Chapter 13 Audiobook

The Philosophy of Freedom
Intuitive Thinking As A Spiritual Path, Lipson translation
copyright © Anthroposophic Press, 1995
Audio by Dale Brunsvold
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Chapter 13

The Value Of Life
(Pessimism and Optimism)

(52:47) Whole chapter audio

Part 1 of 6 audio within text
[1] A counterpart to the question of life’s purpose or vocation (cf. pp. 173 ff.) is that of life’s value. In relation to this question, we encounter two opposed views, together with every conceivable attempt at compromise between them.

One view says that this world is the best that could conceivably exist, and that life and action in it are gifts of inestimable value. Everything exhibits harmonious and purposeful cooperation, and everything is worthy of admiration. Even what is apparently bad and evil may be recognized as good from a higher standpoint: it represents a beneficial counterpart to what is good. We value the good all the more for its contrast with evil. Nor is evil something truly real; we merely sense as evil what is a lesser degree of good. Evil is the absence of good, not something significant in itself.

[2] The other view claims that life is full of trial and tribulation; everywhere unpleasure outweighs pleasure, pain outweighs joy. Existence is a burden, and in all circumstances non-existence would be preferable to existence.

[3] The main proponents of the first view—optimism—are Shaftesbury and Leibniz1; of the second view—pessimism— the main proponents are Schopenhauer and Eduard von Hartmann.

[4] Leibniz believes this is the best of all possible worlds. A better one is impossible, for God is good and wise. A good God wants to create the best of all worlds; a wise God knows what is best. Such a God can distinguish the best from all other (worse) possibilities. Only an evil or unwise God could create a world worse than the best possible.

[5] Anyone who starts from this viewpoint finds it easy to prescribe the direction that human activity must take to contribute its share to the greatest good of the world. A human being must only discover the counsels of God and act accordingly. If we know what God intends for the world and the human race, then we shall also do what is right. And we will gladly add our own good to the good of the world. From the optimistic standpoint, then, life is worth living. It must stimulate us to cooperative participation.

[6] Schopenhauer pictures the matter differently. He thinks of the ground of the universe not as an all-wise and all-good being, but as blind drive or will. The fundamental trait of all willing is eternal striving, ceaseless yearning for satisfaction that can, however, never be attained. For as soon as we attain the goal of our striving, a new need arises, and so on. Satisfaction lasts less than an instant. The whole remaining content of our life is unsatisfied craving—that is, dissatisfaction, suffering. If our blind urge is finally dulled, then we become contentless, and infinite boredom fills our existence. Therefore, the best course is to stifle wishes and needs, to extirpate our wanting. Schopenhauer’s pessimism leads to inactivity; his ethical goal is universal sloth.

[7] By a fundamentally different method, von Hartmann tries to found pessimism and then use it for ethics. Following a favored tendency of our time, von Hartmann attempts to found his worldview on experience. From observation of life, he seeks to discover whether pleasure or pain predominates in the world. Reviewing everything that appears good or fortunate to us in the light of reason, he shows that all supposed contentment proves on closer inspection to be illusion. It is illusory to believe that we have sources of happiness and satisfaction in health, youth, freedom, adequate income, love (sexual pleasure), compassion, friendship and family life, self-esteem, honor, fame, power, religious education, pursuit of science and art, hope of life hereafter, or participation in cultural evolution. Soberly considered, every pleasure brings much more evil and suffering into the world than pleasure. The displeasure of a hangover is always greater than the pleasure of intoxication. Pain predominates in the world. No human being, not even the relatively happiest, would, if asked, choose to endure this miserable life a second time. And yet, since von Hartmann does not deny the presence of conceptuality (wisdom) in the world, but rather accords it a validity equal to blind urge (or will), he can attribute the world’s creation to his Primordial Being only if he can make the pain of the world serve a wise world-purpose. The pain of the world’s creatures, however, is none other than God’s pain, for the life of the world as a whole is identical with the life of God. An all-wise being, however, can only have as its goal liberation from suffering and, since all existence is suffering, that means liberation from existence. Thus, the aim of world-creation is to carry being over into the far better state of non-being. The world process is a continual struggle against God’s pain and ends finally in the annihilation of all existence. Hence human morality is participation in the annihilation of existence. God created the world to free Himself through the world from His infinite pain. According to von Hartmann, that pain must “be considered in a certain way as an itching rash on the Absolute.” Through this itching eruption, the unconscious healing power of the Absolute frees itself from an inner illness; or else we must think of it “as a painful poultice that the all-one Being applies to itself, in order first to draw an inner pain outward and then remove it altogether.” Human beings are integral members of the world. God suffers in them. He created them to 198 Intuitive Thinking as a Spiritual Path disperse His infinite pain. The pain that each one of us suffers is only a drop in the infinite ocean of God’s pain.

