[RSArchive Icon]
Rudolf Steiner Archive Section Name Rudolf Steiner Archive & e.Lib

Highlight Words

The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity

On-line since: 21st October, 2006




THE QUESTION concerning life's value is a counterpart to the question concerning its purpose or destination (cp. pp. 40 ff.). In this connection we meet with two contrasting views, and between them all imaginable attempts at compromise. One view says: The world is the best possible, and to live and be active in it is a blessing of untold value. Everything exists harmoniously and is full of purpose; it is worthy of admiration. Even what is apparently bad and evil may be seen to be good from a higher point of view, for it represents a beneficial contrast to the good; we are more able to appreciate the good when it is contrasted with evil. Moreover, evil is not genuinely real: it is only that we see as evil a lesser degree of good. Evil is the absence of good; it has no significance in itself.

The other view maintains: Life is full of misery and want, everywhere displeasure outweighs pleasure, pain outweighs joy. Existence is a burden, and under all circumstances non-existence would be preferable to existence.

The main representatives of the former view, i.e., optimism, are Shaftesbury and Leibniz; 56 ] those of the latter, i.e., pessimism, are Schopenhauer and Eduard von Hartmann. 57 ]

Leibniz says the world is the best of all possible worlds. A better one is impossible. For God is good and wise. A good God would want to create the best possible world; a wise God would know which is the best possible; He is able to distinguish it from all other possible inferior ones. Only a bad or unwise God could create a world inferior to the best possible.

Starting from this viewpoint, one will easily be able to indicate the direction human conduct should take in order to contribute its share to the best of all worlds. All that man has to do is to find out God's decisions and to act in accordance with them. When he knows what God's intentions are with regard to the world and mankind, then he will also do what is right. And he will feel happy to add his share to the rest of the good in the world. Therefore, from the optimistic standpoint life is worth living. This view cannot but stimulate us to cooperative participation.

Schopenhauer presents matters differently. He thinks of the world's foundation not as an all-wise and all-kind Being, but as blind urge or will. Eternal striving, ceaseless craving for satisfaction which yet can never be attained, in his view is the fundamental essence of all will. For if an aim one has striven for is attained, then immediately another need arises, and so on. Satisfaction can always be only for an infinitely short time. All the rest of the content of our life is unsatisfied urge, that is, dissatisfaction and suffering. If at last the blind urge is dulled, then all content is gone from our lives; an infinite boredom pervades our existence. Therefore, the relative best one can do is to stifle all wishes and needs within one, and exterminate one's will. Schopenhauer's pessimism leads to complete inactivity; his moral aim is universal laziness.

By a very different argument Hartmann attempts to establish pessimism and use it as a foundation for ethics. In keeping with a favorite trend of our time, he tries to base his world view on experience. By observation of life he wishes to find out whether pleasure or displeasure is the more plentiful in the world. He passes in review before the tribunal of reason whatever appears to men to be worth while in life, in order to show that on closer inspection all so-called satisfaction turns out to be nothing but illusion. It is illusion when we believe that in health, youth, freedom, sufficient income, love (sexual enjoyment), pity, friendship and family life, honor, reputation, glory, power, religious edification, pursuit of science and of art, hope of a life hereafter, participation in the furtherance of culture, — we have sources of happiness and satisfaction. Soberly considered, every enjoyment brings much more evil and misery than pleasure into the world. The displeasure of a hangover is always greater than the pleasure of intoxication. Displeasure far outweighs pleasure in the world. No person, even the relatively happiest, if asked, would want to live through the misery of life a second time. Since Hartmann does not deny the presence of an ideal factor (wisdom) in the world, but even grants it equal significance with blind urge (will), he can attribute the creation of the world to his primordial Being only if he lets the pain in the world serve a wise world purpose. He sees the pain in the world as nothing but God's pain, for the life of the world as a whole is identical with the life of God. The aim of an all-wise Being, however, could only be release from suffering, and since all existence is suffering, release from existence. The purpose of the world's creation is to transform existence into nonexistence, which is so much better. The world process is nothing but a continual battle against God's pain, which at last will end with the annihilation of all existence. The moral life of men must therefore be participation in the annihilation of existence. God has created the world in order to rid Himself of His infinite pain through it. The world “in a certain sense is to be regarded as an itching eruption on the absolute,” through which the unconscious healing power of the absolute rids itself of an inward disease, “or even as a painful drawing-plaster which the all-one Being applies to Himself in order first to divert an inner pain outward, and then to remove it altogether.” Human beings are parts of the world. In them God suffers. He has created them in order to split up His infinite pain. The pain each one of us suffers is but a drop in the infinite ocean of God's pain. 58 ]

Man must recognize to the full that to pursue individual satisfaction (egoism) is folly, that he ought to follow solely his task and through selfless devotion dedicate himself to the world-process of redeeming God. In contrast to Schopenhauer's pessimism, that of von Hartmann leads us to devoted activity for a lofty task.

