Dreams of a Spirit-Seer/Part 2/Chapter 3
THIRD CHAPTER. 
PRACTICAL CONCLUSION FROM THE WHOLE TREATISE.
It is the zeal of a sophist to inquire into any idle proposition and to set to the craving after knowledge no other limits than impossibility. But to select from among the innumerable tasks before us the one which humanity must solve, is the merit of the wise. After science has completed its course, it naturally arrives at a modest mistrust and, indignant with itself, it says: How many things there are which I do not understand! But reason, matured by experience so as to become wisdom, speaks through the mouth of Socrates when, among all the merchandise of a fair, he says serenely: “How many things there are which I do not need!” In this manner two endeavours of a dissimilar nature flow together into one, though in the beginning they set out in very different directions, the one being vain and discontented, the other staid and content. To be able to choose rationally, one must know first even the unnecessary, yea the impossible; then, at last, science arrives at the definition of the limits set to human reason by nature. All hollow schemes, perhaps not unworthy in themselves but lying outside of the sphere of men, will then flee to the limbus of vanity. Then even metaphysics will become that from which at present it is rather far off, and which would seem the last thing to be expected of her—the companion of wisdom. As long as people think it still possible to attain knowledge about things so far off, wise simplicity may call out in vain that such great endeavours are unnecessary. The pleasure accompanying the extension of knowledge will easily make it appear a duty, and will consider deliberate and intentional contentedness to be foolish simplicity, opposed to the improvement of our nature. The questions about the spiritual nature, about freedom and predestination, the future state, &c., at first animate all the powers of reason, and through their excellency draw man into the rivalry of a speculation which reasons and decides, teaches and refutes without discrimination, just according to the nature of the apparent knowledge in each case. But if this investigation develop into philosophy which judges its own proceedings, and which knows not only objects, but their relation to man’s reason, then the lines of demarcation are drawn closer, and the boundary stones are laid which in future never allow investigation to wander beyond its proper district. We had to make use of a good deal of philosophy to know the difficulties surrounding a conception generally treated as being very convenient and common. Still more philosophy moves this phantom of knowledge yet further away, and convinces us that it is entirely beyond the horizon of man. For in the relations of cause and effect, of substance and action, philosophy at first serves to dissolve the complicated phenomena, and to reduce them to simpler conceptions. But when one has, finally, arrived at fundamental relations, philosophy has no business any more. Questions like “How something can be a cause, or possess power,” can never be decided by reason; but these relations must be taken from experience alone. For the rules of our reason are applicable only to comparison in respect to identity or contrast. But in the case of a cause something is assumed to have come from something else; one can find therefore no connection in regard to identity. In the same way, if this effect is not already implied in what preceded, a contrast can never be made out; because it is not contradictory to merely assume one thing and abolish another. Thence the fundamental conceptions of causes, of forces, and of actions, if they are not taken from experience, are entirely arbitrary, and can be neither proved nor disproved.2:8:9 I know that will and understanding move my body, but I can never reduce by analysis this phenomenon, as a simple experience, to another experience, and can, therefore, indeed recognize it, but not understand it. That my will moves my arm is not more intelligible to me than if somebody said to me that he could stop the moon in his orbit. The difference is only that the one I experience, but that the latter has never occurred to me. I recognize in myself changes as of a living subject, namely, thoughts, power to choose, &c., &c., and, as these terms indicate things different in kind from any of those which, taken together, make up my body, I have good reason to conceive of an incorporeal and constant being. Whether such a being be able to think also without connection with a body, can never be concluded from this empirical conception of its nature. I am conjoined with beings kindred to myself by means of corporeal laws, but whether I am, or ever shall be, conjoined according to other laws which I will call spiritual, without the instrumentality of matter, I can in no way conclude from what is given to me. All such opinions, as those concerning the manner in which the soul moves my body, or is related to other beings, now, or in future, can never be anything more than fictions. And they are far from having even that value which fictions of science, called hypotheses, have. For with these no fundamental powers are invented; only those known already by experience are connected according to the phenomena; their possibility, therefore, must be provable at any moment. It is different in the former case, when even new fundamental relations of cause and effect are assumed, the possibility of which can never, nor in any way, be ascertained, and which thus are only