[8] Human beings must steep themselves in the awareness that the quest for individual satisfaction (egoism) is foolish. All they need to do is dedicate themselves through selfless devotion to the world process—the redemption of God. Thus, in contrast to Schopenhauer’s pessimism, Hartmann’s pessimism leads to devoted activity in a lofty task.

[9] But what about the claim that this view is based on experience?

[10] To strive for satisfaction is to reach, in one’s life activity, beyond life’s given content. A creature is hungry: that is, when the furtherance of its organic functions requires new life-content in the form of nourishment, it strives to be filled.To strive for honor means to regard one’s personal actions and omissions as valuable only when they are recognized from without. The striving for knowledge arises when, before we have understood it, something seems missing from the world we see, hear, and so on. Fulfillment of striving creates pleasure in the striving individual; lack of fulfillment creates pain. It is important to note here that pleasure or pain depend only on the fulfillment or nonfulfillment of striving. Striving itself can in no way count as pain. If it turns out that, in the moment one striving is fulfilled, a new striving immediately appears, I cannot say that, for me, pleasure has given birth to pain, because enjoyment always creates a desire for its repetition or for new pleasure. I can speak of pain only when this desire hits up against the impossibility of its fulfillment. Even when an enjoyment that I have experienced creates a longing for a greater or more refined experience of pleasure, I can speak of it as pain created by the earlier pleasure only if I lack the means to experience that greater or more refined pleasure. Only when pain appears as a natural consequence of enjoyment (as when a woman’s sexual pleasure is followed by the suffering of childbirth and the cares of child rearing) can I consider enjoyment the creator of pain. If striving by itself evoked pain, then every reduction of striving should be accompanied by pleasure. But the opposite is the case. A lack of striving in our lives produces boredom, which is connected with displeasure. Since striving can, in the nature of things, last a long time before receiving any fulfillment and since, for the moment, it remains content with that hope, it must be acknowledged that pain has nothing to do with striving as such, but depends merely on its non-fulfillment. Schopenhauer, then, is certainly wrong when he holds desire or striving in itself (the will) to be the source of pain.

[11] In reality, it is just the reverse. Striving (desiring), as such, brings joy. Who does not know the enjoyment offered by hope of a goal that is distant, but intensely desired? This joy is the companion of work whose fruits will come our way only in the future. Such pleasure is quite independent of attaining our goal. If this goal is finally attained, the pleasure of fulfillment is then added, as something new, to the pleasure of striving. But if anyone claims that the pain of disappointed hope adds to the pain of an unattained goal, and makes the pain of unfulfillment greater in the end than the pleasure there might have been in the fulfillment, we would have to reply that the opposite can also occur. The recollection of pleasure will just as often have a mitigating effect on the pain of unfulfillment. Anyone who cries out, in the face of shattered hopes, “I have done all that I could!” is proof of this. The blissful sense of having tried to do one’s best is overlooked by those who, with every unfulfilled desire, assert that not only is the joy of fulfillment absent, but even the enjoyment of desiring itself is destroyed.

[12] Fulfillment of desire evokes pleasure, and nonfulfillment evokes pain. But we must not conclude from this that pleasure is satisfaction of desire and pain is its nonsatisfaction. Both pleasure and pain can be present in someone without being a consequence of desire. Illness is pain that is not preceded by desire. Anyone claiming that illness is an unsatisfied desire for health errs in seeing the obvious wish not to become sick, a wish that is never brought into awareness, as a positive desire. If we inherit a legacy from a rich relative of whose existence we had no notion, it fills us with a pleasure that had no preceding desire.

[13] Those who wish to investigate whether there is an excess on the side of pleasure or pain must take into account the pleasure of desiring—the pleasure of the fulfillment of desire—and the pleasure that comes to us without effort. On the other side of the ledger, they must put the displeasure of boredom, that of unfulfilled striving, and finally, what encounters us apart from our desires. To this column belongs the pain caused by work imposed upon us that we have not chosen for ourselves.

[14] The question now arises: what is the right method for reckoning the balance of these credits and debits? Eduard von Hartmann believes that it is reason that weighs them. To be sure, he also says, “Pain and pleasure exist only to the extent that they are felt.” It follows from this that there is no other yardstick for pleasure than the subjective one of feeling. I must feel whether the sum of my pleasurable and unpleasurable emotions results in a balance of joy or pain within me. Regardless of this, von Hartmann claims:

"Though the value of every creature’s life can be found only by looking at its own subjective yardstick, this is not to say that every creature calculates the total emotional contents of life correctly or, in other words, that its total estimate of its own life is correct with regard to its subjective experiences."

