to examine them. There”—and I held towards him the fourth quadruplicate.

“I would prefer not to,” he said, and gently disappeared behind the screen.

For a few moments I was turned into a pillar of salt, standing at the head of my seated column of clerks. Recovering myself, I advanced towards the screen, and demanded the reason for such extraordinary conduct.

Why do you refuse?”

“I would prefer not to.”

With any other man I should have flown outright into a dreadful passion, scorned all further words, and thrust him ignominiously from my presence. But there was something about Bartleby that not only strangely disarmed me, but in a wonderful manner touched and disconcerted me. I began to reason with him.

“These are your own copies we are about to examine. It is labor saving to you, because one examination will answer for your four papers. It is common usage. Every copyist is bound to help examine his copy. Is it not so? Will you not speak? Answer!”

“I prefer not to,” he replied in a flute-like tone. It seemed to me that while I had been addressing him, he carefully revolved every statement that I made; fully comprehended the meaning; could not gainsay the irresistible conclusions; but, at the same time, some paramount consideration prevailed with him to reply as he did.

“You are decided, then, not to comply with my request—a request made according to common usage and common sense?”

He briefly gave me to understand that on that point my judgment was sound. Yes: his decision was irreversible.

“Bartleby,” said I, “when those papers are all copied, I will compare them with you.”

“I would prefer not to.”

“How? Surely you do not mean to persist in that mulish vagary?”

No answer.

“Bartleby,” said I, “Ginger Nut is away; just step round to the Post Office, won’t you? (it was but a three minute walk,) and see if there is any thing for me.”

“I would prefer not to.”

“You will not?”

“I prefer not.”

I staggered to my desk, and sat there in a deep study. My blind inveteracy returned. Was there any other thing in which I could procure myself to be ignominiously repulsed by this lean, penniless wight?—my hired clerk? What added thing is there, perfectly reasonable, that he will be sure to refuse to do?

“Go to the next room, and tell Nippers to come to me.”

“I prefer not to,” he respectfully and slowly said, and mildly disappeared.

“Bartleby,” said I, gently calling to him behind his screen.

No reply.

“Bartleby,” said I, in a still gentler tone, “come here; I am not going to ask you to do any thing you would prefer not to do—I simply wish to speak to you.”

Upon this he noiselessly slid into view.

“Will you tell me, Bartleby, where you were born?”

“I would prefer not to.”

“Will you tell me any thing about yourself?”

“I would prefer not to.”

“But what reasonable objection can you have to speak to me? I feel friendly towards you.”

He did not look at me while I spoke, but kept his glance fixed upon my bust of Cicero, which as I then sat, was directly behind me, some six inches above my head.

I buttoned up my coat, balanced myself; advanced slowly towards him, touched his shoulder, and said, “The time has come; you must quit this place; I am sorry for you; here is money; but you must go.”

“I would prefer not,” he replied, with his back still towards me.

“You must.”

He remained silent.


Paul Eugen Bleuler used the term schizophrenia in Berlin on 24 April 1908. His book The Theory of Schizophrenic Negativism was translated into English in 1912. He wrote about schizophrenia this way:

In ordinary external negativism which consists in the negation of external influences (Ex, Command) and of what one would normally expect the patient to do (Ex. Defaecation in the closet instead of the bed), the following causes are at work:

(a) The autistic withdrawing of the patient into his phantasies, which makes every influence acting from without comparatively an intolerable interruption. This appears to be the most important factor. In severe cases it alone is sufficient to produce negativism.

(b) The existence of a hurt (negative complex, unfulfilled wish) which must be protected from contacts.

(c) The misunderstanding of the surroundings and their purpose.

(d) Direct hostile relations to the surroundings.

(e) The pathological irritability of the schizophrenic.

(f) The pressure of thought and other difficulties of action and of thought, through which every reaction becomes painful.

(g) The sexuality with its ambivalent feeling tones is also often one of the roots of negativistic reaction. (2) (1912)

He added:

By autistic I understand practically what Freud (not however Havelock Ellis) means by autoerotism. I think it well, however, to avoid the latter expression, as it is misunderstood by all those not very familiar with Freud’s writing. I have discussed this at length in the chapter on Schizophrenia in Aschaffenburg’s Hand-Book of Psychiatry. The symptom of ambivalence to be mentioned later in the text is also discussed in this book. (19) (1912)

Johann “Hans” Friedrich Karl Asperger 1906-1980 was was a medical doctor working in Vienna where he published a definition of autistic psychopathy in 1944. He borrowed the term “autistic” from Eugen Bleuler, who used it in his Dementia Praecox or the Group of Schizophrenias.

Asperger’s Syndrome was recognized in the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in 1994.  Asperger’s was defined as “restricted repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, and activities and typically with average or above intellect.” It was placed under the autism spectrum in DMZ-5 in 2013.

The term persecutory delusions was introduced as a type of schizophrenia in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) published by The American Psychiatric Association which was established in 1844. This organization was earlier known as The Association of Medical Superintendents of American Institutions for the Insane.

The quote below is from Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s 1872 book The Possessed also known as The Devils.

Caricature of Dostoyevsky

“Stepan Trofimovitch fondly loved his position as a “persecuted” man and, so to speak, an “exile.” There is a sort of traditional glamour about those two little words that fascinated him once for all and, exalting him gradually in his own opinion, raised him in the course of years to a lofty pedestal very gratifying to vanity. I only learned the other day to my intense amazement, though on the most unimpeachable authority, that Stepan Trofimovitch had lived among us in our province not as an “exile” as we were accustomed to believe, and had never even been under police supervision at all. Such is the force of imagination!


All his life he sincerely believed that in certain spheres he was a constant cause of apprehension, that every step he took was watched and noted, and that each one of the three governors who succeeded one another during twenty years in our province came with special and uneasy ideas concerning him, which had, by higher powers, been impressed upon each before everything else, on receiving the appointment. Had anyone assured the honest man on the most irrefutable grounds that he had nothing to be afraid of, he would certainly have been offended.

Yet Stepan Trofimovitch was a most intelligent and gifted man, even, so to say, a man of science, though indeed, in science … well, in fact he had not done such great things in science. I believe indeed he had done nothing at all. But that’s very often the case, of course, with men of science among us in Russia.”   The Possessed (The Devils) by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (Introductory)

The Sorrows of Young Werther

Bartleby, the Scrivener

The Possessed (The Devils) by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

The Theory of Schizophrenic Negativism

The Influence of Suggestion on Suicide: Substantive and Theoretical Implications of the Werther Effect

David P. Phillips
American Sociological Review
Vol. 39, No. 3 (Jun., 1974), pp. 340-354

David Phillips, a UC San Diego sociologist, studies when people die, and whether their mental state allows them to either prolong life or hasten death.

He has studied whether Jews are more apt to die after Passover. He has analyzed whether elderly Chinese women are more likely to die after the Harvest Moon festival.

Most recently, the professor examined whether Californians tend to die before or after their birthdays. And let’s not forget his earlier work scrutinizing whether people were more likely to kill themselves after reading about suicides of famous people.

        Los Angeles Times September 27, 1992 byNORA ZAMICHOW


Christianity in China 781 AD

In the year 781 the Tang Dynasty had “the white-clad members of the Illustrious Congregational” erect a monument to the religion of his time. There it sat in China until accidently discovered in 1625 by Chinese and Western scholars. Wang Ch’ang compiled it in a book of inscriptions in 1805. It went to Japan in 1817 and was put on the prohited list because it seemed to have something to do with “the Religion of Jesus”. Finally in 1876 the London Bible and Tract Society pulished the book. In 1896 Dr. Takakusa published an article about the book of inscriptions. Several people claimed to have seen the very stone the inscription was taken from. This stone came to be known as the Nestorian Monument. A replica of it was set up at the top of Mount Koya – the holy land of Japan on 3 October 1911.

The Nestorian statement below divides Christ’s human and divine nature into two substances. The main point for me is that Christianity reached China at an early date.

Alexander Wylie was a Christian missionary to China from 1858-1868. Below is his translation of the Nestorian Monument.

china-742 tang dynasty
Wiki commons

This was erected in the 2d year of Kienchung, of the Tang dynasty (A. D. 781), on the 7th day of the 1st month, being Sunday. Written by Lu Siu-yen, Secretary to Council, formerly Military Superintendent for Taichau; while the Bishop Ning-shu had the charge of the congregations of the Illustrious in the East.

BEHOLD the unchangeably true and invisible, who existed through all eternity without origin; the far-seeing perfect intelligence, whose mysterious existence is everlasting; operating on primordial substance he created the universe, being more excellent than all holy intelligences, inasmuch as he is the source of all that is honorable. This is our eternal true lord God, triune and mysterious in substance.

He appointed the cross as the means for determining the four cardinal points, he moved the original spirit, and produced the two principles of nature; the sombre void was changed, and heaven and earth were opened out; the sun and moon revolved, and day and night commenced; having perfected all inferior objects, he then made the first man; upon him he bestowed an excellent disposition, giving him in charge the government of all created beings; man, acting out the original principles of his nature, was pure and unostentatious; his unsullied and expansive mind was free from the least inordinate desire; until Satan introduced the seeds of falsehood, to deteriorate his purity of principle; the opening thus commenced in his virtue gradually enlarged, and by this crevice in his nature was obscured and rendered vicious; hence three hundred and sixty-five sects followed each other in continuous track, inventing every species of doctrinal complexity; while some pointed to material objects as the source of their faith, others reduced all to vacancy, even to the annihilation of the two primeval principles; some sought to call down blessings by prayers and supplications, while others by an assumption of excellence held themselves up as superior to their fellows; their intellects and thoughts continually wavering, their minds and affections incessantly on the move, they never obtained their vast desires, but being exhausted and distressed they revolved in their own heated atmosphere; till by an accumulation of obscurity they lost their path, and after long groping in darkness they were unable to return.

Thereupon, our Trinity being divided in nature, the illustrious and honorable Messiah, veiling his true dignity, appeared in the world as a man; angelic powers promulgated the glad tidings, a virgin gave birth to the Holy One in Syria; a bright star announced the felicitous event, and Persians observing the splendor came to present tribute; the ancient dispensation, as declared by the twenty-four holy men, was then fulfilled, and he laid down great principles for the government of families and kingdoms; he established the new religion of the silent operation of the pure spirit of the Triune; he rendered virtue subservient to direct faith; he fixed the extent of the eight boundaries, thus completing the truth and freeing it from dross; he opened the gate of the three constant principles, introducing life and destroying death; he suspended the bright sun to invade the chambers of darkness, and the falsehoods of the devil were thereupon defeated; he set in motion the vessel of mercy by which to ascend to the bright mansions, whereupon rational beings were then released, having thus completed the manifestation of his power, in clear day he ascended to his true station.

Twenty-seven sacred books have been left, which disseminate intelligence by unfolding the original transforming principles. By the rule for admission, it is the custom to apply the water of baptism, to wash away all superficial show and to cleanse and purify the neophytes. As a seal, they hold the cross, whose influence is reflected in every direction, uniting all without distinction.

The  links below will take you to several books dealing with this subject.

The Nestorian Monument: An Ancient Record of Christianity in China, with Special Reference to …by Paul Carus , Alexander Wylie , Frits HolmPublication date 1909

1944 Political Society

From the very fact that society is a whole made up of human persons, it is apparent that the mutual relationship between the individual and society is complex and difficult to perceive and to describe in its complete truth. The whole as such is greater than its parts. This is a principle which Aristotle emphasized and which every more or less anarchic political philosophy chooses to disregard. But the human person is something more than a part with respect to society. Here is another principle which Christianity has brought to light and which every absolutist or totalitarian political philosophy relegates to darkness.

A single human soul is of more worth than the whole universe of bodies and material goods. There is nothing above the human soul except God. In the light of the eternal value and absolute dignity of the soul, society exists for each person and is subordinate thereto.

‘Every individual person, writes St. Thomas Aquinas, ‘bears the same relationship to the whole community as the part bears to the whole. From this point of view and in this connection, in other words, by virtue of certain of his own conditions, which make him a part of society, the entire person is engaged in and exists with a view to the common good of society.

World_War_II_1942Anarchical individualism denies that the entire man by reason of certain things which are in him, is a part of political society; totalitarianism states that man is part of political society by reason of himself as a whole and by reason of all that is in him (‘everything within the State, nothing against the State, nothing outside the State). The truth of the matter is that the entire man is a part of political society and exists with a view to its common good, but not by reason of himself as a whole.

The entire human person is a part of political society, but not by virtue of all that is in it nor of all that pertains to it. By virtue of still other things which are in it, the entire human person is also above political society. Man finds himself by subordinating himself to the group, and the group attains its goal only by serving man and by realizing that man has secrets which escape the group and a vocation which the group does not encompass.

There is thus for persons themselves within social life a movement which might be called vertical: because the taproot of human personality is not society, but God; and because the ultimate end of man is not society, but God; and because the centre where the person makes more and more perfect its very life as a person is on the plane of eternal things, whereas the level on which it is made part of the social community is that of temporal intercourse.

Thus the person craves society, and tends always to surpass it, until man enters at last into the society of God. From the family group (more basic because it has to do with the perpetuation of the species) the person moves on to civil or political society (more exalted because it has to do with rational life itself), and in the midst of civil society it feels the need for more limited groups or fellowships which will contribute to its intellectual and moral life.

These the person enters of its own free choice, and they assist in its efforts to ascend to a higher level, yet they will end by cramping it, and it will feel obliged to pass beyond them. Above the plane of civil society, the person crosses the threshold of a kingdom which is not of this world and enters a supra-national, supra-racial, supra-temporal society which is called the Church, and which has to do with the things that are not Caesar’s.

The Rights Of Man And Natural Law by Jacques Maritain 1882-1973     Publication date 1944 


The System

Both Peter Lombard and Erasmus wrote about words and things and signs and signification.  Here are a few videos from their writings.

This was by Peter Lombard. He was trying to define the Christian sacraments. Taken from Peter Lombard and the sacramental system translated by Elizabeth Frances Rogers.

This was from The colloquies of Erasmus. v.2. Erasmus, Desiderius, d. 1536.

Kierkegaard was also interested in systems as was John Locke.

If I ever write a next section; for an author of pieces such as I am has no seriousness of purpose, as you will doubtless hear said about me; why then should I now at the end feign a seriousness I do not have, in order to please men by making what is perhaps a great promise? It is a frivolous matter, namely, to write a piece — but to promise the System is a serious thing; many a man has become serious both in his own eyes and in those of others by making such a promise.   Soren Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments p. 80, 1844 Swenson

fragments and concluding

A house can indeed be finished even though a bell pull is lacking, but in a scholarly construction the lack of a conclusion has retroactive power to make the beginning doubtful and hypothetical, that is, unsystematic. The presupposition of the system-that faith is given-dissolves into a make-believe in which the system has made itself fancy that it knew what faith isA system that is not entirely finished is a hypothesis, whereas a half-finished system is nonsense and a fragment of a system is also nonsense. Soren Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript, 1846 Hong 13, 16, 107

John Locke on systems from An Essay on Human Understanding Book 3 1689. 

Objection. ‘Knowledge placed in our Ideas may be all unreal or chimerical’

I DOUBT not but my reader, by this time, may be apt to think that I have been all this while only building a castle in the air; and be ready to say to me:—

‘To what purpose all this stir? Knowledge, say you, is only the perception of the agreement or disagreement of our own ideas: but who knows what those ideas may be?

Is there anything so extravagant as the imaginations of men’s brains? Where is the head that has no chimeras in it? Or if there be a sober and a wise man, what difference will there be, by your rules, between his knowledge and that of the most extravagant fancy in the world?

They both have their ideas, and perceive their agreement and disagreement one with another. If there be any difference between them, the advantage will be on the warm-headed man’s side, as having the more ideas, and the more lively. And so, by your rules, he will be the more knowing. If it be true, that all knowledge lies only in the perception of the agreement or disagreement of our own ideas, the visions of an enthusiast and the reasonings of a sober man will be equally certain.

It is no matter how things are: so a man observe but the agreement of his own imaginations, and talk conformably, it is all truth, all certainty. Such castles in the air will be as strongholds of truth, as the demonstrations of Euclid. That an harpy is not a centaur is by this way as certain knowledge, and as much a truth, as that a square is not a circle.

WHAT IS MEANT BY THE TERM EXIST, when applied to sensible things. The table I write on I say exists, that is, I see and feel it; and if I were out of my study I should say it existed–meaning thereby that if I was in my study I might perceive it, or that some other spirit actually does perceive it. [Note.] There was an odour, that is, it was smelt; there was a sound, that is, it was heard; a colour or figure, and it was perceived by sight or touch. This is all that I can understand by these and the like expressions. For as to what is said of the absolute existence of unthinking things without any relation to their being perceived, that seems perfectly unintelligible. Their ESSE is PERCIPI, nor is it possible they should have any existence out of the minds or thinking things which perceive them.

A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge 
By George Berkeley 1710


Back to Kierkegaard.

