Archive for August, 2011

The Simplifying Effect of Stupidity

August 28, 2011

Ulrich makes progress in his thoughts on the nature of morality. He more precisely defines morality as the governance of feelings. But whereas mankind has steadily improved the governance of thought, through logic and science, the management of feelings has made little if any progress.

…He was on the verge of bringing up the neglected difference between the way in which various historical periods have developed the rational mind in their own fashion and the way they have kept the moral imagination static and closed off, also in their own fashion. He was on the verge of talking about this because it results in a line that rises, despite all skepticism, more or less steadily through all of history’s transformations, representing the rational mind and it patterns, and contrasting with a mound of broken shards of feelings, ideas, and potentials of life that were heaped up in layers just the way they were when they came into being, as eternal side issues, and that were always discarded. (II,111)

In all its manifestations, from the inspired ideas of original thinkers to the kitsch that unites all peoples, what Ulrich called the moral imagination, or, more simply, feeling, has for centuries been in a  state of ferment without turning into wine. Man is a being who cannot survive without enthusiasm. and enthusiasm is that state of mind in which all his feelings and thought have the same spirit. Your think it is rather the opposite, that it is a condition in which one overpowering feeling–of being carried away!–sweeps all the others along with it? Your weren’t going to say anything at all? Anyway, that’s how it is. Or one way it is. But there is nothing to sustain such an enthusiasm. Feelings and thought become lasting only with each other’s help, in their totality; they must somehow be aligned with each other and carry each other onward. And by every available means, through drugs, liquor, fantasies, hypnosis, faith, conviction, often even through the simplifying effect of stupidity, man is always trying to achieve a condition like it. He believes in ideas not because they are sometimes true but because he needs to believe; because he has to keep his feelings in order. Because he must have an illusion to stop up the gap between the walls of his life, through which he feelings would otherwise fly off in every direction. The answer is probably at least to seek the conditions of an authentic enthusiasm, instead of giving oneself up to transient delusory states. But although, all in all, the number of choices based on feeling is infinitely greater than whose based on clear logic, and every event that moves mankind arises from the imagination, only the purely rational problems have achieved an objective order, while noting deserving the name of a joint effort, or even hinting at any insight into the desperate need for it, has been done for the world of feeling and imagination. (II,1126)

“Isn’t it obvious?” Ulrich said in reply to Arnheim. “Today we are facing too many possible ways of living. But isn’t it like the kind of problem our intellect deals with whenever it is confronted with a vast number of facts and a history of the relevant theories? And for the intellect we have developed an open-ended but precise procedure, which I don’t need to describe to you. Now tell me whether something of the kind isn’t equally possible for the feelings. We certainly need to find out what we’re here for; it’s one of the main sources of all violence in the world. Earlier  centuries tried to answer it with their own inadequate means, but the great age of empiricism has done nothing of its own so far…” (II,1127-1228)

Ulrich knew very well that it was still unclear. What he meant was not a life of “research,” or a life “in the light of science,” but a “quest for feeling” similar to quest for truth, except that truth was not the issue here. (II,1128)

It is now 1914 and the Parallel Campaign is splitting into two well-meaning, increasingly passionate camps: the pacifists and militarists, those for universal love and those for national identity. General Stumm von Bordwehr asks Ulrich how he is to report this to his superior officers.

“Why don’t you simply report,” Ulrich responded, “that it’s the Millennial War of Religion. and that people have never been as unprepared to fight it as now, when the rubble of ‘ineffectual feelings,’ which every period bequeaths to the next, has grown into mountains without anything being done about it. So the War Ministry can sit back and serenely await the next mass catastrophe.” (II,1127)

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A History of Morality

August 23, 2011

A tension has grown between Agathe and Ulrich as Ulrich wrestles with the meaning of morality, a crisis provoked by Agathe’s forging of her father’s will to exclude her husband.

“I hardly know where to start,” he said, “without boring you. May I tell you what I understand by morality?”

“Please do,” Agathe said.

“Morality is regulation of conduct within a society, beginning with regulation of its inner impulses, that is, feelings and thoughts.”

“That’s a lot of progress in a few hours!” Agathe replied with a laugh. “this morning you were still saying you didn’t know what morality was!”

“Of course I don’t. That doesn’t stop me from giving you a dozen explanations. The oldest reason for it is that God revealed the order of life to us in all its details…”

“That would be best,” Agathe said.

“But the most probable,” Ulrich said emphatically, “is that morality, like every other form of order, arises through force and violence! A group of people that has seized power simply imposes on the rest those rules and principles that will secure their power. Morality thereby tends to favor those who brought it to power. At the same time, it sets an example in so doing. And at the same time reactions  set in that cause it to change–this is of course too complicated to be described briefly, and while it by no means happens without thought, but then again not by means of thought, either, but rather empirically, what you get in the end is an infinite network that seems to span everything as independently as God’s firmament. Now, everything relates to this self-contained circle, but this circle relates to nothing. In other words: Everything is moral, but morality itself is not!’ (II,1112-1113)

But morality as a repressive force cares only about governing the emotions that play a part in maintaining social order. It ignores what it does not need.

“For centuries now,” Ulrich went on, “the world has known truth in thinking and accordingly, to a certain degree, rational freedom of thought. But during this same time the emotional life has had neither the strict discipline of truth nor any freedom of movement. For every moral system has, in its time, regulated the feelings, and rigidly too, but only insofar as certain basic principles and feelings were needed for whatever action it favored; the rest was left to individual whim, to the private play of emotions, to the random efforts of art, and to academic debate. So morality has adapted our feelings to the needs of moral systems and meanwhile neglected to develop them, even though it depends on feelings: morality is, after all, the order and integrity of the emotional life.” (II,1116)

Ulrich’s aim is always to find a way to unite reason with the soul.

…For him morality was neither conformism nor philosophic wisdom, but living the infinite fullness of possibilities. He believed in morality’s capacity for intensification, in stages of moral experience, and not merely, as most people do, in stage of moral understanding, as if it were something cut-and-dried for which people were just not pure enough. He believed in morality without believing in any specific moral system. Morality is generally understood to be a sort of police regulations for keeping life in order, and since life does not obey even these, they come to look as if they were really impossible  to live up to and accordingly, in this sorry way, not really an ideal either. But morality must not be reduced to this level. Morality is imagination. This was what he wanted to make Agathe see. And his second point was: Imagination is not arbitrary. Once the imagination is left to caprice, there is a price to pay. (II,116-117)