invented by creative genius or by chimera, whichever you like to call it. That several true or pretended phenomena can be comprehended by means of such assumed fundamental ideas, cannot at all be quoted in their favour. For a reason may be given for everything, if one is entitled to invent at will actions and laws of operation. We must wait, therefore, until perhaps in the future world, by new experiences, we are informed about new conceptions concerning powers in our thinking selves which, as yet, are hidden to us. Thus the observations of later days, analysed by mathematics, have revealed to us the power of attraction in matter, concerning the possibility of which we shall never be able to learn anything further, because it seems to be a fundamental power. Those who would have invented such a quality without first having obtained the proof from experience, would rightly have deserved to be laughed at as fools. Because, in such cases, reasons are of no account whatever, neither for the sake of inventing, nor of confirming the possibility or impossibility of certain results: the right of decision must be left to experience alone. Just as I leave to time, which brings experience, the ascertainment of something about the famous healing-powers of the magnet in cases of toothache, when experience shall have produced as many observations to the effect that magnetic rods act upon flesh and bones, as we have already proving their effect on steel and iron. But, if certain pretended experiences cannot be classified under any law of sensation that is unanimously accepted by men: if, therefore, they would only go to prove irregularity in the testimony of the senses—which, indeed, is the case with rumoured ghost-stories—then it is advisable to simply ignore them. For the lack of unanimity and uniformity makes the historic knowledge about them valueless for the proof of anything, and renders them unfit to serve as basis for any law of experience within the domain of reason.
Just as, on the one hand, by somewhat deeper investigation, one will learn that convincing and philosophic knowledge is impossible in the case under consideration, one will have to confess, on the other hand, in a quiet and unprejudiced state of mind, that such knowledge is dispensable and unnecessary. The vanity of science likes to excuse its occupations by the pretext of importance; thus it is pretended in this case that a rational understanding of the spiritual nature of the soul is very necessary for the conviction of an existence after death; again, that this conviction is very necessary as a motive for a virtuous life. Idle curiosity adds that the fact of apparitions of departed souls even furnishes us with a proof from experience of the existence of such things. But true wisdom is the companion of simplicity, and as, with the latter, the heart rules the understanding, it generally renders unnecessary the great preparations of scholars, and its aims do not need such means as can never be at the command of all men. What? is it good to be virtuous only because there is another world, or will not actions be rewarded rather because they were good and virtuous in themselves? Does man’s heart not contain immediate moral precepts, and is it absolutely necessary to fix our machinery to the other world for the sake of moving man here according to his destiny? Can he be called honest, can he be called virtuous, who would like to yield to his favourite vices if only he were not frightened by future punishment? Must we not rather say that indeed he shuns the doing of wicked things, but nurtures the vicious disposition in his soul; that he loves the advantages of actions similar to virtue, but hates virtue itself? In fact, experience teaches that very many who are instructed concerning the future world, and are convinced of it, nevertheless yield to vice and corruption, and only think upon means cunningly to escape the threatening consequences of the future.62 But there probably never was a righteous soul who could endure the thought that with death everything would end, and whose noble mind had not elevated itself to the hope of the future. Therefore it seems to be more in accordance with human nature and the purity of morals to base the expectation of a future world upon the sentiment of a good soul, than, conversely, to base the soul’s good conduct upon the hope of another world. Of that nature is also that moral faith, the simplicity of which can do without many a subtlety of reasoning, and which alone is appropriate to man in any state, because, without deviations, it guides him to his true aims. Let us therefore leave to speculation and to the care of idle men all the noisy systems of doctrine concerning such remote subjects. They are really immaterial to us, and the reasons pro and con which, for the moment, prevail, may, perhaps, decide the applause of schools, but hardly anything about the future destiny of the righteous. Human reason was not given strong enough wings to part clouds so high above us, clouds which withhold from our eyes the secrets of the other world. The curious who inquire about it so anxiously may receive the simple but very natural reply, that it would be best for them to please have patience until they get there. But as our fate in the other world probably depends very much on the manner in which we have conducted our office in the present world, I conclude with the words with which Voltaire, after so many sophistries, lets his honest Candide conclude: “Let us look after our happiness, go into the garden, and work.”