Now, the first total opponent of Hegel’s standpoint was Soren Kierkegaard, father of modern existentialism. Hegel had many critics in his lifetime, but they were mostly those who attacked his system because they believed that they could construct a better one themselves. But his Danish critic attacked him for being the most consistent system-builder among system-builders. In the name of Christian faith Kierkegaard rejected not this or that element in Hegelianism but the whole, referring to it in mockery as ‘the System’.  So it happens that the issue of system versus the Christian faith has been debated more than a hundred years ago. And that encounter between system and anti-system is very relevant to any examination of philosophical theology to-day. 37

Tillich dates the beginnings of existentialism from the later teachings of Schelling. In November 1842 Kierkegaard visited Germany and stayed five months in Berlin to hear Schelling lecture, having hopes that in Schilling’s declared opposition to Hegel he would find an acceptable alternative to Hegel’s system. He went away disappointed. 39

Kierkegaard’s whole teaching stresses the impossibility of uniting Christianity and speculative thought. What he termed his first authentic literature, the book Either/Or, was written on the surge of his rejection of Schelling, and its title epitomizes his practical programme. His demand is for decision, action and the leap of faith. He tells the individual that he must judge for himself, it being foolish to imagine that one can justify existential choice by an appeal to the laws of the intellect or to the nature of the Universe objectively considered. In existence it is irrational to wish reason to do what faith must do, so that believing for three reasons’ is merely comic. 40

Now it so happens that Kierkegaard discusses what he means by his three stages (illustrated in Stages On Life’s Way) in the work where he explains most fully his opposition to Hegel’s System, the Concluding Unscientific Postscript To the Philosophical Fragments. There he points out that the three stages can be abstractly represented as three standpoints, but in the life of an existing individual always present an either-or, a choice between two decisions. From the abstract point of view there is no ‘decisive conflict’ between the standpoints. In actuality the notion that the standpoints can be reconciled, or that one can pass without a break from one to another, is a chimera, an illusion’. The sole passage is by way of a leap, and the only ‘category of transition’ is a breach. 41

Kierkegaard denies that any individual can ever live in time and space and, without ceasing to exist, sum up the whole of reality in a system. 49

Because Kierkegaard does not think it possible for living men to attain to the wisdom of eternal truth, so he teaches that it is needful for each of us to live by the authority of a faith not objectively certified but trusted ‘in subjectivity’ i.e. in the individual’s response. Therefore he looks for no higher justification for his faith in the Christian message than that of ‘infinite passion’. 51

Kenneth Hamilton, The System And The Gospel A Critique Of Paul Tillich p. 37, 39, 40, 41, 49, 51 New York, Macmillan 1963

Anton Checkov wrote his play The Sea-Gull in four acts. This is a quote from Act One

NINA. All men and beasts, lions, eagles, and quails, horned stags, geese, spiders, silent fish that inhabit the waves, starfish from the sea, and creatures invisible to the eye—in one word, life—all, all life, completing the dreary round imposed upon it, has died out at last. A thousand years have passed since the earth last bore a living creature on her breast, and the unhappy moon now lights her lamp in vain. No longer are the cries of storks heard in the meadows, or the drone of beetles in the groves of limes. All is cold, cold. All is void, void, void. All is terrible, terrible—[A pause] The bodies of all living creatures have dropped to dust, and eternal matter has transformed them into stones and water and clouds; but their spirits have flowed together into one, and that great world-soul am I! In me is the spirit of the great Alexander, the spirit of Napoleon, of Caesar, of Shakespeare, and of the tiniest leech that swims. In me the consciousness of man has joined hands with the instinct of the animal; I understand all, all, all, and each life lives again in me.

[NINA. I am alone. Once in a hundred years my lips are opened, my voice echoes mournfully across the desert earth, and no one hears. And you, poor lights of the marsh, you do not hear me. You are engendered at sunset in the putrid mud, and flit wavering about the lake till dawn, unconscious, unreasoning, unwarmed by the breath of life. Satan, father of eternal matter, trembling lest the spark of life should glow in you, has ordered an unceasing movement of the atoms that compose you, and so you shift and change for ever. I, the spirit of the universe, I alone am immutable and eternal. [A pause] Like a captive in a dungeon deep and void, I know not where I am, nor what awaits me. One thing only is not hidden from me: in my fierce and obstinate battle with Satan, the source of the forces of matter, I am destined to be victorious in the end. Matter and spirit will then be one at last in glorious harmony, and the reign of freedom will begin on earth. But this can only come to pass by slow degrees, when after countless eons the moon and earth and shining Sirius himself shall fall to dust. Until that hour, oh, horror! horror! horror! [A pause. Two glowing red points are seen shining across the lake] Satan, my mighty foe, advances; I see his dread and lurid eyes.


This is from the last chapter of Hegel’s Phenomenology of the Spirit (1807) – His book is very important for philosophers.

On the Ego and the Self

We saw, too, its specific character take expression at its highest stage in the infinite judgment: “the being of the ego is a thing”. And, further, the ego is an immediate thing of sense. When ego is called a soul, it is indeed represented also as a thing, but a thing in the sense of something invisible, impalpable, etc., i.e. in fact not as an immediate entity and not as that which is generally understood by a thing. That judgment, then, “ego is a thing”, taken at first glance, has no spiritual content, or rather, is just the absence of spirituality. In its conception, however, it is in fact the most luminous and illuminating judgment; and this, its inner significance, which is not yet made evident, is what the two other moments to be considered express.

The thing is ego. In point of fact, thing is transcended in this infinite judgment. The thing is nothing in itself; it only has significance in relation, only through the ego and its reference to the ego. This moment came before consciousness in pure insight and enlightenment. Things are simply and solely useful, and only to be considered from the point of view of their utility. The trained and cultivated self-consciousness, which has traversed the region of spirit in self-alienation, has, by giving up itself, produced the thing as its self; it retains itself, therefore, still in the thing, and knows the thing to have no independence, in other words knows that the thing has essentially and solely a relative existence.

But knowledge of the thing is not yet finished at this point. The thing must become known as self not merely in regard to the immediateness of its being and as regards its determinateness, but also in the sense of essence or inner reality. This is found in the case of Moral Self-consciousness. This mode of experience knows its knowledge as the absolute essential element, knows no other objective being than pure will or pure knowledge. It is nothing but merely this will and this knowledge. Any other possesses merely non-essential being, i.e. being that has no inherent nature per se, but only its empty husk. In so far as the moral consciousness, in its view of the world, lets existence drop out of the self, it just as truly takes this existence back again into its self. In the form of conscience, finally, it is no longer this incessant alternation between the “placing” and the “displacing” [dissembling] of existence and self; it knows that its existence as such is this pure certainty of its own self; the objective element, into which qua acting it puts forth itself, is nothing else than pure knowledge of itself by itself.

These are the moments which compose the reconciliation of spirit with its own consciousness proper. By themselves they are single and isolated; and it is their spiritual unity alone which furnishes the power for this reconciliation. The last of these moments is, however, necessarily this unity itself, and, as we see, binds them all in fact into itself. Spirit certain of itself in its objective existence takes as the element of its existence nothing else than this knowledge of self. The declaration that what it does it does in accordance with the conviction of duty – this statement is the warrant for its own action, and makes good its conduct.

Systematic Science as the Self-Comprehension of Spirit

It is spirit knowing itself in the shape of spirit, it is knowledge which comprehends through notions. Truth is here not merely in itself absolutely identical with certainty; it has also the shape, the character of certainty of self; or in its existence – i.e. for spirit knowing it – it is in the form of knowledge of itself.

german philosophyTruth is the content, which in religion is not as yet at one with its certainty. This identification, however, is secured when the content has received the shape of self. By this means, what constitutes the very essence, viz. the notion, comes to have the nature of existence, i.e. assumes the form of what is objective to consciousness. Spirit, appearing before consciousness in this element of existence, or, what is here the same thing, produced by it in this element, is systematic Science.

The nature, moments, and process of this knowledge have then shown themselves to be such that this knowledge is pure self-existence of self-consciousness.

It is ego, which is this ego and no other, and at the same time, immediately is mediated, or sublated, universal ego. It has a content, which it distinguishes from itself; for it is pure negativity, or self-diremption; it is consciousness. This content in its distinction is itself the ego, for it is the process of superseding itself, or the same pure negativity which constitutes ego. Ego is in it, qua distinguished, reflected into itself; only then is the content comprehended (begriffen) when ego in its otherness is still at home with itself. More precisely stated, this content is nothing else than the very process just spoken of; for the content is the spirit which traverses the whole range of its own being, and does this for itself qua spirit, by the fact that it possesses the shape of the notion in its objectivity.

As to the actual existence of this notion, science does not appear in time and in reality till spirit has arrived at this stage of being conscious regarding itself. Qua spirit which knows what it is, it does not, exist before, and is not to be found at all till after the completion of the task of mastering and constraining its imperfect embodiment – the task of procuring for its consciousness the shape of its inmost essence, and in this manner bringing its self-consciousness level with its consciousness. Spirit in and for itself is, when distinguished into its separate moments, self-existent knowledge, comprehension (Begreifen) in general, which as such has not yet reached the substance, or is not in itself absolute knowledge.

History, is the process of becoming in terms of knowledge, a conscious self-mediating process – Spirit externalized and emptied into Time. But this form of abandonment is, similarly, the emptying of itself by itself; the negative is negative of itself.

This way of becoming presents a slow procession and succession of spiritual shapes (Geistern), a gallery of pictures, each of which is endowed with the entire wealth of Spirit, and moves so slowly just for the reason that the self has to permeate and assimilate all this wealth of its substance.

Since its accomplishment consists in Spirit knowing what it is, in fully comprehending its substance, this knowledge means its concentrating itself on itself (Insichgehen), a state in which Spirit leaves its external existence behind and gives its embodiment over to Recollection (Erinnerung). In thus concentrating itself on itself, Spirit is engulfed in the night of its own self-consciousness; its vanished existence is, however, conserved therein; and this superseded existence – the previous state, but born anew from the womb of knowledge – is the new stage of existence, a new world, and a new embodiment or mode of Spirit.

Read the whole thing here. Absolute Knowledge

Hegel is very popular with Marxists.

Kierkegaard was completely against this “systematic knowledge of spirit”.


The Prophet by Pushkin

The Prophet
By Alexander Pushkin (1799–1837)
(Trans. Avrahm Yarmolinsky)

The Prophet from Librivox   

I DRAGGED my flesh through desert gloom,

Tormented by the spirit’s yearning,

And saw a six-winged Seraph loom

Upon the footpath’s barren turning.

And as a dream in slumber lies

So light his finger on my eyes,—

My wizard eyes grew wide and wary:

An eagle’s, startled from her eyrie.

He touched my ears, and lo! a sea

Of storming voices burst on me.

I heard the whirling heavens’ tremor,

The angels’ flight and soaring sweep,

The sea-snakes coiling in the deep,

The sap the vine’s green tendrils carry.

And to my lips the Seraph clung

And tore from me my sinful tongue,

My cunning tongue and idle-worded;

The subtle serpent’s sting he set

Between my lips—his hand was wet,

His bloody hand my mouth begirded.

And with a sword he cleft my breast

And took the heart with terror turning,

And in my gaping bosom pressed

A coal that throbbed there, black and burning.

Upon the wastes, a lifeless clod,

I lay, and heard the voice of God:

“Arise, oh prophet, watch and hearken,

And with my Will thy soul engird,

Through lands that dim and seas that darken,

Burn thou men’s hearts with this, my Word.”

Pushkin farewell to the sea – Wikicommons

Saul Alinsky 1946, 1971

alinsky radical

Saul Alinsky was bom in Chicago in 1909, and educated first in the streets of that city and then in its university. Graduate work at the University of Chicago in criminology introduced him to the Capone gang, and later to Joliet State Prison, where he studied prison life.

He founded what is known today as the Alinsky ideology and Alinsky concepts of mass organization for power. His work in organizing the poor to fight for their rights as citizens has been internationally recognized. In the late 193o’s he organized the Back of the Yards area in Chicago (Upton Sinclair’s Jungle). Subsequently, through the Industrial Areas Foundation which he began in 1940,

Mr. Alinsky and his staff have helped to organize communities not only in Chicago but throughout the country from the black ghetto of Rochester, New York, to the Mexican American barrios of California. Today Mr. Alinsky s organizing attention has turned to the middle class, and he and his associates have a Training Institute for organizers. Mr. Alinsky’s early organizing efforts resulted in his being arrested and jailed from time to time, and it was on such occasions that he wrote most of Reveille for Radicals.  He died in 1972.

Reveille for Radicals by Saul Alinsky 1946 The University of Chicago

The clash of Radicals, Conservatives, and Liberals which makes up America’s political history opens the door to the most fundamental question of what is America? How do the people of America feel? It is in this feeling that the real story of America is written. There were and are a number of Americans—few, to be sure—filled with deep feeling for people. They know that people are the stuff that makes up the dream of democracy. (14)

So you’re a Jew. Maybe you’re one of the few living on Park Avenue, or in the upper sixties. You bitterly resent anti-Semitism and regard prejudiced people as uncivilized, irreligious, and definitely un-American. Let’s take a look at you. How do you feel about the Jews on Rivington Street or the East Side? You don’t like them. You think of them as loud, uncouth, and dirty. You don’t like the way they smile or the way they talk. You say it is bad for the Jews. Maybe you are a Spanish Jew and you look down on the German Jew, or you are a German Jew and you look down with utter contempt upon the Russian and Polish Jew. (18)

The Radical places human rights far above property rights. He is for universal, free public education and recognizes this as fundamental to the democratic way of life. He will condemn local abuse of public education whether it be discrimination or corruption, and will insist if necessary upon its correction by national government authority—but at the same time he will bitterly oppose complete Federal control of education. He will fight for individual rights and against centralized power. (24)

Another notorious example of opposition to technological progress is to be found in one of the practices of the American Federation of Musicians. Radio stations and many hotel lobbies that use phonograph turntables are forced by the union to hire and pay a member of the union to “serve as record changer.” Practically all of these machines have automatic record changers and the only function of this so-called “human record changer’ is to stand by and waste time. The Musicians Union fights technical progress not only in this one instance but in a variety of others. This ludicrous type of labor union practice came to full flower at the 1944 C.I.O. National Convention. (39)

The hatred and opposition of big business toward all foes of the status quo is fully shared and participated in by the leaders of the labor movements. The position taken by organized labor is consistent with their role in a monopolistic capitalist economy. They must be opposed to Socialism, Communism or any other philosophy which would destroy private ownership of industry or private employment. From their parents point of view, the introduction of a Socialistic society would mean the death knell of the present organized labor movement. (50)

Then there are those unions which openly practice segregation, admitting Negroes only to special auxiliary memberships. This kind of segregated or auxiliary union is Jim Crow in its most primitive form. (53)

The Chinese write the word “crisis” with two characters. One means danger and the other means opportunity. Together they spell “crisis.” (62)

This same warped outlook applies to a slum community in which the people are living on a low economic level in a life fraught with insecurity. After all, what is a slum? A slum is a dirty, miserable, diseased, human junkyard full of frustration and despair. It is a place where people exist because they do not have the money to live elsewhere. Nobody lives there for any reason except financial pressure. If a community council tries to do anything significant in any of the problems of the local citizenry, it will find itself faced with the prime objecdve of attacking those basic elements which make up the economic decay of the slum and its dwellers. If we free ourselves of the shackles of wordiness, the statement of purpose is clear and simple: the job is the unslumming of the slum. This means the battling of all of those forces in the city and the nation which converge to create the human junkyard—worse, the cesspool—known as the slum. (82)

the question of determining who is a leader involves a large number of partial leaders or leaders of small groups and particularized aspects of their life. These natural leaders therefore run into considerable numbers. It is as true in that community as it is in any other segment of the population, including that of the reader. These natural leaders—the “Little Joes”—may, it is clear, occupy the most humble roles in the community. A window trimmer may be the president of the Holy Name Society. Or your “Little Joe” may be a garage mechanic, a bartender, an elevator operator, a streetcar conductor. These are the common people and in them are to be found the small natural leaders of the natural groups which are present among all people. (96)

Those who build People’s Organizations begin realistically with what they have. It does not matter whether they approve or disapprove of local circumstances, traditions, and agencies; the fact remains that this is the material that must be worked with. Builders of People’s Organizations cannot indulge in the sterile, wishful thinking of Liberals who prefer to start where they would like to begin rather than with actual conditions as they exist. (100)

“You know, there are a lot of outsiders that make bad mistakes on this food business. Now I had a teacher who came into a public school and in one of her talks to the kids she said, ‘Now we are going to learn how to eat good things that have vitamins in them and stuff like that and not be old-fashioned and ignorant and things like that and not just eat spaghetti and things like that.’ The teacher never knew why she got slugged on the way home. She should have known that she was insulting the families of all the kids and was really calling them ignorant.” (104)

Democracy is that system of government and that economic and social organization in which the worth of the individual human being and the multiple loyalties of that individual are the most fully recognized and provided for. Democracy is a system of government in which we recognize that all normal individuals have a whole series of loyalties—loyalties to their churches, their labor unions, their fraternal organizations, their social groups, their nationality groups, their athletic groups, their political parties, and many others. Democracy provides for the fulfillment of the hopes and loyalties of our people to all of the various institutions and groups of which they are a part. (108)

The Radical recognizes that in order to work with people he must first approach them on a basis of common understanding. It is as simple and essential as learning to talk the language of those with whom one is trying to converse. The procedures or tactics that follow from here on should be understood in those terms. They are the simple means with which to rouse people to stand up and move. Some critics have described them as fighting fire with fire. This is not strictly true, because these procedures are used only during the early stages of organizational activities. The Radical is fully conscious of the fact that they are temporary expedients for the beginning of the organization. (116)

A common cause in the failure of organizational campaigns is to be found in a lack of real respect for the dignity of the people. Many organizers inwardly feel superior toward the people with whom they are working. An organizer who has this superior attitude cannot, in spite of all his cleverness, all his protestations of belief in the equality of ail people, including himself, conceal his true attitude. It repeatedly comes out in a gesture, an expression, or the inflection of his voice. People cannot be constantly fooled. Even when that organizer uses a sympathetic approach it is a calculated form of sympathy which is apparent to the people. (123-124)

Another very different type of tactic, also of wide significance, is now being utilized in various parts of the country where. People’s Organizations are being built. It is what these organizations refer to as a program ballot. This program ballot consists of one sheet of paper with one printed paragraph at” the Top of the sheet. The paragraph reads:

“If I had my way, this is what I would do to make my city the happiest, healthiest, prettiest, and most prosperous place in the world.”
‘This paragraph is followed by about fifteen blank lines with a space on the bottom for name and address. (149)

The People’s Organization does not live comfortably and serenely in an ivory tower where it not only can discuss controversial issues but actually possesses the choice of whether or not to take a hand in the controversy. In actual life, conflict, like so many other things that happen to us, does not concern itself too much with our own preferences of the moment any more than it does with our judgment as to whether or not it is time to fight. A People’s Organization lives in a world of hard reality. (156)

We have seen in every actual conflict tactic how organizers and People’s Organization leaders have utilized the place or role of traditions and values in the community in maneuvering the opposition into a vulnerable position. The traditions of a community are so strong that a resourceful People’s Organization leader can utilize these traditions to defeat opposition which is far stronger and far bigger than the actual People’s Orgaiuzation. In many cases the stronger the opposition is, the deeper and more seriously will it impale itself upon the spearheads of community traditions. (172-173)

The People s Organization must create the conditions and climate in which people want to learn because of the learning itself which is essential to their own life. We have seen one example of the creation of a set of circumstances in the preceding report on the approach of the Credit Union to break down the baffling barriers of personal finances. A much more common problem that People’s Organizations must concern themselves with is not only providing access to facts but providing it in a manner in keeping with the dignity and the self-respect in all people. People prefer to get things for themselves rather than have them given, and just as the inhabitants of Muddy Flats balked against organization be cause of their pride, so does the average person possess a latent resentment against having facts given to him on a silver platter. (183)

There are few human activities in which words and ideas are more loosely used and glibly accepted than in the field of organization of people’s movements. Among the various ideas on different aspects of People’s Organizations there is none more misunderstood than that of popular participation. One constantly hears of organizations claiming one hundred per cent participation. It is almost impossible to listen to any speaker on community organization or community movements without eventually hearing the statement, “Practically all of the people in the community are involved in this work and participate in it.” (198)

America was a land green, fresh, and young. It was a land rich not only in natural beauty but richer yet in a vision of a noble life which pervaded the earth and the heavens. A dream of unbounded beauty and dignity. Parts of that dream were written down and we called it the Declaration of Independence. Not just independence from the political rule of Britain but independence from slavery of spirit and soul; a future of freedom for man. Here the first immigrants broke the virgin soil, built their homes, and raised the small white steeples of their houses of worship. Gray smokestacks joined the white steeples. The smokestacks multiplied and grew higher and higher. They belched forth and the clear American dream became smoky and vague. The land that was green became gray, and soot settled over the soul of America. The Industrial Revolution was here. The American dream was wrought in the fire of the passionate hearts and minds of America’s Radicals. It could never have been conceived in the cold, clammy tomb of conservativism. The American Radical descended from those who begot, nurtured, fought, and suffered for every idea that moved men s feet for ward in the march of civilization—the Radicals of the world. (207)

We must face the bitter fact that we have forsaken our great dream of a life of, for, and by the people; that the burning passions and ideals of the American dream lie congealed by cold cynicism. Great parts of the masses of our people no longer believe that they have a voice or a hand in shaping the destiny of this nation.