Thereby, rational judgment about feeling is made once more into the proper evaluator.

[15] Those who adhere more or less exactly to the views of such thinkers as Eduard von Hartmann might believe that, to evaluate life properly, they have to clear away the factors that falsify our judgment about the balance of pleasure and pain. There are two ways that they can try to do this.

First, they can show that our desire (drive, will) interferes negatively with a sober evaluation of our feelings. For example, while we ought to realize that sexual enjoyment is a source of troubles, the power of the sexual drive seduces us, promising greater pleasure than it delivers. We want the enjoyment, and so do not admit to ourselves that it makes us suffer.

Second, adherents of this view can submit feelings to a critique and try to demonstrate, in the light of reason, that the objects to which our feelings attach are illusory, and that they are destroyed as soon as our ever growing intelligence sees through the illusions.

[16] In other words, they can consider the question in the following way. If an ambitious man, for instance, wants to know whether pleasure or pain has played the greater part in his life thus far, he must free himself from two sources of error in judgment. Since he is ambitious, this fundamental character trait will make him magnify the joys over the recognition of his achievements and diminish the humiliations caused by his setbacks. But when he actually experienced the setbacks, he felt the humiliations deeply, precisely because he is ambitious. In memory, however, these setbacks appear in a milder light; while the joys of recognition, to which he is so susceptible, engrave themselves all the deeper. Certainly, for the ambitious man, it is a real benefit that this should be so. Illusion diminishes his displeasure in the moment of selfobservation. Yet his judgment is false. The sufferings over which a veil is drawn for him had to be really experienced in all their strength, and so he actually enters them incorrectly on his life’s balance sheet. To arrive at a proper judgment, the ambitious man would have to rid himself of his ambition at the moment of contemplation. He would have to review his life with no colored glass before his spiritual eyes. Otherwise, he is like a merchant who enters his own business zeal in the credit column.

[17] Holders of this view can go still further, however. They can say that the ambitious man must also realize that the recognition for which he strives is worthless. Either on his own or with the help of others, he will realize that recognition by others can have no importance for a rational person— after all, we can always be sure that “the majority is wrong and the minority is right in all such matters that are not fundamental questions of evolution or have not already been completely solved by science,” so that “whoever makes ambition his guiding star places his happiness in life at the mercy of such a judgment.” If the ambitious man can say all this to himself, then he must characterize as illusion what his ambition pictured as reality. And therefore he must also characterize as illusion the feelings that attach to these illusions. On this basis, it may be said that the feelings of pleasure resulting from illusion must also be stricken from the balance. What is left, then, represents the illusion-free sum of pleasure, and this is so small in comparison with the sum of pain that life is joyless, and nonbeing is preferable to being.

[18] But, while it is immediately obvious that the interference of ambition deceives us into false calculations concerning pleasure, what has been said about recognizing the illusory character of pleasure’s objects must still be challenged. It would be an error to remove from the calculation of life’s pleasure all feelings of pleasure attached to real or supposed illusions. For the ambitious man has really enjoyed the admiration of the masses, regardless of whether he himself, or someone else, later recognizes this admiration as illusory. This process does not in the least diminish the feeling of pleasure that was enjoyed. Elimination of all such “illusory” feelings from life’s balance does not set right our judgment about feelings, but rather erases from life feelings that were really present.

[19] And why should those feelings be eliminated? Whoever has these feelings experiences pleasure through them; whoever has conquered them experiences through that conquest (not through feeling, in a self-satisfied way, “What a wonderful person I am!” but through the objective sources of pleasure that lie within the conquest itself) a pleasure that is spiritualized, to be sure, but no less significant. If feelings are struck from the pleasure column because they attach to objects that turn out to be illusory, then the value of life is made dependent on not the quantity but the quality of pleasure, and that, in turn, is made dependent on the value of the things that cause the pleasure. However, if I want to determine the value of life only from the quantity of pleasure or pain, then I must not presuppose something else by which I first determine the value or valuelessness of the pleasure. If I say, “I want to compare the quantity of pleasure with the quantity of pain to see which is greater,” then I must also bring into the calculation all pleasure and pain in their actual amounts, quite apart from whether they are based on illusion or not. Anyone who ascribes less life-value to a pleasure based on illusion than to one that is justifiable by reason is making the value of life dependent on factors other than pleasure.

[20] The person who estimates pleasure at a lower rate because it attaches to a worthless object is like a merchant who enters in his ledger the considerable profits of a toy factory at a quarter of their worth, on the grounds that the factory produces mere playthings for children.

[21] If it is merely a question of weighing the relative quantities of pleasure and pain, then the illusory character of the objects of certain feelings of pleasure should be left completely out of the picture.