But is the above really based on experience?

To strive after satisfaction means that the life activities go beyond the life content of the being in question. A being is hungry, that is, it strives for satiety when for their continuation, its organic functions demand to be supplied with new life content in the form of nourishment. The striving for honor consists in the person not regarding what he does as worth while unless he receives appreciation from others. Striving for knowledge arises when a person finds that something is missing in the world that he sees, hears, etc., as long as he has not understood it. The fulfillment of striving produces pleasure in the striving individual; non-fulfillment produces displeasure. Here it is important to observe that pleasure or displeasure depend only upon the fulfillment or non-fulfillment of striving. The striving itself can by no means be regarded as displeasure. Therefore, if it so happens that in the moment a striving is fulfilled, immediately a new one arises, I should not say that the pleasure has produced displeasure in me, because in all circumstances an enjoyment produces desire for its repetition, or for a new pleasure. Here I can speak of displeasure only when this desire runs up against the impossibility of its fulfillment. Even when an experienced enjoyment produces in me the demand for the experience of a greater or more refined pleasure, I can speak of a displeasure being produced by the previous pleasure only at the moment when the means of experiencing the greater or more refined pleasure fail me. Only when displeasure follows enjoyment as a natural law, for example when woman's sexual enjoyment is followed by the suffering of childbirth and the nursing of children, is it possible to regard the enjoyment as the source of pain. If striving as such called forth displeasure, then the removal of striving would be accompanied by pleasure. But the opposite is the case. When the content of our life lacks striving, boredom is the result, and this is connected with displeasure. And as the striving naturally may last a long time before it attains fulfillment, and as it is satisfied with the hope of fulfillment meanwhile, it must be acknowledged that displeasure has nothing to do with striving as such, but depends solely on its non-fulfillment. Schopenhauer, then, is wrong in any case in regarding desire or striving (the will) as such, to be a source of pain.

In reality, even the opposite is correct. Striving (desire), as such, gives pleasure. Who does not know the enjoyment caused by the hope of a remote but intensely desired aim? This joy is the companion of all labor, the fruits of which will be ours only in the future. This pleasure is quite independent of the attainment of the aim. Then when the aim is attained, to the pleasure of striving is added that of the fulfillment as something new. Should someone now say: To the displeasure of a non-fulfilled aim is added that of disappointed hope, and in the end this makes the displeasure of non-fulfillment greater than the awaited pleasure of fulfillment, then the answer would be: Even the opposite could be the case; the recollection of past enjoyment, at the time when the desire was still not satisfied, will just as often act as consolation for the displeasure of non-fulfillment. In the moment of shattered hopes, one who exclaims, I have done what I could! proves this assertion. The blessed feeling of having tried one's best is overlooked by those who say of every unsatisfied desire that not only has the pleasure of fulfillment not arisen, but also the enjoyment of desiring has been destroyed.

The fulfillment of a desire calls forth pleasure and its non-fulfillment, displeasure. From this must not be concluded that pleasure means satisfaction of a desire, displeasure means its non-satisfaction. Both pleasure and dis pleasure may also appear in a being where they are not the result of desire. Illness is displeasure for which there has been no desire. One who maintains that illness is an unsatisfied desire for health, makes the mistake of regarding the obvious but unconscious wish, not to be ill, as a positive desire. When someone receives a legacy from a rich relative of whose existence he had no notion, this event gives him pleasure without any preceding desire.

Therefore, one who sets out to investigate whether the balance is on the side of pleasure or of displeasure, must bring into the account the pleasure of desiring, the pleasure of the fulfillment of desire, and those pleasures which come to us without any striving on our part. On the debit side of our account-sheet would have to be entered the displeasure of boredom, the displeasure of unfulfilled striving, and, lastly, displeasures that come without being preceded by any desire. To the last kind belongs also the displeasure caused by work which is not self-chosen but is forced upon us.

Now the question arises: What is the right means of estimating the balance between debit and credit? Eduard von Hartmann is of the opinion that reason is able to establish this. However he also says: “Pain and pleasure exist only insofar as they are felt.” 59 ] From this statement it would follow that there is no other yardstick for pleasure than the subjective one of feeling. I must feel whether the sum of my feelings of displeasure, compared with my feelings of pleasure, leaves me with a balance of joy or of pain. But disregarding this, Hartmann maintains that:

“Even if the life-value of every being can be estimated only according to its own subjective measure, this is not to say that every being is able to calculate, from all that influences its life, the correct algebraic sum or, in other words, that its final judgment of its own life, in regard to its subjective experiences, is correct.”

This, however, only means that rational judgment is still made to estimate the value of feeling. [One who wants to calculate whether the sum total of pleasure or of displeasure is the greater, overlooks that he is calculating something which is never experienced. Feeling does not calculate, and what matters for a real estimation of life is true experience, not the result of an imagined calculation.]