They have been described as, and are, the forgotten men and women. They have not forsaken democracy because of any desire or positive action of their own, but have been driven down into the depths of a great despair bom of frustration, hopelessness, and apathy. A democracy lacking in popular participation dies of paralysis. There are many conditions in America which we are unable to see in their correct perspective. (110)

The Radical will look squarely at all issues. He will not be so weighted down with material or malignant prejudice that he can only look upwards with a worm’s-eye view. He will not look down upon mankind with the distorted, unrealistic, ivory-tower bird’s-eye view, but will look straight ahead on the dead level, seeing man as a man. Not from a long distance, up or down, but as a man living among men. (220)

alinsky radical

Rules For Radicals by Saul Alinsky Random House 1971

Lest we forget at least an over-the-shoulder acknowledgment to the very first radical: from all our legends, mythology, and history (and who is to know where mythology leaves off and history begins—or which is which), the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom—Lucifer.


Few of us survived the Joe McCarthy holocaust of the early 1950s and of those there were even fewer whose understanding and insights had developed beyond the dialectical materialism of orthodox Marxism.

The young have seen their “activist” participatory democracy turn into its antithesis—nihilistic bombing and murder. The political panaceas of the past, such as the revolutions in Russia and China, have become the same old stuff under a different name. The search for freedom does not seem to have any road or destination.

What sense does it make for men to walk on the moon while other men are waiting on welfare lines, or in Vietnam killing and dying for a corrupt dictatorship in the name of freedom? These are the days when man has his hands on the sublime while he is up to his hips in the muck of madness.

First, there are no rules for revolution any more than there are rules for love or rules for happiness, but there are rules for radicals who want to change their world; there are certain central concepts of action in human politics that operate regardless of the scene or the time.

As an organizer I start from where the world is, as it is, not as I would like it to be. That we accept the world as it is does not in any sense weaken our desire to change it into what we believe it should be — it is necessary to begin where the world is if we are going to change it to what we think it should be. That means working in the system.

Let us in the name of radical pragmatism not forget that in our system with all its repressions we can still speak out and denounce the administration, attack its policies, work to build an opposition political base. True, there is government harassment, but there still is that relative freedom to fight. I can attack my government, try to organize to change it. That’s more than I can do in Moscow, Peking, or Havana.

Remember: once you organize people around something as commonly agreed upon as pollution, then an organized people is on the move. From there it s a short and natural step to political pollution, to Pentagon pollution.

People cannot be free unless they are willing to sacrifice some of their interests to guarantee the freedom of others. The price of democracy is the ongoing pursuit of the common good by all of the people.

The Purpose

We are talking about a mass power organization which will change the world into a place where all men and women walk erect, in the spirit of that credo of the Spanish Civil War, “Better to die on your feet than to live on your knees.” This means revolution. (3)

The Have-Nots of the world, swept up in their present upheavals and desperately seeking revolutionary writings, can find such literature only from the communists, both red and yellow. Here they can read about tactics, maneuvers, strategy and principles of action in the making
of revolutions. Since in this literature all ideas are imbedded in the language of communism, revolution appears synonymous with  communism. (8)

We have permitted a suicidal situation to unfold wherein revolution and communism have become one. These pages are committed to splitting this political atom, separating this exclusive identification of communism with revolution. (9)

The Ideology of Change

An organizer working in and for an open society is in an ideological dilemma. To begin with, he does not have: a fixed truth—truth to him is relative and changing; everything to him is relative and changing. He is a politcal relativist. He accepts the late Justice Learned Hand’s statement that “the mark of a free man is that ever-gnawing inner uncertainty as to whether or not he is right.” (10-11)

The C.I.O. was the militant champion of America’s workers. In its ranks, directly and indirectly, were all of America’s radicals; they fought the corporate structure of the nation and won. Today, merged with the A.F. of L., it is an entrenched member of the establishment and its leader supports the war in Vietnam. (16)

Once we accept and learn to anticipate the inevitable counterrevolution, we may then alter the historical pattern of revolution and counterrevolution from the traditional slow advance of two steps forward and one step backward to minimizing the latter. (18)

Class Distinctions: The Trinity

These Do-Nothings appear publicly as good men, humanitarian, concerned with justice and dignity. In practice they are invidious. They are the ones Edmund Burke referred to when he said, acidly: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” (20)

A word about my personal philosophy. It is anchored in optimism. It must be, for optimism brings with it hope, a future with a purpose, and  therefore, a will to fight for a better world. Without this optimism, there is no reason to carry on. If we think of the struggle as a climb up a mountain,
then we must visualize a mountain with no top. We see a top, but when we finally reach it, the overcast rises and we find ourselves merely on a bluff. The mountain continues on up. Now we see the “real” top ahead of us, and strive for it, only to find weve reached another bluff, the top still above us. And so it goes on, interminably. (21)

Unlike the chore of the mythic Sisyphis, this challenge is not an endless pushing up of a boulder to the top of a hill, only to have it roll back again, the chore to be repeated eternally. It is pushing the boulder up an endless mountain, but, unlike Sisyphis, we are always going further upward. And also unlike Sisyphis, each stage of the trail upward is different, newly dramatic, an adventure each time. At times we do fall back and become discouraged, but it is not that we are making no progress. (22)

Of Means and Ends

The man of action views the issue of means and ends in pragmatic and strategic terms. He has no other problem; he thinks only of his actual resources and the possibilities of various choices of action. He asks of ends only whether they are achievable and worth the cost; of means, only whether they will work. To say that corrupt means corrupt the ends is to believe in the immaculate conception of ends and principles. The real arena is corrupt and bloody. (24)

These non-doers were the ones who chose not to fight the Nazis in the only way they could have been fought; they were the ones who drew their window blinds to shut out the shameful spectacle of Jews and political prisoners being dragged through the streets; they were the ones who privately deplored the horror of it all—and did nothing. This is the nadir of immorality. (26)

Our cause had to be all shining justice, allied with the angels; theirs had to be all evil, tied to the Devil; in no war has the enemy or the cause ever been gray. Therefore, from one point of view the omission was justified; from the other, it was deliberate deceit. History is made up of “moral” judgments based on politics. (28)

We have already noted that in essence, mankind divides itself into three groups; the Have-Nots, the Have-a-Little, Want-Mores, and the Haves. The purpose of the Haves is to keep what they have. Therefore, the Haves want to maintain the status quo and the Have-Nots to change it. The Haves develop their own morality to justify their means of repression and all other means employed to maintain the status quo. The Haves usually establish laws and judges devoted to maintaining the status quo; since any effective means of changing the status quo are usually illegal and/or unethical in the eyes of the establishment, Have-Nots, from the beginning of time, have been compelled to appeal to “a law higher than man-made
law.” Then when the Have-Nots achieve success and be come the Haves, they are in the position of trying to keep what they have and their morality shifts with their change of location in the power pattern. (42-43)

The organizer, the revolutionist, the activist or call him what you will, who is committed to a free and open society is in that commitment anchored to a complex of high values. These values include the basic morals of all organized religions; their base is the preciousness of human life. These values include freedom, equality, justice, peace, the right to dissent; the values that were the banners of hope and yearning of all revolutions of men, whether the French Revolutions “Liberty, Fraternity, Equality,” the Russians’ “Bread and Peace,” the brave Spanish people s “Better to die on your feet than to live on your knees,” or our Revolution’s “No Taxation Without Representation.” (46-47)

A Word About Words

First, by using combinations of words such as “harnessing the energy” instead of the single word “power,” we begin to dilute the meaning; and as we use purifying synonyms, we dissolve the bitterness, the anguish, the hate and love, the agony and the triumph attached to these words, leaving an aseptic imitation of life. In the politics of life we are concerned with the slaves and the Caesars, not the vestal virgins. It is not just that, in communication as in thought, we must ever strive toward simplicity. (49)

When we talk about a person’s “lifting himself by his own bootstraps” we are talking about power. Power must be understood for what it is, for the part it plays in every area of our life, if we are to understand it and thereby grasp the essentials of relationships and functions between groups and organizations, particularly in a pluralistic society. To know power and not fear it is essential to its constructive use and control. In short, life without power is death; a world without power would be a ghostly wasteland, a dead planet! (52-53)


Self-interest, like power, wears the black shroud of negativism and suspicion. To many the synonym for self-interest is selfishness. (53)

We repeatedly get caught in this conflict between our professed moral principles and the real reasons why we do things—to wit, our self-interest. We are always able to mask those real reasons in words of beneficent goodness—freedom, justice, and so on. Such tears as appear in the fabric of this moral masquerade sometimes embarrass us. (58)


A free and open society is an on-going conflict, interrupted periodically by compromises—which then become the start for the continuation of conflict, compromise, and on ad infinitum. Control of power is based on compromise in our Congress and among the executive, legislative, and
judicial branches. A society devoid of compromise is totalitarian. If I had to define a free and open society in one word, the word would be “compromise.” (59)


The ego of the organizer is stronger and more monumental than the ego of the leader. The leader is driven by the desire for power, while the organizer is driven by the desire to create. The organizer is in a true sense reaching for the highest level for which man can reach—to create, to be a “great creator,” to play God. (61)

Ego must be so all-pervading that the personality of the organizer is contagious, that it converts the people from despair to defiance, creating a mass ego. (61)


Conflict is the essential core of a free and open society. If one were to project the democratic way of life in the form of a musical score, its major theme would be the harmony of dissonance. (62)

The Education of an Organizer

Besides the full-timers, there were the community leaders whom we trained on the job to be organizers. Organizers are not only essential to start and build an organization; they are also essential to keep it going. Maintaining interest and activity, keeping the groups goals strong and flexible at once, is a different operation but still organization. (65)

Then there were tnose rare campus activists who could organize a substantial number of students—but they were utter failures when it came to trying to communicate with and organize lower-middle-class workers. Labor union organizers turned out to be poor community organizers. (66)

During a seminar I would say, “Life is the expectation of the unexpected— the things you worry about rarely happen. Something new, the unexpected, will usually come in from outside the ball park. You re all nodding as if you understand but you really don’t. What I’ve said are just words to you. I want you to go to your private cubbyholes and think for the next four hours. Try to remember all the things you worried about during the last years and whether they ever happened or what did happen —and then well talk about it.” (69)

The qualities we were trying to develop in organizers in the years of attempting to train them included some qualities that in all probability cannot be taught. They either had them, or could get them only through a miracle from above or below. Other qualities they might have as potentials that could be developed. Sometimes the development of one quality triggered off unsuspected others. I learned to check against the list and spot the negatives; and if it was impossible to develop that quality, at least I could be aware and on guard to try to diminish its negative effect upon the work. (71)

Actually, Socrates was an organizer. The function of an organizer is to raise questions that agitate, that break through the accepted pattern. (72)

To the questioner nothing is sacred. He detests dogma, defies any finite definition of morality, rebels against any repression of a free, open search for ideas no matter where they may lead. He is challenging, insulting, agitating, discrediting. He stirs unrest. (73)

The organizer knows that the real action is in the reaction of the opposition. To realistically appraise and anticipate the probable reactions of the enemy, he must be able to identify with them, too, in his imagination, and foresee their reactions to his actions. (74)

The organizer must become schizoid, politically, in order not to slip into becoming a true believer. Before men can act an issue must be polarized. (78)

Hiis is the basic difference between the leader and the organizer. The leader goes on to build power to fulfill his desires, to hold and wield the power for purposes both social and personal. He wants power himself. The or ganizer finds his goal in creation of power for others to use. (80)


I remember explaining relativity in morals by telling the following story. A question is put to three women, one American, one British, and one French: What would they do if they found themselves shipwrecked on a desert island with six sex-hungry men? The American woman said she would try to hide and build a raft at night or send up smoke signals in order to escape. The British woman said she would pick the strongest man and shack up with him, so that he could protect her from the others. The French woman looked up quizzically and asked, “What’s the problem?” (84)

When you are trying to communicate and can’t find the point in the experience of the other party at which he can receive and understand, then, you must create the experience for him. (85)

For another example of the same principle, here is a Christian civilization where most people have gone to church and have mouthed various Christian doctrines, and yet this is really not part of their experience because they haven’t lived it. Their church experience has been purely a ritualistic decoration. (87)

While the organizer proceeds on the basis of questions, the community leaders always regard his judgment above their own. They believe that he knows his job, he knows the right tactics, that’s why he is their organizer. The organizer knows that even if they feel that way consciously, if he starts issuing orders and “explaining,” it would begin to build up a subconscious resentment, a feeling that the organizer is putting them down, is not respecting their dignity as individuals. (93)

It should be obvious by now that communication occurs concretely, by means of one’s specific experience. General theories become meaningful only when one has absorbed and understood the specific constituents and then related them back to a general concept. Unless this is done, the specifics become nothing more than a string of interesting anecdotes. That is the world as it is in communication. (97)

In The Beginning

The job of the organizer is to maneuver and bait the establishment so that it will publicly attack him as a “dangerous enemy.” The word “enemy” is sufficient to put the organizer on the side of the people, to identify him with the Have-Nots, but it is not enough to endow him with the special qualities that induce fear and thus give him the means to establish his own power against the establishment. Here again we find that it is power and fear that are essential to the development of faith. (100)

The organizer’s job is to inseminate an invitation for himself, to agitate, introduce ideas, get people pregnant with hope and a desire for change and to identify you as the person most qualified for this purpose. Here the tool of the organizer, in the agitation leading to the invitation as well as actual organization and education of local leadership, is the use of the question, the Socratic method. (103)

Policy After Power

Once people are organized so that they have the power to make changes, then, when confronted with questions of change, they begin to think and to ask questions about how to make the changes. (105)

It is the creation of the instrument or the circumstances of power that provides the reason and makes knowledge essential. Remember, too, that a powerless people will not be purposefully curious about life, and that they then cease being alive. (106)


Indians: Well, we can’t organize.

Me: Why not?

Indians: Because that’s a white man’s way of doing things.

Me (I decided to let that one pass though it obviously was untrue, since mankind from time immemorial has always organized, regardless of what race or color they were, whenever they wanted to bring about change): I don’t understand.

Indians: Well, you see, if we organize, that means getting out and fighting the way you are telling us to do and that would mean that we would be corrupted by the white man’s culture and lose our own values.

Me: What are these values that you would lose?

Indians: Well, there are all kinds of values.

Me: Like what?

Indians: Well, there’s creative fishing.

Me: What do you mean, creative fishing?

Indians: Creative fishing.

Me: I heard you the first time. What is this creative fishing?

Indians: Well, you see, when you whites go out and fish, you just go out and fish, don’t you?

Me: Yeah, I guess so.

Indians: Well, you see, when we go out and fish, we fish creatively.

Me: Yeah. That’s the third time you’ve come around with that. What is this creative fishing?

Indians: Well, to begin with, when we go out fishing, we get away from everything. We get way out in the woods.

Me: Well, we whites don’t exactly go fishing in Times Square, you know.

Indians : Yes, but its different with us. When we go out, were out on the water and you can hear the lap of the waves on the bottom of the canoe, and the birds in the trees and the leaves rustling, and—you know what I mean?