[22] With its reasoned consideration of the quantities of pleasure and pain created by life, the path recommended by von Hartmann therefore brings us to this point: we know how we are to set up our accounts; we know what we have to place on each side of our ledger. But how should the calculation now be made? Is reason, in fact, equipped to reckon the balance?

[23] If the calculated profit does not equal a business’s demonstrable past profits or future gains, then the merchant has made an error. The philosopher, too, will certainly have made an error of assessment if it is impossible to demonstrate that a cleverly calculated surplus of pleasure or pain is actually felt.

[24] For the moment, I shall not review the calculations of the pessimists who support their opinions with a rationalist worldview; still, anyone deciding whether or not to carry on with the business of life will first demand to be shown where the calculated surplus of pain is to be found.

[25] Here we touch the point where reason by itself is not in a position to determine the surplus of pleasure or pain, but must rather demonstrate that surplus as a percept in life. For human beings cannot attain reality solely through concepts, but only through the interpenetration, mediated by thinking (cf. pp. 88 ff.), of concepts and percepts (and feelings are percepts). A merchant, likewise, will close his business only if the loss calculated by his accountant is confirmed by the facts. If that does not happen, he will have the accountant calculate again. We conduct the business of life in just the same way. If a philosopher wants to prove that pain is much more common than pleasure, and yet we do not feel this to be so, then we say: you have made a mistake in your brooding; think it through again! But, if, at a given moment, a business really suffers such losses that its credit can no longer satisfy the creditors, then bankruptcy results even if the merchant’s bookkeeping obscures the state of his affairs. In the same way, if, at a certain moment, the quantity of a person’s pain is so great that no hope (credit) of future pleasure can offer solace, then this must lead to bankruptcy in the business of life.

[26] Yet the number of suicides is still relatively small in proportion to the multitude of those who live bravely on. Only very few people give up the business of life because of the presence of pain. What follows from this? Either it is incorrect to say that the quantity of pain is greater than the quantity of pleasure, or else we simply do not make continuation of life dependent on the quantity of pleasure or pain that we feel.

[27] Eduard von Hartmann’s pessimism is unique in explaining life as worthless (because pain predominates), and yet maintaining that we must go through it nonetheless. We must do so because the world purpose mentioned above (p. 197) can be achieved only through ceaseless, devoted human labor. But, as long as human beings still pursue their egotistical desires, they are unsuited to such selfless labor. They can devote themselves to their true task only if they have convinced themselves, through experience and reason, that the pleasures in life striven for by egotism cannot be attained. In this way, the conviction of pessimism is supposed to be a source of selflessness. An education based on pessimism is supposed to eradicate egotism by presenting it with its own hopelessness.

[28] In von Hartmann’s view, the striving for pleasure is originally based in human nature. Only insight into the impossibility of fulfillment makes this striving yield to higher tasks for humanity.

[29] But one cannot say that egotism is truly overcome by an ethical worldview that seeks to achieve devotion to nonegotistical life aims by the acceptance of pessimism. Ethical ideals are said to be strong enough to master the will only if a person has seen that a selfish striving for pleasure cannot bring satisfaction. We human beings, whose selfishness has yearned for the grapes of pleasure, find them sour because we cannot reach them. Therefore, we leave them and devote ourselves to a selfless way of life. In the pessimist’s view, moral ideals are not strong enough to overcome egotism. Instead, pessimists base their dominion on the ground previously cleared for them by the recognition of the hopelessness of self-seeking.

[30] If human beings strove for pleasure by nature and were unable to attain it, then annihilation of existence and salvation through non-existence would be the only rational goal. But if we hold that God is the actual bearer of the world’s suffering, then human beings have to make it their task to bring about God’s salvation. Attainment of that goal is hindered, not furthered, by suicide of the individual. Rationally, God can have created human beings only in order for them to bring about His salvation by their actions. Otherwise, creation would be pointless. And this kind of worldview does think in terms of extra-human goals. Each of us must contribute our specific labor to the universal work of salvation. If we withdraw from this labor through suicide, what we ourselves were meant to do must be undertaken by others who have to bear the torment of existence in our stead. And since God resides in each being as the actual bearer of pain, the suicide does nothing to diminish God’s suffering; rather, it imposes on God the new difficulty of creating a substitute.

[31] All of this presupposes that pleasure is the measure of life’s worth. Life is expressed through a number of drives (needs). If the value of life depended on whether it brought more pleasure or pain, any drive bringing its bearer a surplus of pain would be considered worthless. Let us now look at drives and pleasures to see whether the former can be measured by the latter. To avoid the suspicion that we consider that life begins with “the aristocracy of intellect,” we shall begin with a “purely animal” need: hunger.