One whose view more or less inclines in the direction of thinkers like Eduard von Hartmann may believe that in order to arrive at a correct valuation of life he must clear out of the way those factors which falsify our judgment about the balance of pleasure or displeasure. There are two ways in which he can do this. One way is by showing that our desires (urges, will) act disturbingly in our sober judgment of our feeling-values. While, for example, we should tell ourselves that sexual enjoyment is a source of evil, the fact that the sexual instinct is very strong in us misleads us into anticipating a pleasure far greater than in fact occurs. We want to enjoy, and therefore will not admit to ourselves that we suffer through the enjoyment. Another way is to subject feelings to criticism, and attempt to prove that the objects to which feelings attach themselves are revealed as illusions by the insight of reason, then are destroyed the moment our continually growing intelligence recognizes the illusion.

He can reason out the situation in the following way. If an ambitious person wants to make clear to himself whether, up to the moment of making this calculation, pleasure or displeasure has occupied the greater part of his life, he must free himself from two sources of error before passing judgment. As he is ambitious, this fundamental feature of his character will make him see the pleasures of recognition of his achievements as larger, and the hurts suffered through being slighted as smaller than they are. At the time he suffered from being slighted he felt it just because he was ambitious, but in recollection this appears in a milder light, whereas the pleasures of recognition to which he is so very susceptible leave a deeper impression. Now it is of real benefit for an ambitious person that this is so. The deception diminishes his feeling of displeasure in the moment of self-observation. Nevertheless, his judgment will be misled. The sufferings, over which a veil is drawn, he really did experience in all their intensity, and therefore he really gives them a wrong valuation on his balance-sheet of life. In order to come to a correct judgment, an ambitious person would have to get rid of his ambition during the time he is making his calculation. He would have to consider his life up to that point without placing distorting glasses before his mind's eye. Otherwise he is like a merchant who, in making up his books, also enters his own business zeal on the income side.

He could go even further. He could say: The ambitious man must also make clear to himself that the recognition he pursues is something valueless. Through his own effort, or with the help of others, he must come to see that for a sensible person recognition by others counts little, since one can always be sure that

“In all matters which are not vital questions of evolution or are already finally settled by science, the majority is wrong and the minority right.” “Whoever makes ambition his lodestar, puts the happiness of his life at the mercy of an unreliable judgment.” 60 ]

If the ambitious person admits all this to himself, he will have to recognize as illusion, not only everything his ambition caused him to regard as reality, but also the feelings attached to the illusions. For this reason it could then be said: From the balance sheet of life-values must also be erased those feelings of pleasure that have been produced by illusions; what then remains represents, free of all illusions, the totality of pleasure in life, and this, in contrast to the totality of displeasure, is so small that life is no joy and non-existence is preferable to existence.

While it is quite obvious that the deception caused by the interference of ambition leads to a false result when making up the account of pleasure, what is said about the recognition of the illusory character of the objects of pleasure must nonetheless be challenged. To eliminate from the balance-sheet all pleasurable feelings connected with actual or supposed illusions would positively falsify it. For the ambitious person did genuinely enjoy being appreciated by the multitude, quite irrespective of whether later he or someone else recognizes this appreciation as illusion. The pleasure already enjoyed is not diminished in the least by such recognition. The elimination of all such “illusory” feelings from life's balance-sheet, far from making our judgment about feelings more correct, actually eliminates from life feelings which were genuinely present.

And why should these feelings be eliminated? One possessing them derives pleasure from them; one who has overcome them, gains through the experiences of self conquest (not through the vain emotion, What a noble fellow I am! but through the objective sources of pleasure which lie in the self-conquest) a pleasure which is indeed spiritualized, but no less significant for that. If feelings are erased from the balance-sheet because they attached themselves to objects which later are revealed as illusions, then life's value is made dependent not on the quantity, but on the quality of pleasure, and this, in turn, on the value of the objects which cause the pleasure. If I set out to determine the value of life by the quantity of pleasure or displeasure it brings, then I have no right to presuppose something else by which to determine first the qualitative value of pleasure. If I say I will compare the amount of pleasure with the amount of displeasure and see which is greater, then I must also bring into the account all pleasure and displeasure in their actual quantities, regardless whether they are based on illusions or not. To ascribe to a pleasure which rests on illusion a lesser value for life than to one which can be justified by reason, is to make the value of life dependent on factors other than pleasure.

Someone estimating pleasure as less valuable when it is attached to a worthless object, is like a merchant who enters in his accounts the considerable profit of a toy-factory at a quarter of the actual amount because the factory produces playthings for children.

When it is only a matter of weighing pleasure against displeasure, the illusory character of the objects of some pleasures must be left out of the picture altogether.

The rational consideration of the quantities of pleasure and displeasure produced by life, which Hartmann recommends, has led us as far as knowing how to set up the account, that is, to knowing what we have to put down on each side of our balance sheet. But how are we to make the actual calculation? Is reason also capable of determining the balance?