Me: No, I don’t know what you mean. Furthermore, I think that that’s just a pile of shit. Do you believe it yourself? (111-112)

The Process of Power

From the moment the organizer enters a community he lives, dreams, eats, breathes, sleeps only one thing and that is to build the mass power base of what he calls the army. Until he has developed that mass power base, he confronts no major issues. He has nothing with which to confront anything. (113)

The first step in community organization is community disorganization. The disruption of the present organization is the first step toward community organization. Present arrangements must be disorganized if they are to be displaced by new patterns that provide the opportunities and means for citizen participation. All change means disorganization of the old and organization of the new. (116)

Let’s take a common case in the ghetto. A man is living in a slum tenement He doesn’t know anybody and nobody knows him. He doesn’t care for anyone because no one cares for him. On the comer newsstand are newspapers with pictures of people like Mayor Daley and other people from a different world—a world that he doesn’t know, a world that doesn’t know that he is even alive.When the organizer approaches him part of what begins to be communicated is that through the organization and its power he will get his birth certificate for life, that he will become known, that things will change from the drabness of a life where all that changes is the calendar. This same man, in a demonstration at City Hall, might find himself confronting the mayor and saying, “Mr. Mayor, we have had it up to here and we are not going to take it any more.’* Television cameramen put their microphones in front of him and ask, “What is your name, sir?” “John Smith.” Nobody ever asked him what his name was before. (121)

Process and purpose are so welded to each other that it is impossible to mark where one leaves off and the other begins, or which is which. The very process of democratic participation is for the purpose of organization rather than to rid the alleys of dirt. Process is really purpose. Through all this the constant guiding star of the organizer is in those words, “The dignity of the individual.” Working with this compass, he soon discovers many axioms of effective organization. (122)


Always remember the first rule of power tactics: Power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have. The second rule is: Never go outside the experienceof your people. When an action or tactic is outside the experience of the people, the result is confusion, fear, and retreat. It  also means a collapse of communication, as we have noted. The third rule is: Wherever possible go outside of the experience of the enemy. Here you want to cause confusion, fear, and retreat. (127)

The resources of the Have-Nots are (1) no money and (2) lots of people. All right, lets start from there. People can show their power by voting. What else? Well, they have physical bodies. How can they use them? Now a melange of ideas begins to appear. Use the power of the law by making the establishment obey its own rules. Go outside the experience of the enemy, stay inside the experience of your people. Emphasize tactics that your people will enjoy. The threat is usually more terrifying than the tactic itself. Once all these rules and principles are festering in your imagination they grow into a synthesis. (138-139)

With this in mind, the tactic becomes obvious—we tie up the lavoratories. In the restrooms you drop a dime, enter, push the lock on the door—and you can stay there all day. Therefore the occupation of the sit-down toilets presents no problem. (142)

Every organization must have two or three stool pigeons who are trusted by the establishment. These stool pigeons are invaluable as “trustworthy” lines of communication to the establishment. (147)


Once we understand the external reactions of the Haves to the challenges of the Have-Nots, then we go to the next level of examination, the anatomy of power of the Haves among themselves. But let us go deeper into the psyche of this Goliath. The Haves possess and in turn are possessed by power. Obsessed with the fear of losing power, their every move is dictated by the idea of keeping it. The way of life of the Haves is to keep what they have and wherever possible to shore up their defenses. (148-149)

Their Own Petard

In Chicago the Haves slipped badly when both a judge and a district attorney muttered that the book of regulations banned attempts to induce the absence of public school students, and growled ominously about an injunction against all civil rights leaders taking part in the development of the boycott. Here, as always, whenever the Haves start living by their book they present a golden opportunity to the Have-Nots to transform what had been a terminal tactic into a sweeping advance on many fronts. The children wouldn’t need to be absent–the leaders would be the only people who needed to act. (153-154)

Time In Jail

Jailing the revolutionary leaders and their followers performs three vital functions for the cause of the Have-Nots: (1) it is an act on the part of the status quo that in itself points up the conflict between the Haves and the Have-Nots; (2) it strengthens immeasurably the position of the revolutionary leaders with their people by surrounding the jailed leadership with an aura of martyrdom; (3) it deepens the identification of the leadership with their people since the prevalent reaction among the Have-Nots is that their leadership cares so much for them, and is so sincerely committed to the issue, that it is willing to suffer imprisonment for the cause. (155)

Your jailers are rough, unsociable, and generally so dull that you wouldn’t want to talk to them anyway. You find yourself in a physical drabness and confinement, which you desperately try to escape. Since there is no physical escape you are driven to erase your surroundings imaginatively: you escape into thinking and writing. It was through periodic imprisonment that the basis for my first publication and the first orderly philosophical arrangement of my ideas and goals occurred. (158)

Time In Tactics

human beings can sustain an interest in a particular subject only over a limited period of time. The concentration, the emotional fervor, even the physical energy, a particular experience that is exciting, challenging, and inviting, can last just so long—this is true of the gamut of human behavior, from sex to conflict. After a period of time it becomes monotonous, repetitive, an emotional treadmill, and worse than anything else a bore. From the moment the tactician engages in conflict, his enemy is time. (159)

New Tactics And Old

All banks want money and advertise for new savings and checking accounts. They even offer premium prizes to those who will open accounts. Opening a savings account in a bank is more than a routine matter. First, you sit down with one of the multiple vice-presidents or employees and begin to fill out forms and respond to questions for at least thirty minutes. If a thousand or more people all moved in, each with $5 or $10 to open up a savings account, the bank’s floor functions would be paralyzed. Again, as in the case of the shop-in, the police would be immobilized. There is no illegal occupation. (162)

The Genesis of Tactic Proxy

The history of Chicago’s Back of the Yards Council reads, “Out from the gutters, the bars, the churches, the labor unions, yes, even the communist and socialist parties; the neighborhood businessmen’s associations, the American Legion and Chicago’s Catholic Bishop Bernard Sheil. They all came together on July 14, 1939. July 14, Bastille Day! Their Bastille Day, the day they deliberately and symbolically selected to join together to storm the barricades of unemployment, rotten housing, disease, delinquency and demoralization.”

That’s the way it reads.

What really happened is that July 14 was selected because it was the one day the public park fieldhouse was clear—the one day that the labor unions had no scheduled meetings—the day that many priests thought was best—the one day that the late Bishop Sheil was free. There wasn’t a thought of Bastille Day in any of our minds. That day at a press conference before the convention came to order a reporter asked me, “Don’t you think its somewhat too revolutionary to deliberately select Bastille Day for your first convention?” I tried to cover my surprise but I thought, “How wonderful! What a windfall!” I answered, “Not at all. It is fitting that we do so and that’s why we did it.” I quickly informed all the speakers about “Bastille Day” and it became the keynote of nearly every speech. And so history records it as a “calculated, planned” tactic.  (168-169)

The first real breakthrough followed my address to the National Unitarian Convention in Denver on May 3, 1967, in which I asked for and received the passage of a resolution that the proxies of their organization would be given to FIGHT. The reactions of the local politicians made me realize that senators and congressmen up for reelection would turn to their research directors and ask, “How many Unitarians have I got in my district?’ The proxy tactic now began to look like a possible political bank-shot. Political leaders who saw their churches assigning proxies to us could see them assigning their votes as well. This meant political power. (172-173)

The Way Ahead

Activists and radicals, on and off our college campuses —people who are committed to change—must make a complete turnabout. With rare exceptions, our activists and radicals are products of and rebels against our middleclass society. All rebels must attack the power states in their society. Our rebels have contemptuously rejected the values and way of life of the middle class. They have stigmatized it as materialistic, decadent, bourgeois, degenerate, imperialistic, war-mongering, brutalized, and corrupt. They are right; but we must begin from where we are if we are to build power for change, and the power and the people are in the big middle-class majority. (185)

The issues of 1972 would be those of 1776, “No Taxation Without Representation.” To have real representation would involve public funds being available for campaign costs so that the members of the lower middle class can campaign for political office. This can be an issue for mobilization among the lower middle class and substantial sectors of the middle middle class. (191)

The middle classes are numb, bewildered, scared into silence. They don’t know what, if anything, they can do. This is the job for today’s radical—to fan the embers of hopelessness into a flame to fight. To say, “You cannot cop out as have many of my generation!” “You cannot turn away—look at it—let us change it together!” “Look at us. We are your children. Let us not abandon each other for then we are all lost. Together we can change it for what we want. Let s start here and there—let’s go!” (194)

Tactics must begin within the experience of the middle class, accepting their aversion to rudeness, vulgarity, and conflict. Start them easy, don’t scare them off. (195)

The great American dream that reached out to the stars has been lost to the stripes. We have forgotten where we came from, we don’t know where we are, and we fear where we may be going. Afraid, we turn from the glorious adventure of the pursuit of happiness to a pursuit of an illusionary security in an ordered, stratified, striped society. Our way of life is symbolized to the world by the stripes of military force. At home we have made a mockery of being our brother’s keeper by being his jail keeper.

When Americans can no longer see the stars, the times are tragic. We must believe that it is the darkness before the dawn of a beautiful new world; we will see it when we believe it. (196)


1938 Dorothy Sayers

Indeed, it is my experience that both men and women are fundamentally human, and that there is very little mystery about either sex, except the exasperating mysteriousness of human beings in general. And though for certain purposes it may still be necessary, as it undoubtedly was in the immediate past, for women to band themselves together, as women, to secure recognition of their requirements as a sex, I am sure that the time has now come to insist more strongly on each woman’s — and indeed each man’s — requirements as an individual person.

It used to be said that women had no esprit de corps; we have proved that we have— do not let us run into the opposite error of insisting that there is an aggressively feminist “point of view” about everything. To oppose one class perpetually to another — young against old, manual labour against brain-worker, rich against poor, woman against man — is to split the foundations of the State; and if the cleavage runs too deep, there remains no remedy but force and dictatorship. If you wish to preserve a free democracy, you must base it — not on classes and categories, for this will land you in the totalitarian State, where no one may act or think except as the member of a category. You must base it upon the individual Tom, Dick and Harry, on the individual Jack and Jill — in fact, upon you and me.

Are Women Human? By Dorothy Sayers
Address given to a Women’s Society 1938

How Free Is The Press 1941

If an interviewer misinterprets the novelist whom we have all seen, what does he do with the foreign statesman whom we have never seen? If the papers can be convicted of False Emphasis, Garbling, Inaccuracy, Reversal of the Fact, Random Invention, Miracle-Mongering and Flat Suppression in cases where such distortions are of advantage to nobody, what are we to suppose about those cases in which vested interests are closely concerned? And, above all, what are we to make of the assumptions on which all this is based— that the reader is too stupid to detect falsehood and too frivolous even to resent it?

From Unpopular Opinion 1946

In-betweens (1951)

We are human in being with and for one another, I cannot be human by or for myself. I distrust this “I alone” of the mystic; is it not a spiritual gluttony? Is there not an affinity in it to its very opposite on whose negation it thrives—a sensual empiricism? The palate is my own, I never taste what you taste. Sensation is bound up with the principle of singularity, “infima species.” The mystic standpoint seems to overcome this, but does it render an adequate account of itself?

The historian, on the other hand, observes us and our religions externally, in masses, as thing-in-itself.

But human reality is between “I alone” and “mass-object.” We are in-betweens, bridges, passages to each other, neither self-contained nor bridges into an absolute void. The Absolute is not merely the negation of everything else.

On that score I sympathize with the minister and his ideal of a concrete particularity; with the church as the community, the con-unity of the faithful.

Our own little philosophy club also is such a concrete and mediating particularity. It speaks well for him that he does not confine his activity to his church, but also represents it to us. There he enjoys being the mouth for many ears, whereas here each of us both hears and speaks for himself; here we mutually test and risk our faith in our argument, there we flock together like birds of the same feather.

But the world is no philosophy club, some would say; a harmless and unimportant debating society is a luxury of the leisure class and merely relaxes you and turns your mind away from the pressing problems of life. The important thing is, that you decide and commit yourself to a cause: “Jesus Christ or nihilism,” “science or illusion and barbarism,” “communism or exploitation by capitalists,” “freedom and individual enterprise or slavery . . .” We could go on indefinitely.

The historian could entertain us for hours on end, telling tales of conflicts which, at one historical moment, appeared to be of supreme importance to the participants. His account of the changes and ironical reversals of the history of the Christian dogma, for example, was quite instructive: it shows what happens to the “Jesus Christ or nihilism” idea. The meaning of an idea refuses to stay fixed. To maintain the opposite is a stubborn falsehood, an incredible challenge flung against the teeth of historical truth and reality.  ….

If we approach religion from a merely historical point of view we are—I am quoting Hegel—like clerks in a bank registering other people’s wealth. We cannot study the history of religion in the hope of becoming religious ourselves. What we become is not religious, but learned in the history of some religions.

If, on the other hand, we want to be religious without knowledge of religions, we violate one of the cardinal religious virtues, which is the “communion of the saints.” Not even Jesus or Buddha, let alone Confucius, is thinkable without their intimate knowledge of their respective Jewish, Hindu, or Chinese traditions. And even our lonely mystic has told us about the books that prompt him to his religious ecstasies. There is nothing in heaven and earth which is not immediate, and mediated, at the same time.

Religion is an existential act of apprehension, and its “object” is altogether absent and non-evident outside of this your own individual act of committing yourself; but this act cannot take place and would be impossible, unless it is mediated by the living tradition and continuity of the universe itself, which allows such acts to take place.

Discourses on religion by Gustav Emil Muller 1951 He writes in favor of Christianity.

Indirect Communication

Imagine two men sitting beside one another in any kind of solitude of the world. They do not speak with one another, they do not look at one another, not once have they turned to one another. They are not in one another’s confidence, the one knows nothing of the other’s career, early that morning they got to know one another in the course of their travels. In this moment neither is thinking of the other; we do not need to know what their thoughts are. The one is sitting on the common seat obviously after his usual manner, calm, hospitably disposed to everything that may come. His being seems to say it is too little to be ready, one must also be really there. The other, whose attitude does not betray him, is a man who holds himself in reserve, withholds himself. But if we know about him we know that a childhood’s spell is laid on him, that his withholding of himself is something other than an attitude, behind all attitude is entrenched the impenetrable inability to communicate himself.

Martin Buber portrait.jpgAnd now — let us imagine that this is one of the hours which succeed in bursting asunder the seven iron bands about our heart — imperceptibly the spell is lifted. But even now the man does not speak a word, does not stir a finger. Yet he does something. The lifting of the spell has happened to him — no matter from where — without his doing. But this is what he does now: he releases in himself a reserve over which only he himself has power. Unreservedly communication streams from him, and the silence bears it to his neighbour. Indeed it was intended for him, and he receives it unreservedly as he receives all genuine destiny that meets him. He will be able to tell no one, not even himself, what he has experienced. What does he now “know” of the other? No more knowing is needed. For where unreserve has ruled, even wordlessly, between men, the word of dialogue has happened sacramentally. (3-4)

There is a tale that a man inspired by God once went out from the creaturely realms into the vast waste. There he wandered till he came to the gates of the mystery. He knocked. From within came the cry: ‘’What do you want here?” He said, ‘I have proclaimed your praise in the ears of mortals, but they were deaf to me. So I come to you that you yourself may hear me and reply.” “Turn back,” came the cry from within. “Here is no ear for you. I have sunk my hearing in the deafness of mortals.” (15)

The category of the Single One, too, means not the subject or “man”, but concrete singularity; yet not the individual who is detecting his existence, but rather the person who is finding himself. But the finding himself, however primally remote from Stirner’s “utilize thyself”, is not akin either to that “know thyself” which apparently troubled Kierkegaard very much. For it means a becoming, and moreover in a weight of seriousness that only became possible, at least for the West, through Christianity. It is therefore a becoming which (though Kierkegaard says that his category was used by Socrates “for the dissolution of heathendom”) is decisively different from that effected by the Socratic “delivery”.

“No-one is excluded from being a Single One except him who excludes himself by wishing to be ‘crowd’.” Here not only is “Single One” opposed to “crowd”, but also becoming is opposed to a particular mode of being which evades becoming. That may still be in tune with Socratic thought. But what does it mean, to become a Single One? (42)

A man in the crowd is a stick stuck in a bundle moving through the water, abandoned to the current or being pushed by a pole from the bank in this or that direction. Even if it seems to the stick at times that it is moving by its own motion it has in fact none of its own; and the bundle, too, in which it drifts has only an illusion of self-propulsion.

I remind you of Kierkegaard’s warning: “That men are in a crowd either excuses a man of repentance and responsibility or at all events weakens the Single One’s responsibility, because the crowd lets the man have only a fragment of responsibility.” But I must put it differently. In practice, in the moment of action, it is only the semblance of a fragment, but afterwards, when in your waking dream after midnight you are dragged before the throne and attacked by the spurned calling to be a Single One, it is complete responsibility.  (64)

Martin Buber,  Between Man And Man, 1947  Translated By Ronald Gregor Smith  Kegan Paul London 1965 p. 3-4, 15, 64


Anxiety and Mediation

“I would not have deprived myself so long of the honour and pleasure of obeying the request of a lady who is the ornament of her sex, in communicating the desired information, if I had not deemed it necessary previously to inform myself thoroughly concerning the subject of your request. . . . Permit me, gracious lady, to justify my proceedings in this matter, inasmuch as it might appear that an erroneous opinion had induced me to credit the various relations concerning it without careful examination. I am not aware that anybody has ever perceived in me an inclination to the marvellous, or a weakness tending to credulity.

So much is certain that, notwithstanding all the narrations of apparitions and visions concerning the spiritual world, of which a great number of the most probable are known to me, I have always considered it to be most in agreement with sound reason to incline to the negative side; not as if I had imagined such a case to be impossible, although we know but very little concerning the nature of a spirit, but because the instances are not in general sufficiently proved. There arise, moreover, from the incomprehensibility and inutility of this sort of phenomena, too many difficulties; and there are, on the other hand, so many proofs of deception, that I have never considered it necessary to suffer fear or dread to come upon me, either in the cemeteries of the dead or in the darkness of the night.

This is the position in which my mind stood for a long time, until the report concerning Swedenborg came to my notice.

Immanuel Kant’s Letter on Swedenborg To Charlotte Von Knobloch, 1756? From Dreams of a Spirit-Seer 1766 p. 155 translated by Emanuel F. Goerwitz 1900

 Kant and Swedenborg
Read about Kant’s investigation into the world of the spirit in his book. Link above.

In one of Grimm’s Fairy Tales there is the story of a youth who went out in search of adventures for the sake of learning what it is to fear or be in dread. We will let that adventurer go his way without troubling ourselves to learn whether in the course of it he encountered the dreadful. On the other hand I would say that learning to know dread is an adventure which every man has to affront if he would not go to perdition either by not having known dread or by sinking under it. He therefore who has learned rightly to be in dread has learned the most important thing.

Kierkegaard, The Concept of Dread Chapter V Lowrie translation

That youth did learn what it is to fear. Yes he did. As soon as he got married. He wanted to find out what fear was in Grimm’s tale but how do I know a spirit or soul exists? How do I know I am a sinner? How do I know I can be forgiven? How do I know I need God? Can I find out I am guilty by myself, through the legal authorities, the police, psychologists, or through the Grace of God?