[32] Hunger arises when our organs can no longer function properly without a new supply of nourishment. What hungry persons strive for first is to satisfy their hunger. As soon as sufficient nourishment has been supplied and hunger ceases, everything striven for by the drive for food has been attained. In this case, the enjoyment that attaches to satisfaction consists initially in the removal of the pain caused by hunger. But an additional need joins itself to the mere drive to satisfy hunger. The person does not want only to bring the disturbed organic functions back into good order through the intake of nourishment, nor simply to overcome the pain of hunger; the person also wants this to be accompanied by pleasant sensations of taste. When we are hungry and half an hour remains before a tasty meal, we might even keep away from less interesting fare that could satisfy our hunger in order to avoid spoiling our pleasure in what is to come. We need hunger to have the full enjoyment of our meal. In this way, hunger becomes the occasion of pleasure for us. If all the hunger in the world could be quieted, it would result in the full measure of enjoyment attributable to the presence of the need for food. But to this we would still have to add the special enjoyment at which gourmets aim through an extraordinary cultivation of the palate.

[33] This kind of enjoyment would have the greatest imaginable value if the need for it never went unsatisfied, and if, along with the enjoyment, we did not have to accept a certain quantity of pain into the bargain.

[34] Modern science holds that nature produces more life than it can maintain; that is, nature creates more hunger than it is in a position to satisfy. In the struggle for existence, the excess life that is produced must perish painfully. Granted, in each moment, the needs of life are greater than the available means of satisfying them, and therefore the pleasure of life is compromised. Yet this in no way diminishes the pleasure in life that is actually present. Wherever desire finds satisfaction, there is a corresponding quantity of enjoyment—even if there exists, in this creature or others, a huge number of unsatisfied drives. What is diminished is the value of the enjoyment of life. If only a portion of the needs of a living creature find satisfaction, the creature has a corresponding degree of enjoyment. The smaller the enjoyment is in proportion to the total demands of life in the sphere of the desires in question, the less value that enjoyment will have. We can imagine the value represented by a fraction whose numerator is the enjoyment actually present and whose denominator is the total sum of the needs. When the numerator and the denominator are equal, that is, when all needs are satisfied, then the fraction has a value of one. It becomes greater than one when more pleasure is present in a living creature than its desires demand; it is smaller if the quantity of enjoyment lags behind the sum of desires. But as long as the numerator (the enjoyment) has even the slightest value, the fraction can never equal zero. If, before dying, I were to make a final account, and mentally distribute over my whole life both the quantity of enjoyment related to a particular drive (for example, hunger) and the demands of that drive, then the pleasure experienced might have a very slight value, but it can never be quite valueless. Given a constant quantity of enjoyment, a creature’s increased needs diminish the value of the pleasure in life. The same applies to the totality of life in nature. The greater the total number of creatures in relation to the number whose drives are fully satisfied, the lower is the average value of the pleasure in life. Our shares in life’s pleasure in the form of instincts fall in value when we cannot hope to cash them in for the full amount. If I have enough to eat for three days and then must go hungry for the next three, the pleasure of those three days of eating is not diminished. But I must then think of it as distributed over the six days, so that its value in terms of my food drive is reduced to one half. It is the same with the amount of pleasure in relation to the degree of my need. If I have enough hunger for two pieces of buttered bread but I only get one, then the pleasure derived from it has only half of the value that it would have if I had been satisfied by that one piece alone. This is how the value of pleasure in life is determined. It is measured against life’s needs. Our desires are the yardstick; pleasure is what we measure. The enjoyment of being satisfied has value only because of the existence of hunger. It has value of a specific magnitude depending on its relation to the magnitude of the existing hunger.

[35] Unfulfilled demands in life cast a shadow even over desires that are satisfied and thus diminish the value of pleasurable hours. But we can also speak of the present value of a feeling of pleasure. The smaller a pleasure in relation to the duration and the intensity of our desire, the less the present value of a feeling of pleasure will be.

[36] A quantity of pleasure has full value for us when its duration and degree exactly coincide with our desire. When it is smaller than our desire, the value of a given quantity of pleasure is diminished; when the pleasure is greater, we have an undesired surplus, which is felt as pleasure only for as long as we can heighten our desire during the enjoyment itself. If we are in no position to keep the growth of our desire in step with the increase of pleasure, then pleasure turns into displeasure. The object that would otherwise content us assails us without our wanting it, and we suffer from it. This is one proof that pleasure has value for us only as long as we can measure it against our desire. An excess of pleasant feeling changes into pain. We can observe this especially in persons whose desire for any kind of pleasure is very slight. In persons whose drive for food is stunted, eating quickly leads to nausea. Again, we can see from this that desire is the yardstick for the value of pleasure.