The merchant has made a mistake in his account if the calculated balance does not agree with the profit which has demonstrably been enjoyed from the business or which can still be expected. The philosopher, too, will undoubtedly have made a mistake in his judgment if the calculated surplus of pleasure or, as the case may be, of displeasure, cannot be proved by actual sentiments.

For the moment I shall not go into the account of those pessimists who base their world view on rational estimation; but a person who is to decide whether or not to carry on the business of life will first demand proof that the calculated surplus of displeasure exists.

Here we touch the point where reason is not in a position to determine on its own the surplus of pleasure or of displeasure, but where it must point to this surplus in life in the form of perception. For reality is attainable for man not through concept alone, but through the inter-penetration, mediated by thinking, of concept and perception (and a feeling is a perception) (cp. pp. 35 ff.). A merchant, too, will give up his business only when the loss of income, calculated by his accountant, is confirmed by the facts. If this is not the case, he will let the accountant go through the books once more. And in regard to life, man will do exactly the same. If the philosopher wants to show him that displeasure is far greater than pleasure, and if he has not felt it to be so, he will reply: You have gone astray in your brooding; think things through once more. But if there comes a time in a business when such losses are really present that no credit any longer suffices to meet the claims, then the result will be bankruptcy, even though the merchant may have avoided keeping himself informed about his affairs by means of accounts. Similarly, if there comes a time when the quantity of displeasure a man suffers is so great that no hope (credit) of future pleasure could carry him through the pain, then this would lead to bankruptcy of life's business.

However, the number of suicides is relatively small in proportion to the number of those who bravely live on. Very few people give up the business of life because of the displeasure involved. What follows from this? Either that it is not correct to say that the amount of displeasure is greater than the amount of pleasure, or that we do not make our continuation of life at all dependent upon the amount of pleasure or displeasure we feel.

The pessimist, Eduard von Hartmann, in a quite extraordinary manner reaches the conclusion that life is valueless because it contains more pain than pleasure, and yet he maintains the necessity of carrying it through. This necessity lies in the fact that the world purpose mentioned above (p. 43) can be achieved only through the ceaseless, devoted labor of human beings. So long as men still pursue their egoistic desires they are useless for such selfless labor. Not until they have convinced themselves through experience and reason that the enjoyments of life pursued out of egoism are unattainable, do they devote themselves to their real task. In this way the pessimistic conviction is supposed to be a source of selflessness. An education based on pessimism is meant to exterminate egoism by convincing men of its hopelessness.

This means that this view considers striving for pleasure to be fundamentally inherent in human nature. Only through insight into the impossibility of its fulfillment does this striving abdicate in favor of higher tasks of humanity.

Of such a moral world view, which, from recognition of pessimism, hopes to achieve devotion to non-egoistical aims in life, it cannot be said that it really overcomes egoism in the true sense of the word. Moral ideas are supposed to be strong enough to take hold of the will only when man has recognized that selfish striving after pleasure cannot lead to any satisfaction. Man, whose selfishness desires the grapes of pleasure, finds them sour because he cannot reach them; he turns his back on them and devotes himself to an unselfish life. According to the opinion of pessimists, moral ideals are not strong enough to overcome egoism, but they establish their rulership on the ground which recognition of the hopelessness of egoism has first cleared for them.

If in accordance with their natural disposition human beings strove after pleasure which they could not possibly attain, then annihilation of existence and redemption through non-existence would be the only rational goal. And if one accepts the view that the real bearer of the pain of the world is God, it follows that the task of men consists in helping to bring about the salvation of God. To commit suicide does not advance, but hinders, the accomplishment of this aim. God must have created men wisely for the sole purpose of bringing about His salvation through their action. Otherwise creation would be purposeless. And such a view of the world envisages extra human purposes. Every one of us has to perform his own definite task in the general work of salvation. If he withdraws from the task by suicide, another has to do the work which was intended for him. Someone else must bear the agony of existence in his place. And since in every being it is, fundamentally, God who is the ultimate bearer of all pain, it follows that the suicide does not in the least diminish the quantity of God's pain, but rather imposes upon God the additional difficulty of creating a substitute to take over the task.

All this presupposes that pleasure is the standard of life's value. Now life manifests itself through a number of cravings (needs). If the value of life depended on whether it brought more pleasure than displeasure, a craving which brought a surplus of displeasure to its owner, would have to be called valueless. Let us examine craving and pleasure, in order to see whether or not craving can be measured by pleasure. And lest we give rise to the suspicion that life does not begin for us below the level of the “aristocratic intellect,” we shall begin our examination with a “purely animal” need: hunger.