Kierkegaard concept

Kierkegaard began with his book Either/Or by asking individuals to make a definite Either/Or regarding certain matters. What is this Either/Or and how does it compare with an either/or? When does the individual say “I am …” with passion. Passion isn’t emotional exuberance on display but emotional exuberance hidden in the inner being. Here are a few quotes from Soren Kierkegaard, Either/Or 1843.

There are conditions of life in which it would be ludicrous or a kind of derangement to apply an Either/Or, but there are also people whose souls are too dissolute to comprehend the implications of such a dilemma, whose personalities lack the energy to be able to say with pathos: Either/Or.  Soren Kierkegaard, Either/Or II p. 157 Hong

What struggle could be more educative than the struggle with the cares about the necessities of life! Life, even in this struggle loses its beauty if one does not will it oneself. How much childlikeness it takes to be able almost to smile  sometimes at the earthly toil and trouble an immortal spirit must have in order to live, how much humility to be content with the little that is gained with difficulty, how much faith to see the governance of a providence also in his life, for it is easy enough to say that God is greatest in the least, but to be able to see him there takes the strongest faith. Either/Or.  Soren Kierkegaard, Either/Or II p. 286 Hong

Kierkegaard angst and practic

The word “sin” has been slowly done away with in many countries. It is a concept in Holy Scripture and Kierkegaard thinks it is a mistake to get rid of the concept. He also thinks this concept of sin must be coupled with the concepts of anxiety and forgiveness. Scholars think Kierkegaard spent too much time worrying about sin and not enough time enjoying life. Some life events have been stressed by scholars.

  • Soren’s birth – His father was fifty-seven years old when he was born and he “may” have been conceived while his father was mourning the death of his first wife. His maid, Anna, Soren’s mother, was comforting him.
  • Later Soren found out his father cursed God when he was twelve years old and that he (his father – Michael) feared that God had cursed his family in recompense for his sin.
  • Then, Soren “may” have had sex with a prostitute. (Or maybe Goethe did)
  • Finally, Soren promised to marry Regine Olsen and then changed his mind and broke off the engagement. Regine was comforting Soren because his father had died in 1838.

Soren wasn’t so afraid of sin as he was of the consequences for any individual, like his own father, who at 82 years old couldn’t forget what he had done 70 years earlier, and couldn’t believe he could be forgiven. As far as Regine goes he had good reasons to break off his engagement and explained them in his book Prefaces.

He thinks sin is part of our human nature and to deny that sin exists is to change the natural order of things.

That human nature must be such that it makes sin possible, is, psychologically speaking, perfectly true; but to want to let this possibility of sin become its reality is shocking to ethics and sounds to dogmatics like blasphemy; for freedom is always possible, as soon as it is it is actual, in the same sense in which it has been said by an earlier philosophy that when God’s existence is possible it is necessary.

As soon as sin is really posited, ethics is on the spot and follows every step it takes. How it came into being does not concern ethics, except in so far as it is certain that sin came into the world as sin. But still less than with the genesis of sin is ethics concerned with the still life of its possibility. The Concept of Anxiety, introduction

Freedom’s possibility is not the ability to choose the good or the evil. The possibility is to be able. Concept of Anxiety, Thompte p. 49

What does the ethicist say about sin? Nothing – the ethicist knows only about crime just as the psychologist does. Ethics change throughout time but sin is always sin because sin is “before God” while crime is done before the State. Psychological ideas change also. One day its wrong to do such and such and the next day its right to do it. Kierkegaard thinks we should rely on the inner testimony in our own spirit more than on courts, justices, psychologists, or news anchors.

Concept of anxiety lowrie

The only thing that is truly able to disarm the sophistry of sin is faith, courage to believe that the state itself is a new sin, courage to renounce anxiety without anxiety. Only faith is able to do this, for only in faith is the synthesis eternal and at every moment possible.
Soren Kierkegaard, The Concept of Anxiety, Nichol P. 117

Soren Kierkegaard the Christian thinker
Soren Kierkegaard the Christian thinker

We turn now to Soren Kierkegaard. He is regarded on the Continent, according to Brock, as “one of the most remarkable psychologists of all time, in depth, if not in breadth, superior to Nietzsche, and in penetration comparable only to Dostoievski.” The keystone idea in Kierkegaard’s little book on anxiety, published in 1844, is the relation between anxiety and freedom.Kierkegaard held that anxiety is always to be understood as oriented toward freedom.” Freedom is the goal of personality development ; psychologically speaking, “the good is freedom.” Kierkegaard defines freedom as possibility.

Rollo May, The Meaning of Anxiety 1950

Prefaces Light reading for the different Classes at their Time and Leisure June 17, 1844 by Nicolas Notabene (pseudonym)

Regine Olsen: Soren, would you like to go for a walk with me?

Soren: No, I don’t feel like it today.

Regine: Soren, I went for a walk with my friends and guess who I saw?

Soren: Who?

Regine: I saw you walking with Hans Brocher. YOU LIED TO ME!


Soren: Regine, do you want me to read one of my discourses to you?

Regine: No, silly, I want you to pay attention to me and me alone. The pastor says you should love your wife with all your heart, all your soul and all your mind.

Soren: I thought I was supposed to love God with all my heart, soul, and mind.


Soren: Regine, I want to be a writer.

Regine: Ok. But you can only write prefaces to books. Whole books take too much time away from your family.


Writing a preface is like sharpening a scythe, like tuning a guitar, like talking with a child, like spitting out of the window. One does not know how it comes about; the desire comes upon one, the desire to throb fancifully in a productive mood, the desire to write a preface, the desire to do these things in a low whisper as night falls.

Writing a preface is like ringing someone’s doorbell to trick him, like walking by a young lady’s window and gazing at the paving stones; it is like swinging one’s cane in the air to hit the wind, like doffing one’s hat although one is greeting nobody.

Writing a preface is like being aware that one is beginning to fall in love-the soul sweetly restless, the riddle abandoned, every event an intimation of the transfiguration. Writing a preface is like bending aside a branch in a bower of jasmine and seeing her who sits there in secret: my beloved. Oh, this is how it is, this is how it is to write a preface; and the one who writes it, what is he like? 

Soren Kierkegaard Prefaces 1844 p.  5-6

“To be an author when one is a married man,” she says, “is downright unfaithfulness, directly contrary to what the pastor said, since the validity of marriage is in this, that a man is to hold fast to his wife and to no other.” She is by no means at a loss for an answer if I reply that one might almost thing that she was so neglected that she needs to go to confirmation instruction again, that she perhaps was not really listening to what the pastor said, that marriage is a special duty, a specific duty, and that all duties can be divided into the general and the specific and are duties to God, to ourselves, and to the neighbor. Then she will get into no difficulty at all.

The whole thing is declared to be teasing, and “moreover, she has not forgotten what is said about marriage in the catechism, that it is the husband’s duty in particular.” I futilely seek to explain to her that she is in linguistic error, that she is construing the words illogically, ungrammatically, against all principles of exegesis, because this passage is only about the husband’s particular duties with regard to marriage, just as the very next paragraph is about the wife’s particular duties. It is futile. She takes her stand on the preceding, “that to be an author when one is a married man is the worst kind of unfaithfulness.”

Soren Kierkegaard Prefaces 1844 p.  10-12

Michael Kierkegaard: Soren I want you to go to school and become a preacher.

Soren: But dad I don’t have the authority to preach.

Michael: The University will give you the authority.

Soren: I need authority from God to be able to speak for God.

Michael: Then you can be a philosopher.

Soren: I don’t want to spend my whole life mediating the past!


Surely philosophers want to be popular, wants to make itself understandable to all. However unimportant I may be, in all the processions through the course of time I find no place bearing a more precise designation-under the rubric “all” I do indeed fit in. the category “all” makes no petty distinction; it includes all. In addition, philosophy is certainly not a finite power, not a selfish tyrant that wants to fight, but a philanthropic genius that wants to bring all people to knowledge of the truth. I do not rise in rebellion, I guard against that, I seek instruction. The more unimportant I am, the greater is the triumph for philosophy. To that end spare no means; use evil on me or the good, all accordingly as it is found serviceable; it will endure anything, suffer anything, do anything if only I may succeed in becoming initiated.

Only never allow me to say yes to something I do not understand; only do not require of me that I must explain to others what I myself do not comprehend. … There is one thing that I do know quite definitely: it is what I do not understand. There is one thing I desire of my contemporaries: it is an explanation. Consequently I do not deny that Hegel has explained everything; I leave that to the powerful minds who will also explain what is missing. I keep my feet on the ground and say: I have not understood Hegel‘s explanation.

Soren Kierkegaard Prefaces 1844 p. 55-56

Whether now in our day there is a probability that philosophy will explain itself in this or in a similar but even better way, I do not know; it does no good to be on the lookout for trouble. If, however, it continues to become more and more a riddle, more and more difficult in its expression, if along this path it continues to want to achieve its lofty goal of being understood by all, then perhaps my lofty expectation can be fulfilled, my pious wish to become a philosopher. So I trustingly address myself to my contemporaries. I have not doubted everything; I address myself to men who have doubted everything. What a lofty hope! Have they attained certainty about everything? If do not know, but surely on some points they must have attained it. Granted that there is some exaggeration in the great amount of talk that is heard concerning the system-that it should amount to nothing at all would be too frightful a contradiction for my weak head to be able to think it. Now, if only it becomes an original Danish system, a completely domestic product, and if only I am included-even if I became nothing but a courier in this Danish system-I shall then be happy and satisfied.

Soren Kierkegaard Prefaces 1844 p. 65

Professor Hans Martensen: Soren have you finished your assignment yet.

Soren: No, still working on it.

Martensen: When can I see it.

Soren: When I see the system you’re building completed.

University of Copenhagen

Peter Christian Kierkegaard: Soren dad sent you to school so you could preach the word of God in the Church of Denmark.

Soren: I want to preach what I think the people need.

Michael: We have a calendar of service to follow.

Soren: I don’t want to preach, teach, or get married.

Michael: You’re being selfish and selfishness is a sin.

Soren: What is a self?

St Methodius on Eunuchs

File:Tyre map.png

Saint Methodius, also called Eubulius, was first of all bishop simultaneously of Olympus and Patara, in Lycia. He was afterwards removed, according by St Jerome, to the episcopal see of Tyre in Phoenicia, and at the end of the latest of the great persecutions of the Church, about the year 312, he suffered martyrdom at Chalcis in Greece. He decided to rewrite Plato’s Symposium. The springs of reason brings one to the truth of the benefits of virginity.

The Banquet of the Ten Virgins

Here is an excerpt praising virginity among men.

Virginity is something supernaturally great, wonderful, and glorious; and, to speak plainly and in accordance with the Holy Scriptures, this best and noblest manner of life alone is the root of immortality, and also its flower and first fruits; and for this reason the Lord promises that those shall enter into the kingdom of heaven who have made themselves eunuchs, in that passage of the Gospels in which He lays down the various reasons for which men have made themselves eunuchs. Chastity with men is a very rare thing, and difficult of attainment, and in proportion to its supreme excellence and magnificence is the greatness of its dangers.

For this reason, it requires strong and generous natures, such as, vaulting over the stream of pleasure, direct the chariot of the soul upwards from the earth, not turning aside from their aim, until having, by swiftness of thought, lightly bounded above the world, and taken their stand truly upon the vault of heaven, they purely contemplate immortality itself as it leaps out from the undefiled bosom of the Almighty.

St. Methodius ArchbishopEarth could not bring forth this draught; heaven alone knew the fountain from whence it flows; for we must think of virginity as walking indeed upon the earth, but as also reaching up to heaven. And hence some, who have longed for it, and considering only the end of it, have come, by reason of coarseness of mind, ineffectually with unwashed feet, and have gone aside out of the way, from having conceived no worthy idea of the [virginal] manner of life. For it is not enough to keep the body only undefiled, just as we should not show that we think more of the temple than of the image of the god; but we should care for the souls of men as being the divinities of their bodies, and adorn them with righteousness. And then do they most care for them and tend them when, striving untiringly to hear divine discourses, they do not desist until, wearing the doors of the wise, they attain to the knowledge of the truth.

For as the putrid humours and matter of flesh, and all those things which corrupt it, are driven out by salt, in the same manner all the irrational appetites of a virgin are banished from the body by divine teaching. For it must needs be that the, soul which is not sprinkled with the words of Christ, as with salt, should stink and breed worms, as King David, openly confessing with tears in the mountains, cried out, “My wounds stink and are corrupt, “because he had not salted himself with the exercises of self-control, and so subdued his carnal appetites, but had self-indulgently yielded to them, and became corrupted in adultery. And hence, in Leviticus, every gift, unless it be seasoned with salt, is forbidden to be offered as an oblation to the Lord God. Now the whole spiritual meditation of the Scriptures is given to us as salt which stings in order to benefit, and which disinfects, without which it is impossible for a soul, by means of reason, to be brought to the Almighty; for “ye are the salt of the earth” said the Lord to the apostles. ….

Back to Religion

Rudolf Eucken was appointed Professor of Philosophy at the University of Basel 1871; in 1874, he succeeded Kuno Fischer at Jena. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1908 for his search for truth. Eicken was born in the Kingdom of Hanover in 1846 and died in the nation of Germany 1926. The quote below is from his 1912 book Back to Religion.

Modernity has abandoned religion’s mode of conceiving life and the world sub specie aeternitatis, has left eternity colorless and empty, in its uncurbed desire to plunge full into the current of the time, to uplift conditions here, and from this world to derive all its forces. In all this a special importance has attached to the idea of development. Instead of thinking their position to be fixed and unshakable by the appointment of a higher power, be it God or fate, men have come to think of our life as still in flux, and its condition as susceptible of measureless improvement; above all the immaturity and all the losses of the present has arisen the confident hope of a better and ever better future.

Such a conviction has led men to devote endeavor entirely to the living present and carefully to adjust effort to the existing stage of evolution. That contributes great freshness and mobility to life; all rigidity is dispelled, all magnitudes become fluid, infinite increase multiplies the abundant forms.

Without in any wise attacking or disparaging all this, one’s own experience of life yet makes it more and more clear that this trend has its dangers and limitations. To yield to the tendency of the times seemed at first to bring clear gain, for a group of persistent convictions still maintained themselves and supplied to the movement a counterbalancing repose.

More and more, however, the movement drew into itself these survivals; more and more exclusively it mastered all life. It constantly became more swift, more hurried, more agitated; the changes followed faster and faster, one moment crowded on another, and the present was reduced to a passing instant. But in this process it has become apparent that this passionate forward striving leaves no room for true life.

And, further, all courage must needs perish, so soon as we are forced to the conviction that everything which we today revere as true, good, beautiful, is subject to change and may tomorrow become unstable, that what is today acclaimed “modern” may tomorrow be cast aside as obsolete. He who unreflectingly lives merely for the moment may in all seriousness look upon that moment as the acme of the whole; but he who looks a little farther cannot doubt that it will be no better with us than with those who went before us, and that the saying still holds which according to Indian doctrines the spirits of the dead cry to the living: “We were what you are; you shall be what we are.” In fine, if life is all strung on the thin thread of successive moments, each crowding back its predecessor, so that when the moment vanishes all action at once sinks again into the abyss of nothingness, then, in spite of all the exciting activity of the moment, life becomes a mere shadow.

eucken-rudolf-1846-1926.jpgIf only we were quite sure that all our pains and care and haste were bringing about progress for the whole of human life! But that, again, we are not. True, we are constantly advancing in exact science, as we are in the technical mastery of our environment; we are compelling the elements into our service; we are freeing our existence from pain and enriching it with pleasure. But are we by all that winning a closer connection with the depths of reality? Are we growing in spiritual power as in ethical sentiment? Are we becoming greater and nobler men? As life gains in pleasure, do our inner contentment and true happiness increase in due proportion?

In truth, we are growing only in our relations to the world outside, not in the essence of our being; and hence the question is not to be evaded, whether the unspeakable toil of modern civilization is worth while. We work and work, and know not to what end; for in giving up eternity we have also lost every inner bond of the ages and all power of comprehensive view. Without a guiding star we drift on the waves of the time.

Back to Religion by Rudolf  Eucken 1846-1926 Publication date 1912  p. 11-15

Can We Still Be Christians? by Rudolf Eucken 1914

Eucken, R. (1910). The problem of human life as viewed by the great thinkers from Plato to the present time. New York: C. Scribner’s sons.

Ophthalmos apiloys, Single Vision

Ophthalmos apiloys or The Single Eye Entitled The Vision of God wherein is enfolded the mystery of divine presence, so to be in one place finitely in appearance, and whilst he is here he is universally everywhere infinitely himself.

Psalm 139.7 Whither shall I flee from thy Spirit, Whither shall I go from they presence.

The Vision of God by Nicholas of Cusa 1453 tranlated by Giles Randall, London Printed for John Steater 1646

The Vision of God; with an intro by Evelyn Underhill, Translated by Emma Gurney Salter. By Nicholas, of Cusa, Cardinal, 1401-1464. (1453)

At the age of sixteen, Nicholas went on to the University of Heidelberg, thence in October 1417 to that of Padua, where he studied law, taking the degree of Doctor in Canon Law in 1423.

CHAPTER II That Absolute Sight embraceth all Modes of Seeing

Following on these considerations thou maycst perceive sight to differ in those who see by reason of its varied forms of limitation.

For our sight followeth the affections of our eye and mind, and thus a man’s looks are now loving and glad, anon sad and wrathful; first the looks of a child, later, of a man; finally, grave, and as of an aged man. But sight that is freed from all limitation embraceth at one and the same time each and every mode of seeing, as being the most adequate measure of all sights, and their truest pattern.

For without Absolute Sight there can be no limited sight; it embraceth in itself all modes of seeing, all and each alike, and abideth entirely freed from all variation.

All limited modes of seeing exist without limitation in Absolute Sight. For every limitation existeth in the Absolute, because Absolute Sight is the limiting of limitations, limiting not being limitable. Wherefore limiting pure and simple coincideth with the Absolute.

For without limiting naught is limited, and thus Absolute Sight existeth in all sight, because through it all limited sight existeth, and without it is utterly unable to exist.