[37] Pessimists might say that an unsatisfied drive for food brings into the world not merely displeasure because of lost enjoyment, but also positive pain, suffering, and misery. They can appeal here to the nameless misery of those who are starving, and to the totality of pain arising indirectly, for such people, from lack of food. And, if pessimists want to extend their claim to nonhuman nature as well, they can point to the sufferings of animals who starve at certain times of the year because of lack of nourishment. Pessimists claim that such ills far outweigh the quantity of enjoyment brought into the world by the drive for food.

[38] Doubtless, we can compare pleasure and pain and determine the surplus of one or the other, just as we can with profit and loss. But, if pessimists believe that an excess exists in the column of displeasure, and infer the worthlessness of life from that, then they err in making a calculation that is never made in real life.

[39] In a given instance, our desire is oriented toward a specific object. As we have seen, the greater our pleasure is in relation to our desire, the greater is the value of pleasure in satisfying the desire.

But the quantity of pain that we are willing to accept in order to attain the pleasure also depends on the magnitude of our desire. We compare the magnitude of the pain not with the pleasure, but with the magnitude of our desire. Someone who takes great pleasure in eating will, because of enjoyment in better times, be able to sustain a period of hunger better than someone who lacks this joy in eating. A woman who wants children does not compare the pleasure of having one to the quantity of pain in pregnancy, childbirth, child rearing, and so forth, but to her desire to have a child.

[40] We never strive for an abstract pleasure of a certain magnitude but for concrete satisfaction in a very specific way. If we strive for a pleasure that must be satisfied by a specific object or sensation, then we cannot be satisfied by another object or sensation that would offer a pleasure of the same magnitude. For someone who is striving to satisfy hunger, the pleasure in so doing cannot be replaced with an equally pleasurable walk. Only if our desire were for a specific quantity of pleasure in the abstract would it disappear as soon as the price of achieving it turned out to be a greater quantity of pain. But, since satisfaction is sought in a specific way, the pleasure of fulfillment arises even if a pain that outweighs the pleasure must also be taken with it. Because the instincts of living creatures move in a specific direction, and aim at a concrete goal, it is impossible to reckon as an equivalent factor the quantities of pain that may obstruct the path to this goal. Provided that the desire is strong enough to be present to some degree after overcoming the pain—however great this may be in absolute terms—the pleasure of satisfaction can still be tasted to its full extent. Thus, desire does not compare pain directly with the attained pleasure; it indirectly compares its own (relative) magnitude with that of the pain. It is not a question of whether the pleasure or the pain involved will be greater, but rather whether the desire for the goal or the hindrance of pain will be greater. If the hindrance is greater than the desire, then the latter bows to the inevitable, weakens, and strives no further. Since satisfaction is always demanded in a specific way, the pleasure associated with it acquires such a significance that, after satisfaction has occurred, we must take the unavoidable quantity of pain into account only to the extent that it has diminished the quantity of our desire. If I am a passionate devotee of beautiful views, I never calculate how much pleasure I will get from the view from a mountain peak and compare it with the pain of the laborious ascent and descent. I consider only whether, after overcoming these difficulties, my desire for the view will still be sufficiently lively. Only indirectly, through the intensity of the desire, do pleasure and pain together yield a result. The question is never whether pleasure or pain is present in surplus but whether the will for the pleasure is great enough to overcome the pain.

[41] A proof for the correctness of this assertion is the fact that we put a higher value on pleasure when it must be purchased at the cost of great pain than when it falls into our lap like a gift from heaven. If pain and torment have diminished our desire, and the goal is nevertheless attained, then the pleasure is that much greater in proportion to the remaining quantity of desire. Now, as I have shown (cf. p. 210), it is this proportional relationship that represents the value of the pleasure. Further proof is provided by the fact that living creatures (including human beings) express their drives as long as they are in a position to bear the pains and torments that they encounter. The struggle for existence is but a consequence of this fact. Living creatures strive to fulfill themselves; only those whose desires are smothered by the force of the opposing difficulties give up the struggle. Every living creature seeks nourishment until lack of nourishment destroys its life. Human beings, too, only take their own lives if they believe (rightly or wrongly) that the goals of life worth striving for are unattainable. As long as we believe in the possibility of achieving what seems to us to be worth striving for, we will struggle against all torment and pain. Philosophy would have to convince us that wanting makes sense only if the pleasure is greater than the pain; by nature, we want to achieve the objects of our desire if only we can bear the necessary pain, however great it might be. But such philosophy would be in error, because it makes human will dependent on a circumstance (surplus of pleasure over pain) that is originally foreign to us. The original measure of our will is desire, and desire asserts itself as long as it can.

The calculation of the pleasure and pain of satisfying a desire that is set up by life—not by rational philosophy— can be looked at in the following way. Suppose that, when buying a certain quantity of apples, I am obliged to take twice as many bad apples as good ones, because the seller wants to unload his merchandise. If the value I place on the smaller quantity of good apples is so high that, in addition to the purchase price, I am willing to assume the cost of disposing of the bad apples, then I will not hesitate for a moment to take the bad apples. This example illustrates the relationship between the quantities of pleasure and pain coming from any of our drives. I determine the value of the good apples not by subtracting their number from that of the bad ones, but by seeing whether, despite the presence of the bad ones, the good ones still retain some value.

[42] Just as I disregard the bad apples when I enjoy the good ones, so I give myself up to the satisfaction of a desire after having shaken off the unavoidable suffering.

[43] Even if pessimism were correct in its claim that there is more pain than pleasure in the world, this would have no influence on our willing, for living creatures would still strive after whatever pleasure remains. Empirical proof that pain outweighs joy (if it could be given) would indeed demonstrate the fruitlessness of the philosophical position that sees the value of life in a surplus of pleasure (eudemonism), but it could not demonstrate that our will is itself unreasonable; for our will aims not at a surplus of pleasure, but at the quantity of pleasure that remains after the pain has been endured. This always appears as a goal worth striving for.

[44] Attempts have been made to refute pessimism by asserting that it is impossible to calculate the surplus of pleasure or pain in the world. Calculation is possible only if we can compare the magnitudes of the elements of the calculation. Every pain or pleasure has a specific magnitude (intensity and duration). We can even compare the approximate magnitudes of different kinds of pleasurable sensation. We know whether a good cigar or a good joke gives us more pleasure. There can be no objection to comparing different kinds of pleasure and pain with regard to their magnitudes. Researchers who make it their business to determine the surplus of pleasure or pain in the world proceed from thoroughly justifiable premises. We may assert the incorrectness of pessimistic conclusions, but we may question neither the possibility of a scientific estimation of the quantities of pleasure and pain, nor therefore the determination of the balance of pleasure. Yet it is wrong to claim that the results of such calculation have some bearing on human volition. We really evaluate our actions according to whether pleasure or pain predominates only when we are indifferent to the objects of our activity. If it is a matter merely of deciding between enjoying a game or a light conversation after a day’s work, and I am indifferent as to which of the two I choose, then I shall ask myself which brings me the greater surplus of pleasure. I shall certainly abandon an activity if the scale dips toward the side of pain. When we buy a toy for a child, our choice depends on what we think will give the most pleasure. In all other circumstances, however, we do not base our decisions exclusively on the balance of pleasure.

[45] If pessimistic ethicists believe that, by proving that pain exceeds pleasure, they are paving the way for selfless devotion to the work of culture, they are not taking into account that human will, by its very nature, is not influenced by this knowledge. Human striving is governed by the quantity of possible satisfaction after all difficulties have been overcome. Hope of such satisfaction is the basis of all human activity. The work of each individual and the whole work of culture springs from this hope. Pessimistic ethics believes it must present the human pursuit of happiness as impossible, so that people will devote themselves to the proper ethical tasks. But these ethical tasks are nothing other than our actual natural and spiritual drives, and their satisfaction will be striven for despite the accompanying pain. The pursuit of happiness that pessimism wishes to eliminate is quite nonexistent. We perform the tasks we must because, once we have really recognized their nature, it is in our very nature to want to perform them.

Pessimistic ethics asserts that we can devote ourselves to what we recognize as our life’s task only once we have abandoned the pursuit of happiness. But no ethics can invent any life tasks other than realizing what human desires demand and fulfilling our ethical ideals. No ethics can take away our pleasure in the fulfillment of our desires. If the pessimist says, “Do not strive for pleasure, you can never attain it, but strive for what you recognize to be your task,” the response must be: “But this is how human beings already are.” The claim that humans strive merely for happiness is the invention of a philosophy gone astray. We strive for satisfaction of what our essential nature desires, and we have in view the concrete objects of this striving and not some abstract “happiness.” Fulfillment of such striving is a pleasure. When pessimistic ethics demands that you strive, not for pleasure, but for what you have recognized as your life’s task, it is pointing to what humans by their nature want. Human beings do not need to be turned upside down by philosophy; they do not need to throw away their nature in order to be ethical. Morality lies in striving for a goal recognized as just; and it is human nature to pursue the goal as long as the pain involved does not cripple the desire for it. This is the nature of all real willing. Ethics is not based on the extirpation of all striving for pleasure so that bloodless, abstract ideas can assert their dominance unchallenged by a strong yearning for enjoyment in life. Ethics is based on strong will, borne by conceptual intuitions, that attains its goal even if the path is thorny.

[46] Ethical ideas spring from human moral imagination. Their realization depends upon their being desired strongly enough to overcome pain and suffering. Ethical ideals are human intuitions, the driving forces that our own spirit harnesses. We want them because their realization is our highest pleasure. We do not need ethics to forbid us to strive for pleasure and then tell us what we should strive for. We shall strive for ethical ideals if our moral imagination is active enough to endow us with intuitions that give our willing the strength to make its way against the obstacles—including the unavoidable pain— lying within our organization.

[47] Those who strive toward ideals of sublime greatness do so because such ideals are the content of their being, and to realize them brings an enjoyment compared with which the pleasure that pettiness derives from satisfying everyday drives is trivial. Idealists revel spiritually in the transformation of their ideals into reality.

[48] Whoever would extirpate the pleasure in fulfilling human longing must first make humans into slaves who act not because they want to, but only because they ought to. For the achievement of what we want gives pleasure. What is called “the Good,” is not what we ought to do, but what we want to do when we express our full, true human nature. Those who do not recognize this must first drive out of us what we want and then must impose from without the content we are to give to what we want.

[49] We value the fulfillment of a desire because it springs from our own being. What we have attained has value because it is wanted. If we deny any value to the goal of human willing as such, then we must find valued goals that have value in something that human beings do not want.

[50] The ethics built upon pessimism springs from a neglect of moral imagination. Only those who consider the individual human spirit incapable of providing itself with the content of its striving can see the totality of what we want in the yearning for pleasure. The person without imagination creates no ethical ideas. Such a person must receive these ideas from without. Our physical nature ensures that we strive after satisfaction of our lower desires. But development of the whole human being also includes desire originating in the spirit. Only if we believe that human beings have no such desires can we claim that they must be received from without. We would then be justified in saying that we are duty bound to do something that we do not want. Every ethics that requires us to repress what we want in order to fulfill tasks that we do not want, fails to reckon with the whole human being and reckons instead with a human being devoid of the capacity for spiritual desire. For harmoniously developed human beings, socalled ideas of the Good lie not without but within the circle of their being. Ethical conduct lies not in the elimination of a one-sided self-will but in full development of human nature. Anyone who considers ethical ideals attainable only if we kill off our self-will is unaware that such ideals are wanted by human beings just as we want satisfaction of the so-called animal drives.

[51] There is no denying that the views sketched here may easily be misunderstood. Immature people, with no moral imagination, like to see the instincts of their own half-developed natures as the full content of humanity and dismiss all ethical ideals not of their own making, so that they can “express themselves” undisturbed. It is obvious that what is right for the complete human being does not apply to half-developed human nature. What we would expect of mature human beings cannot also be expected of those who still need to be educated for their ethical nature to pierce the husk of their lower passions. But I have not tried to show here what must be impressed on an unevolved human being, but rather what lies within the nature of a mature human being. The goal was to demonstrate the possibility of freedom, and freedom does not appear in acts based on sensory or psychic constraint, but in acts borne by spiritual intuitions.

[52] Mature human beings assign themselves their own value. They do not strive for pleasure, handed to them as a gift of grace by nature or by the creator; nor do they fulfill an abstract duty that they recognize as such after having renounced the striving for pleasure. They act as they want to—that is, according to the standard of their ethical intuitions— and they feel their true joy in life to be the achievement of what they want. They determine the value of life by comparing what has been achieved with what was attempted. The ethics that replaces want with should—that replaces inclination with duty—logically determines the value of a human being by comparing what duty requires with how he or she fulfilled it. It measures people by a yardstick that lies outside their own being.

The view developed here returns us to ourselves. It recognizes as the true value of life only what we individually regard as such according to the measure of what we want. It knows of no value in life that is not recognized by the individual, just as it knows of no life goal that does not spring from the individual. It sees our own master and our own assessor in the essential individuality of each of us, seen into from all sides.

Addendum to the new edition (1918)
[1] If one clings to the apparent objection that human willing, as such, is irrational and that we must show people this—so that they will see that the goal of ethical striving lies ultimately in liberation from human willing—then what has been presented in this chapter can be misunderstood. Just such an apparent objection was raised to me by a competent critic, who said that it is the business of a philosopher to consider what the thoughtlessness of beasts and most people neglects—namely, to draw up the real balance sheet of life. But whoever raises this objection fails to see the main point. If freedom is to be realized, then the willing within human nature must be sustained by intuitive thinking. At the same time, certainly, willing can be determined by other things than intuitions; yet morality and moral value come about only in the free realization of intuition flowing from the human essence. Ethical indi-vidualism is suited to portray ethics at its full worth, for it does not take the position that there is anything truly ethical in what brings about an outward agreement between our willing and a given norm, but rather in what arises from out of human beings when they develop ethical willing as an element of their full natures. To do something immoral appears to them then as a maiming, a crippling of their essence.


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