Hunger arises when our organs are unable to continue their proper function without a fresh supply of substance. What a hungry man aims at, in the first place, is to have his hunger stilled. As soon as the supply of nourishment has reached the point where hunger ceases, everything that the food-instinct craves has been attained. The enjoyment connected with satiety consists, to begin with, in the removal of the pain which is caused by hunger. Also to the mere food-instinct a further need is added. Man does not merely desire to overcome the disturbance in the functioning of his organs by the consumption of food, or to get rid of the pain of hunger: he seeks to accompany this with pleasurable sensations of taste. When he feels hungry and is within half an hour of an enjoyable meal, he may even avoid spoiling his enjoyment of the better food by refusing inferior food which might satisfy his hunger sooner. He needs hunger in order to obtain the full enjoyment from his meal. In this way hunger becomes a cause of pleasure for him at the same time. If all the hunger in the world could be satisfied, then the total amount of enjoyment due to the need for nourishment would come about. To this would have to be added the special pleasure which gourmets attain by cultivating the sensitiveness of their taste-nerves beyond the usual measure.

This amount of enjoyment would have the greatest value possible if no aspect of this kind of enjoyment remained unsatisfied, and if with the enjoyment a certain amount of displeasure did not have to be accepted into the bargain.

The view of modern natural science is that nature produces more life than it can sustain, that is, nature produces more hunger than it is able to satisfy. The surplus of life produced must perish in pain in the struggle for existence. It is granted that at every moment of the world process, the needs of life are greater than the corresponding available means of satisfaction, and the enjoyment of life is thereby impaired. But the individual enjoyments actually present are not in the least reduced thereby. Wherever a desire is satisfied, there the corresponding amount of pleasure is also present, even though in the creature itself which desires, or in its fellow-creatures, a large number of unsatisfied cravings exist. What is thereby diminished is not the quantity, but the value of the enjoyment of life. If only a part of the needs of a living creature find satisfaction, the creature experiences enjoyment accordingly. This has a lesser value the smaller it is in proportion to the total demands of life in the sphere of the desire in question. We might represent this value as a fraction, of which the numerator is the enjoyment actually experienced and the denominator is the sum total of needs. This fraction has the value 1 when the numerator and the denominator are equal, i.e., when all needs are fully satisfied. The fraction becomes greater than 1 when a creature experiences more pleasure than its desires demand. It becomes smaller than 1 when the amount of enjoyment falls short of the sum total of desires. But the fraction can never be nought so long as the numerator has any value at all, however small. If a man were to make up a final account before his death, and thought of the amount of enjoyment connected with a particular craving (e.g. hunger) as being distributed over the whole of his life with all the demands made by this craving, then the value of the pleasure experienced might perhaps be very small, but it could never be nil. If the quantity of enjoyment remains constant, then with every increase in the needs of the living being the value of the pleasure diminishes. The same is true for the totality of life in nature. The greater the number of living beings in proportion to those able to fully satisfy their cravings, the smaller is the average pleasure-value of life. The shares in life enjoyment, made out to us in the form of instincts, become less valuable in proportion as we cannot expect to cash them at their full face value. If I get enough to eat for three days and then have to go hungry for three days, the enjoyment during the three days when I do eat is not thereby diminished. But I have to think of it as distributed over six days, and this reduces its value for my food instinct by half. The same applies to the quantity of pleasure in relation to the degree of my need. If I am hungry enough for two sandwiches and can have only one, the enjoyment gained from it has only half the value it would have had if after I had eaten it my hunger had been stilled. This is how the value of a pleasure is determined in life. It is measured by the needs of life. Our desire is the yardstick; pleasure is what is measured. The enjoyment of eating has a value only because hunger is present, and it attains a value of a specific degree through the proportion it bears to the degree of the hunger present.

Unfulfilled demands of our life throw their shadow even upon desires which have been satisfied, and impair the value of enjoyable hours. But one can also speak of the present value of a feeling of pleasure. This value is the more insignificant, the less the pleasure is in proportion to the duration and intensity of our desire.

An amount of pleasure reaches its full value for us when its duration and degree exactly coincide with our desire. An amount of pleasure which is smaller than our desire diminishes the value of pleasure; a greater amount produces a surplus which has not been demanded and which is felt as pleasure only so long as we are able to increase our desire during the enjoyment. If we are not able to increase our demand in order to keep pace with the increasing pleasure, then the pleasure turns into displeasure. The thing that otherwise would satisfy us now assails us without our wanting it, and we suffer under it. This is proof that pleasure has value for us only so long as we can measure it by our desires. An excess of pleasurable feeling turns into pain. This may be observed especially in people whose desire for a particular kind of pleasure is very small. In people whose desire for food is dulled, eating readily produces nausea. This too shows that the desire is the yardstick for measuring the value of pleasure.

Here pessimism could say: The unsatisfied craving for food brings not only the displeasure of lost enjoyment, but also positive pain, torment and misery into the world. In this he can point to the untold misery of people who starve, and to the amount of displeasure such people suffer indirectly through lack of food. And if he wants to extend the assertion to the rest of nature, he can point to the torment of animals that starve to death at certain times of the year. The pessimist maintains that these evils far outweigh the amount of enjoyment which the food-instinct brings into the world.

There is no doubt that one can compare pleasure and displeasure, and can determine the surplus of the one or the other, as is done in the case of profit and loss. But when the pessimist believes that there is a surplus on the side of displeasure and that from this one can conclude that life is valueless, he already makes a mistake, insofar as he makes a calculation that is not made in actual life.

Our desire, in each instance, is directed to a definite object. The value of the pleasure of satisfaction will, as we have seen, be the greater, the greater the amount of pleasure, in relation to the degree of our desire. [We disregard here the instance where excessive increase in pleasure turns it into displeasure.] But upon the degree of our desire also depends how great is the amount of displeasure we are willing to accept in order to achieve the pleasure. We compare the quantity of displeasure not with the quantity of pleasure, but with the intensity of our desire. If someone finds great pleasure in eating, by reason of his enjoyment in better times he will find it easier to bear a period of hunger than will someone for whom eating is no enjoyment. A woman who desires a child compares the joy of possessing the child, not with the amount of displeasure due to pregnancy, childbirth, cares of nursing, etc., but with her desire to have the child.

We never want a certain quantity of pleasure in the abstract, but a concrete satisfaction in a quite definite way. When we want a pleasure which must be satisfied by a particular object or a particular sensation, it will not satisfy us if we are offered some other object or some other sensation, even though they give the same amount of pleasure. One desirous of food cannot substitute the pleasure this would give him by a pleasure equally great but produced by a walk. Only if our desire were, quite generally, for a certain quantity of pleasure, would it have to die away at once if this pleasure were unattainable except at the price of an even greater quantity of displeasure. But because we aim toward a particular kind of satisfaction, we experience the pleasure of realization even when we have to bear a much greater displeasure along with it. The instincts of living creatures tend in definite directions and aim at definite goals, and for this reason we cannot set down as an equivalent factor in our calculations the amount of displeasure that must be endured on the way to the goal. Provided the desire is sufficiently intense to still be present in some degree after having overcome the displeasure — however great that may be — then the pleasure of satisfaction can still be tasted to the full. The desire, therefore, does not measure the pain directly against the pleasure achieved, but indirectly by relating its own intensity to that of the displeasure. The question is not whether the pleasure to be gained is greater than the displeasure, but whether the desire for the goal is greater than the opposition of the displeasure involved. If the opposition is greater than the desire, then the desire yields to the inevitable, weakens, and strives no further. Since our demand is always for some quite specific kind of satisfaction, the pleasure connected with it acquires significance for us in such a way that once we have achieved satisfaction, we need take the quantity of displeasure into account only insofar as it has reduced the intensity of our desire. If I am passionately fond of beautiful views, I never calculate the amount of pleasure the view from the mountain-top gives me as compared directly with the displeasure of the toilsome ascent and descent, but I reflect whether, after having overcome all difficulties, my desire for the view will still be sufficiently intense. Consideration of pleasure and pain can lead to a result only indirectly in relation to the intensity of the desire. Therefore the question is not at all whether there is a surplus of pleasure or of displeasure, but whether the desire for the pleasure is strong enough to overcome the displeasure.

A proof of the correctness of this view is the fact that we put a higher value on pleasure when it must be purchased at the price of great displeasure, than when it simply falls into our lap like a gift from heaven. When sufferings and misery have toned down our desire and yet our aim is attained, then the pleasure, in proportion to the remaining quantity of desire, is all the greater. And as I have shown (p. 44), this proportion represents the value of the pleasure. A further proof is given in the fact that all living beings (including man) seek satisfaction for their cravings as long as they are able to bear the opposing pain and agony. The struggle for existence is but a consequence of this fact. All existing life strives for fulfillment, and only that part gives up the fight in which the desire has been suffocated by the power of the assailing difficulties. Each living being seeks food until lack of food destroys its life. Man, too, lays hands on himself only when he believes (rightly or wrongly) that he is not able to attain the aims in life which to him are worth while. As long as he still believes in the possibility of attaining what in his view is worth striving for, he will fight against all suffering and pain. Philosophy would first have to convince man that the element of will has sense only when the pleasure is greater than the displeasure, for it is man's nature to strive to attain the objects of his desire if he is able to bear the necessary displeasure involved, be it ever so great. The above mentioned philosophy would be mistaken, because it would make the human will dependent on a factor (surplus of pleasure over displeasure) which is fundamentally foreign to man's nature. The actual yardstick for measuring will is desire, and the latter persists as long as it can. One can compare the calculation that is made in actual life, — not the one an abstract philosophy makes concerned the question of pleasure and pain connected with the satisfaction of a desire — with the following. If when buying a certain quantity of apples, I am forced to take twice as many bad ones as good ones because the seller wants to clear his stock, then I shall not hesitate for one moment to accept the bad apples as well if the few good ones are worth so much to me that, in addition to their purchase price, I am also prepared to bear the expense of disposing of the bad ones. This example illustrates the relation between the amounts of pleasure and displeasure that arise through an instinct. I determine the value of the good apples not by subtracting the sum of the good ones from that of the bad ones, but by whether the good ones retain any value for me despite the presence of the bad ones.

Just as I leave the bad apples out of account in my enjoyment of the good ones, so I give myself up to the satisfaction of a desire after having shaken off the unavoidable pain.

Even if pessimism were correct in its assertion that there is more displeasure than pleasure in the world. this would have no influence on the will, since living beings would still strive after what pleasure remains. The empirical proof that pain outweighs joy, if such proof could be given, would certainly be effective for showing the futility of the school of philosophy that sees the value of life in a surplus of pleasure (Eudaemonism). 61 ] It would not, however, be suitable for showing that will in general is irrational, for will does not seek a surplus of pleasure, but seeks the amount of pleasure that remains after removing the displeasure. And this always appears as a goal worth striving for.

Attempts have been made to refute pessimism by asserting that it is impossible by calculation to determine the surplus of pleasure or of displeasure in the world. The possibility of any calculation depends on the comparability of the things to be calculated in respect to their quantity. Every displeasure and every pleasure has a definite quantity (intensity and duration). Further, we can compare pleasurable feelings of different kinds with one another, at least approximately, with regard to their quantity. We know whether we derive more pleasure from a good cigar or from a good joke. No objection can be raised against the comparability of different kinds of pleasures and displeasure in respect to their quantity. The investigator who sets himself the task of determining the surplus of pleasure or displeasure in the world, starts from presuppositions which are undeniably legitimate. One may declare the conclusions of pessimism to be mistaken, but one cannot doubt that quantities of pleasure and displeasure can be scientifically estimated, and the balance of pleasure determined thereby. But it is incorrect to maintain that the result of this calculation has any consequence for the human will. The cases in which we really make the value of our activity dependent on whether pleasure or displeasure shows a surplus, are those in which the objects toward which our activity is directed are indifferent to us. When it is only a question of whether after my work I am to amuse myself by a game or by light conversation, and if I am completely indifferent what I do for this purpose, I then ask myself: What gives me the greatest surplus of pleasure? And I definitely refrain from an activity if the scales incline toward the side of displeasure. When buying a toy for a child we would consider what will give him the greatest pleasure. In all other cases we are not determined exclusively by considerations of the balance of pleasure.

Therefore, when pessimistic philosophers of ethics believe that by showing displeasure to be present in greater quantity than pleasure, they are preparing the way for selfless devotion toward cultural work, they do not realize that by its very nature the human will is not influenced by this knowledge. Human striving directs itself to the measure of possible satisfaction after all difficulties have been overcome. Hope of this satisfaction is the very foundation of human activity. The work of each individual and of the totality of cultural work springs from this hope. Pessimistic ethics believes that it must present the pursuit of happiness as an impossibility for man, in order that he may devote himself to his proper moral tasks. But these moral tasks are nothing but the concrete natural and spiritual cravings, and their satisfaction is striven for, despite the displeasure involved. The pursuit of happiness, which the pessimist wants to exterminate, does not exist at all. Rather, the tasks which man has to fulfill he fulfills because from the depth of his being he wills to fulfill them when he has truly recognized their nature. Pessimistic ethics maintains that man can devote himself to what he recognizes as his life's task, only when he has given up the pursuit of pleasure. But there are no ethics that can invent life-tasks other than the realization of the satisfactions demanded by man's desires, and the fulfillment of his moral ideals. No ethics can take from him the pleasure he has in the fulfillment of what he desires. When the pessimist says: Do not strive after pleasure, for you can never attain it, strive for what you recognize to be your task, then the answer is: It is inherent in human nature to do just this, and it is the invention of a philosophy gone astray when it is maintained that man strives only for happiness. He strives for the satisfaction of what his being demands, and its fulfillment is his pleasure; he has in mind the concrete objects of this striving, not some abstract “happiness.” When pessimistic ethics demands: Strive not after pleasure, but after the attainment of what you recognize to be your life's task, it lays its finger on the very thing that, through his own nature, man wants. He does not need to be turned inside out by philosophy, he does not need to discard his human nature before he can be moral. Morality lies in striving for an aim that has been recognized as justified; it lies in human nature to pursue it so long as the displeasure connected with it does not extinguish the desire for it altogether. And this is the nature of all real will. Ethics does not depend on the extermination of all striving after pleasure in order that bloodless abstract ideas can set up their control where they are not opposed by a strong longing for enjoyment of life; ethics depends rather on that strength will has when it is carried by ideal intuitions; it achieves its aim even though the path be full of thorns.

Moral ideals spring from the moral imagination of man. Their attainment depends upon whether his desire for them is strong enough to overcome pain and suffering. They are his intuitions, the driving forces spanned by his spirit; he wills them, because their attainment is his highest pleasure. He needs no ethics first to forbid him to strive for pleasure and then to prescribe to him what he ought to strive for. Of himself, he will strive for moral ideals when his moral imagination is active enough to impart to him intuitions that give strength to his will and enable him to carry them through, despite the obstacles present in his own organization, to which necessary displeasure also belongs.

If a man strives for sublimely great ideals, it is because they are the content of his own nature and their realization will bring him a joy compared with which the pleasure, derived from the satisfaction of their ordinary cravings by those who lack ideals, is of little significance. Idealists revel spiritually in translating their ideals into reality.

Anyone who wants to exterminate the pleasure in the fulfillment of human desires will first have to make man a slave who acts, not because he wants to, but only because he ought to. For the attainment of what has been willed gives pleasure. What we call goodness is not what a man ought but what he wills to do when he unfolds the fullness of his true human nature. Anyone who does not acknowledge this must first drive out of man all that man himself wills, and then prescribe to him from outside what content he is to give his will.

Man values the fulfillment of a desire because the desire springs from his own nature. Achievement has its value because it has been willed. If one denies value to the aims of man's own will, then worth while aims must be taken from something that man does not will.

Ethics based on pessimism arises from a disregard for moral imagination. Only someone who considers the individual human ego incapable of giving a content to its striving would see the totality of will as a longing for pleasure. A man without imagination creates no moral ideas. They must be given to him. Physical nature sees to it that he strives to satisfy his lower desires. But to the development of the whole man belong also desires that arise from the spirit. Only if one takes the view that man has no such spiritual desires can one maintain that he should receive them from outside. And then it would also be justifiable to say that it is man's duty to do what he does not will. All ethics which demand of man that he should suppress his will in order to fulfill tasks that he does not will, reckon not with the whole man, but with one in whom the faculty of spiritual desire is lacking. For a man who is harmoniously developed, the so-called ideas of what is “right” are not outside but within the sphere of his own nature. Moral action does not consist in extermination of one-sided self-will, but in the full development of human nature. One considering moral ideals to be attainable only if man exterminates his own will, does not know that these ideals are willed by man just as much as the satisfaction of so-called animal instincts.

It cannot be denied that the views outlined here can easily be misunderstood. Immature persons without moral imagination like to look upon the instincts of their undeveloped natures as the full content of humanity, and to reject all moral ideas which they have not produced, in order that they may “live themselves out” without restriction. But it is obvious that what holds good for a fully developed human being does not apply to one who is only half-developed. One who still has to be brought by education to the point where his moral nature breaks through the shell of his lower passions, cannot lay claim to what applies to a man who is mature. Here there is no intention to outline what an undeveloped man requires to be taught, but rather to show what human nature includes when it has come to full maturity. For this is also to prove the possibility of freedom, which manifests itself, not in actions done under constraint of body or soul, but in actions sustained by spiritual intuitions.

The fully mature man gives himself his value. He neither strives for pleasure, which is given to him as a gift of grace either from nature or from the Creator, nor does he merely fulfill what he recognizes as abstract duty after he has divested himself of the desire for pleasure. He does what he wants to do, that is, he acts in accordance with his ethical intuitions, and in the attainment of what he wants he feels the true enjoyment of life. He determines life's value by the ratio between what he attains and what he attempts. Ethics which puts “you ought” in the place of “I will,” mere duty in the place of inclination, determines man's value by the ratio between what duty demands of him and what he fulfills. It applies a standard to man that is not applicable to his nature. — The view developed here refers man back to himself. It recognizes as the true value of life only what each individual himself regards as such according to what he desires. This view accepts neither a value of life not recognized by the individual, nor a purpose of life which has not sprung from the individual. In the individual who is capable of true self knowledge it recognizes someone who is his own master and the assessor of his own value.

Addition to the Revised Edition, 1918: What is presented in this chapter can be misunderstood if one clings to the apparent objection that the will is simply the irrational factor in man and that this must be proved to him because then he will realize that his ethical striving must consist in working toward ultimate emancipation from the will. An apparent objection of this kind was brought against me by a competent critic who stated that it is the business of the philosopher to make good what the thoughtlessness of animals and most men fail to do, namely, to strike a proper balance in life's account. But in making this objection he does not recognize the real issue: If freedom is to be attained, then the will in human nature must be carried by intuitive thinking; at the same time it is true that an impulse of will may also be determined by factors other than intuition, but morality and its worth can be found only in the free realization of intuitions flowing from the nature of true manhood. Ethical individualism is well able to present morality in its full dignity, for it is not of the opinion that the truly moral is brought about by conforming to an external rule, but is only what comes about through man when he develops his moral will as a member of his total being, so that to do what is immoral appears to him as a stunting and crippling of his nature.

Last Modified: 15-Nov-2017
The Rudolf Steiner Archive is maintained by:
The e.Librarian: elibrarian@elib.com