Chapter VII What is the Fruit of seeing Face to Face and how it is to be had  p. 28-33

So sweet is the food wherewith Thou, Lord, dost now nourish my soul that it helpeth itself as best it may by all experiences of this world as well as by those most acceptable comparisons which Thou inspirest. For Thou art, Lord, that power or principle from which come all things, and Thy face is that power and principle from which all faces are what they are; and, this being so, I turn me to this nut-tree —a big, tall tree—and seek to perceive its principle. I see it with the eye of sense to be big and spreading, coloured, laden with branches, leaves, and nuts.

Then I perceive with the eye of the mind that that tree existed in its seed, not as I now behold it, but potentially. I consider with care the marvelous might of that seed, wherein the entire tree, and all its nuts, and all the generative power of the nuts, and all trees, existed in the generative power of the nuts. And I perceive how that power can never be fully explicated in any time measured by the motion of the heavens, yet how that same power, though beyond explication, is still limited, because it availeth only in this particular species of nuts. Wherefore, albeit in the seed I perceive the tree, ’tis yet in a limited power only. Then, Lord, I consider how the generative power of all the divers species of trees is limited each to its own species, and in those same seeds I perceive the virtual trees.

Nicholas of Cusa2If, therefore, I am fain to behold the Absolute Power of all such generative powers—which is the power, and likewise the principle, giving power to all seeds—I must needs pass beyond all generative power which can be known or imagined and enter into that ignorance wherein no vestige whatsoever remaineth of generative power or energy. Then in the darkness I find a Power most stupendous, not to be approached by any power imaginable, and this is the principle, which giveth being to all generative, and other power. This Power, being absolute, and exalted above all, giveth to every generative power that power wherein it enfoldeth the virtual tree, together with all things necessary to an actual tree and that inhere in the being of a tree; wherefore this principle and cause containeth in itself, as cause, alike enfolded and absolutely, whatsoever it giveth to its effect.

Thus I perceive this Power to be the countenance or pattern of all tree countenances and of every tree; whence I behold in it that nut-tree, not as in its limited generative power, but as in the cause and creating energy of that generative power. Accordingly, I see that tree as a certain explication of generative power, and the seed as a certain explication of almighty Power.

I further perceive that—just as in the seed the tree is not a tree but generative power, and the generative power is that wherefrom the tree is unfolded, so that naught is to be found in the tree which doth not proceed from the generative power—even so the generative power in its cause, which is the Power of powers, is not generative power but Absolute Power.

And even so, my God, the tree is in Thee (Thou art Thyself my God), and in Thee is its own truth and exemplar. In like manner also, in Thee the seed of the tree is the truth and exemplar of its own self and of tree and seed. Thou, God, art Truth and Exemplar. That limited generative power is that of the natural species, which is limited to that species, and existeth therein as a limited principle. But Thou, my God, art Absolute Power and, by reason of this, the Nature of all natures.

O God, whither hast Thou led me that I may perceive Thine Absolute Face to be the natural face of all nature, to be the face which is the Absolute Being of all being, to be art, and the knowledge of all that may be known? He, then, who meriteth to behold Thy Face seeth all things openly, and naught remaineth hidden from him: he who hath Thee, Lord, knoweth all things and hath all things: he hath all things who seeth Thee.

For none seeth Thee except he have Thee. None can attain unto Thee, since Thou art unapproachable: none, therefore, can possess himself of Thee except Thou give Thyself to him.

How can I have Thee, Lord, who am not worthy to appear in Thy sight? How reacheth my prayer unto Thee since Thou art not to be approached by any means? How shall I entreat Thee? For what were more foolish than to entreat that Thou shouldest give Thyself to me when Thou art All in all? And how wilt Thou give Thyself to me if Thou do not with Thyself give me heaven and earth and all that in them are? Nay more, how wilt Thou give me Thyself if Thou hast not given me mine own self also?

When I thus rest in the silence of contemplation, Thou, Lord, makest reply within my heart, saying: Be thou thine and I too will be thine.—O Lord. Thou Sweetness most delectable, Thou hast left me free to be mine own self, if I desire. Hence, if I be not mine own self, Thou art not mine, for Thou dost make freewill needful, since Thou canst not be mine if I be not mine own.

nicholas of cusa 1843Since Thou hast thus left me free, Thou dost not constrain me, but Thou awaitest that I should choose to be mine own. This resteth, then, with me, and not with Thee, Lord, who dost not limit Thy supreme loving kindness, but dost pour it out most abundantly on all able to receive it. Thou, Lord, art Thyself Thy loving kindness. But how shall I be mine own unless Thou, Lord, shalt teach me? Thou teachest me that sense should obey reason and that reason should bear sway.

I am, then, mine own when sense serveth reason: but reason hath not whence it may be guided save by Thee, Lord, who art the Word, and the Reason of reasons. Whence I now perceive that, if I hearken unto Thy Word, which ceaseth not to speak within me, and continually enlighteneth my reason, I shall be mine own, free, and not the slave of sin, and Thou wilt be mine, and wilt grant me to behold Thy face, and then I shall be whole. Blessed, then, be Thou in Thy gifts, O God, who alone art able to strengthen my soul, and to raise it up that it may hope to attain unto Thee and to enjoy Thee as its very own gift, and the infinite treasury of all things desirable.

The Vision of God by Nicholas of Cusa 1453
published by Giles Randall in 1646

Chapter 11

How in God succession of time is focus without succession.

Nicholas of Cusa3Oh my God, I have experience in thy goodness which art so far from despising me a miserable sinner, that thou on the other side dost sweetly feed me with certain desire or longing, for thou hast inspired into me a most welcome similitude, as touching the unity of the mental word or conception and the variety thereof in those things that appear successively. For the simple conception of a most perfect Clock leads me a more feeling and savory sight of thy conception and word, for the simple conception of a clock complicates or wraps up all temporal succession, and puts case that a Clock be a conception, then though we hear the sound of the 6th hour before the 7th, yet the 7th is not heard but when the communication, neither is 6th sooner in conception then the 7th or 8th. But in the simple conception of a Clock there is no hour before or after another, although the Clock never strikes but when the conception bids. And it may be truly said when the Clock strikes six because the conception of the Master will have it to and because a Clock in the conception of God is a conception it may a little appear succession in a Clock is without succession in a word or conception and how that most simple conception are folded up all motions and sounds and whatsoever we find in succession. And that whatsoever happens successively doth not by any means exceed the conception, but is an explication of the conception because the conception gives being to everything. And that therefore is sooner than it comes to pass because it was not sooner conceived than it might be. Suppose than a conception of a Clock to be Eternity, and then the motion in the Clock is to be succession. Therefore eternity doth both infold and unfold succession, for the conception of a Clock, which is Eternity, doth both complicate and explicate all things.

Blessed be thou therefore O Lord my God which feedest and nourishes me milk of similitudes until thou give me stronger meat. Lead me O Lord God by these pains to thee, for except thou lead me I shall faint by the way because of frailty of my corruptible nature and the foolish Vessel I bear about me. I return again in confidence of thy help O Lord to find thee beyond the wall of confidence, complication, and explication, and as I go in and out by this door of thy word and conception I find thee both complicating and explication; I go in and out, I go in from the Creatures to thee thou Creator, from the effect to the cause. I go out from the Creator to the creatures, from the cause to the effect, I go both in and out together when I see how going out is going in, and going in at the same instant going out. As he that numbereth doth at the same time both explicate and complicate, explicate the power of unity and complicate number into unities. For the creatures going out from thee is for thee to enter into the Creature and to explicate is to complicate. And when I see thee God in Paradise, encompassed there within the wall of the coincidence of contraries I see that thou dost neither complicate nor explicate disjunctively nor copulatively. For disjunction and communion are both alike the wall of confidence, beyond which thou art absolute and free from all that can be either said or thought.

Chapter 12

That where the invisible is seene, the uncreated is created

Crown of my joy and happiness thou hast appeared unto me, sometimes as invisible from every creature because thou art a God secret and hidden, and infinite, and infinity is incomprehensible by any manner of comprehension. Then thou appeared to me as visible to all things for every thing is so far forth as thou seest it: and that could not bee in act; except it did see thee for vision gives being, because it is they Essence; So thou my God art visible, and invisible thou art, invisible as thou art, and thou art visible as the creature is, which so far forth is as it sees thee, by every thing that seeds, in every thing that may be seen, and in every act of seeing art thou seen, which art invisible and absolute, and free from all such things, and infinitely super-exalted; Therefore O Lord I must leap over the Wall of invisible vision where thou art found, and the Wall is all things, and nothing both together, and thou which meetest or appearest to us as thou thou were all things, and nothing at all both together, dwellest within that high Wall which no wit can by its own power ever be able to climb.

Sometimes thou appearest unto mee, so that I imagine thou seest all things in thy self, like a living Glass, in which all things shine, and because they seeing is thy knowing, then it comes into my mind that thou dost not see also things in thy self as in a living Glass, for then thy knowledge should arise from the things: Sometimes thou presentest thy self to me, that thou seest all things in thy self, as power or virtue, by looking upon it self, As the power or possibility of the seed of a Tree, if it should look into and behold it self, would in it self see the Tree in power; because the virtue of the seed is potentially the Tree, and then again, me thinks that thou dost not see they self, and all things in thy self, as power or possibility, for to see a Tree in the power of the virtue, differs from that vision by which the Tree is seen in act, and then I find how thy infinite virtue or power is beyond all specular and seminal virtue, and beyond the coincidence, radiation or reflection of the cause, and also the thing caused, and that the absolute virtue is absolute vision, which is perfection it self, above all manner of seeing: for all the manners which explain the perfection of seeing are without any manners, thy Vision which is thy Essence, O my God.

But suffer most merciful Lord that I thy wild Creature may yet speak unto thee; If thy seeing be thy creating, and thou seest nothing but they self, but thy self art the object of thy self, for thou art both the thing seeing and the things seen, and the act of seeing, how then dost thou create other things from thee, for thou seemest to create thy self as thou seest thy self. But thou comfortest me O life of my spirit, for although slide1I meet with the wall of absurdity, which is of the Coincidence of creating and being created, as though it were impossible that creating and being created should coincide. For to admit this seems to be as if one should assume that a thing is before it is, for when it creates it is, and because it is created it is not, yet it hinders not. For thy creating is thy being, neither is it any other things as once to create, and to be created, than to communicate thy being unto all things, that thou mayest be all things in all things, and yet remain absolute from all things, for to call to being thing that are not, is to communicate, being to nothing, so to call is to create, to communicate is to be created. And beyond this Coincidence of creating and being created, art thou God absolute and innate neither creating nor in possibility of being created, although they are all that they are, because thou art.

O thou heights of riches, how incomprehensible art thou, as long as I conceive a Creator, creating, I am yet on this side of the wall of Paradise. So as long as I conceive a Creator in possibility of being created, I have not yet entered, but am in the wall, but when I see thee as absolute infinite, whereunto neither the name of a Creator creating nor a Creator in possibility of being created can agree, then I begin to see thee revealedly, and to enter into the Garden of delights, because thou art no such things as can be said or conceived but infinitely and absolutely super-exalted above all such things. Thou art not therefore only a Creator, but infinitely more than a Creator, though without thee nothing is done or can be done: To thee be praise and glory for ever and ever, Amen

Chapter 13

That God is seen absolute infinite

Then, Lord God, thou help of them that sleekest thee, I see thee in the Garden of Paradise, and I know not what I see, for I see nothing visible, only this I know, that I know not what I see, nor ever can know it, name thee I cannot, because I know not what thou art. And if any man say thou art named by this or that name, in as much as he nameth thee, I know that it is not thy name, for every term of the manner of significations of name is a Wall beyond which I see thee.

And if any man express any conception by which thou may be conceived I know that conception is not the conception of thee, for every conception is terminated in the Wall of Paradise. And if any man express any similitude and say that according thereunto though art to be conceived I know likewise that similitude is not thine. So if any man disclose any understanding of thee, as though he would give a means to understand thee, this man is yet far from thee.

For from all these art thou separated by a most high Wall. This Wall separates thee from all things that can be said or thought, for thou art absolute from all things from all things that can fall into any man’s conception. Therefore when I am highest of all lifted up, then I see thee infinitely. Therefore art thou inaccessible, incomprehensible, unnamable, unmulltipliable, and invisible, and so he that will ascent to thee must get up above every term and end and things finite.

But how shall he come unto thee, the end whereat he aim, if he must ascent above the end, doth he not enter into that which is indeterminate and confused, and so in regard of the understanding, into ignorance and obscurity, which are intellectual confusion.

The understanding must therefore become ignorant and be placed in the shadow if it would see thee. But O my God, what is this ignorance of the understanding, is it not a learned ignorance? Therefore cannot thou O God be approached unto as being infinite but by him whose understanding is in ignorance and namely such a one as knows himself to be ignorant of thee. How can the understanding conceive thee which art infinite? The understanding knows itself ignorant and that thou cannot be conceived, because thou art infinite. For to understand Infinity is to comprehend that which is incomprehensible.

The understanding knows itself ignorant of thee because it knows thou cannot be known unless that which is unknowable be known, and the invisible seen, or the inaccessible be approached unto. Thou my God art absolute Infinity, which I see to be an infinite end, but I cannot conceive how an end should be an end without an end. Thou O God art the end of thyself, because thou art whatsoever thou hast if thou hast an end thou art an end. Thou art therefore an infinite end because thou art the end of thyself, for thy end is thy essence, the essence of the end is not determined or limited in another end, but in it self, the end therefore which is the end or bound of itself is infinite.

And every end which  is not the end of it self is a finite end, thou O Lord because thou art the bound that bounds all things, therefore art thou the end or bound whereof there is no bound, and so the bound without bound, or, infinite bound which passes all reason, for it holds a Contradiction.

When therefore I affirm a boundless bound or an infinite end I admit darkness to be light, ignorance knowledge, and that which is impossible to be necessary or of necessity. And because we admit that there is a bound of that which is bounded, we must necessarily admit of an infinite or last end or bound without a bound. But we cannot but admit infinite being, therefore we cannot but admit the infinite. Consequently we admit the Coincidence of contraries above which is the infinite. And that Coincidence is the contradiction without a contradiction, as an end without an end.

And thou O Lord say unto me that as alterity in unity is without alterity, because it is unity, so contradiction in Infinity is without contradiction, because Infinity. Infinity is simplicity it self, but contradiction cannot be without alterity, yet alterity in simplicity is without alteration, because it is simplicity, for all things that are said are affirmed of absolute simplicity, coincide or are the same with it, because there to have, is to be, the opposition of opposites, is there opposition without opposition as the end or bound of things infinite is no end or bound without end or bound.

Thou therefor O God art the opposite of opposites, because thou art infinite, thou art infinite it self. In infinity is opposition of opposites without opposition.

O Lord my God, the strength of the weak, I see thee to be infinity it self, therefore to thee, there is nothing other or diverse or contrary, and adverse for he that is infinite does not suffer with himself any alterity, because, being infinity, there is no thing besides or without it, for absolute infinite includes and environs all things. Therefore if there were infinite and something besides it, it were not infinite nor anything else, for infinite cannot be either greater or less, therefore there is nothing besides or beyond it, for if infinity did not include within itself all being it were not infinite, then were there no end or bound nor alterity, nor diversity, where without alterity of bands and terms cannot be Infinite. Therefore being taken away there remains nothing, there is therefore infinity, and it complicates all things, as nothing can be besides it, and hereupon here is nothing other, or diverse unto it. Infinity therefore is so all things that it is none of them all.

To infinity therefore, there can no name agree, for every name may have a contrary, but to unnamable Infinity there can be nothing contrary, neither is Infinity the whole, whereunto is opposed a part, not can it be a part, nor can Infinity be great or little, not any thing which can be named, neither in heaven or in earth, above all these is Infinity. Infinity is to nothing either great or less or equal!

But while I consider Infinity neither to be greater nor less to any thing imaginable, I say it is the measure of all things being neither greater nor less. And so I conceive it the equality of being, such an equality is Infinity, yet is it not so equality, as inequality opposed unto it, but there equality is inequality, for inequality in infinity is without inequality because it is Infinity. Infinite equality is an end without an end; whereupon though it be neither greater nor less, it is it not equality, as contracted equality is understood, but it is infinite equality, which is not capable of more or less. And so it is not more equal to one than to another, but so equal to one that to all, and so to all that to none of all.  For that which is infinity is not contractible, but remains absolute, if it were contractible by Infinity, it were not infinite. It is not therefore contractible to the equality of the finite although it be not equal to anything. For how should inequality agree with the infinite, whereunto agree neither more nor less.

Therefore that which is infinite is neither greater nor less, nor unequal to any thing imaginable, and yet it is not there equal to that which is infinite, because it is above every finite thing, to wit, by it self that which is infinite then is it utterly absolute and uncontactable.

How high art thou O Lord about all things and with all how humble, because in all things. If infinity were contractible to anything nominable, as a line, or a surface, or a species, or kind, it would draw to itself that whereunto it were contracted, and it implies that the infinity should be contractible, for it should not be contracted, but attracted. For if I say that the infinite is contracted to a line, as when I say an infinite line, then is the line attracted or drawn to that which is infinite. For a line ceases to be a line when it has no quantity or end, an infinite line is not a line but a line in infinite is infinite. And as nothing can be added to that which is infinite, to the infinite cannot be contracted unto anything to make it other than infinite, infinite goodness is but infinite, infinite quantity is not quantity but infinity, and so in all thing.

Thou art a great God of whose greatness there is no end, because infinite, thou art the beginning without beginning and the end without end, and so the beginning that the end, and so the end that the beginning, and neither beginning nor end, but above them even absolute, Infinity it self blessed for evermore.


How God enfolded all things without Otherness see, Lord, through Thine infinite mercy, that Thou art infinity encompassing all things. Naught existeth outside Thee, but all things in Thee are not other than Thee. Thou dost teach me, Lord, how otherness, which is not in Thee, is not even in itself, nor can it be. Nor doth otherness, being not in Thee, make one creature to be different from another, albeit one be not another; the sky is not the earth, though ’tis true that sky is sky and earth is earth.

If, then, I seek for otherness, which is neither in Thee nor yet outside Thee, where shall I find it? And if it existeth not, how cometh it that the earth is a different creature from the sky? for without otherness this cannot be conceived. But Thou, Lord, dost speak in me and say that there is no positive principle of otherness, and thus it existeth not: for how could otherness exist without a principle, unless it itself were a principle and infinity?

Now otherness cannot be the principle of being, for otherness taketh its name from not-being, for because one thing is not another it is called other. Otherness, therefore, cannot be the principle of being, because it taketh its name from not-being, nor hath it the principle of being, since it ariseth from not-being. Otherness, then, is not anything, but the reason wherefore the sky is not the earth is because the sky is not infinity’s self, which encompasseth all being. Whence, since infinity is absolute infinity, it resulteth that one thing cannot be another.

For example, the being of Socrates encompasseth all Socratic being, and in Socratic being pure and simple there is no otherness nor diversity. The being of Socrates is the individual unity of all those things that are in Socrates, in such a way that in that one being is enfolded the being of all those things which are in Socrates, to wit, in that individual simplicity wherein naught is found other or diverse. But in that same single being all things which have the Socratic being exist and are unfolded, and outside it they neither exist nor can exist.

Howbeit, in this onefold being, when all is said, the eye is not the ear and the head is not the heart, and sight is not hearing, and sense is not reason. Nor doth this result from any principle of otherness, but, granted the Socratic being pure and simple, it resulteth that the head is not the foot because the head is not that most simple Socratic being itself and hence its being doth not contain the whole Socratic being.

Thus I perceive—Thou, Lord, enlightening me—that, because Socratic being pure and simple is utterly incommunicable, and not to be limited to the being of any one member—the being of any one member is not the being of any other, but that Socratic being pure and simple is the being of all the members of Socrates, wherein all variety and otherness of being that happeneth in the members is unity pure and simple, even as plurality of forms of parts is unity in the form of the whole.

Thus in some manner, O God, is it with Thy Being, which is absolutely infinity, in relation to all things which exist. But I say absolutely: as the absolute form of being of all limited forms. The hand of Socrates, being separated from Socrates, as after amputation, is no longer the hand of Socrates; yet it still retaineth some kind of being as a corpse. And the reason of this is that the form of Socrates which giveth being doth not give being pure and simple, but a limited being, to wit, the Socratic.

From this the being of the hand may be separated, and may yet none the less remain under another form; but if once the hand were separated from the being that is entirely unlimited, to wit, from the infinite and absolute, then it would utterly cease to exist, because it would be cut off from all being. I give Thee thanks, O Lord my God, who dost bountifully reveal Thyself unto me, in so far as I can receive it, showing how Thou art infinity’s self, enfolding the being of all in its most simple power; and this were not infinity were it not infinitely united. For power united is stronger. Accordingly, that power which is united in the highest degree is infinite and almighty. Thou art God Almighty, because Thou art absolute simplicity, which is absolute infinity.

The Vision of God

The Vision of God

vision chap 12








I now ask: How do I become a Christian?


Sowing seeds again
Mercy triumphs over justice – The Epistle of James


Soren Aaby Kierkegaard lived eighteen hundred years after the Christian Era (CE) had been inaugurated through the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. Christ chose twelve single individuals to follow him. He demonstrated to them what it means to be like God, his Father.

These twelve became seventy and then the seventy single individuals became more as the Good News of salvation through Christ spread throughout the area. Kierkegaard wondered if the message spread through group learning or from one single individual interacting with another. Christ seemed to use both methods in his ministry. The “assembly” of those single individuals into one group came to become known as the church.

paul of tarsus Broad_overview_of_geography_relevant_to_paul_of_tarsus
The missionary Journeys of Paul the Apostle (a witness to the truth)

A book called the Bible came together over time and became the authorized text for information about this new idea called Christianity.

“The invisible Church is not a historical phenomenon; as such it cannot be observed objectively at all, because it is only in subjectivity.”     Soren Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript p. 54 (1846) Subjectivity is truth.

Where did the Authority come from for one individual to talk to another about becoming a Christian? Kierkegaard asked this question in full in his 1846 book, Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments using the pseudonym Johannes Climacus.

In the isolation of the imaginary construction, the whole book is about myself, simply and solely about myself. “I Johannes Climacus, now thirty years old, born in Copenhagen, a plain, ordinary human being like most people have heard it said that there is a highest good in store that is called an eternal happiness, and that Christianity conditions this upon a person’s relation to it.

I now ask: How do I become a Christian?  I ask solely for my own sake.

I wanted to say that as soon as just one person could inform me where and to whom one applies for permission to write as a solitary person or to set oneself up as an author in the name of humanity, of the century, of our age, of the public, of the many, of the majority concerning the same matter, to dare, when he himself owns up to belonging to the minority, to write in the name of the many, and then as a solitary person simultaneously to have polemical elasticity by being in the minority and recognition in the eyes of the world by being in the majority-if anyone could inform me about what expenses are connected with the granting of such an application, since even if the costs are not paid in money they could very well still be exorbitant-then, on the presupposition that the costs will not exceed my means, I would very likely be unable to resist the temptation to write as soon as possible an exceedingly important book that speaks in the name of millions and millions and millions and billions.

Soren Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p 617-619, 1846 Hong translation

Who did the Apostle Paul go to to get permission to write his epistles? Who did Matthew go to before he wrote what he wrote? More importantly, who did Christ go to when he spoke the words he spoke? The Roman Empire under Constantine issued an edict stating that Christianity was to be tolerated in his realm and he planted one capital of his empire in Rome and another in Constantinople.


The religion of Christ moved from single individual  to single individual until the temporal authorities became anxious to organize and create systems of order based on past examples. The map below shows where the religion of Christ spread throughout a large area between 481 and 814.


Clovis,  another ruler, issued a proclamation about making Christianity the religion of his people. Does that mean everyone instantly became a Christian? Charlemagne started what became known as The Holy Roman Empire around 800 AD.

The Eastern Orthodox Church broke away from the Western Roman Catholic Church in 1054 and this act, which was somewhat like the Confederacy breaking away from the Union in the United States, was the cause of an enduring controversy over the Authority in the world of the spirit. The religion of Christ was fast becoming the Christ of religion.


The same external problems happened again in the 1500’s. The Catholic Church argued over external, human, distinctions and divided itself. From The History of Anglicanism on YouTube

“Dear Reader: I wonder if you may not sometimes have felt inclined to doubt a little the correctness of the familiar philosophic maxim that the external is the internal and the internal the external. … For my part I have always been heretically-minded on this point in philosophy, and have therefore early accustomed myself, as far as possible, to institute observations and inquiries concerning it. I have sought guidance from those authors whose views I shared on this matter; in short, I have done everything in my power to remedy the deficiency in the philosophical works. Gradually the sense of hearing came to be my favorite sense; for just as the voice is the revelation of the inwardness incommensurable with the outer, so the ear is the instrument by which this inwardness is apprehended, hearing found a contradiction between what I saw and what I heard, then I found my doubt confirmed, and my enthusiasm for the investigation stimulated.”

Soren Kierkegaard, Either/Or I Preface 1843

Paracelsus 1493-1541

Having first invocated the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ our Savior, we will enterprize his Work; wherein we shall not only teach how to change any inferior Meter into better, as Iron into Copper, this into Silver, and that into God, etc. but also to help all infirmities, whose cure to the opinioned and presumptuous Physicians, doth seem impossible: But that which is great, to preserve, and keep mortal men to a long, sound, and perfect Age. This ART was by our Lord God the Supreme Creator, engraven as it were in a book in the body of metals, from the beginning of the Creation, that we might diligently learn from them.

Therefore when any man desireth thoroughly and perfectly to learn this Are from its true foundation,  it will be necessary that he learn the same from the Master thereof, to wit, from God, who hath created all things, and only knoweth what Nature and propriety he himself hath placed in every Creature. Wherefore he is able to teach every one certainly and perfectly, as he hath spoken, saying, of me ye shall learn all things: for there is nothing found in Heaven nor in Earth so secret, whose properties he perceiveth not, and most exactly knoweth and seeth, who hath created all things.

We will therefore take him to be our Master, Operator, and Leader into this most true Art. We will therefore imitate him alone, and through him learn and attain to the knowledge of that Nature, which he himself with his own finger hath engraven and inscribed in the bodies of these Metals. Hereby it will come to pass, that the most high Lord God shall bless all the Creatures unto us, and shall sanctify all our Ways; so that in this Work we may be able to bring our Beginning to its desired End, and the Consequence thereof to produce exceeding great Joy and Love in our Hearts.

But if any one shall follow his only Opinion, he will not only greatly deceive himself, but also all others who cleave and adhere thereunto; and shall bring them unto loss. For mankind is certainly born in ignorance, so that he can neither know nor understand any thing of himself; but only that which he receiveth from God, and understandeth from Nature.

He which learneth nothing from these, is like the Heathen Masters and Philosophers, who follow the Subtleties and Crafts of their own Inventions and Opinions, such as are Aristotle, Hippocretes, Avicenna, Gallen etc. who grounded all their Arts upon their own Opinions only. And if at any time they learned anything from Nature, they destroyed it again with their own Phantasies, Dreams, or Inventions, before they came to the end thereof; so that by them and their Followers there is nothing perfect at all to be found.

This therefore hath moved and induced us hereunto, to write a peculiar book of Alchemy, founded not upon men, but upon Nature itself, and upon those Vertues and Powers, which GOD with his own Finger hath impressed in Metals. Of this impression Mercurius Trismegistus was an Imitator, who is not underservedly called the Father of all Wise-men, and of all those that followed his ART with love, and with earnest desire, and that man demon strateth and teaches that God alone is the only author, cause and Original of all creatures in this ART.

But he doth not attribute the power and virtue of God, to the creatures or visible things, as the said heathen, and such-like did. Now feeling all ART ought to be learned from the Trinity; that is, from God the Father, from God the Sone of God, our Savior Jesus Christ, and from God the holy Ghost, three distinct persons, but one God: We will therefore divide this our Alchymistical worke into three parts, or Treatises: in

the first whereof, we will lay down what the ART containeth in itself; And what is the propriety and nature of every Metal:

Secondly, by what means a man may worke and bring the like power and strength of Metals to effect.

And Thirdly, what Tinctures are to be produced from the Sun and Moone.

Paracelsys of the supreme mysteries of nature: Of the spirits of the planets. of occult philosophy. The magical, sympathetical, and antipathetical cure of wounds and diseases. The mysteries of the twelve signs of the zodiack.


Dry water from the Philosophers Clouds! Look for it, and be sure to have it, for it is the key to inaccessibles, and those locks that otherwise would keep thee out.

Chorus Omnium: It is a middle nature between fixt, and not fixt, and partakes of a Sulphur Azurine. It is a Raw, Cooling, Feminine fire, and expects its Impregnation from a Masculine, Solar Sulphur.

Our Stone in the beginning is called water; when the body is dissolved Air, or Wind; when it tends to consolidation, then it is named Earth, and when it is perfected and fixed it is called Fire.

Zoroaster’s Cave, Or, The Philosopher’s Intellectual Echo to One another from their Cells, by George Thor and Pontanus Isacius 1571-1639, published 1667

Johannes Isaaksz Pontanus

If in all orderly Speeches and matters of Learning it first of all behoveth to agree upon the Thing in hand, what it is, and what is the Reason and Bounds [or definition] of the same: It seemeth very needful in this Discourse of the Way to Bliss, to show first what is Bliss, because it is a thing much in doubt, and in question among the Learned.

The Way to Bliss: in Three Books, Elias Ashmole 1617-1692, John Everard 1575-1650

Elias Ashmole

René Descartes 1596-1650 How can I find bliss?

Principles of Philosophy 1647

Jean Jacques Rousseau came up with a method by which he could come to an understanding with himself about G0d in his book Emile published in 1762.

John Churton Collins was a literary critic who lived from 1848-1908. In 1904 he became professor of English literature at Birmingham University (United Kingdom). His posthumous essays were published in 1912.  I liked the three below that I read into Librivox and converted to video.

Michel de Montaigne 1533-1592 had definite ideas about Christianity as did Robert Browning 1812-1889.

Robert Browning and Bishop Butler on Christianity 1752. Churton compares the writings of Bishop Joseph Butler 1692-1752 with those of Robert Browning 1812-1889 regarding the Christian religion.

Gotthold Ephriam Lessing was born in 1729 at Kamenz in the Electorate of Saxony. The son of an orthodox Lutheran pastor and studied theology at Leipzig University. In 1769 he became librarian at Wolfenbuttel. Lessing decided to publish a book written by Hermann Samuel Reimarus 1694-1768 questioning the death and resurrection of Christ. Churton described the circumstances in the essay below.


Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) wanted to find out “how” God taught the nations to become Christendom. Kierkegaard wanted to find out “how” he, as a single individual, can become an individual and stand before God in accountability.

Kierkegaard used a pseudonym to ask this question. Johannes Climacus was the hero of the first part of his authorship (1843-1846). Climacus was someone like Johann Goethe or Friedrich Hegel who wanted to create a system that would make the question: “How do I become a Christian?” obsolete.

Goethe searched for God in his own artistic way. He discussed his venture into this thing called Christianity in his book, The Autobiography of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832).

Hegel wanted to explain Christianity Scientifically and create a universal ethic. If a method could be acceptable to all single individuals wars would come to an end and society would progress toward the Christian ideal of making everyone mature in Christ.
Goethe thought people learn best through poetry and the arts but Hegel thought people learn best by trying to follow an ethical standard. Kierkegaard studied the books written by both these authors and wrote his own critique of them in his writings. He came out against systematic Christianity because the single individual doesn’t need an authoritative system but what the single individual does need is a relationship with God using the way, life, and truth of Christ as the example  He started out with the idea of God in his first writings because God came first and then Christ came in “the fullness of time”.

This is a video of the seventh book of Goethe’s Autobiography. He explains the spirit of the age in the 1750’s and 1760’s.

Here is Goethe’s Autobiography. It’s a long read but it can also be listened to. We are all readers and listeners and hearers and seekers. Goethe was a seeker.

The Autobiograpy of Johann Goethe
Free Text

Goethe’s Autobiography 
Free Audio

Goethe was asking: “How do I, Johann Goethe, become a Christian? Should every single individual follow his method? Should we all follow how Descartes tried to do it? Should we follow Paul’s method? Or Job’s method? No. Christ said,

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? Matthew 16:24-26

“Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.  For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him.  Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.

I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word.
 Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. John 17:1-9

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28

Christ’s disciples were with Christ in person and found it difficult to follow him at that time. Each single individual has the same problem they had. Here’s a video about Kierkegaard’s point of view.

These are links to some of the books he wrote. Just as one would read the Bible to find out about Christianity one should also read Kierkegaard’s books to find out about him.

This link will take you to several books published by Kierkegaard

David F. Swenson translated many of Kierkegaard’s books in the 1930’s and 1940’s and advised readers to begin with Philosophical Fragments.

Howard V and Edna H Hong translated many of Kierkegaard’s books in the 1980’s and 1990’s and advised readers to begin with Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits (Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing is the first section of that book)

This link will take you to his Edifying Discourses

I like working my way through Kierkegaards Discourses. He wrote 80 of them in all.

Kierkegaard liked to “Provoke” thought and action

These are the books Kierkegaard published with his own money and his own advertising. He basically left the results of his work up to God. He left wondering if anyone would read what he had written.

Kierkegaard's published works.
Kierkegaard’s published works.

This is a picture of Soren Kierkegaard and his family. He lived from 1813-1855 and never married.

When Mikael Kierkegaard (Michael) died on August 9, 1838 Soren had lost both his parents and all his brothers and sisters except for Peter who later became Bishop of Aalborg in the Danish State Lutheran Church.
When Mikael Kierkegaard (Michael) died on August 9, 1838 Soren had lost both his parents and all his brothers and sisters except for Peter who later became Bishop of Aalborg in the Danish State Lutheran Church.


Is the hero the extraordinary individual? Many would say so. Is it identified as genius? Does physical strength apply to all heroes? Artists have portrayed the hero in verse, in statuary, and in word and theater. Today we have heroes of finance, politics, science, philosophy, the arts, and the newspaper.

The excerpts below deal with the hero over time. The hero is always the marvelous except in one case. That case is plainly stated by Soren Kierkegaard.

soren Kierkegaard hero

About Phocaia in Ionia it happened thus, and nearly the same thing also was done by the men of Teos: for as soon as Harpagos took their wall with a mound, they embarked in their ships and sailed straightway for Thrace; and there they founded the city of Abdera, which before them Timesios of Clazomenai founded and had no profit therefrom, but was driven out by the Thracians; and now he is honoured as a hero by the Teïans in Abdera.

The History of Herodotus — Volume 1

Tell me, O Muse, of that ingenious hero who travelled far and wide after he had sacked the famous town of Troy. Many cities did he visit, and many were the nations with whose manners and customs he was acquainted; moreover he suffered much by sea while trying to save his own life and bring his men safely home; but do what he might he could not save his men, for they perished through their own sheer folly in eating the cattle of the Sun-god Hyperion; so the god prevented them from ever reaching home. Tell me, too, about all these things, oh daughter of Jove, from whatsoever source you may know them.

book-cover-largeWhen she had thus spoken, she flew away in the form of an eagle, and all marvelled as they beheld it. Nestor was astonished, and took Telemachus by the hand. “My friend,” said he, “I see that you are going to be a great hero some day, since the gods wait upon you thus while you are still so young. This can have been none other of those who dwell in heaven than Jove’s redoubtable daughter, the Trito-born, who shewed such favour towards your brave father among the Argives.”

Homer, The Odyssey Book One, Book Three

Let us now praise famous men, and our fathers that begot us. The Lord hath wrought great glory by them through his great power from the beginning. Such as did bear rule in their kingdoms, men renowned for their power, giving counsel by their understanding, and declaring prophecies: leaders of the people by their counsels, and by their knowledge of learning meet for the people, wise and eloquent in their instructions: such as found out musical tunes, and recited verses in writing: rich men furnished with ability, living peaceably in their habitations: all these were honored in their generations, and were the glory of their times.

Ecclesiasticus 44:1-7 Catholic Bible

These all died in faith without having received the promises, but they saw them from a distance, greeted them, and confessed that they were foreigners and temporary residents on the earth. The world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and on mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground.

Hebrews 11 The Bible

XIII. When the conquest of the East had flattered Alexander of Macedon into believing himself to be more than man, the people of Corinth sent an embassy to congratulate him, and presented him with the franchise of their city. When Alexander smiled at this form of courtesy, one of the ambassadors said, “We have never enrolled any stranger among our citizens except Hercules and yourself.”

Alexander willingly accepted the proffered honour, invited the ambassadors to his table, and showed them other courtesies. He did not think of who offered the citizenship, but to whom they had granted it; and being altogether the slave of glory, though he knew neither its true nature or its limits, had followed in the footsteps of Hercules and Bacchus, and had not even stayed his march where they ceased; so that he glanced aside from the givers of this honour to him with whom he shared it, and fancied that the heaven to which his vanity aspired was indeed opening before him when he was made equal to Hercules.

In what indeed did that frantic youth, whose only merit was his lucky audacity, resemble Hercules? Hercules conquered nothing for himself; he travelled throughout the world, not coveting for himself but liberating the countries which he conquered, an enemy to bad men, a defender of the good, a peacemaker both by sea and land; whereas the other was from his boyhood a brigand and desolator of nations, a pest to his friends and enemies alike, whose greatest joy was to be the terror of all mankind, forgetting that men fear not only the fiercest but also the most cowardly animals, because of their evil and venomous nature.

Lucilius Annaeus Seneca on Benefits 

I am well aware that in these days Hero-worship, the thing I call Hero-worship, professes to have gone out, and finally ceased. This, for reasons which it will be worth while some time to inquire into, is an age that as it were denies the existence of great men; denies the desirableness of great men. Show our critics a great man, a Luther for example, they begin to what they call “account” for him; not to worship him, but take the dimensions of him,—and bring him out to be a little kind of man!

Photo by Elliott & Fry, c.1860sHe was the “creature of the Time,” they say; the Time called him forth, the Time did everything, he nothing—but what we the little critic could have done too! This seems to me but melancholy work. The Time call forth? Alas, we have known Times call loudly enough for their great man; but not find him when they called! He was not there; Providence had not sent him; the Time, calling its loudest, had to go down to confusion and wreck because he would not come when called.

For if we will think of it, no Time need have gone to ruin, could it have found a man great enough, a man wise and good enough: wisdom to discern truly what the Time wanted, valor to lead it on the right road thither; these are the salvation of any Time. But I liken common languid Times, with their unbelief, distress, perplexity, with their languid doubting characters and embarrassed circumstances, impotently crumbling down into ever worse distress towards final ruin;—all this I liken to dry dead fuel, waiting for the lightning out of Heaven that shall kindle it. The great man, with his free force direct out of God’s own hand, is the lightning. His word is the wise healing word which all can believe in. All blazes round him now, when he has once struck on it, into fire like his own. The dry mouldering sticks are thought to have called him forth. They did want him greatly; but as to calling him forth—!

Those are critics of small vision, I think, who cry: “See, is it not the sticks that made the fire?” No sadder proof can be given by a man of his own littleness than disbelief in great men. There is no sadder symptom of a generation than such general blindness to the spiritual lightning, with faith only in the heap of barren dead fuel. It is the last consummation of unbelief. In all epochs of the world’s history, we shall find the Great Man to have been the indispensable savior of his epoch;—the lightning, without which the fuel never would have burnt. The History of the World, I said already, was the Biography of Great Men.

On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History by Thomas Carlyle (May 1840)

cropped-kthink.jpgWhen you are sitting in a theater, intoxicated with esthetic pleasure, then you have the courage to require of the poet that he let the esthetic win out over all wretchedness. It is the only consolation that remains, and, what is even more unmanly, it is the consolation that you take, you to whom life has not provided the occasion to test your strength. You, then, are impoverished and unhappy, just like the hero and the heroine in the play, but you also have pathos, courage, a round mouth from which eloquence gushes, and a vigorous arm. You and your kind conquer, you applaud the actor, and the actor is yourselves and the applause from the pit is for you, for you are indeed the hero and the actor. In dreams, in the nebulous world of esthetics, there you are heroes.

I do not care very much for the theater, and as far as I am concerned you and your kind can mock as much as you like. Just let the histrionic heroes succumb or let them be victorious, sink through the floor or vanish through the ceiling-I am not greatly moved. But if it is true, as you teach and declaim to life, that it takes far fewer adversities to make a person a slave so that he walks with his head hanging down and forgets that he, too, is created in God’s image, then may it be your just punishment. God grant, that all playwrights compose nothing but tearjerking plays, full of all possible anxiety and horror that would not allow your flabbiness to rest on the cushioned theater seats and let you be perfumed with supranatural power but would horrify you until in the world of actuality you learn to believe in that which you want to believe in only in poetry.

Soren Kierkegaard, Either/Or II  1843 p. 122 Hong

I see each person according to his own beauty. However insignificant he may be, however humble, I see him according to his beauty, for I see him as this individual human being who nevertheless is also the universal human being. I see him as one who has this concrete task for his life; even if he is the lowliest hired waiter, he does not exist for the sake of any other person. He has his teleology within himself, he actualizes his task, he is victorious-that I do see, for the courageous person does not see ghosts but sees heroes instead; the coward does not see heroes, but only ghosts. (…) By this faith, I see the beauty of life, and the beauty I see does not have the sadness and gloominess that are inseparable from the beauty of all nature and art, inseparable even from the eternal youth of the Greek gods. The beauty I see is joyous and triumphant and stronger than the whole world. And this beauty I see everywhere, also there where your eyes see nothing.

Soren Kierkegaard, Either/Or II 1843 p. 275-276 Hong

Please recall that our hero had no money, that the callous  esthete had none to give him, and that  you, too, did not have so much to spare that you could secure his future. (…) the reason we so often hear that strident, contemptible talk about money being everything is partly that those who must work lack the ethical vigor to acknowledge the meaning of working, lack the ethical conviction of its meaning. It is not the seducers who do harm to marriage, but cowardly married men. So also here. Contemptible talk such as that does no harm, but the ones who harm the good cause are those who, forced to work for a living, at one moment want to be recognized for the merit that is in it when they compare their lives with the loafers and the next moment complain and sigh and say: But still the most beautiful thing is to be independent.

Soren Kierkegaard, Either/Or II 1843 p. 281Hong

Would that God would preserve me from the cares about the necessities of life; there is nothing that smothers the higher life in a person as they do. On the occasion of such comments, it has often struck me that there is nothing as deceitful as the human heart, and my own life has also afforded me the occasion to experience the truth of this. We think that we have courage to venture out into the most perilous struggles, but we do not wish to struggle with cares about the necessities of life, and yet at the same time we want it to be greater to win that battle than this one. Now, that is easy enough; we choose an easier struggle, which nevertheless to most people seems much more dangerous. We fancy that this is the truth; we are victorious and so we are heroes, and heroes quite different from what we would be if we were victorious in that other wretched struggle unworthy of a human being. Indeed, when in addition to cares about the necessities of life we also have to fight a hidden enemy such as this within ourselves, it is no wonder that we wish to be free of that struggle.

At least we still ought to be honest enough with ourselves to admit that the reason we shunned this battle was that it is much harder than all other trials; but if that is the case, then the victory is also much more beautiful, insofar as we ourselves are not tested in this struggle, we owe it to every struggler to confess that his struggle is the most dangerous; we owe it to him to give him this recognition. If a person regards cares about the necessities of life in this way, as a struggle for one’s honor in an even stricter sense than any other struggle, then he will already have gone somewhat further.

Here as everywhere the point is to be rightly situated, not to waste time in wishing, but to take hold of one’s task. If it seems to be a lowly and insignificant, petty and discouraging task, then one knows that it only makes the struggle more difficult and the victory more beautiful. There are men on whom a title bestows honor, and there are men who bestows honor on a title. Let a person apply this to himself, he who, although he feels the energy and the urge to venture into glorious battles, must be content with the sorriest of all, struggling with the cares and the necessities of life.

Soren Kierkegaard, Either/Or II 1843 p. 284-285 Hong

The aesthete says: Without work life finally becomes boring. “One’s work nevertheless ought not to be work in the strict sense but should be able to be continually defined as pleasure. A person discovers some aristocratic talent in himself that distinguishes him from the crowd. He does not develop this recklessly, because then he would soon be bored with it, but with all the esthetic earnestness possible. Life then has a new meaning for him, since he has his work, a work that nevertheless is really his pleasure. In his independence, he shelters it so that it can develop in all its luxuriance, undismayed by life. He does not, however, make this talent into a plank on which one manages to squeeze through life but into wings on which one soars over the world; he does not make it into a drudging hack but into a parade horse.”

But our hero has no such aristocratic talent; his is like most people. The aesthete knows no other way out for him than that “he has to resign himself to falling into the crowd’s hackneyed category of a person who works. Do not lose heart, this too, has its meaning, is decent and respectable; become a handy industrious fellow, a useful member of society. I already look forward to seeing you, for the more varied life is, the more interesting for the observer. That is why I and all esthetes abhor a national costume, for it would be so tiresome to see everyone going around dressed alike. Let every individual take up his occupation in life that way; the more beautiful it will be for me and my kind, who make a profession of observing life.” I hope that our hero will be somewhat impatient over such treatment and be indignant at the insolence of such a classification of people. Furthermore, independence played a role in this esthete’s consideration also, and independent he certainly is not.

Soren Kierkegaard, Either/Or II 1843 p. 290 Hong

It is your opinion that for someone to be called a hero it is required that he do something out of the ordinary. In that case you have really brilliant prospects. Now suppose that it takes great courage to do the ordinary, and the person who shows great courage is indeed a hero. In order for a person to be called a hero, one must consider not so much what he does as how he does it. Someone can conquer kingdoms and countries without being a hero; someone else can prove himself a hero by controlling his temper. Someone can display courage by doing the out-of-the-ordinary, another by doing the ordinary. The question is always-how does he do it?

Soren Kierkegaard, Either/Or II p. 298 Hong

You see, our hero is on a good path; he has lost faith in the callous common sense of the esthetes and in their superstitious belief in vague feelings that are supposed to be too delicate to be expressed as duty. He is content with the ethicist’s explanation that it is every person’s duty to marry, he has understood this correctly-namely, that the person who does not marry certainly does not sin, except insofar as he himself is responsible for it, because then he trespasses against the universally human, which is also assigned to him as a task to be fulfilled, but that the person who does marry fulfills the universal.

The ethicist can lead him no further, because the ethical, as stated previously is always abstract; it can only declare to him the universal. Thus, it can in no way tell him whom he should marry.

Soren Kierkegaard, Either/Or II 1843 p. 301-302 Hong

Ralph Waldo Emerson ca1857 retouched.jpgThe heroes of the hour are relatively great: of a faster growth; or they are such, in whom, at the moment of success, a quality is ripe which is then in request. Other days will demand other qualities. Some rays escape the common observer, and want a finely adapted eye. Ask the great man if there be none greater. His companions are; and not the less great, but the more, that society cannot see them. Nature never sends a great man into the planet, without confiding the secret to another soul.

Plato, too, like every great man, consumed his own times. What is a great man, but one of great affinities, who takes up into himself all arts, sciences, all knowables, as his food? He can spare nothing; he can dispose of everything. What is not good for virtue is good for knowledge. Hence his contemporaries tax him with plagiarism. But the inventor only knows how to borrow; and society is glad to forget the innumerable laborers who ministered to this architect, and reserves all its gratitude for him.

Great geniuses have the shortest biographies. Their cousins can tell you nothing about them. They lived in their writings, and so their house and street life was trivial and commonplace.

The Same, the Same! friend and foe are of one stuff; the ploughman, the plough, and the furrow, are of one stuff; and the stuff is such, and so much, that the variations of forms are unimportant. “You are fit” (says the supreme Krishna to a sage) “to apprehend that you are not distinct from me. That which I am, thou art, and that also is this world, with its gods, and heroes, and mankind. Men contemplate distinctions, because they are stupefied with ignorance.”

Representative Men: Seven Lectures by Ralph Waldo Emerson 1850

Heroism works in contradiction to the voice of mankind and in contradiction, for a time, to the voice of the great and good. Heroism is an obedience to a secret impulse of an individual’s character. Now to no other man can its wisdom appear as it does to him, for every man must be supposed to see a little farther on his own proper path than any one else. Therefore just and wise men take umbrage at his act, until after some little time be past: then they see it to be in unison with their acts. All prudent men see that the action is clean contrary to a sensual prosperity; for every heroic act measures itself by its contempt of some external good. But it finds its own success at last, and then the prudent also extol.

Self-trust is the essence of heroism. It is the state of the soul at war, and its ultimate objects are the last defiance of falsehood and wrong, and the power to bear all that can be inflicted by evil agents. It speaks the truth and it is just, generous, hospitable, temperate, scornful of petty calculations and scornful of being scorned. It persists; it is of an undaunted boldness and of a fortitude not to be wearied out. Its jest is the littleness of common life. That false prudence which dotes on health and wealth is the butt and merriment of heroism.

Essays — First Series by Ralph Waldo Emerson (Heroism)



Goethe On the Bible

Sunday, March 11, 1832.

This evening for an hour Goethe talked on various excellent topics. I had purchased an English Bible, but found to my great regret that it did not include the Apocrypha, because these were not considered genuine and divinely inspired. I missed the truly noble Tobias, the wisdom of Solomon and Jesus Sirach, all writings of such deeply spiritual value, that few others equal them. I expressed to Goethe my regret at the narrow exclusiveness thus manifested. He entirely agreed with me.

“Still,” said he, “there are two points of view from which Biblical subjects may be regarded. There is that of primitive religion, of pure nature and reason, which is of divine origin. This will ever remain the same, and will endure as long as divinely endowed beings exist. It is, however, only for the elect, and is far too high and noble to become universal.

“Then there is the point of view of the Church, which is of a more human nature. This is fallible and fickle, but, though perpetually changing, it will last as long as there are weak human beings. The light of cloudless divine revelation is far too pure and radiant for poor, weak man. But the Church interposes as mediator, to soften and moderate, and all are helped. Its influence is immense, through the notion that as successor of Christ it can relieve the burden of human sin. To secure this power, and to consolidate ecclesiasticism is the special aim of the Christian priesthood.

“Therefore it does not so much ask whether this or that book in the Bible effects a great enlightenment of the mind, it much more looks to the Mosaic and prophetic and Gospel records for allusions to the fall of man, and the advent to earth and death of Christ, as the atonement for sin. Thus you see that for such purposes the noble Tobias, the wisdom of Solomon, and the sayings of Sirach have little weight.

“Still, the question as to authenticity in details of the Bible is truly singular. What is genuine but the really excellent, which harmonises with the purest reason and nature, and even now ministers to our highest development? What is spurious but the absurd, hollow, and stupid, which brings no worthy fruit? If the authenticity of a Biblical writing depends on the question whether something true throughout has been handed down to us, we might on some points doubt the genuineness of the Gospels, of which Mark and Luke were not written from immediate presence and experience, but long afterwards from oral tradition. And the last, by the disciple John, was written in his old age.

“Yet I hold all four evangelists as thoroughly genuine, for there is in them the reflection of a greatness which emanated from the person of Jesus, such as only once has appeared on earth. If anyone asks whether it is in my nature to pay Him devout reverence, I say–‘Surely, yes!’ I bow before Him as the divine revelation of the highest principle of morality. If I am asked whether it is in my nature to revere the sun, again I say–‘Surely, yes!’ For the sun is also a manifestation of the highest, and, indeed, the mightiest which we children of earth are allowed to behold. But if I am asked whether I am inclined to bow before a thumb-bone of the apostle Peter or Paul, I say, ‘Spare me, and stand off with your absurdities!’

“Says the apostle, ‘Quench not the spirit.’ The high and richly-endowed clergy fear nothing so much as the enlightenment of the lower orders. They withheld the Bible from them as long as possible. What can a poor member of the Christian church think of the princely pomp of a richly endowed bishop, when against this he sees in the Gospels the poverty of Christ, travelling humbly on foot with His disciples, while the princely bishop drives along in a carriage drawn by six horses!

“We do not at all know,” continued Goethe, “all that we owe to Luther and the Reformation generally. We are emancipated from the fetters of spiritual narrowness. In consequence of our increasing culture, we have become capable of reverting to the fountain-head, and of comprehending Christianity in its purity. We have again the courage to stand with firm feet upon God’s earth, and to realise our divinely endowed human nature. Let spiritual culture ever go on advancing, let the natural sciences go on ever gaining in breadth and depth, and let the human mind expand as it may, it will never go beyond the elevation and moral culture of Christianity as it shines and gleams in the Gospel!

“But the more effectually we Protestants advance in our noble development, so much the more rapidly will the Catholics follow. As soon as they feel themselves caught in the current of enlightenment, they must go on to the point where all is but one.

“The mischievous sectism of Protestantism will also cease, and with it alienation between father and son, brother and sister. For as soon as the pure teaching and love of Christ, as they really are, are comprehended and consistently practised, we shall realise our humanity as great and free, and cease to attach undue importance to mere outward form.

“Furthermore, we shall all gradually advance from a Christianity of word and faith to one of feeling and action.”

The conversation next turned on the question how far God is influencing the great natures of the present world. Said Goethe, “If we notice how people talk, we might almost believe them to be of opinion that God had withdrawn into silence since that old time before Christ, and that man was now placed on his own feet, and must see how he can get on without God. In religious and moral matters a divine influence is still admitted, but in matters of science and art it is insisted that they are merely earthly, and nothing more than a product of pure human powers.

“But now let anyone only attempt with human will and human capabilities to produce something comparable with the creations that bear the names of Mozart, Raphael, or Shakespeare. I know right well that these three noble men are not the only ones, and that in every department of art innumerable excellent minds have laboured, who have produced results as perfectly good as those mentioned. But, if they were as great as those, they transcended ordinary human nature, and were in just the same degree divinely gifted.”

Goethe was silent, but I cherished his great and good words in my heart.

April 14, 1824.

I went, about one, for a walk with Goethe. We conversed on the style of different authors. Said he, “Philosophical speculation is, on the whole, a hindrance to the Germans, for it tends to induce a tendency to obscurantism. The nearer they approach to certain philosophical schools, the worse they write. Those Germans write best who, as business men, and men of real life, confine themselves to the practical. Thus, Schiller’s style is the noblest and most impressive, as soon as he ceases to philosophise, as I see from his highly interesting letters, on which I am now busy. Many of our genial German women in their style excel even many of our famous male writers.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, On the Bible
From Conversations with Eckermann

Conversations With Eckermann

%d bloggers like this: